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Schlapp Agreed to Settlement; Biden Holds Fundraiser; California Superbloom of Wildflowers. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 09:30   ET



VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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.

Take a listen.


SHERIFF GARY CARUANA, WINNEBAGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: The young lady ran from him. She got some stab wounds in her hands and her face. She is currently in a hospital and she is intubated. She is in serious condition.


MIRACLE: And police say although some of the victims were stabbed, not all of them were. We're waiting to get an update on their conditions and we'll bring you more information as soon as we have it.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you so much, Veronica Miracle. Appreciate it.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new CNN exclusive report this morning. A huge payout to settle a sexual assault lawsuit against a bigwig Republican.

And what does it take to be the most successful political fundraiser in U.S. history? Apparently three presidents, one queen and a late night talk show host.



BERMAN: All right, new this morning, a CNN exclusive. Multiple sources tell CNN a Republican operative that accused conservative bigwig Matt Schlapp of sexual assault is taking a hefty settlement.

CNN's Jaime Gangel has the story this morning.

Jamie, there is some nuance here, but it's very interesting.


We have learned that in a private settlement Matt Schlapp actually agreed to a payment of $480,000. This is a significant amount to settle this sexual lawsuit. That it was paid via an insurance company to Carlton Huffman, the GOP political operative who brought the lawsuit. This is according to a source who's familiar with the details.

John, this is notable for a couple of reasons. When Schlapp's team first announced the case had been dropped earlier this week, they released this statement from Schlapp. He said, from the beginning I asserted my innocence. And he did an interview and posted on social media implying that he had been exonerated. His legal team also released a statement from Carlton Huffman. This had been in the private agreement. That created the impression that Huffman had folded. And that statement was, the claims made in my lawsuits were the result of a complete misunderstanding. Neither the Schlapps nor the ACU, the American Conservative Union, paid me anything to dismiss my claims against them.

Looking back, this seems to have been, frankly, a clever PR move at the time to imply that Huffman had folded. But since then, we've learned about this private financial settlement.

For the record, Schlapp's team declined to comment.

And just as a reminder, this lawsuit began more than a year ago. Huffman was working for Herschel Walker's Georgia Senate campaign. And at that time he told CNN that Schlapp made unwanted physical sexual advances when Huffman was driving Schlapp for the campaign, including, quote, "groping and fondling his groin without consent," end quote.


BERMAN: Has Huffman responded to any of this?

GANGEL: So, this is what happens in these private settlements. So, we reach out to Huffman. He will only say, quote, "I'm only legally allowed to say five words, and that is, quote, we have resolved our differences. Those are the only five words that I'm legally allowed to say."

So that's - that is common when there are these private agreements that no one's supposed to comment.

What's also key here is the trial was coming up in June. And by settling the case, sources tell us Matt Schlapp avoids having to take the stand and that there were a number of key witnesses who had been deposed already, or were scheduled to be deposed, who might have provided potentially damaging an embarrassing information, John. BERMAN: With the payout coming from an insurance company in this case -

GANGEL: Right.

BERMAN: Which is interesting.

GANGEL: Correct. Correct.

BERMAN: And also, sometimes five words can speak volumes.

Jamie Gangel, great to see you this morning. Terrific report.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new this morning, the Biden campaign getting a $25,000,000 boost, adding to their fundraising edge over Donald Trump. The haul coming already from tonight's - just one night's - star-studded fundraiser at New York's Radio City Music Hall. The event will feature former President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, alongside President Joe Biden, and a bunch of Hollywood stars. Among them Queen Latifah, Lizzo and Stephen Colbert.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp, and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategists, Maria Cardona.

Thank you, ladies, for being here.


SIDNER: We're going to start with this star-studded event. You've got three peoples, you know, three - two former presidents and one president altogether with a huge crowd of Hollywood stars.


SIDNER: And at the same time, Donald Trump is also in New York. He's here attending a funeral of an NYPD officer who was killed by someone who has a very long criminal history.



SIDNER: Can you talk about the optics of this and how this is being played by each of the campaigns?

CUPP: I think these are both good for their bases. Donald Trump is playing directly to his base. His focus for this election, among other things, including immigration, will be crime. And there's a big push to focus on that. So, this is, of course, being used and politicized, but effectively for a base that is very worried about crime.

Over on the left, Joe Biden's bringing the big guns. I wish, in 2024, Bill Clinton still warrant (ph) a big gun. I which Democrats could quit him already. However, still very popular figure in Democratic politics. Obama, wildly popular. Having a big fundraiser with splashy Hollywood celebrities I think is some nostalgia for Democrats and a potent nostalgia.

There is one risk, however. There's a fine line between nostalgia and depression. You want to remind Democratic voters of the good old times, but you don't want them to miss them so much that they're thinking, oh, I wish we were back there. And here's what we're stuck with.

SIDNER: With the two presidents that are - that are standing next to him.

CUPP: Yes.

SIDNER: Maria, what are your thoughts when - when you look at this because, you know, you have these - that dichotomy that is happening. And I'm curious whether you think Biden should have attended this funeral, or at least, you know, made a call?

CARDONA: Well, I do think that it is going to be a split screen. I agree with S.E. that they are focused each on their base. But I would also say that, on the Democratic side, I think it's far more than the base. And I think that by having President Clinton there, President Obama there, and now President Biden there, they're going to have a very potent reminder and underscoring how the Democratic agenda writ large has won in the last seven of the eight presidential elections, the popular vote. How popular the Democratic agenda is, and how moving forward this coming election will be an existential threat to the expansion of the economy, which we saw under all three presidents, the expansion of rights and freedoms, which we saw under all three presidents, and what the election of Donald Trump would do in terms of destroying all of the above. And, first and foremost, would be the protection of our democracy.

Now, you know, Joe Biden is focused also on making sure that crime is going to be something that he's going to be taking care of. And, by the way, crime statistics are down. Crime is plummeting all across the country. And, of course, President Biden has empathy for everyone who has suffered what this family has suffered. And there's no question about that. That is one of his superpowers.

And so I think at the end of the day, the messaging on the Democratic side will be potent. Again, not just for the Democratic base, but for independence and for Republicans who understand what an existential threat another Donald Trump presidency would be.

CUPP: See, here's the problem with Bill Clinton. Maria just said, you know, all three of these presidents were an expansion of rights. I can - I can - that's provably false. Under Bill Clinton there was DOMA, there was don't ask, don't tell, he collapsed the welfare programs. There was a lot, you know, to remember about Bill Clinton that wasn't all good. And I'm not talking about the things you know that I'm talking about additionally.

So, I don't know, is he worth it? I'm not sure. Now, if they had had W on this stage with Obama and Biden, man, would that have been an incredible show of force, a less partisan show of force. W, whatever you thought of what he did as president, is a good guy. And this would have said to the - to the country, look, there was a time before Trump when politics wasn't this awful and crazy and divisive. And for the good of the country, these three guys are coming together.

SIDNER: Yes, it's interesting because there is a relationship, a very good relationship, between George W. Bush and -

CUPP: Yes.

SIDNER: Clinton and Obama.

CUPP: And Biden now.

SIDNER: And Biden now.

CUPP: Yes.

CARDONA: That's true.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you about fundraising. Does it matter that they're - they have this $25 million in one night.

CUPP: Yes.

SIDNER: Biden has clearly out fundraised so far Donald Trump.

CUPP: Yes.

SIDNER: Donald Trump is way behind. I think in February it was like 20 million for the whole month that he has fundraised. And now he's hawking Bibles to people.

CUPP: Right.

SIDNER: Donald Trump is. But does it matter at this point in time because it doesn't seem to be showing up so much in the polls. Just because you have this money doesn't mean you win.

CUPP: Yes, and I don't think the goal of fundraising is to tip the polls. I mean it can help, right, the momentum and the sort of air of inevitability, that can help with big fundraising hauls.


CUPP: I think it can tell you where some of the momentum is for sure. But, listen, Donald Trump has a lot of obstacles, legal obstacles, financial obstacles, primarily. And the fact that Joe Biden and the DNC are outraising, outperforming, I think is a sign of weakness for the Trump campaign and a cause of concern for sure.

SIDNER: Maria, I want to ask you about something that came up recently. The RNC, in hiring people, have them ask - answer this question, whether or not they believe the 2020 election was stolen.


What does that tell you about what they are doing at the RNC?

CARDONA: Well, I think that tells me again that there is no question that the Republican Party, as it was before Donald Trump, doesn't exist anymore.

CUPP: Yes.

CARDONA: When even the Republican National Committee is asking these kinds of questions. And we know that the vast majority of Americans understand that the 2020 election was legitimate, that Joe Biden is the legitimate president. Again, I think it goes to what S.E. Cupp just talked about, a huge weakness within the current Donald Trump Republican Party because they are talking to a very small slither of the American electorate.

Now, we all know that this election is going to be close. It's going to be tough. And that's why you see all the big guns on the Democratic side coming out. I do hope that W is part of that. I think what you will never see is W coming to help Donald Trump the way that the Democratic presidents are coming to help Joe Biden.

CUPP: Yes.

CARDONA: And again, at the end of the day, Sara, it underscores what this election is all about, an existential threat in Donald Trump, who if he comes to office again, he will be the - a commander in chief who was also a fraudster, a sex offender, a criminal who will bring chaos, who will bring confusion, who will bring criminality yet again to the White House. And I believe the vast majority of Americans do not want that. And that they will ultimately support and will show - we're now seeing the polls today actually, S.E., the polling average now has Joe Biden ahead.

CUPP: Yes.

CARDONA: Again, I'm not one to live and die by the polls because at the end of the day it's going to be what matters in November. And I think at the end of the day, Americans will choose Joe Biden as the commander in chief.

SIDNER: Going to be tight I think if you look at anything that anyone has written so far. We will see.

Maria Cardona, S.E. Cupp, always love to see you, ladies.

CUPP: Sure.


CARDONA: Thank you, Sara.

CUPP: Thank you. WHITFIELD: All right, in just minutes, Donald Trump's lawyers will return to a Georgia courthouse, their first time since their failed attempt to get District Attorney Fani Willis disqualified from his election interference case. We're alive and Fulton County as they try one more time to get the case thrown out.

And springing to life. CNN's Stephanie Elam is in California among the blooms.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The hills are alive, guys. Take a look. We've got some color out here as the sun comes up. We are going to preview that awesome superbloom here in California, coming out right here on CNN.

WHITFIELD: I can't wait. It's making me sing already. Thank you, Stephanie.



WHITFIELD: All right, this morning, isn't this gorgeous. A dazzling display of colorful wildfires erupting across California after a wetter than normal winter. This is known as a superbloom. And it blankets the landscape with so many wildflowers the colors can be seen from space. It's amazing. And I'm going to credit Stephanie Elam for this, the hills are alive. And it was so beautiful. You put that in my head.


WHITFIELD: This is great. Tell me how it all works.

ELAM: Because - I have to tell you -


ELAM: We were looking for a place to - we were looking for a place to go live and we drove past this hillside and I was like, it's alive with color. So, that's how we're here.

And this is what we want to show you.


ELAM: Because it is springtime. Short springtime. But right now it's still early on, but you can still find some of this color already happening.

You mentioned one of the things. To get a superbloom, which, by the way, is not a technical term, it's just something people say when there's just all of these blooms all at the same time -


ELAM: It doesn't happen every year. You need to have the right amount of rain. You need to have some sun coming up. All of those things need to work and then the blooms will come. And it doesn't mean that everywhere is going to see a superbloom. But we've already seen down in the desert floor they've been having a great bloom. We've been seeing it starting to hit the coastal areas. Out of Malibu I saw some blooms popping out. Here and then going up into the mountains you'll see it going longer, probably into May or even into the summer, I'm told.

But as you take a look out here and you look at all of this awesome color, just imagine it, this is still early, in some places it gets so dense that it looks like just a sea of color. I could give you a whole bunch of alliteration here. Bounty of blooms. All of that. So much so you could see it from space.

WHITFIELD: Oh, nice.

ELAM: And I want to show you the ones from last year because last year we did have one of the wettest winters on record and so there were so many blooms you could see those carpets of color all the way from space.

So, we're not there yet. But still, when you look back out here, look at all of that fantastic color.

I have to also point out that it's been so attractive for people to come out amongst these blooms that's some places in California have to limit how many people can come into some of the canyons because people were maybe showing a little bit of bad behavior, trudging out into the flowers, which you're not supposed to do. You're got to stay on the path. Like even right now I'm on a path. And you don't pick the flowers. You don't pick the poppies. That's California's state flower, by the way, for anyone who didn't know that.

So, just some behavior and some things that have changed because people want to get the perfect selfies when they come mount here. I mean you can't blame them, but just do it from the side.

WHITFIELD: Poppy, it's gorgeous.

ELAM: And wear your hiking boots, you know, if you come out here.



ELAM: It's gorgeous, right?

WHITFIELD: OK, I'm going to - I've got to get a plane ticket. I've got to see this.

SIDNER: It's beautiful.

WHITFIELD: One day, and it looks like this is the year, Stephanie.

ELAM: Yes. Yes.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much.

SIDNER: But remember -

WHITFIELD: Something tells me you've seen it.

SIDNER: I've seen it. You don't pick the poppies.

WHITFIELD: The California girl you are.

SIDNER: We learned that in "The Wizard of Oz."


BERMAN: That's right, poppies.

WHITFIELD: Don't pick the poppies.

BERMAN: Poppies.

SIDNER: Stay away from them.


SIDNER: And there's traffic. And for those who have allergies, I'm sorry to be a Debbie downer, whoof, ruff.


BERMAN: Oh, wow. Flower hater.

WHITFIELD: IT's an easy price to pay just for that moment.

BERMAN: All right, thank you all for joining us. This has been CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

A special edition of NEWSROOM, Trump on trial, up next.