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Donald Trump's Attacks on Judges and Prosecutors in His Various Trials May Prompt Expanded Gag Order; Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene Files Motion to Oust Representative Mike Johnson from House Speakership. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 08:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Mike Johnson, his job on the line. Will he last the month? Overnight, he went on the offensive for the first time.

Protestors flooding the streets of Jerusalem this morning, calling for the removal of Israelis' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as key talks between Israel and the Biden administration back on for today.

And as of this morning, the number of measles cases have now surpassed ALL of 2023, and it's only April, barely. What you need to know about the rising health risks.

Kate is out. I'm John Berman with Sara Sidner, and this is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump launching an all-out verbal attack on prosecutors and judges in the criminal cases against him. He's facing a month filled with crucial legal challenges. In an Easter Day post on Truth Social, the former president went out after Special Counsel Jack Smith, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Those attacks coming as he faces three big legal dates this month, you see them there, the 4th, 15th, and the 25th of April. The criminal trial for the New York hush money case set to begin just two weeks from today, CNN's Zach Cohen is joining us now. Zach these increased attacks are really fueling concern about security for those he is going after. There is already a gag order in place and one of the cases.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, there are. That's right. Look, Donald Trump using his Easter Day message to do what we've seen him do so many times already, go after and attack the prosecutors and the judges who are overseeing and prosecuting him in these criminal cases. He namechecks Jack Smith, the special counsel who is prosecuting him in two different criminal cases. He also mention D.A. Fani Willis down in Georgia who is running the criminal case against him there, and Alvin Bragg, the D.A. in New York. But what we've seen really that has drawn a lot of concern due to the

proximity of the upcoming trial are his attacks against the judge overseeing his New York hush money case. That's a trial, as you mentioned, that is scheduled to begin in about two weeks. It's overseen by Judge Merchan. And Trump has not only attack Judge Merchan personally, but singled out his daughter as well. And those concerns fueling criticism from retired and current judges who have said they've really never seen any other defendant in their courtroom behave the way Trump is, and some even warning that his attacks on prosecutors and judges could really undermine the future of democracy and the judicial system.

Just on a practical level, the security concerns that these comments are raising do, in the opinion of District Judge Reggie Walton, they do feel concerns that judges can't do their jobs if they're constantly worried about threats and their own security. So a lot of concerns around here, and Donald Trump, obviously, continuing to ramp up his attacks. We don't expect those concerns to stem those attacks from Donald Trump.

There's also a political element here, too, and we've seen this play out over throughout Trump's presidency and in the time since where Republicans really are eager and are not willing to criticize Donald Trump directly for comments like this. Listen to what Congressman Mike Lawler, who is a Republican from New York, but one in one of those swing districts in New York, how he tried to walk the line and really underscored the way Republicans are trying to delicately address what Donald Trump is saying.


REP. MIKE LAWLER, (R-NY): I think everyone needs to tone down the rhetoric, the language. And obviously, social media has become a vehicle by which to bludgeon people. I just think at the end of the day the former president, current president, and on down, all of us have a responsibility to check our language, to watch what we're saying.


COHEN: So are colleague Stephen Collinson made a good point in his article today on that ultimately at the end of the day this election is not about health care in the Republican policy on the economy. It is going to be because of Donald Trump and Donald Trump trying to make this election about him and about the criminal proceedings against them. Ultimately, if he wins, that could be validated. And if he loses, we'll have to look back at some of the comments like he's been making in recent weeks.

SIDNER: Zach Cohen, thank you so much for that reporting. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: With me now, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. Just very quickly, when it comes to gag orders, there are generally carve-outs, or there have been for the prosecutors and the judges? Why? JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: For carve-outs in terms of in

terms of what people can say about -- Donald Trump can say whatever he wants about prosecutors and judges.

RODGERS: Right, well, they have to be narrowly drafted in order to be constitutional, and the notion is that the boldfaced names, if you will, the judge, the D.A., they are public officials, and the D.A. is an elected official, right? They can take the heat. And you really do have to allow litigants to say some things. I mean, Trump wants to attack the process. He wants to attack some people, so that kind of gives them a way to have middle-ground there.

BERMAN: When it comes to the judge's family, though, which is what's happening here in the New York case, how is that different?


RODGERS: Well, there's no justification for attacking family members, right? They're private citizens, they're not public officials in any way, and they don't have anything to do with the process. I mean, what's the point of attacking someone who isn't actually involved or participating in the trial? So for those reasons, it makes sense to carve them out. He can say what he needs to say to defend himself and attack the process, and so on, but not put into danger people who have really nothing to do with it.

BERMAN: Do you think here in New York that they could, the Judge Merchan could explicitly widen the scope of this gag order given everything that Donald Trump is saying?

RODGERS: Oh, definitely. And the D.A.'s office has asked him to do that. They've said we want some clarification, really, it would be an expansion, I think, but they want the D.A.'s family and the judge's family to be explicitly added to the categories of people who cannot be attacked under this gag order.

BERMAN: And then the question becomes, Jen, what happens if and when Donald Trump crosses the line? What incentive is there for him to stop short of going over that line?

RODGERS: So in a normal case, you would start with a warning and then progress to a fine and then only after a few steps get to jail. The D.A.'s letter mentions criminal contempt as an option for Judge Merchan if he finds that Donald Trump continues to violate the order. So under that provision, you would have a fine and then jail up to 30 days. So we'll see what the judge does.

I will say he has not violated the current order in place. So it's possible that even if the judge expands it to include family members of Alvin Bragg and Judge Merchan, that he will stay within the bounds of the new order, but as he gets more desperate, his trial comes closer, we'll see whether he can do that or not.

BERMAN: He may have a political incentive -- look, how much does Donald Trump care about a fine? I mean, that's the question. That becomes a political question, not so much a legal one, but is a fine enough to keep him from saying something?

RODGERS: Probably not. Prison probably would be, but I know the judge won't want to go there. And just the logistical and security nightmare that it would be to try to put them in for any period of time, I think the judge wants to stay --

BERMAN: And the New York civil case is a different animal. Judge Engoron was the judge and the jury in this case. The only person overseeing the whole thing and making the decision. In the New York criminal case, if Donald Trump continues to poke at the judge, poke at the judge's family, how could that impact Trump in the trial itself?

RODGERS: Well, in theory, it shouldn't, right. I mean, the judges is neutral. He is supposed to put his biases to the side and presumably he can. But most people think if you continue to anger the judge, he's not just the person overseeing the trial, making the evidentiary rulings and so on. He would sentence Donald Trump if he's convicted in this trial. So the notion of do you want to keep attacking the judge like that when this is the person who holds your fate in his hands at sentencing, is that smart or is that not smart?

BERMAN: Yes. And again, this all begins in about two weeks, we think, with jury selection and whatnot, a very, very big month for Donald Trump. Jennifer Rodgers, thank you very much for being here. Sara?

SIDNER: All right, just ahead, he's not even been in the job for six months yet and he's fighting for his job now. Will Mike Johnson be able to keep the speakership.

Also, critical talks a day as the White House and Israeli officials discuss how to go forward in Gaza after weeks of tension between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Plus, a massive data breach, more than 73 million AT&T customers had sensitive information stolen and put onto the dark web. How to know if you're impacted and what to do if you are. That's ahead.



BERMAN: New this morning, House Speaker Mike Johnson fighting to save his job after Marjorie Taylor Greene's threat to oust him. He's now going on offense really for the first time, even calling her motion to vacate, quote, "a distraction from our mission." He's also strategizing with Matt Gaetz on how to keep the gavel with funding for Ukraine on the line.

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox joins us now. He's got this thin, thin margin. He's got to find a way to live with it for the next month.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And if you remember, right before the recess, Marjorie Taylor Greene firing this kind of warning shot. Now, she has not said that this is definitely the step she is going to take, but she is warning Speaker Johnson, you're on notice. And so in the meantime, everyone around her and everyone around Speaker Johnson is really maneuvering behind the scenes to try to avert what they view could be a political crisis for Republicans.

What you have right now with Speaker Johnson is behind the scenes he is seeking guidance from, as you pointed out, Matt Gaetz, the very man who brought the resolution to oust Kevin McCarthy back in October. And the guidance he's getting from Gaetz according to this great reporting from our colleagues Melanie Zanona, Annie Grayer, and Manu Raju, is that Matt Gaetz is arguing they need to get some Republican wins on the board.

But that could be very difficult for Speaker Johnson in the months ahead. That's because he's already given some signs that he could move on Ukraine aid in some form or fashion. Now, what state that actually takes remains to be seen. They could serve structure this was some kind of loan program. He's still working out those details. But that's something else that House conservatives do not want to see on the floor.

Meanwhile, Speaker Johnson making a political argument that Marjorie Taylor Greene may want to rethink her decision-making process here. Here's what he said.


TREY GOWDY, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA REPRESENTATIVE: How does this motion to vacate help went back the majority or when a bigger majority?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON, (R-LA) HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't think it does, and I think all of my other Republican colleagues recognize this as a distraction from our mission.


Again, the mission is to save the Republic and the only way we can do that is if we grow the House majority, win the Senate and win the White House.

So we don't need any dissention right now.


FOX: And Speaker Johnson could talk to Marjorie Taylor Greene this week, have some kind of conversation. He is really known behind the scenes as someone who is really affable, someone who is very friendly, perhaps a lot of conservatives view him as much less defensive than Kevin McCarthy. He is someone who has tried to have a good relationship with many Republicans.

And again, it is not clear Marjorie Taylor Greene would have the votes to actually move forward with this, John, but again, she made it very clear that Speaker Johnson is on notice, at least with her.

BERMAN: Yes, on like double secret or double not-so-secret probation, maybe right now, Lauren. The Matt Gaetz path for getting Republican wins, what's available? I mean, especially given that the impeachment of President Biden seems to have fallen flat completely.

FOX: Yes, I mean, I am thinking back to the fall when Kevin McCarthy was in trouble, remember, he announced that they were going to be moving forward with an impeachment inquiry before they even had a vote on the floor of the House and that was really seen as an effort by McCarthy to try to stop the right flank from moving forward with this this Motion to Vacate.

Now eventually, that didn't work, but Speaker Johnson really doesn't have that tool at his disposal because everyone knows, right now the votes aren't there to move forward with impeachment.

Is there something else he could do? If you keep in mind the fact that they have moved forward with impeaching Secretary Mayorkas. That's one victory he gave conservatives. There's other pet legislation that lawmakers always have that potentially he could bring to the floor, but the reason it is so difficult to get some of those conservative wins is he has majority makers, people who are running in swing districts who don't want to vote on red meat Republican legislation in an election year.

And he has such a narrow margin that if he brings something to the floor, he either has to pass it or if he is just bringing it to the floor to make conservatives happy knowing it won't pass, he gets the ear of those governing Republicans who argue he is not an efficient leader.

So that's the really difficult position that Speaker Johnson is finding himself in -- John.

BERMAN: April could be a very long month for Speaker Johnson or not, maybe a short month for the speaker. We will see.

Lauren Fox, thank you so much for your reporting -- Sara.

SIDNER: With his caucus, rock hard, place, Speaker Johnson. That's where we are at.


SIDNER: All right, thank you, John.

All right, crucial talks on the war in Gaza after weeks of tension, the US and Israel will discuss it today. This, as Israel's prime minister is facing massive protests at home, the largest since the war began.

And a surge in measles cases in the United States, we just reached April. It is the first, and already there have been more cases this year than all of 2023. What is going on?


[08:22:37] SIDNER: High-level talks between the US and Israel on Gaza are

expected to resume today. AXIOS is reporting officials will hold a virtual meeting to discuss the Biden administration's alternative options to an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah.

Netanyahu has so far not been swayed from going forward with that ground offensive in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled to try and survive the war in Gaza.

Now at the same time, Netanyahu is facing one of the largest protests in Israel since the war began. Thousands of Israelis took to the streets over the weekend and this morning, demanding Netanyahu resign.

Netanyahu says he will not call early elections, insisting that would only benefit Hamas and paralyze Israel.

Joining us now CNN global affairs analyst, Kim Dozier. Thank you so much for being here.

This virtual meeting comes after the US allowed a UN Security Council resolution last week calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages to pass by abstaining from the vote. Netanyahu was very unhappy with that and announced he was canceling the meeting at the White House a day later.

Can you give us some sense of what we are expected to see and hear in these virtual talks?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look from the Biden administration's point of view, they know that for Netanyahu, continuing the war and being able to tell his people that we have gotten every high level Hamas leader and we have dismayed the tunnel structure beneath Rafah, that's what Netanyahu needs for his political survival.

So the Biden White House knows they've got to find a way to safely do this or a safe as possible, because with the political winds that Netanyahu is facing, he is not going to stop and the majority of Israelis, they don't trust Netanyahu, according to recent polls, but they trust the Palestinians less, and while they're protesting Netanyahu's government, they're not yet protesting the war in Gaza, and I think you only see that if every last hostage had been returned.

SIDNER: I did want to ask you about the Israeli protests because they are massive. They're really, really, really large and the largest we've seen since the war began. will there be any pressure to have Netanyahu change tacks in any way? I know that most of the pressure is to try to get the hostages out.

DOZIER: Well, this is the first of several planned days of demonstrations and the Netanyahu government had faced this kind of protest before the October 7th attacks over its attempts to change the way the Judiciary operates and the way High Court judges are chosen.

[08:25:16] So there was already this unrest resident in much of Israeli

population. But right now, he is facing opposition from both the left, the middle over the handling of the hostage situation, and the right over a local issue.

Right now, Israel's High Court has stripped away the government's ability to pay Haredi, these are open true religious Jews for studying instead of serving in the military, so that could dissolve Netanyahu's government and trigger new elections if the right wing of his coalition pulls out.

But if they don't, he can stay in office for three years until the next elections officially take place.

SIDNER: And just to sort of round that out, there has been a longstanding for many, many decades of this fight between the ultra- Orthodox and the Israelis, it is all over military conscription that all Israeli Jews have to go into the military except -- with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox, and you think that that -- could break up his coalition if he goes forward with this -- there is a new change in policy and a deadline for a change in policy on how the ultra-Orthodox are treated.

Do you think that if he says they have to go into service like everyone else, so that would blow up his coalition?

DOZIER: Well, the problem is, the policy about these 50,000 to 60,000 men of military age who are instead paid the stay in Yeshiva and pray, the policy has expired.

Netanyahu's government hasn't come up with a new one yet, so the High Court has stepped in with this interim ruling saying, you can no longer pay these people for praying rather than serving and there is a large number of Israelis who are also saying, why should they get out of service while our young men are in harm's way?

There have also been a bunch of investigative reports done where these ultra-religious people are followed and they're not praying from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM like they are supposed to be doing, they are instead working on the economy.

This internal situation could trigger some sort of dissolution of the government. But so far, the ultra-right, members of Netanyahu's coalition are giving him a chance to work it out. They haven't threatened pull out yet.

SIDNER: All right, I know it is all coming to a head because of the war in Gaza.

Kim Dozier, thank you so much for your analysis. Always great to see you.

DOZIER: Thanks.

SIDNER: All right, just ahead, could convicted murderer, Alex Murdaugh have his plea deal revoked on financial crimes? We will discuss that.

And a massively from AT&T leaves millions of peoples' data at risk and on the dark web. What you can do to protect yourself.