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Trump Ramps up Rhetoric; Biden's Chances Could Hinge on Black Voters; Trump Ramps UP Attacks; Crews Working on Alternate Channel in Baltimore; Matt Harris is Interviewed about Murdaugh Case. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And up on the screen a moment ago we had that - that statistic, 97 percent effective.


BERMAN: The measles vaccine is 97 percent effective.

HOWARD: That's so important. Yes, exactly, John.

BERMAN: Jacqueline Howard, great to see you this morning. Thank you very much.

We got a lot of developments on some major stories. And new hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump raging against prosecutors as the legal cases begin closing in on him. It's a critical month for the former president. His first criminal trial starts in just a couple of weeks.

And next hour the last - possibly the last sentence for convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh. Soon he'll find out how much time he will get for stealing from his clients and law firm.

Also today, 50 million people from Texas to Virginia are under a severe weather risk. Some areas could see some tornadoes. We will have the latest forecast for you.

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

BERMAN: This morning, crooked, deranged, and evil. That is how Donald Trump celebrated Easter. The words he used in an Easter message to describe the prosecutors leading criminal cases against him as he gets ready for a critical month. He targeted special counsel Jack Smith, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. This after going after the daughter of the judge overseeing his criminal case in New York in a separate message.

CNN's Steve Contorno joins us now.

Pretty stark, one might say bleak, one might say dark holiday messaging, Steve.


And this is something we have seen from the former president as his legal engagements increase. And this lashing out against the judicial system where he is facing indictments in four different upcoming cases.

And this message in particular was focused more generally at the, quote, "prosecutors and judges that are doing everything possible" that he said to interfere with the presidential election. Those are his words. Obviously, they would argue that is not the case here.

And in that post he went on to attack Jack Smith, as you said, Fani Willis, the DA in Fulton County, Georgia. And this comes after a week where we saw the former president repeatedly attack several other individuals who are involved in overseeing these cases, and some other family members. As you mentioned, the daughter of one of the judges overseeing the trial that is set to begin, that will determine whether he made illegal hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

And the timing of this is coming just as the legal calendar is hitting a critical juncture for Trump. On - let me go through some of these dates for you because it really - they are stacking up. Thursday is the deadline for Trump to secure a $175 million bond in the case over - involving his business empire in New York. On April 15th, that New York hush money trial begins also in New York. And on April 25th, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments that will determine the breadth of presidential immunity. Of course, Trump is arguing that he has blanket immunity while he is president and cannot be charged for what he did while in office.

So, all these legal cases are starting to hit a head and we are seeing Trump attack the judges, the prosecutors, the judicial system at large at this critical juncture, John.

BERMAN: All right, Steve Contorno for us following all this. Appreciate your reporting, sir.


SIDNER: New this morning, President Biden's path to re-election could hinge potentially on black voters, but he has to reach them first. His team is trying to tackle a decades-long drop in black voter turnout, especially among black men. And battleground Wisconsin could be the first test of their efforts.

CNN's Isaac Dovere is joining me now.

Isaac, Wisconsin's primary tomorrow.


SIDNER: What is the strategy here? What are they looking at?

DOVERE: Well, look, they've been working for the last couple of weeks on implementing a number of new methods that they're trying to do to reach out to voters. A big part of it is organizing in communities, what they call relational organizing. Not just knocking on doors, but having people go to spots where they thinking voters are who have not been engaged with the problem process and talking to them, getting them involved in deeper conversations than that usual, again, knocking on the door saying, hey, would you vote for this guy or that guy. That is a part of a larger effort that also involves putting voters - or putting volunteers to work in texting everybody in their contact group, putting together their own content maybe for social media, all these things that they're looking for of where to break through on this huge problem.


As you say, it's been years of a decline in black voting and especially among black men. You know, there was a Quinnipiac poll last week that showed 69 percent of people - of black voters saying that Biden would be their choice for president, 23 percent showing that Trump would be their choice. Those numbers are higher than they were in 2016 or 2020. That may not be where things are in November. But the big concern for the Biden campaign is getting black voters to show up at all and to be there in places that they need. Pretty much every battleground state that Biden would need to win a second term is a place that has large concentrations of black voters in some of the major cities.

SIDNER: All right, Isaac Dovere, thank you for that.


BERMAN: We are getting new reaction to the bleak and dark Easter message we were just talking about from Donald Trump. Republican Congressman Mike Lawler was asked about the attacks on judges, prosecutors, and their families. This is how he responded.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): I think everyone needs to tone down the rhetoric, the language. And, you know, 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.


BERMAN: With us now, CNN political commentator Paul Begala and CNN senior political commentator Scott Jennings.

Paul, that was kind of a long-winded answer to a very direct question about what do you think of Trump's attacks on family members of people here. And the response was, everyone needs to be nicer. Does that cover it?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, everyone needs to grow a spine, John. Everyone needs to stop being such a pusillanimous wuss. I'm sorry, if you can't stand up and say a possibly threatening, or at least endangering, a judge's family is a bad thing - and, by the way, both sides, really? Here's what Joe Biden said in his Easter message, and I'm quoting our president here. He said, I'm sending warmest wishes to Christians around the world. Gee, does he need to really tone that down? Is that really hateful?

The Republicans are in a terrible spot here. It's actually the opposite. Isaac's report is very important, right? Joe Biden has the opposite problem. He's got a problem with his base. And he seems to be addressing it. But let's see if he can get black voters back and young voters back. Huge problem in Biden's base.

Trump has no problem with his base. In fact, his problem is the base because the things he does that fire up that base, like hawking, God forbid, a King James Bible for $69 when you can buy it for $6.29 on Amazon, the rest goes to Mr. Trump apparently, those things alienate the voters Trump needs in order to win. You know, he lost 25 percent of the Republican vote in Kansas, 25 percent of the Republican vote in the primary in Arizona when he was unopposed. He lost 19 percent of the primary vote in Florida, his home state, where he's unopposed. So, he's got this huge problem with swing voters and moderates. Biden has a problem with his base, but at least Biden's addressing his. I think Trump is making his problem worse.

BERMAN: Scott, it is - it's interesting. I mean in 2016, and after Trump won election the first time, you did get the sense that Republicans, many Republicans, hated having to answer questions about Trump's behavior. They avoid it at any chance they get.

Now, Mike Lawler didn't look comfortable there, but he just sort of went through the motions and then moved on. I'm wondering if Republicans, at this point, don't have the issues that they used to have with that.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think Republicans still hate having to answer for it because most of them don't conduct themselves in that way.

And, number two, the correct answer to the question is, families should be off-limits, particularly, you know, daughters of judges. I mean, I question the legal strategy here. I mean is it really smart to go after the daughter of the judge overseeing your trial? I question the wisdom of that, but, hey, I guess he's allowed to do whatever.

So, I - but I - you know, look, we're going to have another cycle like we've had before. And he's going to do things that are going to make a lot of Republicans uncomfortable. Some are going to defend it. Some are going to squirm around the edges of it. And some are going to say it's wrong. And, you know, I sort of feel like we're on rinse and repeat. I mean this message he put out yesterday, it's really no different than a lot of the messages we've seen him put out, you know, in - since he came onto the scene.

BERMAN: But then, Scott, why can't Mike Lawler just give the answer that you gave right there? And you come, by the way, from a state more conservative than Mike Lawler's, you know, congressional district.

JENNINGS: Hey, listen, I mean, I - look, I respect the heck out of Mike Lawler. I think he's a great congressman. And, you know, I wish him the best because I hope it gets re-elected. I think he's one of the most promising members of Congress that we have in the Republican conference.


And so I don't - I don't necessarily think his answer is something that an average voter would here and say, that's wrong. I think they would say, yes, that seems like a reasonable response to me. So - but I don't think there's any - I don't think there's really any way to run a race when you have a significant number of Republicans in your district by just running simply as an anti-Trump Republican, which is, I think, what you're suggesting. You cannot do that. I mean that's not a possibility. The base of the Republican Party expects Republican elected officials, to some degree, to support the leader of the party, which today is Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Paul, you were talking about President Biden and his base, addressing his base. A little while ago, I think he opened the Easter egg festivities at the White House today and he did an interview, I believe, with NBC. And he was asked about voter enthusiasm. So, let's play a little bit of that.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just think people are so tired of the negativity that is propagated, that they just - they just want to get engaged. They want to change things. And I'm optimistic. I really am.


BERMAN: People want to get engaged. I'm optimistic. I really am. And I think he also went on to say that he is seeing signs that people are starting to get engaged. Is he, are there signs like that out there, Paul?

BEGALA: Oh, I think he is. Isaac's report is important. I talked to the Democratic Party chairman in Wisconsin about ten days ago, Ben Wikler. He is on this in the same way Isaac saw, I saw when I talked to Ben. And Democrats around the country, they should be desperately concerned about their declining support in a black community, especially with black men. They should be and are very concerned about declining enthusiasm among young people. And they're working on it. See, that makes sense to me. A politician has a problem. A politician's working on the problem.

Mr. Trump's problem is that he is alienating those voters he needs. He should be putting Nikki Haley on the ticket, not demonizing her and attacking her supporters. By the way, meanwhile, Democrats are reaching out to Haley supporters and Haley donors to try to bring them into the tent. You know, it is, I guess, because it's the day after Easter, there's two kind of churches, ones that hunt down heretics and others that welcome in converts, right? Biden seems to be the kind of politician that wants to welcome in converts. Mr. Trump is definitely somebody who's hunting down heretics. And that is politics of subtraction, not addition.

BERMAN: Scott, I saw the head shaking. You want to put words to that head shake that we saw there as Paul was talking?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, the idea that he's going to put Nikki Haley on the ticket, I mean, that's not a possibility. I mean, I think Trump is looking at his vice presidential choice in a couple of ways. One, who can help me -

BEGALA: Right, but why? Why, Scott? Why? Because he's faithful and divisive, right?

JENNINGS: Because - because most of her supporters approve of Joe Biden. I mean look at the exit polls from the primaries. I mean she - her support was largely made up of Joe Biden supporters and people who have never voted for Donald Trump. So, no, I doubt that he's going to make much headway with that group.

The fact is, most of those people are not attainable for him what is attainable for him is to continue to do what Paul was just discussing that's the problem in Joe Biden's base. What's attainable is to continue to cut into the African American vote, continue to cut into the Hispanic vote, continue to cut into the working class vote. That's not Nikki Haley. I'm sorry. It might be Tim Scott, however. And so, when you're thinking about choosing a running mate here, if you're looking at it through pure, you know, what is politically the best thing I can do, go right after my opponents weakness. And Paul just laid out what Joe Biden's weaknesses are. And there's a lot of choices that Donald Trump could make that aren't Haley that would cut into those weaknesses in my opinion.

BERMAN: Scott Jennings, Paul Begala, happy late Easter to both of you. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIDNER: All right, meet third-party presidential candidate officially running as literally anybody else. Seriously, that - that is his legal name. We'll speak with this Texas man who's using his name hoping for change.

And starting today, California fast food workers are getting a raise. Their minimum wages is now $20 an hour. But will the change mean higher prices and potentially job cuts.

Also right now, crews are working to clear a channel for ships near the destroyed bridge in Baltimore. We'll get an up close look at that.



SIDNER: As we speak, crews in Baltimore working to open a temporary alternate channel around the mangled wreckage that was the Francis Scott Key Bridge. This is an essential step to get the Port of Baltimore, which is one of the busiest in the nation, back up and running and get that economy back on track. This morning, demolition crews are back out at the wreckage site, removing debris. And the Coast Guard is working to set up that go around at the same time.

Our Gabe Cohen is also there.

It has been really rough with a lot of rain. Do we have any sense of what this alternative route could be at this point, how they're going to do it?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sara, you're right, the conditions brutal again this morning with a lot of heavy rain and wind. And, look, this would be a major step forward if they can get this alternate channel opened up. The goal is to have it open for commercially essential vessels. We don't know exactly what would fall within that criteria or how big of a vessel could come in and out if it could open some of the traffic to the port.

But as of now, I just heard from the Joint Information Center and they have said that as of this moment they're really focused on the channel being used by only the vessels that are involved in their operation, the salvage operation, trying to clear away pieces of the bridge. So, we don't have a timeline on when it could be used by port traffic and when they could potentially open the port.


We know thousands of jobs at risk, potentially millions of dollars in a local impact to the economy here.

So, again, the timeline, very fluid.

We also are hearing this morning, Sara, for the first time from a man who was one of the last people to drive on the Key Bridge just before the collapse. He was heading to work that morning. And he crossed the Key Bridge just seconds, most likely, before it came down.

I spoke to him just a few minutes ago right here. Take a listen to what he told me.


LARRY DESANTIS, ONE OF LAST DRIVERS ON KEY BRIDGE: It's really - it's hard to believe. I just - and I - I feel sorry for those workers. I really do. I mean they're doing their jobs and they lost their lives. So, it's - it's hard to - you know, I mean, I drove right by them. You know, I saw all of them. You know, just a minute before they probably died.


COHEN: So, you can hear the emotion there, Sara. It's something we have heard from so many people here in Baltimore over the past six days. Right now crews, despite the weather, are still out there trying to map this scene. They are doing surveys and scans of the wreckage, not just above the surface, but in those 50 feet of depth below the surface of the water in the river. But it's dark, its murky, it is cold, Sara. A tall task ahead of them, again, trying to open that alternate channel. But it's not clear when that could be open to more than just those salvage operation crews.

SIDNER: Gabe, I think we all remember watching that bridge collapse and watching the cars just make it just in time, those folks. And to hear from him, that was pretty incredible. Thank you so much. Appreciate that, Gabe.

All right, coming up, drama over a plea deal for convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh. His federal financial crimes plead deal could go up in smoke after prosecutors say he failed a polygraph test.

And, an intense storm working its way across the United States. Millions of people are in its path. It could bring tornadoes, flooding, and a foot of snow in the springtime. Sorry, guys.



BERMAN: Moments from now, Alex Murdaugh will walk into what will likely be his final sentencing here. And he pleaded guilty to 22 federal financial crimes. This following his murder convictions for killing his wife and son.

We just heard from the attorney representing some of the victims of the financial crimes. Listen.


ERIC BLAND, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING FINANCIAL CRIME VICTIMS: These were people who were vulnerable, who lost loved ones and needed lifetime medical treatment and they went to Alex Murdaugh in their most vulnerable time and he exploited them and took advantage of them and stole their money at a time when they needed it most. I mean, you know, the loss of a loved one was hard enough, but to be betrayed by somebody that they revered and that the community revered, they're still scared.


BERMAN: With us now is the host of "The Murdaugh Family Murders" podcast, Matt Harris.

Matt, you've been following this from the very beginning. What are you looking for today?

MATT HARRIS, HOST, "THE MURDAUGH FAMILY MURDERS" PODCAST: Well, I mean, it's going to be a hard road for the Murdaugh attorneys to pitch this fact that the polygraph was tainted or influenced by the guy who ran the polygraph that day. So, I think that is a hard sell.

And then also I think we're looking at, well Judge Gergel, will they do a concurrent penalty for the federal charges with the state charges. That is what was the original plan with the plea. But the plea may be tossed out because of the failure on the lie detector test. So, I mean, either way it's going to be a hard day for Alex Murdaugh, I would imagine.

BERMAN: So, let's rewind a little bit.


BERMAN: Talk to us about this polygraph test. Why did he take it? What was it about? How did he fail it?

HARRIS: Fair enough. OK, so, it was part of the plea deal with the feds that (INAUDIBLE) being truthful because he's supposed to be truthful on everything. He's supposed to let them know everything there is to know, right? So, he took that back in October I think it was, but we just found out about that a few days ago that he was consistently dishonest throughout the lie detector test.

Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin, his attorneys have said that they just got word of this a little too late to do anything about. But they're saying that the - the man who was doing the lie detector test talk to Alex Murdaugh before it started about Joran Van der Sloot, you remember from the Natalee Holloway situation. He said, oh, I just did a polygraph and Joran Van der Sloot. And they say that rattled Alex Murdaugh. And that rattling caused him to appear dishonest. I mean that's part of the reason why he appeared dishonest on all these questions.

And the questions - we don't know all the questions yet at all because the federal government says we're not going to tell you what we asked him because we're still ongoing investigations. But I'm assuming they asked about where 6 million plus dollar is that has gone missing, according to the feds.


The state said it was about 1 million. The feds say it's about 6 million.

Also, we know that - we know for sure that he was asked about other