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Chinese President Xi Jinping Secures Third Term; Republican Presidential Race; Will Donald Trump Face Criminal Charges?. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: On a lighter note, a winner-take-all game of one-on-one basketball between the governors of Maryland and Virginia. The prize? The next FBI headquarters.

The Maryland governor, Wes Moore, challenging Virginia's Youngkin, who happens to be a former college basketball player. Youngkin says, game on. You see it right there, accepting the challenge with this video.

Thanks for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you have a safe and wonderful weekend.

Kristin Fisher picks up our coverage right now.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN HOST: I'm Kristin Fisher in Washington.

Could former President Trump soon face criminal charges? CNN has learned that Manhattan prosecutors have invited Trump to testify next week before a grand jury. It's a move that typically indicates an investigation is nearing its end and that an indictment could be imminent.

The former president is currently at the center of multiple criminal investigations. But this grand jury is looking into the hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. Remember, while president, Mr. Trump was asked about the payment, and he denied making it, and directed questions to his then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Less than a year later, Cohen testified to Congress. Watch.


QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


QUESTION: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you will have to ask Michael Cohen.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1 of 2017, when he was president of the United States.

The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.


FISHER: With me now, CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

So, Paula, how likely is it that an indictment is coming for the former president in this case?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know, based on what we're seeing happening with this investigation, is, it appears that they are likely nearing the end of this probe. It has been going on for approximately five years.

And the fact that they have extended this invitation to the former president does suggest that in indictment is possible, if not likely. And it's been interesting. Over the past few weeks, Kristin, we have seen this sudden uptick in activity in this investigation. We have seen a series of high-profile witnesses, close allies of the former president, like Kellyanne Conway, who picks going in to testify.

Now, if there is an indictment here, prosecutors could face some challenges. You have the fact that this is conduct that is approximately seven years old. This is a pretty novel legal theory that they would be pursuing as well. And at the heart of this, there is a potential crime, but it is ultimately a paperwork crime. And Michael Cohen, who you just heard there, he would be a key witness.

And some defense attorneys may seize on the fact that he is a convicted liar, and he has made many repeated public comments about his ill feelings towards his former boss. So, prosecutors, if they choose to bring this, it would be an unprecedented indictment of a former president. But there are a lot of open questions, Kristin, about whether they could be successful in any possible trial.


And it's so interesting that, of all the cases that the former president is embroiled in, that this one seems to have the most traction, at least for the moment.

Paula Reid, thank you so much.

So let's bring in CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero. She's senior fellow for the Center for a New American Security.

Carrie, the fact that the former president was invited to testify, what does that indicate to you?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as Paula was describing, what it really indicates is that the investigation is nearing its conclusion, at least the use of the grand jury.

And my understanding of New York law is that they provide that opportunity. He's not going to do it. He -- there's no real good reason for the former president, in this case, especially given all of the other investigations that are out there and the potential of him saying anything that potentially would not be in his interest.

So I think there's really no likelihood that he actually will take them up on that offer, but it is part of their process.

FISHER: So, if charges are brought against a former president and a current presidential candidate, how difficult of a case will this be for the Manhattan DA to prove?

CORDERO: Well, the interesting thing about this particular case is that so much time has passed, and the facts haven't changed at all. So the facts in this case are what they always have been since the conduct that took place, as Paula described, about seven years ago.


It is the payment of information. It really would come down to Michael Cohen's word and whether or not a potential trial adjudication would find that he is credible in what he's saying. He is the main witness. He's the individual who facilitated the payment. And he has pleaded guilty for crimes himself.

So it would really come down to him as a witness. And there are delay and time that has gone by and different prosecutors that seem to have passed on this case. So I have some skepticism about the New York decision if they really do move forward with this particular prosecution of a former president.

FISHER: Yes, well, speaking of Michael Cohen, this morning, he really casts doubt on the chances that Trump will testify, echoing what you just said.

Listen to this, and I will get your take on the other side.


COHEN: I have to applaud district attorney Bragg for giving Donald the opportunity to come in and to tell his story. Now, knowing Donald as well as I do, understand that he doesn't tell the truth. It's one thing to turn around and to lie on your un-TRUTH Social. It's another thing to turn around and lie before a grand jury, which I don't suspect that he's going to be coming.


FISHER: So, Carrie, you don't think that he would testify either. And I'm assuming you would not advise him to testify if you were his attorney?

CORDERO: I can't imagine that his lawyers would advise him that it would be in his interest, or anybody else who would similarly situated, so any individual who is facing different federal and local down in Georgia, a wide array of potential criminal exposure.

I just can't imagine how his lawyers would give him the advice that it would be wise for him to testify.

FISHER: All right, well, we will wait and see.

Carrie Cordero, thank you so much.

CORDERO: Thank you.

FISHER: So, with Trump's legal ballot baggage on full display, his Republican rivals are descending on that key primary battleground state of Iowa.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis making two stops there today, laying the groundwork for an expected White House run that would instantly become Trump's biggest primary threat. Official 2024 candidate Nikki Haley also in Iowa today. As for the former president, he will be there on Monday. It's getting crowded there.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Des Moines.

So, Jeff, what kind of pitch to voters are we hearing from DeSantis? And has he said anything about Trump today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristin, he has not mentioned the former president by name, but, boy, that is the subtext for his appearance here, of course.

He is going to declare his candidacy -- at least that's his intention -- in either may or June, after the Florida legislative session ends, but he is trying to sell his candidacy or the idea of it right now.

And the only mention of the former president, as he spoke this morning, he said his administration has had no drama. He describes himself as a doer, not a talker, but does not mention, of course, Donald Trump by name. But he does promote what he's done in Florida, his proposals, and also what he calls fighting against the woke crowd.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We chose freedom over Fauci-ism, just like Iowa, and we were right, and they were wrong.


ZELENY: So, of course, he touts his proposals about how he kept the state of Florida largely open.

The former president actually has been disagreeing with that. He points to the fact that, during the early months of COVID, the Florida governor actually closed the state down. So that will be one of the differences that they hash out once this campaign is fully joined.

But, Kristin, I can tell you, talking to Republican voters here, you're in a couple different camps. You're either fully supportive of Donald Trump and want him to win back the White House, or you're looking for an alternative. And the Florida governor is high on the top of the list of many Republicans, but they also want to see how he actually does on the ground actually campaigning.

And there are other candidates, as you said, the former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, she's been here for several days. Other candidates also expected to get in. So this is the very beginning of the process here, but certainly a significant development that the Florida governor is finally -- he says he's selling a book. He certainly is touting his idea of a run -- Kristin.

FISHER: For perhaps a candidacy.

I think you said that he will likely announce in May, if he does indeed announce. Is what you say? Any more clarity on the timing of DeSantis making this official?

ZELENY: It is.

The timing is largely because it's after the Florida legislative session. He could even wait until June, when he signs the Florida budget into law. But he's sending these signals now, A, to try and perhaps freeze the race of some other rivals, and, B, just to get everything in place.

But we do not expect a formal announcement until then. But that's when his advisers and supporters are expecting it -- Kristin.

FISHER: Got it. All right, fair enough. Thank you so much, Jeff Zeleny, live in Des Moines for us.

ZELENY: You bet.

FISHER: So let's bring in CNN political analyst Laura Barron-Lopez.

Laura, even though Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are officially running, it feels as though the Republican race is almost in a holding pattern until DeSantis officially enters the race. Do you agree with that?


LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'd say that's a fair assessment, because DeSantis is arguably the one candidate that many Republican strategists, Republican voters are waiting to see when he jumps in.

And when I was at CPAC just last week, other than Trump, the candidate that they mentioned the most, the voters talked about the most was Ron DeSantis. Now, it didn't mean that they necessarily were going to support him, but they were eagerly trying to figure out if he was going to jump in. FISHER: Yes.

And you heard that pitch that Jeff Zeleny said DeSantis was making today, that DeSantis is the no-drama candidate. How do you think that would play among the Republican base that's going to be voting in these primaries?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, the Republican base is still very much in line with Trump. And we have also seen that the majority of the party is, even if they may not necessarily want the former president to be the GOP nominee again for president.

Ron DeSantis is not that different from Donald Trump on policy. We're seeing that across his speeches. He is also very focused on anti- transgender, anti-LGBTQ legislation. We have seen him pass it in Florida. That's been a big part of his campaign. And that's also something that former President Trump has run on.

Another thing that a number of these candidates, whether it's DeSantis, Nikki Haley, or other potential ones that could jump in, are not doing is, they are not distancing themselves from the former president on January 6. Ron DeSantis, right after 2020, was actually an election denier. And he has not at all forcefully condemned the former president, whether it's on his repeated lies about the 2020 election or his lies about the 2022 election.

FISHER: Something else we have been watching is, several former Trump staffers have launched pro-DeSantis PACs, the latest from one of his former top homeland security officials.

Do you think team Trump should be worried about more allies switching sides and the potential for that happening more and more as this race goes on?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Of course.

I mean, right now, we know that those who are still in line with Trump, Trump's aides, are trying to twist arms and make sure that they're going to be getting the same endorsements that they got last time around, that people are sticking with him. We have already seen a number of House Republicans take sides, whether it's saying that they would endorse a potential DeSantis run or saying that they're still standing behind Donald Trump.

We saw the third-ranking Republican, Elise Stefanik, in the House already say that she's behind former President Trump. And that's because of the fact that they expect candidates like DeSantis, as well as a number of other Republicans, to jump into this race.


At the top of the show, we were talking about these potential charges that the former president could now face. Obviously, nobody wants to be indicted. But he could use this to his advantage. Certainly wouldn't be the some -- time that he used something that was seemingly negative and tried to turn it into a good thing to rally his base. What do you think about that, him using it for his advantage?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I think he certainly would use it to his advantage.

Trump has already said that, if he were indicted, he would continue to run, that he would not pull out of the race. And when I was talking to a lot of his base at CPAC, they said over and over again, even when presented with the facts about the FOX that -- about -- with the facts about FOX News and how FOX hosts admitted that they did not believe the 2020 election was stolen, that base for Trump did not believe FOX, even when they admitted privately and all this evidence was out there that they were not telling the truth about the 2020 election.

And so, even when faced with the facts, and when there -- when Trump is under attack, I think that you can see a rallying effect around him, particularly with the Republican base.

FISHER: In addition to DeSantis, of course, Nikki Haley, one of his Republican challengers, although DeSantis has not officially entered the race yet. Nikki Haley has.

And she is now calling for raising the retirement age. And it's getting some pushback from several prominent Republicans. What do you think of that? What's her strategy here?

BARRON-LOPEZ: So, Nikki Haley's proposal is actually one that Republicans, for a long time, including former House Speaker Paul Ryan, have talked about in terms of cutting entitlements, making significant changes to Social Security and Medicare.

And even Ron DeSantis, who we're talking about in the past, has supported privatizing Medicare, has even supported potentially turning it into a voucher system. So, Nikki Haley's proposal is actually very in line with traditional conservative proposals. But now, because of the fact that President Biden has been attacking Republicans on this, as well as former President Trump, has decided to make this a fault line in the potential GOP primary.


So, this is something that you're seeing Republicans start to split a little bit more on. We saw that DeSantis backtracked on his prior support of big changes to Medicare and Social Security, particularly when he was in Congress. And so you're seeing some Republicans like Haley, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence, say, no, we still support these big changes and cuts to entitlement programs, and other Republicans change their tune a bit on that, in preparation for this big primary.

FISHER: All right, Laura Barron-Lopez, thank you so much.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Thank you.

FISHER: Well, California, I mean, it just can't seem to catch a break. Another wild weather event called an atmospheric river is now dumping

more rain on parts of the state that have already been inundated with deadly floods and snow. Officials are urging some residents to evacuate and warning that some snow-packed roofs could collapse under all that extra weight.

That's what happened at this store outside of Sacramento. Look at that.

CNN national correspondent Nick Watt joins us live from Felton, California.

Nick, you're standing beside what appears to be a raging river. What are you -- what are you seeing there?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kristin, we are seeing a lot of water.

As you said, we're in Felton. And an evacuation order kicked in here and elsewhere just a little bit after midnight. At that time, we were on the road from L.A. We had to drive because there were flights canceled into San Jose. And I have got to say, the rain at that time, felt like you needed three or four faster speeds on your windchill wipers just to keep up.

And we have just heard in the last hour or so the road that we took in from the main highway to the coast, that's now closed because of slides. Now, Felton has been hit before recently, in January, left behind a lot of this. As you mentioned, California cannot catch a break, this the 10th atmospheric river to hit the state this winter. They call it the Pineapple Express. Sounds fun.

It is not. It's when low pressure from the north meet some moisture- laden air by Hawaii, and basically aims a fire hose at this state. Throw in a couple of other winter storms, you have got two years worth of snow some places. And the fear right now is the weather that we're getting at the moment is a little bit warmer.

So, along with all the rain, we could see a lot of that snow melting. We are keeping an eye on a lot of places. There's a little town just further downriver near Santa Cruz Circle, where the main street has been washed out. We're going to go and check that out in a little bit.

The entire city of Fresno is under a flash flood watch. Right now, the river is lowering, but, but California is going to get hit again by another atmospheric river early in the week. We were just talking to a fire department guy here. They are waiting to see, trying to forecast where might get hit next.

The only silver lining to this cloud is all of these storms are putting a dent in the years-long drought that we have been suffering out in California, but for the people of Felton and elsewhere who have been getting hit time and time and time again this winter, this is just a another, another storm to face. And they are wondering, when will it stop? Around this time of year, the rains should be stopping in California, but, as I say, one more atmospheric river forecast to hit early next week -- Kristin.

FISHER: And so that -- Nick, that would be the 11th atmospheric river to hit?

WATT: That is right. It would be the 11th.

And, again, don't forget those other winter storms thrown in. Some people are saying that they haven't seen weather like this in California for decades, maybe even half-a-century.

This has been a very unusual winter here in California -- Kristin.

FISHER: No kidding.

Well, I liked that you at least put some good news in, saying that all this water is making a dent in the historic drought.

WATT: Yes.

FISHER: But, I mean, the...

WATT: Crumbs of comfort. Crumbs of comfort.

FISHER: Exactly.

Nick Watt, thank you so much.

So, the February jobs report just crushed all expectations, but good news, it's not always good news these days. Why it could give the Fed more ammo to get even more aggressive on rate hikes.

Plus, why is Russia sending U.S. weapons captured from the Ukrainian battlefield to Iran? Details on that just ahead.

And the vicious drug cartel behind the deadly kidnapping of Americans in Mexico would like the world to know that they're sorry. Their jaw- dropping apology -- next.



FISHER: China's President Xi Jinping makes history, locking down an unprecedented third term.

Today, the country's political elites rubber-stamped his appointment, making him the longest serving leader since communist China was founded in 1949.

Joining me now, Max Boot, a "Washington Post" columnist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Max, thanks for being on the show. Tensions between the U.S. and China really at their highest level in years. What do you make of this development? What is the likely impact on that relationship, with Xi staying in power?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, there's certainly no surprise about Xi in power. He's made this clear for a while that he was not going to step down.

And, of course, the whole problem with China is that there's not a democracy. There's no checks and balances. Sol, of course, he was able to get this through the rubber-stamp legislature. It kind of heightens the danger because, in the past, both the Soviet Union and China had a more or less collective leadership in the politburo.


And that created some checks and balances on the whims of the leader. But now, in both Moscow and Beijing, you essentially have one-man rule. And we saw already with Russia the dangers of having a dictator who can do anything he wants, because what Putin wanted to do last year is to invade Ukraine.

And I don't think there was huge support for that among the Russian elite, but it didn't matter, because Putin could do whatever he wants. And I think there's a similar danger with China right now that Xi Jinping can essentially do whatever he wants.

And if, tomorrow, he wants to invade Taiwan, he can go ahead and do that. So, I think the lack of checks and balances, the lack of accountability, and the lack of collective leadership, which is -- all of which is highlighted by Xi Jinping's unprecedented third term in power, makes this a destabilizing and potentially concerning development.

FISHER: Sure. So you describe it as this unprecedented third term, but what about the possibility of a fourth term?

I know a lot can happen between now and then. But is that a real possibility?

BOOT: Well, of course.

I mean, China has no functioning -- as I said, no functioning checks and balances. So, if -- on the current trajectory, if Xi wants to become president for life, he probably can do it. And that's a dangerous place to vie with a supreme leader who doesn't have to listen to any dissenting opinions, although I think that there was some evidence from last fall, at least that when people in China were rising up against the zero COVID policy, Xi Jinping did reverse himself and did take notice of that.

So I think there is limited room for feedback and to take account of popular sentiment, but it's very decidedly limited.

FISHER: And how would you describe the popular sentiment right now? I mean, China is dealing with an economic downturn, growing hostilities with the West, the aftermath of COVID.

How are Chinese -- the Chinese people feeling about this unprecedented third term for Xi?

BOOT: Well, it's hard to know how people actually feel, because you can't do honest opinion polling in China. It's not a liberal democracy.

So I wouldn't presume to surmise the views of most Chinese people. But, clearly, China is struggling with a lot of issues, from falling population, to the slowing economy, which -- two related phenomena. And it's just trying to get back on its feet after the COVID lockdown, after the zero COVID policies.

So I think, in terms of the people of China, Xi will be judged based on his ability to restore economic growth. But the danger always with a with a dictator in power is that he will try to distract people's attentions from problems at home by focusing on enemies abroad.

And, in his case, that could mean lashing out more at the United States, as he did last week, or actually mounting a military campaign against Taiwan. So, it's a dangerous, volatile situation. And there's also a lot of very strong anti-China sentiment in the U.S. So we have to be careful about avoiding a march to war.

FISHER: Max, before you go, I want to ask you about one other topic.

Sources are telling CNN that Russia is taking U.S. weapons that it captures in Ukraine, and sending them to Iran. The U.S. believes that Tehran is going to try to reverse-engineer them. How big of a concern is that?

BOOT: It's a small concern.

I mean, the weapons that they're taking are not exactly the most sophisticated in the U.S. arsenal. I mean, you're talking about things like Stinger or Javelin missiles that we have had for decades and that are not that easy to manufacture, by the way. It takes years to manufacture those kinds of weapons systems.

So, I mean, if the Iranians get their hands on them, they already have a lot of weaponry. This is not going to be a game-changer. It's a small price to pay for supporting Ukraine in their resistance against this unprovoked Russian invasion.

FISHER: All right, not a game-changer.

Max Boot, thank you so much.

BOOT: Thank you.

FISHER: So, the jobs market continues to roar, numbers for February soaring past expectations.

So, why are people still talking about a potential recession? We will talk about it next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)