Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Publisher Meets with NY Grand Jury; Trump Calls Probe a New Way of Cheating; Netanyahu Delays Overhaul; Daniel Shapiro is Interviewed about Israel's Judicial Overhaul; Disney Begins Layoffs. Aired 9:30- 10a ET

Aired March 28, 2023 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Do we have a sense of why he was brought back to the grand jury?


I mean David Picker is where this hush media deal all started, right? He has a long relationship with former President Donald Trump, and also a lot of experience with these so-called catch and kill deals.

Now, an agent for Daniels, about a month before the 2016 election, reached out to AMI, where David Pecker was the chairman, and then David Pecker reached out to Michael Cohen, because Daniels wanted to go public with her story.

Now, two weeks have passed in this period and Michael Cohen had not finalized the deal. David Pecker reached out to him, according to court documents, and urged him to finalize the deal, saying, quote, or it could look awfully bad for everyone. So, David Pecker certainly at the center of this deal and this arrangement.

And, you know, as we've seen, they've brought in many witnesses to provide testimony. Last week was the last time the grand jury heard testimony. That was with Bob Costello, a Trump witness. So, this is the DA's office putting on, you know, a strong witness here to send another message, who can really talk about how this deal started, the relationship with Trump, the timing issues here, in the urgency to get this deal done.

Now, Pecker has immunity both when he testified as part of the federal investigation that led to the criminal charges against Michael Cohen, and also testimony for -- he also has immunity for his testimony in this case. He was before the grand jury for about an hour yesterday. And that grand jury is scheduled again to meet tomorrow.


SCIUTTO: We know you'll be there. Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

A new way of cheating. That's how former President Donald Trump is describing the Manhattan district attorney's hush money investigation, extending his baseless election rigging claims to include now the legal battles he continues to face.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't know whether it helps or hurts. I can tell you, in my opinion, it's a new way of cheating on elections. It's called election interference. What they're doing is, if they can't win at the ballot box because I'm leading everybody by a lot in the polls for every Republican, frankly, and every Democrat by a lot, including Biden by a lot, and they can't beat you that way, they're going to do this kind of stuff.


SCIUTTO: Joining me now, CNN political commentators Jeff Duncan, former Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia, and Karen Finney, Democratic strategist.

Good to have you both on this morning.

Jeff, if I could begin with you there.

The president did a lot of untrue things there. But one thing he said is right, and he is leading in national polls, though in state polls some of the -- some of the races are tighter. This is despite continuing to lie about the 2020 election, despite praising the January 6th rioters at his most recent rally and attacks on the New York prosecutor here. Does he have the momentum here? Is, in your view, is it his nomination to lose?

JEFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, when I watched that interview this morning, I just couldn't help but think about the snake oil salesmen coming back into town, right? He showed back up and he's dusted off the playbook from 2020, which just says, hey, sew as many seeds of doubt as you possibly can.

But I still don't think -- I can't figure out how that helps him win. It helps him justify a loss. I think Donald Trump has a suburbs problem, right? He's going to have his 30 percent, 35 percent based in the rural areas of the country that come out and vote for him, but he still has to convince the suburbs. And, you know, us here in Georgia, we saw how that played out. Brian Kemp convinced the suburbs to vote for him. Herschel Walker didn't convince the suburbs to vote for him and he lost. So, I still think he's got -- he's got some headwinds in front of him.

SCIUTTO: Karen Finney, when you speak to Democratic Party strategists, is Trump considered their most likely opponent in 2024, and perhaps a corollary question, is that the opponent they want?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think my party has learned not to try to pick opponents. Just asked, you know, ergo Ronald Reagan and those who thought there was no chance Trump would win the first time around.

But more importantly, sure, at this moment it does appear that Trump is the front runner. It does appear, if you look at what's happening in the Republican Party base, I mean you have sort of - you have never Trumpers, you have maybe Trumpers, and then you have always Trumpers. And the sort of always Trumpers, they have very swiftly come to Trump's defense, along with much of the conservative media infrastructure, which sends a signal to the other 2024 candidates and their potential supporters that he has a very strong base of support that is vocal that will come to his rescue if they think he's being mistreated.

And the other thing that we're seeing, obviously, within -- that Democrats are looking at is the way in which the Republican Party, you have to look at the Republican members of Congress willing to basically abuse their power to try to subvert democracy and attack a duly elected attorney general in the -- district attorney, rather, in New York City. And that ultimately we think is going to be bad long term for the brand of the Republican Party and just remind voters why they didn't vote for Trump and why they voted for Biden.


SCIUTTO: Jeff Duncan, we will often ask whether these investigations help or hurt -- and you heard Hannity ask Trump that question as well -- his nomination. I wonder, because we have this other dynamic here, and that is an intraparty fight between Trump and DeSantis and Trump taking very direct aim at DeSantis.

I want to play one of his comments yesterday regarding his support for him in the past. Have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I got him the nomination. By the way, could have never gotten the nomination. He would be working in either a pizza parlor place or a law office right now, OK, and he wouldn't be very happy.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So, it's about loyalty. It's -

TRUMP: It's about loyalty. It is to me.


SCIUTTO: Does that kind of attack hurt DeSantis? Do you see - and do you see potentially a dynamic here where the two of them take each other down to some degree and gives a path -a potential path to an alternative to DeSantis and Trump?

DUNCAN: Yes, to answer the first part of the question, I think the Manhattan case probably gives a slight tailwind to Donald Trump because even Democrats and some will kind of see through the partisans of Manhattan, but then you've got Fulton County and other DOJ investigations that are serious.

And, you know, look, three out of four Democrats don't want Joe Biden to run. A similar percentage don't really want Donald Trump to run. So, I do think there is a lane out there. History shows us that things should start solidifying by now, but this is going to be like no other election cycle. I think somebody like a Ron DeSantis, a Nikki Haley, or others could -- could really start to rise up and put forward looking policies on the -- on the table, right? Most Americans are waking up today scared to death of the economy, scared to death of losing their job, scared of their community safety, international issues. Those are real issues out there that I think Americans are going to start paying attention to between now and 2024.

SCIUTTO: Karen Finney, do you wonder privately, hope privately, that there's a path for an alternative Democratic candidate in 2024?

FINNEY: No, I am 100 percent behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Look at the contrast today. President Biden is in North Carolina talking about investing in our country, talking about bringing manufacturing jobs back. And I think Americans appreciate the efforts of Biden and Democrats to lower their costs versus again the contrast with Republicans.

I think the other challenge again that Republicans -- in this 2024 contest is going to be Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an excellent record to run on. They're trying to lower costs, creating jobs, bringing us out of, you know, the chaos of the Trump presidency and Covid, trying to rebuild our alliances around the world. It's a very strong case to run on.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Duncan, Karen Finney, good to have you both on. I think we'll probably talk about this once or twice again in the coming couple years. We appreciate it.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

FINNEY: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: And don't miss it, CNN primetime, "Inside the Trump Investigations." It airs live tonight, 9:00 Eastern Time, hosted by my colleague, Pamela Brown.

Still ahead, Benjamin Netanyahu's message to Israelis after massive strikes. Protests forced him to pause a much debated and criticized judicial system reform plan. We're going to be live in Jerusalem, next.



SCIUTTO: This morning, Israel's largest labor union is threatening another major strike if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revives plans to overhaul the judicial system. Netanyahu was forced to back off those plans yesterday as thousands of Israelis protested, and many went on strike as well. Netanyahu announced he would delay votes on the overhaul to allow time for debate. But the prime minister did make it clear the pause is only temporary.

CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem.

So, Hadas, I suppose we call this a ceasefire, not a peace here, so that people are going back to work but for how long?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, Benjamin Netanyahu said this was a temporary pause, and he vowed that this overhaul will be going through in some form or another once the next parliament session comes into session. That happens at the end of April, and it runs to the end of July.

We're also hearing from his right-wing ministers, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was saying that Netanyahu promised him that if the reforms don't go through with negotiations, they will be pushed forward as they currently stand, which would give the Israeli parliament, and therefore the politicians in power, unprecedented control over the supreme court.

Now, the opposition has welcomed this temporary pause because they have been calling now for months for a halt to the legislation, that they could have actual negotiations over this. And there are reports that negotiating teams are being formed amongst the coalition, as well as the opposition teams, to meet at the Israeli President Isaac Herzog's residents where he will act as mediator. But of course, if they plan to bring this forward in the next parliamentary session, that's only a few weeks from now. There's Passover in between. And that's not a lot of time to get these negotiations done.

And then, will people accept those compromise reforms? And then also the question is the protesters. The protesters who have been taking to the streets, who still have a lot of energy, and a lot of organizational power behind them, they vowed to continue. There's more protests planned for today. More protests planned for later this week. They essentially do not believe Benjamin Netanyahu when he says that there will be a break, when he says that he wants to heal the divisiveness, that he wants to prevent a civil war. They say that they will continue their protests, continue taking to the streets until these reforms are completely taken off the table.

Another thing to keep in mind here, Jim, is that last night was the first time we saw the protesters who support the reforms who support Benjamin Netanyahu, take to the streets. And I feel as though that energy as well is only growing.


SCIUTTO: Hadas Gold, in Jerusalem, thanks so much.

Here with me now to discuss, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro.

Ambassador, thanks for taking the time this morning.



SCIUTTO: You joining us from Tel Aviv. You're right in the middle of all this. You hear Netanyahu saying that these changes will go through one way or another. Is there a compromise here that would satisfy the protesters but also keep Netanyahu's coalition together as well.

SHAPIRO: It's very hard to find that compromise. There is a compromise that probably 75 or 80 percent of his Israelis could accept. There are, even among the protesters, some who acknowledge that the supreme court may have arrogated to itself more power than it should have or at least there's a reason to try to rebalance the power between the court and the executive branch over that's -- as it's unfolded over the last number of years. But not the version that Netanyahu had proposed, which would have essentially rendered the supreme court neutralized and given all the power to one branch of government.

So, there is a compromise version, but not one that will satisfy both the far right of the Netanyahu coalition and perhaps deal with his own legal problems, and the concerns that the protesters have raised about one branch of government with all the power.

SCIUTTO: I mean you mentioned his legal problems, and that, of course, has been an issue here from the beginning because he would stand to benefit from these changes in his own corruption investigation. Is he, therefore, not the man, not the Israeli leader to push through such controversial changes?

SHAPIRO: Well, it's hard to think of a leader that would come with a clean slate and -- or without a clean slate, therefore someone who could benefit personally from these very significant, structural changes in Israeli democracy and not have that be viewed with great suspicion. And that has been one of the critiques of the protesters, but not the only one. They worry because Israel doesn't have the constitution that guarantees fundamental personal rights. They worry that there isn't a bicameral legislature or a federal system where presidential veto or any of the checks and balances we're used to.


SHAPIRO: So even putting aside the prime minister's circumstances, there's a lot that could be lost if these reforms go through.

SCIUTTO: "The New York Times" has a long piece today that describes a pressure campaign that the Biden administration has been doing, partially in public, but largely in private, to Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, making the case that if you go through with this it will damage Israel's reputation as a democracy, as a lone democracy in the Middle East. Does that argument move the Israeli prime minister?

SHAPIRO: I think it did. Prime Minister Netanyahu had a phone call with President Biden a little over a week ago. And by all accounts President Biden, who is an old friend of the prime ministers, and certainly a loyal supporter of Israel, was very clear and probably pretty blunt that what's at stake here is indeed Israel's reputation as a democracy with an independent judiciary, and even Israel's security and its economy, both of which Israeli leaders, security officials and business leaders, called into question if these reforms went through.

And to add to all of that is the strain that it would put on the U.S./Israel relationship because the U.S. and Israel are the -- bound by their common democratic values. Biden put that very clearly, was repeated - or - were over and over again by other officials, but I think that may just be a dry run for another round, and President Biden's going to have to reiterate that message again and again.

SCIUTTO: Just very quickly, the threat of Iran looms over all this, as well as Israel's need for the U.S. very much on its side in the event of worsening escalation with Iran. How influential is that and how immediate a threat is that considered by Israeli officials you speak with?

SHAPIRO: You know, it's hard to imagine President Biden not being there for Israel in its time of need with Iran, but there is a need to coordinate a strategy. And you want to be on the same page with your ally as your coordinating that strategy. That's not a great time to see the fundamentals of the relationship (INAUDIBLE).


Ambassador Dan Shapiro, good to have you on this morning. Thanks so much for taking the time.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Disney has begun the first round of major layoffs. Why the company is cutting thousands of jobs. What this says about the bigger picture in the U.S. labor market.



SCIUTTO: Disney has begun a first round of layoffs this week, part of the company's plan to cut some 7,000 jobs, which amounts to about 3 percent of its global workforce.

Let's go to CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

So, I wonder, we talk about a lot of companies that have been doing quite big cuts.


SCIUTTO: While at the same time the overall job market has remained strong.


SCIUTTO: How significant are these and how do they fit into the broader picture?

ROMANS: So, this is pretty Disney unique here. Bob Iger is back at the helm of this company, and he is restructuring it in a pretty big way here. And he's trying to draw a direct connection between content creation, a direct link from what they make and the financial results of that. So he's, you know, squeezing some layers of management out of here and cutting some jobs. So in this internal memo he sent out this morning essentially saying, over the next four days, people are going to learn whether they've received a pink slip.

There will be another round of several thousand in April. And then he hopes to have this done by the beginning of the summer. And you can see there how much money he's trying to squeeze out in costs, $5.5 billion, including $3 billion in content spending. So, he has really -- restructuring this company pretty significantly and that will mean some job loss.

Last year, the stock was down some 44 percent. It's up a little bit this year on optimism that that's what - good - that's what it's going to take to turn Disney and its share price around, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OK, we always talk about the direction of prices. Big picture in this country.


SCIUTTO: Home prices down a bit recently. How does this fit into the bigger picture?


ROMANS: This is a really important new set of numbers from Case- Shiller, S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller, that came out just in the last hour or so. And we are seeing for the seventh month in a row home prices nationwide slightly decreasing. And it has been a long time since we've had a trend like that. It's been 10 years really of a boom in home prices. But what we're seeing now, a year into these higher interest rates, and mortgage rates, is a kind of a tale of two different kinds of real estate markets. If you look - look at, for example, Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, those home prices year over year or up pretty substantially. Miami up 13 percent.


ROMANS: But you look at the tech hubs, places like San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, those are now following a little more quickly. So, there is kind of tale of two real estate markets revealing itself in the American real estate landscape right now, Jim. It's pretty interesting.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's not always a monochromatic picture.


SCIUTTO: Christine Romans, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, the sad news. Three children are dead, three adults as well, after a shooter attacked a private Christian school in Nashville. What police have learned about the shooter's plans, motivation and, boy, more pictures like that right there. So sad to see.