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Next Steps in Trump's Indictment; Trump Caught off Guard by Indictment; NYPD Preparing for Unrest; Trump Facing Thirty Plus Counts; Republican Support Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. Boy, there's a fair amount of news today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is a busy news day. Hi, everyone, I'm Jessica Dean.

And this morning, new details surrounding the indictment of former President Donald Trump, the first former U.S. president to face an indictment on criminal charges. CNN has learned Trump is expected to appear in a Manhattan court Tuesday. Sources say that's when he's set to be arraigned.

SCIUTTO: This is quite a day. Quite a moment in U.S. political history. Donald Trump, former president and current candidate for president in 2024, is facing, we are told, more than 30 counts related specifically to business fraud. If convicted, Trump could be sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison, though no legal experts believe that's likely.

All of this connected to his alleged role in a hush money payments scheme and cover-up involving the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Overnight, his attorney, Joe Tacopina, says the former president is, quote, ready to fight.

Well, on this notable day, our reporters, correspondents and guests all standing by to bring us the latest.

DEAN: Let's start first this hour with CNN correspondent Kara Scannell, who's outside the Manhattan courthouse.

Kara, start first and walk us through what happens next.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, good morning, Jessica and Jim.

So, on Tuesday, that's when we expect former President Trump to appear in the courthouse behind me for his arraignment. What will happen first is that the indictment will be unsealed. That will be our first chance to see what specific charges he is facing and what kinds of evidence the DA's office has included in that indictment.

He will then be -- you know, this is a normal process. Of course, he is not a normal person. So, there is likely to be enhanced security. We'll have the Secret Service involved. They may try to expedite this process. But there's only so much they can expedite.

He will have his mug shot taken. He will be fingerprinted. They will read him his rights. And then he will appear before a judge.

The judge there will explain to him what the charges are that he's facing and he will ask the former president enter a plea. As you said, his attorneys are saying he's going to fight this. So we expect him to plead not guilty.

Big question here will be, will he be handcuffed? One of his attorneys saying this morning on another program that he did not think that he would, but that could be up to the discretion of the district attorney's office.

And then because this is a non-violent crime, Trump will be released without bail. It's a standard thing in New York.

I mean we are expecting, according to our sources, that there will be more than 30 counts in this indictment. And sources say that they have been exploring looking at and charging the former president with falsifying business records. That can be a misdemeanor. It can also be a felony if these business records were falsified to commit or conceal another crime.

All these details will be made public on Tuesday when the indictment will be unsealed. We're told by sources that we do not expect to see these charges before then. Although, of course, with this, everything is fluid.

Jess. Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. Well, credit as well to Kara for breaking this news yesterday.

We are learning more about some of the specific questions the grand jury had as they made this decision. Tell us what you know.

SCANNELL: Yes, that's right. So sources tell us that, you know, we have known that this investigation has focused on the hush money payments around Stormy Daniels. That was just a few days before the 2016 election. Well, we learned recently from sources that some witnesses were asked questions before the grand jury relating to another hush money deal. That was to Karen McDougal. She's was a former Playboy model who alleged that she had an affair with Trump decades earlier. That was one of these catch and kill deals that was executed by "The National Inquirer." And as we know, on Monday, David Pecker, the former publisher, was back in before the grand jury.

Now, we're also told, according to sources, that there was another witness that appeared briefly yesterday before the grand jury took up that vote. It's unclear who that witness is. But certainly prosecutors were providing more information until they felt that they were comfortable, that they would get this grand jury to vote yes on the indictment.

Jim. Jessica.

SCIUTTO: And we should note, we will not find out the contents of that indictment until later next week.

Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

Right now, the former president is at Mar-a-Lago, his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago is there.

Leyla, I wonder, as you're standing outside his property there, what is the situation like this morning?


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we really haven't seen much that is sort of out of the norm here at Mar-a-Lago this morning, which you see right behind me, but that's what we're seeing from the outside.

Let's talk about what we're learning from sources on the inside, given that this news came down last night as the former president was here and really what has been a unprecedented moment. We understand that sources are telling CNN that they were -- his team was caught off guard by the timing of this. Of course, they had been bracing for this, but we're expecting this to happen later on, like many people were. And so that timing was what caught people off guard.

Nonetheless, the president did have lunch - or, excuse me, dinner with guests and his wife, Melania. And in a statement said that this was political persecution. His lawyer this morning echoing those sentiments.



JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: He's not worried at all. I mean, he's upset, angry. He is being persecuted politically.

We shouldn't pick the person and then try to find the crime.


SANTIAGO: OK, so again, a lot of eyes will be right here on Mar-a- Lago, trying to see if there's any movement, any sort of insight on what the next move will be for the former president.

I can tell you, I have spoken to local law enforcement who tell me they have not received any sort of requests for any sort of assistance and escorting the president anywhere. Of course, that could change at any moment. But the other place where I have my eye on right now is the airport, because that Trump plane has not moved since he was in Waco on Saturday.

So, you know, we're still waiting to see. So much is still unknown. But in terms of what we're seeing here in Mar-a-Lago, really just waiting to see what his next move will be.

Jim. Jessica.

DEAN: All right, Leyla Santiago for us in West Palm Beach this morning, thanks so much for that update.

New York police officers are being deployed across the city to ramp up security following former President Trump's indictment. An internal department memo stating all officers should report in uniform and be prepared for mobilization starting today.

And joining us now is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller.

John, great to see you this morning.

Walk us through the biggest concerns facing the department now.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, they're, obviously, looking for threats and things coming across social media. They're obviously looking for any plans for big protests. Today, the way a protest is born and grows, is usually over social media, so they're looking at that. So far nothing significant in the protest world, but their eyes are going to be on Tuesday, which is the day they consider a catalyst here.

Today what they're doing is really working on the mechanics of how the wheels of justice will actually turn here. A meeting this afternoon with the district attorney's investigators, the New York state court officers, those are the people in charge of courthouse security, the NYPD and the U.S. Secret Service literally on expecting Donald Trump to arrive here late Tuesday or early Monday, and how to do that move to the courthouse and then a walkthrough in the courthouse, which is what door will they bring him in? How will he be taken in, you know, hallways to the district attorney's office to be booked in there detective squad and then to an arraignment court? Will that be done in back hallways that are not accessible to the press and the public or through public areas? Who will handle the magnetometers. A lot of logistics there. And -- and that's really kind of them moving at the pace.

You know, there's been reporting that they wanted Donald Trump to surrender today based on yesterday's indictment, which I think was more the district attorney's office using a strategy, which is to send the signal that they don't want this stretching out into a couple of weeks. They wanted him to appear at the first time, practical and possible, which at this point is going to be Tuesday.

SCIUTTO: John, you've seen a lot of bookings in your time on the force, certainly none like this, a former president. He has a Secret Service detail, but he's going to have to do the things that other folks who are booked do, and that is get fingerprints, get a mug shot it, et cetera. I wonder, beyond those details, what security preparations are necessary here, not just given the Secret Service detail, but the possibility of threats, of protests, of violence.

MILLER: So, that's all of what they've been monitoring on social media and doing threat assessments. And, you know, those threats aren't just around the arrest of Donald Trump, but threats to the district attorney's office, to the district attorney himself, to the staff, to the courts. So, all of that's occurring.

One of the big questions is, you know - and, Jim, I think you brought this up, it's going to be an arrest like any other arrest, to the extent that they can make it that way.


But there are going to be things that are just different because this has never been done before. Never has someone, under the protection of the United States. Secret Service, been through the process of being booked for a series of criminal charges in New York or anywhere else. So, one question is, is he handcuffed? That is standard procedure, handcuffs behind the back, and then taken to the courthouse.


MILLER: That, of course, would be quite a spectacle.

On the other hand, if I'm the head of the Secret Service detail that might be responsible for moving him out if there was a threat or some kind of attack, I don't want my protectee handcuffed. So, you know, it's very likely that arrangements will be made that he will be in the joint custody of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office detectives and the Secret Service and probably not handcuffs.

So, there's a lot of details that are being worked through today that have never been worked through before.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. And that's one very big details right there, the possibility of being handcuffed, although the likelihood of some sort of arrangement.

John Miller, always good to have you on.

DEAN: And in the last hour, President Biden was pressed on Trump's indictment as he was leaving the White House.

Take a listen.


QUESTION: Former President Trump has been indicted. What do you think it means for the rule of law in our country?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no comment at all on Trump.


DEAN: And no real surprise there, Jim, that he had no comment.


DEAN: President Biden, and the White House, not really wanting to get involved with this at all.

SCIUTTO: No, and that's been a consistent policy, as it were, with this White House not commenting on ongoing investigations.

Let's dig in a little bit. Former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, also CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, a lot of law here, a lot of history.

Let's begin with the law, Elliot.

The indictments under seal, so there's so much we don't know and we have to state that very clearly here. Sources are telling CNN the possibility of 30 charges related to business fraud. Can you explain to folks at home, for this case as we know it, what law or laws did the former president allegedly break?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And the important words there, Jim, are, as we know it, because we don't know.


WILLIAMS: Now, it appears that there might have been records keeping violations with -- within the Trump Organization as a means of concealing personal affairs that the former president had.

SCIUTTO: And that could explain the multiple charges, right?


SCIUTTO: So each ledger entry or each payment as it were?

WILLIAMS: Each ledger payment or each entry, or just a few ledger entries or payment that are charged for different crimes.


WILLIAMS: So, one could be a campaign finance crime. One could be a tax crime and so on, or each time they're entered and so on. So, yes, it may not be 30 different crimes.


WILLIAMS: It may be a handful of different crimes but charged differently a few different ways.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

DEAN: And Douglas Brinkley is here with me in New York.

And I saw you kind of nodding your head while John was walking us through just this like incredible image of a former president who's being covered by Secret Service, will he be handcuffed, will he not. How are historians, like yourself and the ones that come after you, going to take note of this moment? Because we are -- we are making history now.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Look, I see it as the decline of the Republican Party. I mean we think of the GOP is Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and it's descending into Donald Trump, who's being indicted. And this is the first indictment with maybe others to come, yet the Republican Party seems to be backing him for re-election.

One would have thought January 6th and Trump's involvement with that would have been enough to derail Trump. That that would have been the end of his role in politics. Now we're set up to see the biggest reality show that's actually real come to life and watching a - I can't even think of an artifact except maybe wanted -- John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assassination of a wanted poster or a mug shot that's going to be circulating around the world in the kind of way that this one of Donald Trump is, his finger -- the finger printing, the booking of him. It's really dramatic stuff. And it's never happened before in American history. We're all going to be glued, leaning forward to our television sets on Tuesday if all of this unravels as it looks like it is.

DEAN: Yes, it is - it is dramatic. It's a good word for it.

SCIUTTO: Doug Brinkley, the word historic, I think in these last several years, we've had so many historic moments. We've had two impeachments. We've had the events of January 6th. And now we have the first indictment of a former president here. And as you mentioned, the possibility of further indictments, whether from Georgia, handling of classified documents, role in January 6th.

Has the system shown itself capable of holding up, withstanding through these very real strains?

BRINKLEY: Boy, that is the big question. And let's hope the rule of law holds up here. I mean, the real point -- the good news is here, it's our legal system and action saying nobody is above the law. There is an accountability, even for a president or a candidate or an ex- president.


And so, in many ways, just like Watergate, people were wondering would the system hold. And, of course, it did and America went on to thrive. This is going to be one of those tinderbox moments where, you know, if we can make it through this. And we all have to be clear, just because President Trump's been indicted doesn't mean he's been convicted. Nevertheless, this is stirring the pot of America's neo-civil war like nothing else I could imagine.


BRINKLEY: It's all about which side are you on right now.

DEAN: Yes. Yes.

Elliot --

SCIUTTO: Neo-civil war. Quite a phrase to hear. Goodness.


DEAN: No, it surely is.

And I want to go back to Elliot for a second because I think, Elliot, people I'm talking to and for so many people that are tuning in, I think if they zoom out, they want to know, does this mean he can be president again? Does this mean he can keep running? What does this mean? Can you help people understand, what does the law say about all of that?

WILLIAMS: Well, the Constitution's very clear that, in terms of laying out the standards for who can run for president and who can't. You've got to be 35 years old and the native-born, natural born citizen of the United States and so on. It doesn't say that you -- someone who's been charged with or convicted of a crime can't be president.

Now, look, the United States Senate, in an impeachment proceeding last year, could have barred the former president from running for office again had they convicted him. That was a political choices. It's -- you know, and that's - that's a choice made by the U.S. Senate. But that's really the only way to bar somebody from office for committing a crime.

So, yes, no, absolutely the former president can run for president again despite having been charged or even convicted of a crime.

SCIUTTO: Doug Brinkley, before we go, the indictment itself is already a historic moment here. That surrender on Tuesday of the former president, surrendering to authorities, to the court in New York, getting fingerprinted, getting a mug shot, even the possibility, as John Miller was describing of handcuffs, although he seems to think that there would be an arrangement there. Describe what Tuesday will look like for this country.

BRINKLEY: Well, while it's going to be a surrendering, Donald Trump's going to spin it as no surrender.


BRINKLEY: You know, his big hero really is Douglas MacArthur. And he's going to take this idea that, you know, we -- onward. We're going to -- I'm going to win. This is a witch hunt against me. I'm standing up for the American people against a corrupt, big state. He's going to try to use this as his pivot moment to both fundraise for 2024 and try to get a lot of Republicans just backing his action right now and make himself the nominee of the party simply because all the other Republicans are afraid to say that they're not standing with Trump. So, the stakes are really high this Tuesday.

DEAN: And, Elliot, before we go, we're looking ahead to Tuesday, what that might look like, what that might feel like, but you've said that the indictment being sealed right now -- and just for everyone, just to remind everyone, it is sealed. We don't know what's exactly in it at this moment --


DEAN: Gives Trump a huge opportunity. Why is that?

WILLIAMS: It's an enormous opportunity because of former President Trump is as good at media strategy as pretty much any criminal defendants or potential criminal defendants in American history. And he has this 96 hours or however long to shape the public narrative around his debate. Now -- around the criminal charges.

As John Miller, our colleague, was on saying a little bit earlier, what law enforcement probably wanted was to get him charged and answer immediately to avoid that lag of time. So all this period while it's out there gives the former president a chance to shape -- like, think of all the folks who have been on air using the words political prosecutions. Some of that's coordinated and coming directly out of the president.

Look, it's not uncommon. It's a high profile defendant, and everybody has the right to a media strategy. But at the end of the day, this amount of time does give him a little bit of an advantage.

SCIUTTO: Well, and speaking of history, Douglas Brinkley mentioned Douglas MacArthur. He was eventually removed from command.

Brinkley, Williams, great to have you on. We're going to be discussing this a lot in the future, I'm sure.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Trump's former right-hand man, Mike Pence, he called the indictment and outrage in an interview with CNN. We're going to dig into how this impacts the 2024 race. We're in it. That's coming up.

DEAN: Plus, a number of other major stories we are covering this morning, including the first funeral today for one of the children killed just a few days ago in that Nashville school shooting, nine- year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus. We're live in Nashville as new 911 calls are released.

And later, the Kremlin claiming it's still safe for foreign journalists to work in Russia despite the arrest of a "Wall Street Journal" reporter. We're live in Moscow with the latest on his case.


[09:23:58] DEAN: This morning, former President Donald Trump getting some support from his former vice president and potential 2024 rival. Mike Pence telling us, although he thinks no president is above the law, the charges against Trump are targeted and unjustified.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage.

When you have an attorney general in New York, and a Manhattan DA, that targeted one particular American in their campaigns, I think that offends the notion of the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe in fairness, who believe in equal treatment before the law.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now discuss, Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Alice Stewart, and Democratic strategist, CNN political commentator, Paul Begala.

Paul, Alice, good to have you on.

Just a little bit of news to discuss today.

The former vice president there, he's not alone in terms of coming to the president's defense. And, by the way, from folks who don't particularly like this former president.


Let's go through some of this. Ron DeSantis, calling this indictment, quote, a weaponization of the legal system. Nikki Haley, who's, of course, already announced her candidacy in 2024, says, quote, this is more about revenge than justice. Tim Scott, possible contender, says that this has, quote, weaponized the law against political enemies. And Asa Hutchison, also someone who's criticized Trump, says, elect presidents at the ballot box not in the court system.

Are you surprised to see the Republican Party rally around Trump here, even Republicans who are very critical of the former president?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To the degree they are circling the wagons, it's quite surprising. But if you look at what Republicans are interpreting. Look, we don't know the full facts of this case.


STEWART: We do not know what the DA will present next Tuesday with regards to documents and data and information. But what we do know, based on what we have heard, this does not seem fair to many Republicans. This is unprecedented. This is unfair to many people. And it's also an American. And, look, I am hardly here to defend Donald Trump and the merits of this case, but when you step back and look at the overall narrative of what Donald Trump has been saying and telling Republicans that the judicial system is unfair, and there is an unequal system of justice for political adversaries, this plays right into what Donald Trump is saying, and what a lot of his supporters believe.

And, look, no one would rather Donald Trump get off of the political stage sooner than myself, but this is not the way to do it. Let the voters decide this. And when you have DA Bragg campaigning and vowing that he is going to take down Donald Trump, this right here, what we're seeing here, just plays into what many people are saying is the weaponization of the legal system to attack a political adversary and really to advice a political agenda. That's the way Republicans are seeing it. And they are doubling down on this.

SCIUTTO: That's how they see it. That's the narrative.


SCIUTTO: Is that -- are those the facts?

BEGALA: No. If they were, every one of those Republican politicians needs to be asked this, what did you say when Michael Cohen was prosecuted for the same crime? You know who prosecuted Michael Cohen? Not a partisan DA in New York. The Trump Justice Department. The Trump selected U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.


BEGALA: The Trump administration indicted Mr. Cohen for the same operative facts. Indicted him, convicted him with a guilty plea and incarcerated him. Now they're squealing like a pig stuck under a gate.

But if there is one system of justice, if you're going to indict Bonnie, you've got to indict Clyde.

Now, I'm not a big fan of this case, actually.


BEGALA: I'm not. I think it's far more consequential what he's alleged to have done wrong in Georgia, allegedly pressuring people to turn over -- overturned the election. Far more consequential what he's alleged to have done at Mar-a-Lago, stealing classified documents, including nuclear secrets. Far more consequential to January 6th allegations of inciting an insurrection. Far more consequence of what the Mueller report has, obstruction of justice. So, I'm not that big a fan of this case.

But, by golly, if all those distinguished Republican politicians had said the same thing when the same case was brought against Michael Cohen by the Trump administration, they'd have a little credibility.

SCIUTTO: What's your response to that, Alice? STEWART: Well, when we're looking at the same case and the same facts,

this was overlooked by the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission, which I view this as a federal election offensive if -- based on using campaign finances for this. They decided not to pursue these cases -- these charges against Donald Trump. Now we have DA Bragg with a case based virtually solely on a convicted felon in Michael Cohen and a media mogul dirt bag in David Pecker with "The Natural Inquirer."

SCIUTTO: We don't actually -- having not seen the evidence, we don't know what other witnesses they have (INAUDIBLE).

STEWART: That's - that's exactly -- that's exactly my point, based on what we know right now, and that is why we're seeing the outrage.

But to Paul's point, this is not one of the biggest legal issues that Donald Trump's facing.


STEWART: And Republicans, right now, are rallying behind him based on this. But what they are doing is they are setting the stage and setting the narrative that no matter what prosecutors and the legal system are going after Donald Trump unfairly. There was a double standard. And when -- after this shoe falls, however it may fall, there is going to be subsequent legal issues against Donald Trump with regard to what's happened in Fulton County, and voters in my home state of Georgia, if they feel their election was not done fairly, as well as what we're seeing on January 6th. Those are, I think, bigger legal issues. But by then, in many Republicans' minds, they're going to see this as nothing more than prosecutorial misconduct.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, as you mentioned, this may be the first of more than one indictment of this former president. Georgia looking to -- attempts to overturn the election. By the way, there's a telephone call there involved. You mentioned classified documents, January 6th, et cetera.

I wonder -- I mean, in the simplest terms, were already in the 2024 race. He's announced for his candidacy for president.

BEGALA: Right.

SCIUTTO: This is one indictment. We may see others. The simplest question is, can the process withstand this?

BEGALA: Oh, yes. I think so. I mean the fundamental foundation of Anglo-American jurisprudence go back to 1215 in the magna carta is, no one is above the law.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I know.


BEGALA: And so when -- when the Trump administration brought the charges against Michael Cohen, the Trump Justice Department said this.