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Trump Becomes First Former President to Face Criminal Charges; Trump Expected to Surrender Tuesday and Face Arraignment; Republicans on Capitol Hill Rally Behind Trump After Indictment. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Refusal to accept a plea deal, according to his lawyer, Joe Tacopina.


Trump is the first former U.S. president to face a criminal indictment. This never happened before. All this connected -- was connected to his alleged role in a hush money payments scheme and cover up involving the adult film star, Stormy Daniels.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned Trump is expected to appear in a Manhattan court Tuesday. Sources saying that's when he is set to be arraigned. The former president and current candidate for president in 2024 is now facing more than 30 counts related to business fraud. And if convicted, Trump could be sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison.

Our reporters, correspondents and guests are all standing by to bring us the latest. We're going to get to everyone there. But let's begin first this hour with CNN Correspondent Kara Scannell, who's outside that Manhattan courthouse.

Kara, we start with you because we want you to walk us through what happens now.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim and Jessica. So, now we understand from sources that former President Trump is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday. That means he will surrender. They will work out a time because of the big security issues around a former president coming to appear in court. So, there's going to be discussions about security. They will set a time for him to come and surrender.

He will surrender to the building behind me, around the corner where the D.A.'s office is. There he will be processed, just like any other defendant. He will have a mug shot taken. He will be fingerprinted. He'll be read his rights. Then, at some point, he will be brought down to the judge in that courtroom where the judge will read the police the charges to him.

And we expect the charges to be unsealed only on Tuesday. That's according to sources. So, we will not get a sense of what the specific charges are or what kind of evidence the prosecution has to support that. That will all become public on Tuesday, according to sources.

So, once in the courtroom, it's unclear if the former president will be handcuffed. We heard his attorney saying that he wouldn't be but that will be at the discretion of the district attorney's office. So, he will appear in court. The judge will go over the charges, and then the president will be asked to enter a plea.

Now, his lawyers are saying he is going to fight this case. He will enter a plea of not guilty, we expect, and then he'll be released because this is not a violent crime, there's not a bail issue here. That is the mechanics of how this will work.

Of course, because he is a former president, there's going to be a lot of logistics involved. Will they bring him in through a secret underground tunnel? You know, the Secret Service has to be careful about potential protests. So, there are a lot of bigger issues at play here. But, in general, the process even though this is an extraordinary moment, will be normal. Jim, Jessica?

SCIUTTO: This process already attacked by many Republicans, but tell us what this grand jury, what specific questions the grand jury faced an answer in making this recommendation to indict.

SCANNELL: Right. So, this grand jury is a six-month grand jury. They started hearing evidence in this case in January. We saw people from Trump's campaign come in. His longtime friend, David Pecker, the former chairman of The National Enquirer, was in. And then the D.A.'s office had asked Trump did he want to come in. That's required under New York law. That was a big signal that two weeks ago that this was moving towards the end zone.

A lawyer for the former president -- lawyers for the former president asked the D.A. to bring in Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer, attorney. Prosecutors then, one week later, brought in Pecker again as a rebuttal witness.

Now, we're also learning that the grand jury had heard questions asked of witnesses about other hush money payments. We have been talking about how this involves Stormy Daniels. We're learning now that they were asked about some of these other catch and kill deals that Trump had orchestrated over the years with David Pecker.

Now, those deals themselves are not illegal, but there are questions there about how they were put together. And that's the essence of what we understand that this case is going to be about. The potential charges here, we're going to be learning from sources more than 30 charges relating to falsified business records and falsifying business records to commit or conceal another crime. As I said, all of those details will become public on Tuesday. Jim, Jessica?

DEAN: We'll learn so much more when that happens. Kara Scannell for us in New York, thanks so much. And right now, several House GOP leaders are lining up to defend the former president following his indictment.

SCIUTTO: Yes, even some Republicans who have criticized him in the past.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju, he's on Capitol Hill with that reaction from some House Republicans. Tell us what you're hearing.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. House Republican leaders really rushing to Donald Trump's defense in the immediate aftermath of this news, indicating that they plan to go after the prosecutor in this case, Alvin Bragg, tried to call him up to Capitol Hill to testify, asking for documents and the like, something they had already announced, something they planned to press ahead with in the aftermath of this indictment news.

Now, Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker, made it very clear, he called us an unprecedented abuse of power. Steve Scalise, the number two Republican, said it was weaponizing the government to attack their political opponents. Elise Stefanik, who is also a member of the Republican leadership, called an unprecedented, election interference. And Jim Jordan, who is the House Judiciary Committee chairman investigating Alvin Bragg, called it outrageous.


Now, none of these Republicans and nobody else have any idea what are the charges here or any of the evidence, but they are rushing, making very clear that they are on Trump's side.

What has been also notable is the silence coming from top Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, John Thune. The one and two Senate Republicans have yet to issue any statement them to, of course, are eager to move past the Trump era and have not aligned themselves with Donald Trump the way that House Republican leaders have.

Now, just in the last couple of hours, we've gotten a response from the Manhattan D.A.'s office pushing back on the Republicans attacking this investigation. The letter that was sent just moments ago from the district attorney's general counsel, Leslie Dubeck, to the House Republican committee chairs went after them, said that, as committee chairman, you could use your stature of your office to denounce these attacks and urged respect for the fairness of our justice system and for the work of the impartial grand jury. Instead, you and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump's efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges and made unfounded allegations that the office's investigation conducted via an independent grand jury of average citizens serving New York State is politically motivated.

So, we'll see how they Republicans plan to respond. The D.A.'s office indicating that roughly $5,000 or so of federal funds helped with support this investigation. That had been one of the questions from Republicans, asking how much money that they have used, federal dollars, and the Republicans also indicating they may press ahead on legislation to bar prosecutors, local prosecutors from charging candidates for the presidency going forward. We will see if that comes to pass, but you're seeing a fight here now emerging between the D.A.'s office and House Republicans and how will House Republicans pursue this as the D.A. resisting calls to come to Capitol Hill just to testify on this ongoing investigation. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks so much.

With us now to discuss, former White House Ethics Czar and CNN Legal Analyst Norm Eisen, and also CNN Political Director David Chalian and CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp. Good to have you all on.

Norm, I want to start with the law here because you're hearing from many Republicans that no one has ever been charged for something like this in New York State. That's not true. But tell us what is the specific law based on what we know, because we haven't seen the indictment that the former president is alleged to have broken here.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Jim, the New York State criminal code includes a provision that you can't create false financial books and records. And if the indictment develops, as we expect, there is powerful evidence that Donald Trump issued 11 checks, Trump and those associated with him, recording what were hush money payments as legal fees. So, that, to me, that is a very powerful, open and shut violation of these financial records. And if you do it to cover up a campaign finance violation, it becomes a felon.

SCIUTTO: And there is precedent for charging?

EISEN: There is the Richard Braga (ph) case, the Clarence Norman case, the John Doe case, the Richard Luthman (ph). I have cataloged on the Just Security website all of the precedents in New York with this kind of a books and records violation is bumped up to a felony where there's an intent to cover up a campaign finance.

SCIUTTO: Understood. It's important, Jessica, right to challenge some of those things that are being stated as fact out there when, in fact, they're not fact based on.

DEAN: Absolutely. And there are so many people, so many Republicans, especially rushing to Donald Trump's defense right now.

Norm, I want to stay with the legal aspect of this for just one second, because there's been a lot of talk about these 30-plus charges, really zeroing in on that number of 30-plus charges. What do you make of that and is there any significance there?

EISEN: Well, we know that each one of these 11 checks, Jessica, by themselves could constitute a separate counts in an indictment. And there's associated recordkeeping that goes with each one of those checks. That could also constitute each one a separate books and records violation to cover up this alleged campaign finance fraud.

But I think it's important until we see the indictment not to jump to conclusions about what those 30-plus counts are. So, that is -- that probably requires a level of analysis that we can't do until we see the paper, which we will see assuming arraignment actually happens on Tuesday.

SCIUTTO: David Chalian, we are already in the 2024 presidential race.


Trump, of course, has announced. Nikki Haley has announced. There are others considering. What does this do to the race for the GOP nomination? Does it open it up or does it close it?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think it freezes it for the moment in place. To suggest that anybody understands how this is going to play out politically would mean that this must have happened in someplace before and, look, it hasn't, we're in totally unprecedented territory here.

What we know the Trump campaign is doing is employing a tactic that at times has proven successful for them before, which is the former president portraying himself as a victim of a political prosecution here, that this is purely political, is an attempt to galvanize and fortify support around the Republican Party.

And we see it happening at the elected official level. We see all the members of Congress largely coming to his side. We see his 2024 opponents and potential opponents stepping out and taking on Alvin Bragg and taking on Trump's script, saying this is a political prosecution.

So, right now, we see Trump's campaign eager to employ this as a as a short term political tactic. How it plays out long-term in the nomination race and then potentially in general election, I just don't think we know yet.

DEAN: Right. And, S.E., you're hearing in New York with me, and it's interesting because David mentioned the fellow 2024 candidates or some that maybe candidates and haven't announced yet, I think we have a graphic that shows some of their reactions. We know that former Vice President Pence was on our air. He said that no one should be above the law, but he criticized this case. DeSantis called it a, quote, weaponization of the legal system. Nikki haley saying this is more about revenge than justice and so on and so forth.

How do they thread the needle here? And what do you do if you're a potential rival because you need the base support, but at the same time, this is a chance to kind of needle at Donald Trump with all the baggage that he brings, right?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you let the court of public opinion do that for you. I think if you're running against Donald Trump, David Chalian is right. But the field is frozen. There's really nowhere for them to go. You're not going to win any voters on the right, and we're still in a primary, by applauding this decision or, you know, dunking on Donald Trump right now. So, I think they're doing the right thing.

But I think when it comes to the politics of this, it's really important to remember. I think that this indictment is coming in spite of politics, because if you were trying to orchestrate a political takedown of Donald Trump, you wouldn't start with this charge.

But also it's important to look at the people who are outraged, right, the folks running against Donald Trump, the Tucker Carlsons, the Fox News, the Republican Trump surrogates. These are people who are outraged by this indictment.

They were not outraged by Trump's attempt to overturn a democratic election. They were not outraged by the violence on January 6th. They were not outraged by an illegal phone call to the Georgia secretary of state, an illegal phone call to Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They're not outraged by multiple, credible accusations of sexual harassment, assault and rape. They're not outraged by Trump's sexist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic rhetoric. They're not outraged by his white nationalism. They're not outraged by his defense of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazis. They're not outraged by all that stuff. So, with all due respect, no one should care that these people are outraged by this indictment.

DEAN: Such an interesting point. There's so much more to talk about, and the good news is everyone on this panel is going to stay with us, and we'll be right back with all of you in just a moment. We're going to have much more ahead on the fallout from Donald Trump's historic indictment, including how former Vice President Pence is responding in an exclusive CNN interview.

Plus, U.S. officials are now in direct contact with Russia over the arrest of an American reporter there. We're going to talk to the president for the committee to protect journalists about what this means for foreign correspondents in Russia.

SCIUTTO: And this hour, President Biden lands in Mississippi, this to tour the community is just ravaged by deadly storms and tornadoes last week. Right now, some of those areas are actually bracing for another storm system. Forecasters warned it could be intense.



SCIUTTO: Well, this morning, we are seeing a small number of Trump supporters gathering on a bridge near his Mar-a-Lago resort waving flags in the wake of the news that the former president has now been indicted. Moments ago, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted that she's planning to travel to New York City to protest when the president surrenders there next week.

DEAN: Former Vice President Mike Pence, who could be Trump's opponent in this 2024 race, also speaking out on the criminal charges, calling them targeted and unjustified. Listen.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage. And it appears for millions of Americans to be nothing more than a political prosecution that's driven by a prosecutor who literally ran for office on a pledge to indict the former president.


DEAN: And our guests are back with us, Norm Eisen, David Chalian and S.E. Cupp.

S.E., I want to start with you. We'll go back to Marjorie Taylor Greene planning to come to New York City to protest. We've seen House GOP leadership rushed to former President Trump's defense. We have not heard anything from Senate leadership, Senate GOP leadership. That really drives home this wedge and this divide between Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, two types of Republicans are left, and yet we were talking during the break when the Senate Republicans had the opportunity, and they're the only ones, mind you, that can bar him from running again by vote of convicting him during that impeachment.


They didn't take it. What does this tell you about where the Republican Party is right now?

CUPP: Well, I think on the Senate side, there are a number of Republicans who are ready to move on from Donald Trump. On the House side, I think they're still very much want to be where Donald Trump and that energy is. But I don't see anyone really willing to move on from Donald Trump's voters, and that's what you'd have to do.

It's one thing to just say Donald Trump was bad for us and bad for a party. That's obvious the math is there. It's another to say, and we're willing to say no to the kinds of voters that he courted so that he could win, the white nationalists, the Oath Keepers, the QAnon, the conspiracy theorists, the bigots. This wing of the Republican Party that Donald Trump said, come one, come all.

Previous Republican Parties would say, you're not welcome here. I'm not going to court you. I'm not going to pretend I don't know who you are. Until this Republican Party is ready to do that, they're really just allowing Trump to loom large and keep all of those kinds of voters inside the tent at the expense of good conservatives, like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who they've kicked out.

SCIUTTO: Yes. David Chalian, we were speaking earlier in the break about what followed the FBI search of the Trump home a number of weeks ago, and that was a shooter attacked at an FBI office in Cincinnati. This is something that is of great concern to security officials here. Now, we will have a president in indicted. He's already indicted and have to surrender next week. What should folks watching here, what level of concern should they have about a violent reaction to this?

CHALIAN: Well, we know the reporting is that, you noted, law enforcement officials, security officials have been in engaged in conversations for a couple of weeks now about trying to quell any such violence and being prepared for it. Obviously, we saw the former president call for protest of his anticipated indictment. He even suggested that there would be death and destruction if indeed he is indicted.

Now, Mike Pence, just to note, in that interview last night with Wolf Blitzer, while he called this indictment outrageous, he did say that rhetoric of Donald Trump's is out of bounds and that that is totally unacceptable rhetoric.

And so we will watch as New York prepares for this moment on Tuesday. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeting that she's going to go there and join in a protest, to me, would be an immediate level of concern of a high- profile member with a following. How large does a potential protest come?

This is something for security officials to watch, but you're right to note what happened over the summer in the aftermath of that. And, obviously, this is not something that anybody would hope would happen, but it seems that the security officials are engaged in very real conversations about dealing with it, if it does.

DEAN: It is. It's very, very serious.

Norm, I want to go back to you for one second, because I think it's worth reminding people Donald Trump can still run for president and be president if he is indicted, which he has been, and even if he has been convicted, right?

EISEN: That's absolutely correct. We have parallels in American history, Eugene Debs, the socialist candidate, is one. And the reality is that, ultimately, the criminal case will be decided by a jury in New York. The political case will be decided by the jury of the American people. They have spoken in 2020 and in 2022, rejecting some of the extreme ideologies, the election denial and some of the other extreme ideologies associated with Donald Trump.

But they're going to have to take into account not just this criminal case, but we're very likely to see additional ones coming down the pike. I think Georgia may very well be next. And, of course, we saw the Mike Pence clip, the special counsel in DOJ's investigation, is trying to get Pence's testimony. Other individuals are being pursued. That's on the January 6th case. And then you have the Mar-a-Lago documents case.

So, four major criminal cases, potentially, will overhang this political season providing judicial challenges but also asking every American voter to sit in judgment.


DEAN: Right, and decide where they come down on this. There's so much more to come legally. All right, Norman Eisen, S.E. Cupp, David Chalian, we appreciate all three of you and your analysis here. Thanks so much.

The first funeral for one of the nine-year-old victims of the Nashville shooter takes place now in just a few hours, and we are getting new, heart-wrenching 911 calls from that day. We will walk you through what we're learning from those, next.