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Republicans Defend Trump; Trump Set to Appear in Manhattan Court Next Week. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 13:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Alex Marquardt in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us today.

We begin this hour with new details surrounding the indictment of former President Donald Trump. He is now the first ex-president in U.S. history to face criminal charges. Trump is expected to travel to New York on Monday, then surrender and appear in a Manhattan court on Tuesday. That's when charges against him, of which sources tell us there are more than 30, that's when they will be formally unveiled.

Attorneys for Trump say he is -- quote -- "ready to fight" and will not accept a plea deal.

Now, ahead of his appearance in court next week, the NYPD is preparing for potential unrest. All officers are being told to report to work in uniform and to prepare for deployment today.

CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the Manhattan courthouse. And CNN's Leyla Santiago is near Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Kara, I want to start with you in New York.

What more are you learning about what may be in this historic indictment?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, sources tell us that, in the indictment, there are more than 30 charges. This indictment is still sealed. It won't be unsealed until Tuesday.

So we don't know the specific charges. But prosecutors have been investigating the falsification of business records, and potentially the falsification of business records to commit or conceal another crime, a felony, in New York state. These 30 charges could be for everything ranging from every invoice that the Trump Organization received, as well as any checks that were made to reimburse Michael Cohen for facilitating those hush money payments.

All those details will become public on Tuesday. And that is when the former president is expected to come in to be arraigned. We're expecting that around 2:15 in the afternoon. That is the normal time that they do these arrangements. Now, this grand jury handed up this vote at the very end of the day

yesterday, after they had heard from a number of witnesses, including former -- current Trump Organization executives, members of Trump's campaign, including his former fixer, Michael Cohen, certainly a central player in this, as well as David Pecker, the former publisher of "The National Enquirer," who was at the very beginning of these hush money deals.

He was involved for decades with the former president, a longtime friend, and was an orchestrator of these so-called catch-and-kill deals. Now, sources tell us that witnesses in the grand jury were asked questions about other hush money deals beyond the Stormy Daniels payment, including a payment made to stop former Playboy model Karen McDougal from going forward with her alleged affair with Trump before the 2016 presidential election.

So, a lot of material that the grand jury heard. We are waiting to see what the specific details will be in the indictment when it is unsealed on Tuesday -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, a lot more still to find out.

Kara Scannell in New York, thank you very much.

And now want to go to Leyla Santiago, who is in West Palm Beach.

Leyla, we have heard from President -- former President Trump since this indictment came down, lashing out on his social media platform, TRUTH Social. We have heard from his lawyers. They're vowing that he will not go quietly. So what is team Trump saying?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, there are two words that have been sort of key in the messaging here, and this is political persecution.

We heard that from the statement from the former president last night. We have heard that echoed in interviews today by his attorneys. Here in Mar-a-Lago, we really haven't seen much out of the norm from the outside. That's Mar-a-Lago right behind me. We have seen some protesters that have been out in the nearby bridge.

But, really, what we're learning from sources as to what is happening inside is that much of Trump's team was caught off guard by this indictment when it was announced last night. They absolutely were preparing for the potential of that, but they were caught off guard by the timing.

So what will happen now? Well, as you said, we expect him to spend the weekend here, then, on Monday, head to New York. We also heard from one of his attorneys, who said you should expect his legal team to file motions to dismiss. Listen.


JAMES TRUSTY, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Well, I would think, in very short order, you will see a motion to dismiss or several motions to dismiss, talking about this kind of impossible theory of stacking a federal crime into a state misdemeanor statute of limitations issues.

And, very importantly, the intent to defraud that's an element of these false record-keeping charges, that's just not president here.



SANTIAGO: And he also mentioned that much of this remains to be seen in terms of the timing of when these motions could be filing.

But, of course, Alex, so much still remains unknown here.

MARQUARDT: Yes, by all accounts, the former president and his team were blindsided when this came down last night. Kara and Leyla, thank you both very much for your reporting.

For more, let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst, a former federal and state prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, thank you so much for being on today.

We do know, of course, that this case in Manhattan is centered on these hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. But we have now learned that this indictment has more than 30 counts. So, does that indicate there is just a lot more that we don't know?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It certainly suggests that, Alex.

When it comes to the number of counts in an indictment, though, it's really more about quality than quantity. Generally speaking, federal prosecutors tend to take more conduct and try to charge it more broadly in fewer counts. State prosecutors -- and, again, I'm generalizing -- tend to break the conduct into smaller bits and bring higher numbers of charges.

And it sounds like that's what we're seeing here. But what this also suggests to me, Alex, if this is, in fact, a financial and bookkeeping case, is that prosecutors may have taken each individual entry, each individual transaction and charged each one of those individually.

MARQUARDT: And so we do know that the DA's office is going to close for a couple of weeks. That's why there had been some -- an expectation that maybe this might happen towards the end of April.

And -- but we now know that the DA's office initially wanted the former president to surrender today. The logistics, however, were too complicated. So now this arraignment is set for Tuesday afternoon, with Trump arriving in New York on Monday.

What can you tell us about how this is going to unfold and what we can expect to see?

HONIG: Well, Alex, as complicated as the logistics will be with getting the former president into the building, with protecting the people who work in that building, with protecting the crowds, at its core, the actual in-court proceeding will be very routine.

This is what we call an arraignment. So, before he appears in court, Donald Trump will be fingerprinted. There will be a mug shot taken of him. Now, that's not supposed to become public under New York state law. Very important to know that.

Inside the courtroom, the judge first will unseal the indictment, meaning that's the moment when the indictment will become available to the public, barring something out of the ordinary. The judge will then read the charges to Donald Trump, who will be standing at the defendant's table.

Donald Trump will be asked to enter his initial plea, which certainly will be not guilty. The judge will then set bail. In a case like this, it seems very likely that the judge will give Donald Trump what's called a release on his own recognizance, meaning there are no bail conditions. You can go home. Just come back when we need you back in court.

And the judge may also set a schedule for the filing of initial pretrial motions.

MARQUARDT: And then, in terms of what the Trump team can do next, his attorney is saying that they're going to be filing what they call substantial legal challenges to this historic indictment.

What is the strongest move that they can make now?

HONIG: So, this is routine. Defense lawyers will commonly file motions to dismiss an indictment or certain counts of an indictment.

And these are motions that go only to the judge. What you're trying to do is get certain charges knocked out or reduced before you even go to a jury on a trial. I think we see a couple potential bases here. First of all, as we just heard in the clip from James Trusty, one of Trump's lawyers, they're going to argue that you cannot charge a violation of federal campaign law, because this related to a race for president, in state court.

I think they're also going to make an argument -- and Mr. Trusty alluded to this also -- that, in these business records cases in New York state, if you look at them, virtually all of them involve somebody taking a business record, falsifying it, then using it outside of their business somewhere to defraud someone of money, using it to get a bank loan, using it to rip off investors or customers.

And I think they're going to argue that a campaign finance violation doesn't apply here. I think we also should expect to see a motion for what we call selective prosecution, meaning this defendant has been picked out, singled out for political reasons. Very difficult to succeed on that type of motion.

But I fully expect to see those claims made.

MARQUARDT: Elie, we only have a couple of seconds left. But does this now have any bearing on the two investigations in the -- in federal -- in the two federal investigations here in Washington and the investigation in Georgia?

HONIG: Short answer is no, Alex.

Each of these prosecutors, the United States Department of Justice being one, the Fulton County DA being the other, the Manhattan DA being the third, are independent, sovereign entities. They do what they wish. They don't have to report to each other. They don't need approval from each other. And one prosecution does not bar any of the others.

MARQUARDT: All right, Elie Honig, we always appreciate you explaining all this to us.

HONIG: Thanks, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Take care.

All right, CNN has learned that members of the Secret Service are meeting with NYPD and court officials today to go over the logistics of Trump's historic arraignment next week.

With me now is CNN is Brynn Gingras in Manhattan.


So, Brynn, what more can you tell us about what's being planned?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex, so this is the building where the arraignment is going to happen, 100 Centre, as we call it.

And you can see it here. There are barricades all around this building. It has been this way for the last week-and-a-half or so. But there is certainly an increased presence in police. You can see those officers standing guard right there.

As you just said, there was a memo that went out yesterday to the entire NYPD for some 35,000 police officers, that everyone needed to be in uniform today. Didn't matter rank or position. And, of course, that is just a posturing for anything that could possibly break out as we get into Tuesday over the weekend.

No credible threats at the moment, but certainly a lot of what you're seeing as far as posture is happening behind the scenes, intelligence officials looking at online chat rooms, looking at social media, making sure there's no coordination or mobilization of people to come to New York and start any sort of unruly demonstration or unrest.

Also, as we look toward Tuesday, sources are telling us, as you said, Alex, Secret Service is meeting with all the players here on the ground about what this arraignment will look like. Sources are telling CNN, if possible, one thing that's being considered is that the entire cases that are happening in 100 Centre, which is quite a bit, those might all come to a halt while the former president's arraignment is happening. Again, it's not definite. These are all things that are being considered, everything on the table. I can tell you that floor where the arraignment is happening, we know that there's restricted access even today to get to that floor. So there's just so many security measures that are in play right now, discussions still happening again through all the players as to how exactly this is all going to go down when Tuesday happens -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: So many security questions. It is going to be quite the spectacle, though.

Brynn Gingras in Manhattan, thank you very much.

Thirty counts not stopping Trump's Republican allies in Congress from blasting the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, but not everyone in the Republican Party is speaking out. We're live on Capitol Hill.

Plus: Let him go. President Biden today calling on Vladimir Putin to release American journalist Evan Gershkovich, but what will it take for the Kremlin to listen?

And another very tough day in Nashville, the first funeral being held today for the victims. How mourners are honoring the life of 9-year- old Evelyn Dieckhaus.



MARQUARDT: We are following the historic indictment of former President Donald Trump, the first time ever that a former U.S. president has been criminally charged.

That legal bombshell in New York sending political shockwaves through Washington, and many Republicans in Congress are now coming out in full force in defense of Donald Trump.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing from these Republican lawmakers?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you are hearing House Republicans rushing to Donald Trump's defense.

That happened in the immediate aftermath of this news of the indictment, Speaker McCarthy on down the line coming out attacking the prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, saying that they want to hear from him, pushing for his testimony, even as they have faced accusations that doing so would be interfering with a probe that -- into Donald Trump, a criminal investigation, but, nevertheless, still going after this prosecutor.

But you also hearing silence from Senate Republicans, top Senate Republicans, namely, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who has not yet weighed in, and John Thune, the number two Republican, also yet to comment on this.

But Trump's allies are rallying behind him, including one congressman who I just spoke to, Congressman Barry Moore of Alabama. He's a conservative member, someone who's supporting Donald Trump's reelection. This morning, he was -- this afternoon, he was handing out ham sandwiches on Capitol Hill to make the argument that it's easy to indict a ham sandwich, just as it's easy to indict Donald Trump.

But I asked him about the notion that he has not seen any of the allegations, any of the evidence or any of the charges, but yet is still proclaiming Donald Trump's innocence.


RAJU: But you haven't seen the -- any of the evidence or allegations yes. So are you jumping the gun on this?


When you run and say you're going to arrest the president if you're elected, and then you arrest the president after you're elected, and you fulfill a campaign promise, it looks pretty political.

So, without seeing the indictment, without knowing anything behind it, the motivation was there long before the evidence was.

RAJU: So, I mean, if you see the charges, and it looks serious, will you change your mind? Could you -- could you -- are you open to thinking that this could possibly be a legitimate investigation?

MOORE: Well, I'm open to thinking that, but I'm in the garbage business. And so, a lot of times, I know how to spot a pile of garbage.

And this thing looks like a pile of garbage. So, when it was -- what it was, I just called it out. I said, this looks like it's politically motivated. And when you have got a guy right here in this part of the country trying to indict a guy who's running for president for the rest of the country, it looks politically motivated.


RAJU: So, mind made up there, and that's what we're hearing from a lot of Republicans on the House side even before any of the details of the charges here have been detailed.

And Republicans are still pressing ahead trying to get Bragg himself to testify about this investigation. They have sent a letter to him. The DA's office today responding and saying that this is an effort to only defend Donald Trump without any legitimate -- legislative purpose.

Barry Moore there, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told me that they should issue a subpoena to get Bragg to testify. So, House Republicans still pushing forward, even as Senate Republican leaders have yet to embrace that effort to investigate Alabama -- Alex. MARQUARDT: Yes, ham sandwiches, that's one way to make your argument.

Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Now, it's not just congressional Republicans who are flocking to Trump's defense. Even some of his biggest potential 2024 primary opponents are joining in that chorus.

Here's his former vice president, Mike Pence, last night on CNN.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, a Manhattan DA that targeted one particular American in their campaigns, I think that offends the notion of the overwhelming majority the American people, who believe in fairness, who believe in equal treatment before the law.



MARQUARDT: And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called this -- quote -- "the weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda." He called it un-American.

Let's discuss with Republican strategist Doug Heye and CNN political commentator Karen Finney.

Doug, Karen, thank you so much for joining me. Lots to discuss here.

Doug, I want to start with you.

One potential 2024 challenger to Donald Trump has taken a different approach to Pence and DeSantis. Here's what the former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said today. Take a listen.


FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): When a public official is indicted, I think, in the regard for the office -- and the office is more important than the person -- they should step aside. And that standard should apply here.

It is a distraction. It is not a good day for America.

STUART VARNEY, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: Do you think that Trump should now step aside?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I do. But he's not going to.


MARQUARDT: Doug, why is Hutchinson the only potential candidate for 2020 for taking that position, when some might argue this could be a golden opportunity for GOP candidates to say it's time to move on in this race?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think a few reasons.

One, the Trump base is still a very strong part of the Republican Party. It's arguably the biggest part of the Republican Party. If you're running for president, and you want to be in that Trump lane, this may not be where you want to cross them, at least at this juncture.

So what we -- there's so much that we still don't know about what's what's happened and what's going to happen in the coming days. But if you're a Ron DeSantis or a Nikki Haley, you certainly -- Mike Pence, obviously, live on CNN last night -- you have an opportunity to criticize the DEA on here.

Even "The Washington Post" has criticized on this indictment, saying this is the wrong way to get Donald Trump, while, in a few months from now, ultimately saying exactly what Asa Hutchinson is saying today, that this has been too much of a distraction, and maybe Donald Trump was wrongly prosecuted, but we need a -- we need a president who's focused full-time on the mission ahead, and Donald Trump just can't do that, I wouldn't be surprised in a debate to see one of these Republicans in some months from now say something like that.

MARQUARDT: And, Karen, on the Democratic side, do Democrats -- should Democrats just sit back and watch? Or are they -- do they need to be worried in some way about this case, it being seen as too political, too petty, worried about people rallying around Trump?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, they can't be worried about that.

I think what Democrats need to do is very much what you have seen the administration do, and that is just continue to govern, because, remember, that, for most Americans, they're still concerned about the issues in their daily lives. So, continue to focus on delivering for the American people, particularly in this moment, when you see Republican officials directly attacking -- they're not just attacking Alvin Bragg, which is bad for democracy.

They're attacking and undermining our democratic institutions and the idea that no one is above the law. And so this is a moment to continue to show that our institutions continue, that this is going to happen. It may be a distraction. It's bad for democracy. Donald Trump will likely make this as much of a carnival as he can.

But we have got to reassure the American people that democracy and our governance continues firmly.

MARQUARDT: We were just talking to Manu Raju up on the Hill about Republican support among Republican lawmakers.

We have now seen these tweets from Senator Lindsey Graham, saying -- quote -- "How can President Trump avoid prosecution in New York? On the way to the DA's office on Tuesday, Trump should smash some windows, rob a few shops and punch a cop. He would be released immediately."

Now, this follows a post on TRUTH Social from the former president showing him next to Alvin Bragg holding a baseball bat.

Doug, I don't think Senator Graham means that literally. But can the GOP continue to claim to be the law and order party, when so many prominent Republicans are using this kind of imagery and language, attacking federal law enforcement, trying to discredit local investigations, both in New York and Georgia, and defending the Capitol rioters?

HEYE: Look, I think you raise very valid questions on this.

And what we have seen is a huge shift in the Republican Party, not just in those years since Donald Trump has become president. What Asa Hutchinson was describing was what we used to consider the real world. And we have moved so much into the bizarro world right now, where everything that is up -- or was up is down.

A good example is, Republicans used to say no one is above the law. And Democrats would say, even presidents have private lives. We're going to see the parties switch on this over the coming weeks and months, as Republicans defend Donald Trump and Democrats criticize him.

MARQUARDT: We're going to see them switch on this, yes.

Karen, we are seeing Trump and his allies...



MARQUARDT: ... flooding the zone now...


MARQUARDT: ... attacking the indictment, attacking the district attorney.

Of course, there's a lot that we still don't know and won't know until next week. The district attorney, he's at -- he's at the office today dealing with another case, according to our colleague Kara Scannell, the conversation largely now being driven by one side, the pro-Trump side.

So what impact do you think that that has when it comes to public opinion?

FINNEY: Well, clearly, they're trying to influence public opinion. But I think one of the areas of peril for the Republicans is,

remember, there was an NPR poll that just came out this week, concerns about protecting our democracy still a top issue for American voters, for Democrats and independents.

And we know that independents and a number of people who switched their voting from Republican to Democrat during the 2022 election was around concerns about January 6 and concerns for democracy. So, while they're catering to this 30 percent of their base, there is a majority of Americans that are watching, and they don't like seeing public officials, elected officials, attacking someone like Alvin Bragg, who, in his own right, is an elected -- independent elected official.

And it also is just a sign, frankly, of how Donald Trump has drug our country down with him, that we -- that so many people literally are saying, well, he broke the law, but that's OK. That's not the thing we should really go after him for.

No, no one is above the law. That is a fundamental tenet of this democracy.

MARQUARDT: Doug, we have already seen the former president trying to fund-raise off of this indictment. I assume we will see that continuing.

Do you genuinely -- do think that the Trump team genuinely sees this as an opportunity as they get deeper into this campaign?

HEYE: In the short term, certainly.

Look, everything about the Trump presidency was all about merchandising. It was almost like Spaceballs: The Flamethrower. There was a Donald Trump product in everything surrounding his administration and his campaign. They will continue doing that. Short term, this can be successful for them.

But I don't think anybody knows long term in the Republican primary if this makes him a martyr or not. Certainly, if we're in a general election, as Karen described, independent voters don't want to -- don't want to deal with this and they don't want to see this one way or another.

But in the short term, Trump is going to try and maximize everything that he can. It's his playbook.

MARQUARDT: And, Doug, before we go, if there is a mug shot that is released publicly, you think they will end up merchandising that?

HEYE: Absolutely. Why not? If everything's for sale, you got to sell everything.



MARQUARDT: All right. Wild times. FINNEY: Yes, it will be on mugs.


MARQUARDT: Mugs, T-shirts, stickers.

Doug Heye, Karen Finney, thank you very much.

HEYE: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Russian assurances alongside global skepticism -- the Kremlin claiming that it is still safe for foreign journalists to work in Russia, despite the arrest of this American "Wall Street Journal" reporter.

We will have the latest. That's next.