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Trump To Be Arraigned Tuesday After NY Grand Jury Indicts Him; Bidens Meet With Residents Of Tornado Damaged Community; Sources: Many Republicans & Loyalists Rally Behind Trump After Indictment. Aired 2- 2:30p ET
Aired March 31, 2023 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello, everyone. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianna Golodryga.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Great to be with you, Bianna. I'm Boris Sanchez. We're thrilled that you're sharing an afternoon with us.
We begin today with a historic new low for the highest office in the land. Donald Trump, the first former president to ever be criminally charged, is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday afternoon, according to sources. Now, his attorneys tell NBC News that there will be no plea deal. But keep in mind. Trump and his team still don't know exactly what the charges are. The indictment is still sealed.
Sources do tell CNN that it involves more than 30 counts related to business fraud. Remember, the New York grand jury has been investigating Trump's role in that alleged cover-up, that $130,000 payment to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.
GOLODRYGA: Daniels alleged an affair with Trump which he has denied. His ex-fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen, was convicted on campaign finance violations for coordinating the payment, which he said Donald Trump ordered him to do. Cohen says the indictment shows that no one is above the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: This is also about that whatever laws that sent me to prison should send him to prison. We're all supposed to be looked at in the eyes of the law the same, right?
Lady Justice wears the blindfold. If that crime done was enough for me to be charged, find, convicted, and sent to prison, why am I any different than Donald Trump?
(END VIDEO CLIP) GOLODRYGA: But Trump and Republicans continue to label the prosecution by New York DA Alvin Bragg as a political persecution. Today, the Secret Service met with New York officials to discuss security measures for Trump's court appearance.
CNN's Paula Reid is outside the criminal courthouse in lower Manhattan. So, Paula, what do we know about what will transpire on Tuesday?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Bianna, on Tuesday, we expect that former President Trump will arrive here at court for his arraignment. There is an effort here to treat him just like any other defendant. So, he'll go through a variation on the usual process, which is expected to include fingerprinting, a mugshot, and an appearance before a judge.
This is also when the charges are expected to be unsealed. Because right now, even the former president's attorneys don't know exactly what he has been charged with. And what we're told, he intends to fully participate and cooperate in the initial appearance in the arraignment.
We're also told that following this court hearing, his lawyers intend to fight. They said that they are going to file a motion to dismiss, other motions possibly as well. Their goal is to kill this case before it ever sees trial.
SANCHEZ: And, Paula --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: I am a convicted felon. I am at this part --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: And, Paula, Michael Cohen, who you just saw about a blip of there, he responded to the -- to the critics who say that he's a poor star witness since he's a felon who has been convicted essentially of lying. They say he can't be trusted. What was his response?
REID: Well, it's interesting to see once again, Michael Cohen doing media interviews because we know this is not something that prosecutors appreciate. He is a key witness in their case. And look, he is a complicated person.
He clearly has a personal grudge against the former president. He has been convicted of nine different felonies. But he argues that this case does not rely solely on him and that there were also documents that will support this case. But at this point, we don't know the charges or these alleged documents.
But again, a key witness in a trial of this significance going out and talking about the case to the media is not going to sit well with prosecutors. By contrast, Attorney Robert Costello, who was of course the one defense team witness who went before the grand jury last night after this indictment, he declined to comment saying, look, I'm likely to be a witness in this case. I can't be out there talking about it.
GOLODRYGA: All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much.
SANCHEZ: From where we expect Trump on Tuesday in Manhattan, we now go to where Trump is right now, his estate near West Palm Beach, Florida, where we find CNN's Leyla Santiago, not far from Mar-a-Lago. So, Leyla, what is the former president doing today and when do we expect that he's going to leave for New York?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Boris, we understand that he remains at Mar-a-Lago just right behind me and that it will be Monday when he is expected to travel to New York in preparation for that arraignment on Tuesday.
Now, here, we really haven't seen much out of the norm outside the walls of Mar-a-Lago, have seen some protesters come out in support of the former president. But just in the last few hours -- I want to read to you this. An Instagram post by his daughter Ivanka Trump that says, I love my father. I love my country. Today, I am pained for both. I appreciate the voices across the political spectrum expressing support and concern.
Now, one of his attorneys said that you should expect his legal team to file some motions to dismiss here. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM TRUSTY, TRUMP ATTORNEY: I would think in very short order, you'll 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 present here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: And he says he doesn't know the exact timing on when you might see that. But you know, timing also interesting here in terms of when we will see any sort of movement or any sort of insight that might let us know what the next move will be from the former president, again, expected to stay here over the weekend and leave Monday. But we're not exactly sure what that will look like or exactly at what point Monday that will be. Boris, Bianna.
SANCHEZ: We know you'll keep an eye on it for us. Leyla Santiago, from close to Mar-a-Lago, thank you so much.
GOLODRYGA: Joining us now, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. Thank you so much for being with us on this historic day as we're covering a former president who has been indicted.
Eliot, as we're breaking down, and still, there's a lot we don't know, this indictment is under seal. Sources say there are about 30 charges affiliated with it. Given that, what do you make of what Trump's attorney said this morning that he expects grounds for dismissal at any moment?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What grounds for dismissal on what basis? He, like everybody else, should wait and see what actually appears in the indictment. Now, look, based on what he appeared to be saying that the idea of stacking one crime into another, it's a relatively straightforward New York state statute that allows for the charging of a misdemeanor and possibly elevating that to a felony if that misdemeanor were used to aid in the commission of a crime.
No one has seen what any misdemeanors or felonies being talked about in the context of the president might be out. So, you know I think it's a little premature to even be talking about that. Then, on the statute of limitations point that he's raised.
If a defendant in New York is not present for an extended period of time, from the time of the commission of the offense, the statute of limitations is paused. So, I just -- you know, he's sort of confusing the public on matters that simply we do not know about.
And frankly, I would urge as a former prosecutor, people to wait, see what everything says, and then start fighting the legal fights. But that is a cart that is very much ahead of the horse right here.
SANCHEZ: And, Ed, I don't think there's any doubt that Tuesday is likely to be a circus in Manhattan. Because Trump, initially when he predicted that he was going to be arrested, he called for protests. You have counter-protesters, spectators, obviously, the press is going to be there. It's going to be a challenge for law enforcement to secure not just the courthouse but the surrounding area, right?
ED DAVIS, FORMER BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER: That's correct, Boris. Good afternoon. You know, this is in many ways, a fairly straightforward crowd control situation, something that the NYPD does every day and there's no other police department in the world better at that than the NYPD. They have the barricades up, they have horses, they have thousands of officers that can devote to it.
And so, it's straightforward in that respect, but it is anything but routine in two areas. One is the rhetoric around this. The statements that are being made to vilify the prosecutor and even to call into question the legal system really does affect the rule of law and the government's ability to maintain control.
And then the other complicating factor. I've worked in that building. That is a very, very difficult area. It's tight. And there are a number of government offices they have.
The City Hall is right there. The police department -- One Police Plaza is two blocks away. The federal courthouse. So, there's a lot to be concerned about in this particular incident.
GOLODRYGA: As a New York resident, I just want to pick up on that, Ed, because you know, will court in general, all other cases be going on as normal? I mean, you've got people arriving for jury duty, for other cases, how is that all going to work down there?
DAVIS: They will try to maintain normal operations. But depending on the intelligence that they get on who's going to show up and how many people are going to show up, and the angst of the crowd, the temperament of the crowd, they will have to make decisions on the fly. So, I'm sure they are trying to keep things normal but it all depends on what happens.
SANCHEZ: And, Ron, over to you.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
SANCHEZ: I mean, we've crossed the Rubicon in terms of what normal politics entails with Donald Trump so many times. And this is just another moment where you step back and recognize. We're witnessing history.
BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. A slightly different nautical metaphor. I mean, we are certainly in uncharted waters. But we are not really that far from shore compared to how far we may ultimately get.
I mean, this is the first time a former president has been indicted. It is a huge historical moment. But for Donald Trump, it may be just one the opening bell of what may be a series of potential indictments over the course of this year from federal investigators, from the Georgia investigation, potentially even further charges in New York having to do with financial -- other financial matters.
And so, what we saw in this initial reaction was virtually the entire Republican Party going to DEFCON five, and you know, preemptively declaring this invalid, a hit job coming, you know, a politically motivated witch hunt. They may have to do this three more times before anyone actually votes.
And you do wonder, while there is a rallying around the flag effect for Trump in the polls of the Republican primary initially, ultimately, does the cumulative weight of all of this eventually wait even on Republican voters to say nothing of the swing voters who will decide the 2024 election?
GOLODRYGA: Well, at least for now, Trump is campaigning actively on this news and on this indictment. Elliot, let me get you to respond to what Joe Tacopina, the former president's attorney said on the Today Show this morning.
And he was talking about this as a business filing, that that was misfiled as a legal expense, and sort of suggesting that there was nothing to see here because it was only filed internally within the company organization and that no third parties were involved.
This didn't go to the IRS. This didn't go to any insurance companies, and he didn't try to file any expenses from this. If that can be proven, then can the former president be vindicated? WILLIAMS: You know, I think once again, he's attempting to litigate a case that has been -- that has gone to a grand jury that found some basis beyond a reasonable -- (INAUDIBLE) -- but probable cause to establish that that crimes were committed there. Now, I -- you -- I mean, I think what he's doing is attempting to minimize for the public the seriousness of, number one, the record-keeping violation.
The law is clear that one an individual cannot -- or a business cannot misrepresent how it keeps its books as a means of evading tax or campaign finance laws or otherwise.
And again, it simply makes sense to wait and see what the charges are, and then respond to them directly. But I think, you know, what he -- what he's attempting to do is say that well, you know, we were accused of breaking the law here but what we did really wasn't that serious, so it's not really breaking the law. And that's simply not how criminal charges work.
SANCHEZ: Ron, you mentioned the response from Republicans sort of circling the wagons around on Donald Trump.
SANCHEZ: Generally speaking, I'm curious to get your response to President Biden's take on all of this. He was asked at least three separate times when he was leaving the White House today headed to Mississippi to meet with the victims of the recent tornadoes there about the indictment.
And he said flat out. No comment. I'm not going to talk about Donald Trump's indictment. What do you think about Biden simply stepping aside and not weighing in on this at all?
BROWNSTEIN: And I think that's what you're going to see bars on all of these potential indictments and investigations. I mean, the president has both in a substantive way, tried to keep his distance from the Justice Department and their decisions. But also politically, he understands that what Donald Trump wants is to frame this as a partisan fight. And that Biden does not want to contribute to that. He wants to have this remain squarely in the legal system.
And you know, what outside of kind of the Fox distortion field or news bubble, that is, in fact, where a majority of Americans seem to be in polls. I mean, people may have different opinions about the validity of any individual case, but by and large, in the polling that's come out, most Americans say it is appropriate that no one is above the law. And most Americans have said that they believe these inquiries are fair and not a witch hunt.
And you know that there is this potential that you get this be -- in part because so many Republican elected officials are saying this is legitimate, that you get a rallying around him in a Republican primary, and simultaneously, him continuing to take on water, to go back to that metaphor, that we consume in a general election. And that is what Republicans I think, are pointing themselves toward
if they don't allow for any possibility that the system needs to be allowed to work its will and to determine innocence or guilt.
GOLODRYGA: Ed, a lot of what happens Tuesday centers are on around how the former president wants to see this go down. Because as you mentioned -- I mean, that this could be something where the former president could come in and out, get his mug shot, get fingerprinted, and go through his arraignment, which we're hearing from Kara Scannell, there's a dry run for today and then be back on his way to Florida.
What happens though, if he wants to be seen publicly and visibly down there? We know that it had been reported that authorities wanted this all to happen today but that Secret Service said they needed time to prepare.
DAVIS: Just my colleagues and I have been discussing this, the Secret Service have a very difficult job here. Their mission is to make the former president as safe as possible. And I know from working with them extensively, that they want to do it in as low-key away as possible.
But what do they do when they have someone in charge who wants to do just the opposite, who wants to have photos out there who wants to be seen in handcuffs, who wants to make a circus out of this? It's going to be a very interesting negotiation session between the Secret Service and the former president and between the Secret Service and the officials in New York as to how this is going to go down. And that's really something that we're all waiting to see how it's going to play out.
SANCHEZ: Yes. We are all waiting to see how it's going to play out. Bit of an understatement there, Ed. Ed, Elliot, and Ron thank you all so much for the time. Appreciate your perspective.
GOLODRYGA: Thank you, guys.
Well, unsurprisingly, there's outrage on the right, with some Republicans calling the indictment of Donald Trump outrageous and an abuse of power.
SANCHEZ: Meantime, the Manhattan District Attorney's office is once again slamming House Republicans over their ongoing efforts to intervene in the hush money investigation. You're going to hear the response from his office when we come back.
SANCHEZ: Happening right now, these are live images from Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are meeting with residents of an area that was just devastated by a massive EF-four tornado over the weekend. It ran through about 60 miles, destroying everything in its path, killing some 26 people. President Biden there speaking with a young child, as you see. He was near Governor Tate Reeves just a moment ago. And we are anticipating a statement from the president in the next few minutes, which we will bring to you live, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, the president there with the First Lady is spending quite a bit of time with this one family. Obviously, you see their homes completely decimated behind them. Just gives you a sense of the power of the storm and the tornado that went through the area. As you mentioned, Boris, we'll get down to Mississippi when the president speaks just momentarily.
But Meantime, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are reacting to the news that the former president is being indicted for criminal campaign finance violations.
SANCHEZ: Let's get you to Capitol Hill now, and CNN's Melanie Zanona who is there for us. Melanie, let's start with Trump's Republican allies in Congress. What's the messaging from them today?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER (on camera): Yes. Well, Republicans are really racing to defend the former president even as they don't know the full scope of charges that he is facing. Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted that they are going to use their majority to hold Alvin Bragg accountable. He also called this an unprecedented abuse of power.
Jim Jordan a key committee chair, called it outrageous. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another key Trump ally said she's actually going to go to New York City on Tuesday to protest this indictment. And then Senator Lindsey Graham, also a key committee member, a key Trump ally, he has been particularly aggressive in his response. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): This is legal voodoo. You got a misdemeanor that's been made a felony. Nobody in the history of New York City has ever been prosecuted under this theory, except for Donald J. Trump. This case will fall like a cheap suit under legal scrutiny.
Give the president some money to fight this -- (INAUDIBLE). This is going to destroy America. We're going to fight back at the ballot box. We're not going to give in.
How does this end, Sean? Trump wins in court and he wins the election. That's how this wins.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZANONA: And I am told that Trump has actually been calling up some of his key allies on Capitol Hill trying to shore up support, telling them his plans on fighting those charges. That includes Lindsey Graham, as well as Elise Stefanik. She is a member of leadership. She's been the highest-ranking House Republican to endorse Trump for his 2024 presidential bid. But we should point out here that there has been some notable silence in some corners of the GOP, particularly in the Senate. Both Mitch McConnell and John Thune being number one and number two Senate Republicans have yet to weigh in. So really, this whole episode continues to show that there are still lingering divisions over Trump inside the party.
GOLODRYGA: Quite stunning to see how emotional Lindsey Graham got there. And pretty interesting that he's campaigning and fundraising for a billionaire with Fox viewers.
We also know, Melanie, that the House Republicans want the DA, Alvin Bragg, to come talk to them. We've been reporting on this for a few days now. Where does this stand?
ZANONA: Yes. A trio of House committee chairmen, they had given a deadline up today to respond to a request for both documents and testimony from Alvin Bragg. The district attorney's office did respond today. They did provide a few documents, but they are pushing back hard on the GOP's response and their effort to intervene in this ongoing criminal probe.
I want to read you part of the statement from the Manhattan District Attorney's office. They wrote. As committee chairman, you could use the stature of your office to denounce these attacks and urge 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, it is unclear at this point what the next steps are whether Republicans are going to try to issue a subpoena, unclear whether even something like that would hold up in court. But we have reached out to the relevant committees and we are still waiting to hear back.
GOLODRYGA: All right. Melanie Zanona, do let us know if you hear anything. Thank you.
SANCHEZ: So, as we noted just a moment ago, any minute, President Biden is set to speak after surveying the damage in Rolling Fort, Mississippi, and speaking to residents there. We're going to bring you his remarks live.