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Trump In New York Court For Hearing In Hush Money Case; Appeals Court Rules Trump Must Pay $175M Bond Within 10 Days. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2024 - 11:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Of a supposedly witch hunt incorrectly calling his hush money criminal case a, quote, hoax today for the first time in American history, we could learn when an ex-President stands criminal trial. The judge overseeing the case is expected to set a court date after Trump allegedly bribed a porn star to cover up their affair years ago.

Meantime, his meticulously crafted image as a real estate tycoon also at risk, Trump's assets including his, quote, babies, as he calls them, could be seized if you can't make a nearly half billion dollar bond payment in the 11th hour. May, I guess I suppose it's the 12th and the 13th hour right now. Our coverage begins with the hush money hearings. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live in New York outside of the courthouse. Kaitlan, pretty big day for Donald Trump. I mean, obviously, we could hear a hearing date and a trial date for this Alvin Bragg case to get going. But the prospect that some of these properties is you and I've covered Trump for a long time, it just -- it's almost unthinkable that authorities in New York could be going after these properties, but we might be here.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes, it is central to his image. His wealth has always been at the center of that, something he campaigned on in 2016 and took him into the White House and something that is now at real threat. But Jim, obviously his attorneys are not, that is not the fullest issue that they are dealing with right now. Because those same attorneys are inside this courthouse behind me here in Manhattan, as we are waiting to see if the judge here, Judge Juan Merchan, decides when this case could go forward. This is the criminal hush money probe that was supposed to begin today, but was delayed because of documents that were not turned over to Trump's legal team.

They are accusing the district attorney's office of a violation here. And that is the heart of what they're arguing about right now inside the courtroom behind us. We have CNN's Paul Reid and Kristen Holmes here with me. And Paula, we're getting live updates from inside the courtroom. And it's actually getting quite testy in there where the judge has just raised his voice for the first time as he is pressing Trump's legal team about what is a pretty extraordinary allegation that they are making against the district attorney's office.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They have accused the district attorney's office of professional misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct. They've even suggested that they should be sanctioned. And the judge said, look, that's a, quote, incredibly serious, unbelievably serious accusation, not only are you accusing the prosecutor's office of misconduct, but you're also trying to make me the judge complicit in it.

And he pressed the Trump legal team to come up with some case law, some specifics to support this allegation, because the reason we're here today for this hearing, and not for the first day of the trial is that federal prosecutors handed over hundreds of thousands, assuming 100,000 documents. Now, that was not the Manhattan district attorney that did that, those are federal prosecutors. So the judge here is pressing the Trump attorneys on why you can accuse the Manhattan District Attorney's Office of prosecutorial misconduct because the Justice Department didn't hand something over.

Now, the Trump attorneys argue that the district attorney's office should have pushed for these documents themselves, they should have asked for these specific materials. And they're having a pretty intense exchange now with the judge. You know, again, this is the first time the judge has really raised his voice, saying the fact that they don't even have any case law to support this very serious accusation is, quote, really disconcerting.

So our colleagues tell us that the judge, Judge Juan Merchan, he has been pretty level throughout the hearing. But he's gotten a lot more animated. And it's interesting, because this shows that he is not going to tolerate just these throwaway accusations that someone is corrupt, right, or that they're engaging in misconduct. And he is holding their feet to the fire, asking for actual proof, support, case law for this accusation. So this is significant, and maybe a preview of how the judge will handle this trial.

COLLINS: And when Trump's legal team walked into this, Kristen, I mean, they clearly don't seem to actually think they're going to get it dismissed, even though they are asking for that, and of a delay if they don't get it dismissed. What was their tactic kind of going into this today when it came to these documents, because right now, they haven't been able to tell the judge a specific number of documents that they believe they'll have to review before this case can proceed.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What they wanted to do here is to try and explain that every single document that was turned over was relevant in some way, because the more documents that are relevant of this 100,000, the longer that this trial will be delayed, because then the legal team will have to actually be able to go through that. So really, the strategy here is how can we draw this out as long as possible?

As we've talked about, part of that is also can we push this up close to the November election, they believe the closer this gets to November, the more difficult it's going to be to have a trial at that time, the more politically explosive, it's going to be at that time. The other thing I wanted to point out here is one of the things that our colleagues were saying was what Trump was doing in the courtroom, a lot of leaning back in his chair, folding his arms and looking at Todd Blanche. Todd Blanche has really become Donald Trump's favorite lawyer of the lawyers that he has.

He believes that he's the fighter. He believes that he's out there. But this is interesting to see, Todd Blanche, having essentially a very tense moment with this judge. Donald Trump really wants to see his lawyers pushing the envelope, pushing for sanctions, pushing his people to call for this.


COLLINS: Well, and clearly what we're getting from witnessing this right now, listening to what questions the judge is asking is he is very skeptical of Trump's allegations against -- Trump's legal teams, allegations against the district attorney's office. And essentially, what he seems to be asking is, is it the district attorney Alvin Bragg's obligation to get the Southern District of New York to get them to turn over these documents?

REID: And that's the heart of the disagreement here, because the Trump attorneys are saying, look, this was the district attorney's job, they should have gotten federal prosecutors and asked for all of this. But the judge is pushing back on that saying no, it's actually not, he calls them the people because they represent the people of Manhattan, the people's job to do this. And I think this is important, because this is showing that the judge, not only is he upset at the fact that they've made this accusation and cannot support it.

He's really showing how he's going to handle a criminal trial here. He's not going to allow the Trump team to get away with making accusations. They cannot support with facts or case law. And that is significant, because as we've reported so many times, this is part of defending the former president. You are not only playing for either a judge or jury, you're also playing for your client and playing to your client often. And that can be difficult for attorneys when they're in a courtroom, particularly in front of a judge who here is going to make a show your work.

COLLINS: And they got one delay here. But it's not clear that they're going to get this further delayed today.

REID: Yes, that's what he's trying. The judge is trying to nail down, OK, exactly how much evidence do we have that is relevant? Because that will determine how much time do you need to review it. So that's really at the core of what they're arguing about right now. Right now, the case is adjourned until mid-April, it's unclear if the case will start in mid-April, if they'll get a little bit more time if they will do 30 days from March 25th. The math is not exactly clear where he's going to land.

But really at the heart of this is this question of why did you just get these documents now? And of these, how many are really relevant? How many do you need to review to be prepared to defend your client?

COLLINS: And the reason this matters is because if someone's home, you know, wondering, why do I care if it's the district attorney's obligation or the southern district attorneys to turn over these documents about Michael Cohen, it matters if this does get delayed even just by a few weeks because it could clash with other trials being set, with the documents case being set, with the federal election interference case once we hear from the Supreme Court. If this case goes forward later, it could push those cases later, which would be a win in the Trump legal team's eyes.

HOLMES: Well, let me tell you that they thought this was a huge win. I mean, just this delay until April 15th. They were fully 100 percent planning to start their trial today. They believe they were going to, they were planning a campaign schedule around it. They instill are telling me that they're going to probably likely start the campaign for just Wednesdays and Saturdays, the days that they're not in court, because eventually this trial is going to start. This was huge for them. They were happy about it. Now you're seeing they're kind of pushing the envelope. And it sounds like the judge believes they're pushing the envelope here. But this was good for them. And they want to continue to do that because the whole goal is to push all those other trials past the election.

COLLINS: All right, Kristen Holmes, Paula Reid. Jim, obviously, what is clear and what we are getting out of the courtroom right now is that this judge is deeply skeptical about the claims being made by the Trump legal team. The big question, of course, is whether or not that affects when he sets that trial date, and if he does, so, by the time they leave this courtroom today.

ACOSTA: Yes, absolutely Kaitlan. Let's continue to talk about this here with me now CNN chief legal analyst Laura Coates, CNN chief domestic correspondent Phil Mattingly and CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig. I mean, Laura, I mean, just to dive into what they were talking about a few moments ago. I mean, the judge kind of going after the defense team a few moments ago, saying, you are literally accusing the Manhattan DA's Office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct, and trying to make me complicit in it. And you don't have a single site to support that position. That is not a good sign for the defense.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Good for this judge for standing up to this issue. It is a huge accusation that every prosecutor takes very seriously because it's not just you standing up there. Remember, we're very interchangeable as prosecutors. It is on behalf of the jurisdiction itself. You are accusing the jurisdiction and the people of the jurisdiction of committing some sort of misconduct against this person.

If you do not have a way to back it up, you should not say it. And this is a distinction between the Court of Public Opinion and a court of law. We're the judge going to say, well, what do you have to support this? It's not a tweet. It's not a Truth Social. It is a courtroom where you're telling me that they have withheld documents from you intentionally with an eye towards taking away your due process and your fair trial.

If you don't have then you cannot say it. And so this judge is already telling us that they intend to insure it, this will be done by the book, you've already gotten one delay, but a delay based on nonsensical rhetoric or hyperbole or simply a lie is not going to cut it nor should it.

ACOSTA: Yes, I mean, Elie, it's one thing for Trump to say whatever he wants, his lawyers can't do that --


ACOSTA: -- in front of a judge.


HONIG: Absolutely right. I mean you're a lawyer is an officer of the court. You can't just say about whatever you want unless you back it up. I mean this is, as Laura said, this is not the political campaign trail where you just say whatever you want unless you back it up. I mean this is, as Laura said, this is not the political campaign trail where you just say whatever you want, fire off whatever you want, and it sort of plays itself out. You have to back up what you whatever you say here.

And the key question that the judge seems to be focusing on is, was this some sort of intentional withholding of documents or was it inadvertent? And I will tell you that this type of problem where prosecutors realize sort of late in the game, whoops we have all these extra documents, we should turn over. It's not great, but it happens quite frequently, because you're responsible as a prosecutor for everything in your possession.

Now, that's been expanded over the years to include, for example, police officers, FBI agents, who you may be working with. And I think the question this judge is probing is, does it include holding the state prosecutors responsible for what the Feds had across the street? And it seems like he's leaning towards an answer of no.

ACOSTA: And does that mean that the judge says, OK, well, just to cover our bases here, we're going to push this trial back a little bit longer. I mean, is that the potential outcome here.

COATES: It's conceivable. But if you're able to review the documents in time, in a timely manner to and they do not include things that are going to delay the prosecution's case, or the defense ability to actually defend themselves against the accusations, you would not give a gratuitous delay simply because you are alleging misconduct, it's got to be tied to something for a reason. And every prosecutor wants to ensure that the next case they prosecute will also be given the same credibility and integrity aside as this one.

And so this judge is not going to likely allow for simply a statement that is inaccurate or unsubstantiated to say, all right, well, you know what, because it could have happened, I'll indefinitely give you a delay.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: You know, what's interesting about that, particularly, in this case, on this day, when he's also dealing with what Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, was facing with the effort to try and secure bond also in the wake of the E. Jean Carroll defamation case, which has already secured a bond for more than $90 million, which is, I think, hampering his liquidity a little bit right now I would presume, is consequences, right?

It is a different ballgame in the court of law. And I feel like we've been talking about this or around this over the course of the last several months, because it hasn't actually been happening. We saw it play out the defamation case. We saw it play out in the New York Attorney General's case, where he lost that case, when it came to fraud. When he's in a courtroom, the antics don't play, the lies can't stand up. And there are consequences for trying to play that game.

And I think while this is certainly a more micro scale, you're seeing in a maybe a less hyperbolic way that we see on Truth Social. This is why this moment is different than perhaps what we've seen over the course of the last 10 or 11 months. Yes, politically, he has found a way to benefit from something that no politician should ever be able to benefit from. And there's no question about that. He's steamrolled to the Republican nomination. But it becomes different when he ends up in court when he's dealing with a judge, when his lawyers have to either defend his statements or try to, or try and play off his statements in a legal setting where they simply cannot. And that changes the game a little bit.

ACOSTA: Yes, I mean, he's been quite good at turning these courthouses into his campaign rallies. But as things get a bit more serious with trial dates and things being collected and seized by the authorities there in New York, perhaps he doesn't relish it quite as much, guys. All right, thanks very much.

Stay with me, we'll continue to monitor that Manhattan courthouse for those developments. But today is also the deadline for the former president, as we were just saying a few moments ago, to post that nearly half a billion dollar bond in his civil fraud judgment. The New York Attorney General has been threatening to freeze those bank accounts, possibly other properties. We'll talk about that in just a few moments. Stay with us.



COLLINS: And welcome back. We are live outside the courthouse here in Manhattan where former President Donald Trump and his legal team have been inside for the last two hours in what has just culminated in being a very testy exchange between Trump's lead defense lawyer here and the judge who could determine when this trial goes to case. This is the trial that is a criminal hush money probe.

You see the former President as he just left the courtroom a few moments ago for a 45 minute recess. He said thank you but nothing else of any substance about what had just transpired inside that courtroom. We have CNN's Paul Reid and Kristen Holmes here with me. And Paul Reid, what just went on in there is incredibly significant, because the judge was essentially questioning Todd Blanche, who is Trump's lead attorney here over this argument that they've been making about the discovery of these materials, and was basically saying, well, you used to be an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York's Office. You know how this works.

REID: Completely.

COLLINS: And you could have asked for the sooner but you waited.

REID: Yes, the judge clearly skeptical of the idea that somehow the district attorney's office is at fault or guilty of prosecutorial misconduct, because the defense attorney did not subpoena these documents until January. But I want to stop you for just a second because while you were just talking our colleague, Kara Scannell, reporting that an appeals court has ruled on this bond issue. We know the former president was -- he had to post over $460 million today. And we've learned that a New York Court of Appeals has given Trump 10 additional days to post a bond of 175 million.

Now that would cover the $464 million judgment against him in the civil fraud trial. So this is significant because this reduces the amount that he needs to post and also gives him 10 additional days. Now there were was a concern today that if he wasn't able to do this that the Attorney General Letitia James, she could move to start seizing his assets. But now we're learning that the appeals court has weighed in here. They have ruled that he only needs to pose $175 million. Still a lot of money, but less than half of what he had to post before. And he now has 10 days to do that. So that is significant win for him.


COLLINS: This is huge news because the -- and also we typically don't hear from the appeals court on Mondays, even Trump's team was under the belief that they would only make an argument on or a ruling on Tuesdays or Thursdays. So while they've been inside this room, the appeals court has just said, not only does he not have to pay the full amount, he only needs to pay 175 million. They've been trying, I believe, for 100 million, but he also has 10 more days to come up with that $175 million in this case.

REID: I'm going to read this. So yes, this is a huge win for him. I'm going to let Kristen take it for what she's hearing from the Trump team. And I'll read this.

HOLMES: Look, this is an enormous one, because the fact that he would not have to pay the huge sum of nearly $500 million, which he couldn't pay, which we were waiting, essentially, to see what's going to happen. We had absolutely no word from Trump's attorneys whether or not he could post the bond. We were essentially under the impression he had not come up with a, as you said, rabbit in the hat for the 11th hour that he was going to shift now to this idea of whether or not Letitia James was going to start seizing these assets.

The other thing to point out here, when they approached those 30 or so underwriters, one of the big complaints that they were essentially having was that underwriters don't usually go for this amount of nearly half a billion dollars, they were saying that the underwriters were saying, OK, we'll do 100 million, that's kind of our cap. Now, there's a little bit of wiggle room, right, $175 million, it's still an enormous amount of money, a lot closer to what they were willing to do in the first place, then that $464, $500 million mark.

So now they have they can go back to some of these places and see, would you be willing to do this? Also, he has the 10 days to figure out, does he have any of the assets he can add to this?

COLLINS: Well, and this is a huge, you know, surprise, even for Trump's legal team who walked into this courthouse this morning, for the criminal case and to figure out what's going on there, which I should know, it's going about as badly as it could inside that courtroom right now. But this is huge news for them to come out and hear that not only do they have more time here, but it's way less than what they thought that they would have to pay and maybe more palatable to these insurance giants to help underwrite that.

REID: Yes, this is really significant, because as we talked about today, you know, even by Trump standards, this is such a consequential day. He's in here potentially learning about when the first criminal trial he will face will begin. And then he was facing the possibility that he would not be able to post this bond. And then the attorney general would be seizing his assets, his identity, for so long has been as a successful billionaire, businessman, his name adorns buildings in this city and around the world.

And we had talked about earlier, the fact that he had appealed, we didn't expect to get a decision today. But here, I mean, this is a huge relief for him. And it does make it possible, though, not certain that he might be able to post this bond saying that they've made it less than half and given him 10 days to figure out how to potentially come up with this money. So this is a huge relief for Trump. And let's see, we'll start working the phones and see if we can come up with this money.

COLLINS: Well, and I think what is notable here is that as everyone at home is learning about this, as we're learning about this, Trump and his legal team are just learning about this because they've been inside that courtroom for two hours arguing something entirely different and unaware that this was a ruling that was coming today. They were expecting if it was coming, it would come tomorrow or maybe Thursday.

HOLMES: And I think that they weren't necessarily holding their breath that this was going to change at all. I mean, we talked about this a lot what they asked for.

COLLINS: They weren't counting on the appeals court.

HOLMES: Yes. They weren't counting on the appeals court that they thought that maybe they were going to have to end up trying to figure out what happens next in terms of seizing assets in terms of Letitia James moving forward. You know, we talk a lot about what Trump's legal team does in court and what their expectation is, a lot of it is done to kind of try to delay or to come up with new solutions. It's exhausting every avenue, again, that's what your lawyers are paid to do. That's what they should be doing.

This case, you know, I think it was really 50-50 in their minds as to whether or not the appeals court would come back and have any changes at all, particularly having both of these is a good thing for Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Yes. And Jim, this is notable because this is -- these two moments that we've been talking about all morning, these twin moments what is happening right now inside the court has not been going well for Donald Trump and his legal team. The judge has been kind of reprimanding his attorney. But they just walked out for that 45-minute recess to some very welcome news from this appeals court when it comes to that bond now being lowered and having more time to front that bond.

ACOSTA: Yes, Kaitlan. I mean, Trump has been referring to some of these properties as his, quote, babies. So perhaps the babies are safe for now. Let me go back to our panel here in Washington. Phil Mattingly, I mean, Trump catches a break on the bond issue.


MATTINGLY: There's no question about it. And I think it's important to the extent without getting too deep into the financial weeds to explain why this is so important and why the initial bond that had been set was so extraordinarily difficult for him to be able to meet. It wasn't just that it was $465 million, which was the judgment, it was that the way insurers work to underwrite that they almost without fail require 120 percent of the bond itself. So that pushed it over $550 million.

The poll was also made, I think it's by Kaitlan or by Kristen, that these insurers themselves usually aren't trying to go over $100 million. It is not normal. The size of this, there's not a lot of precedent, when it comes particularly to an individual and a very small company. This isn't some massive public company that has huge revenues, has huge access to credit lines at major banks, most Donald Trump's banking relationships at all but disintegrated over the course of the last several years.

And so not only is while Donald Trump is liquid, he's not that liquid, they're requiring cash and cash equivalents. They're saying no to any property, most Donald Trump's value is in property. What this allows by reducing this by about $300 million, giving them 10 days to find it is, one, he has cash. He's made clear he has cash and cash equivalents. And actually for Donald Trump, the records actually back that up. So he does have some cash.

The other thing that's really interesting here, and Elie was talking about this last week, there's -- the Truth Social element of this, there's the merger that closed last week or is in the process of closing, could start trading as a public company by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. While those shares which are worth billions of dollars for Donald Trump would technically be under a lockup agreement for six months, you wouldn't be able to use it. You wouldn't be able to sell them. He may be able to get a waiver to take out a loan against them right now, that would be impossible without waiver. If the board gives him a waiver, that's another avenue, significantly less money more time, and opens up some options that perhaps didn't exist.

ACOSTA: Elie, tell us, I mean, did he catch a break, I mean, he has 10 days to fork over 175 million, and it's still a lot of money.

HONIG: But, yes, but oh my goodness, did he catch a break.

ACOSTA: But the buildings may be safe. I mean --

HONIG: For now for sure.

ACOSTA: Yes, yes.

HONIG: I mean, so a couple of things, two big things happen. First, he got the extra time, 10 days-time is very valuable here. But the amount of the bond he has to post has been cut by more than in half. And here comes the appeals court at the 11th hour and 59th minute and 59th second, to give him this huge reduction. I just read through the order issued by the Court of Appeals. It's two pages long. There's next to nothing in terms of here's why we've come in with this huge reduction.

But the fact that they've issued a substantial reduction, it happens. There are other cases we've seen where courts of appeals have come in and reduced bonds amounts by more than this, by 80, 90 percent. There is some I think, implicit judgment in here that the amount of the bond, the full $500 plus million was unnecessary or excessive. It's not necessarily the passing judgment on the case as a whole. But what the Court of Appeals is saying is we the court system will be fine with a bond of $175 million.


COATES: And remember, the purpose of the bond, this is not the full decision as to whether an appeal or the lower court ruling was wrong. In order to actually go through the appellate process for Trump, he had to have posted this bond. Now many would look at this issue and say, well, hold on a second. That doesn't seem fair inherently that you have to resolve this money prior to the full appeal process happening. So that ticket with legislature if that's your issue, by the way in the court rules, but there's -- the court is likely saying right now, we are confident that with this amount of money, that there is enough there to support that he can go forward with the procedural aspects of the appeal.

I wouldn't read the tea leaves to suggest that they think that Engoron was wrong in his ultimate ruling, or that the proportionality is so skewed. But certainly this is one heck of a break for yet again, tough one done.

ACOSTA: Yes, all right, Kaitlan, it sounds as though, I mean, Trump was not going to have to turn over those babies. I mean, he was saying last week, I've got 500 million. I mean, of course that was after he was saying he was going to have to sell things and fire sale prices. But I can hear the Trump team breathing a sigh of relief right now, collectively at this point, it seems.

COLLINS: Yes, but maybe not too big of a sigh of relief, because right now they're also facing quite testy questioning from the judge here, Judge Juan Merchan, at the courthouse behind me in New York. This isn't a criminal hush money probe that was supposed to start today was then delayed because documents were not turned over to Trump's legal team in sufficient time, they argued. And now it has become the point of intense questioning inside this courtroom.

CNN's Kara Scannell was in there for all of it. And Kara is this questioning was going on, what can you describe to us about what questions the judge had for Trump's team and what the exchange was like as well as Trump's demeanor as all of this was playing out?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the judge was really homing in on all the allegations that Trump has made in this, you know, including the allegation that the district attorney's office was working with federal prosecutors and trying to withhold information from Trump's team. The judge saying, you know, this is an unbelievably serious claim, and pushing Trump's attorneys to back up those claims.


And he, you know, he became slightly frustrated by the end of it because he was saying that they haven't actually supported the serious allegations that they made.