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Trump Rails Against Judge After Expanded Gag Order. Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban to Go into Effect May 1, Voters to Decide Access Rights on November Ballot; Blinken Comments on Israeli Strike That Killed Aid Workers in Gaza. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 02, 2024 - 10:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. You are live in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

And right now, we are awaiting remarks from Secretary of State Tony Blinken, there he is, in Paris with French officials. He is about to speak on the situation in the Middle East. We will bring some of that to you live as it happens.

But first, former President Donald Trump is once again going after the judge overseeing the former president's upcoming hush money trial in New York. That judge has been moving in to rein in Trump's rhetoric, expanding a gag order less than two weeks ahead of that hush money criminal trial. Trump is now prohibited from attacking court officials' families, including Judge Merchan's daughter, who he described as, quote, a rabid Trump-hater to his millions of followers.

So far, Trump has abided by the new terms refraining from additional overt attacks on the judge's family. But the judge himself, we should note, is not protected. In fact, Trump was quick to take advantage of this morning, once again, alleging corruption without any evidence, all as Judge Merchan's warning that Trump's words pose a quote very real threat to those involved in the case and their families.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins me now. Kara, apologies if we have to break away to the secretary of state, but what more can you tell us? It sounds as though Trump is once again trying to dance right up to that line that the judge is laid out saying, you know, you can go this far, but no farther.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. I mean, immediately after, you know, just hours after the judge issued this gag order last night, Donald Trump is up again, this time targeting the judge. And the judge has made clear he is not part of this gag order. He is fair game. And all the past gag orders that Trump has faced has also kind of had that same contour. And Trump is taking advantage of that launch and more attacks today.

But the judge expanded the gag order, which only protected prosecutors, witnesses and jurors from being the subject of Trump's attacks to now including family members of his, as well as the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg's family.

And he did this at the request of Manhattan prosecutors who brought this to the judge's attention given the onslaught of attacks about the judge and the judge's daughter who works for a Democratic political consulting firm. The judge in his order saying, as you pointed out there, that the threat is real and that is the potential intimidation of witnesses and the threat to the actual trial itself, to the integrity of this trial.

And that is why the judge said he was imposing this extension of the gag order on Trump. He also said that this in no way prevents Trump from responding to political attacks or defending himself. He is just drawing a new line here saying that Trump can't interfere with a fair trial. Jim?

ACOSTA: Even though the judge is allowing attacks on himself essentially, that does not remove the prospect that these threats obviously can evolve into more sinister things on the parts of Trump supporters and so on, if they decide to do something to lash out on behalf of the former president.

And, Kara, we're also learning about some of the high-profile witnesses that may testify in the case. What are we talking about here?

SCANNELL: Right. I mean, it is the usual suspects if you've been following this story. You know, this case is about the hush money payments that Trump helped make to Stormy Daniels to stop her from going public with allegations of an affair just days before the 2016 election and the cover-up of that.

So, prosecutors are expected to call Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, David Pecker, who is the publisher of the National Enquirer, who was a longtime friend of Donald Trump's and worked with him on orchestrating a number of these catch and kill deals, as well as Hope Hicks, who was a member of Trump's campaign.

This as the prosecutors try to set the theory of the case, which is that Trump was trying to cover this up because he was afraid that after the Access Hollywood tape came out, more information about Trump and women could dissuade female voters from voting for him. So, prosecutors want to create the scene and the scramble within the campaign at this key moment before the 2016 election.

ACOSTA: All right. Bringing back some of the Trump soap opera, it sounds as though, with some of those characters on that list of witnesses.

Kara Scannell, thank you very much.

Let's discuss now with Democratic strategist, former senior adviser, Senator Bernie Sanders, presidential campaign Chuck Rocha, and former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh.


Chuck, Joe, great to see both of you. Great to see you here in the studio.

Joe, let me start with you first. I mean, we did mention a few moments ago in this latest post from Trump. He's not going after the judge's daughter overtly, though he did refer to conflicts taking place in the courtroom, and it's a pretty veiled -- not so veiled reference to the judge's daughter.

Trump is playing kind of a game here, isn't he? He dances up to the line, sometimes crosses it, wants to see what the judge does in reaction to it, and then if he can get a gag order or something like that, it sounds as though what he wants to do is sort of create a delay mechanism, keep getting into these situations where a gag order comes in, he dances up to the line, may violate it, and that sets up another distraction that may delay the case further.

FMR. REP. JOE WALSH (R-IL): And you're right, Jim, and he's never ever held accountable. So, he will keep dancing up to that line and crossing that line because no one holds him accountable. My God, we're three and a half years removed from January 6th and he still hasn't been put on trial. And he's the guy who incited January 6th.

Jim, his goal here besides delay is violence. Everything he does is to incite violence. That image from a few days ago of the president of the United States, Joe Biden, being kidnapped and he posts that, this is all part of the same game plan. He wants to incite violence.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, Chuck, I mean that is where Trump, I mean, in a twisted way draws some of his strength because he can go after people in this fashion. The judge is allowing it. He's allowing Trump to go after himself. And it's a way to sort of sick his supporters on people when he gets into hot water.

CHUCK ROCHA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's also a way for him to raise money, because every time the judge puts an order on him, he uses that, he goes online and he tells his rabid supporters, look what they're doing. They're silencing you, they're silencing us. We will not be silenced. And he's never, to Joe's point, ever held accountable. When is this guy going to go to jail for doing something against the law? If me or him did that, Democrat or Republican, we'd go to jail. They would come get us and put us in jail if we violated that. Why is the rules not applied to this guy? That's what I want to know.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, and, Joe, I mean, just to branch off from what Kara Scannell was saying a few moments ago about some of these upcoming witnesses, I mean, what is that going to say to the public when they see the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks being paraded into the courthouse? I mean, it's going to refresh a lot of memories as to what was going on during those very four -- very tumultuous four years that Trump had in office.

WALSH: When he did whatever he could to suppress this from coming out. You're talking, Jim, about people who were in the room under oath testifying to what they saw. That should scare him. Everybody who -- because everybody in the country, Jim, will become aware of it, except for people who just watch Fox News and they'll probably never learn of it.

ACOSTA: Yes, you can't do alternative facts on the witness stand, under oath. Yes.

ROCHA: I think that's the big difference here is you're going to have folks who people know and it's going to come out every day.

And my big question has always been how do you do all this while running a campaign? Like it's campaign time now. Like he's going, starting to go to states and starting to have rallies. I don't see how he's going to be able to run a campaign and be in (INAUDIBLE).

WALSH: This is his campaign.

ROCHA: This is a good point, areat point. That's how he raises the money, for sure. This is at least where the money comes from.

ACOSTA: And just very quickly, Joe, I wanted to talk to you about what Joe Kennedy had to say last night. It's a lot of sound here, hopefully, as Kennedy says it faster, but let's listen to what RFK Jr. said last night with Erin Burnett.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: greatest threat is that democracy is not somebody who questions election returns, but a president of the United States who uses the power of his office to force the social media companies, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, to open a portal and give access to that portal to the FBI, to the CIA, to the IRS, to CISA, to NIH, to censor his political critics.


ACOSTA: Yes. Joe, R.K. Jr., trying to say last night that Biden is more of a threat to democracy than Donald Trump. I mean, that's obviously not true. And then he's getting into these conspiracy theories again.

WALSH: To say something, Jim, that's just outrageous. To say that is to reveal yourself as a thoroughly dishonest person. And, look, the jig is up. He is in this race to help Donald Trump, period.

ROCHA: He made that clear last night. Like the one thing he made clear, the reason he got pulled off those platforms is he was telling people not to take a vaccine, like he was harming people and that's what we won't know. We want people taking off who are good and crazy and people that crazy should be running for president.

ACOSTA: Yes, all right. Chuck, Joe, I have a feeling we're going to be talking about RFK. Jr. plenty in this upcoming campaign, because he is going to be a factor in some of these battleground states. Guys, thank you very much. Now to a major development that could reshape the 2024 election as abortion access will be on the ballot in Florida this fall while the state's conservative Supreme Court paid the way for a six week abortion ban passed last year to go into effect.

The justices in a separate ruling said voters will be able to decide on a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access this fall.

To discuss, we're joined by Lauren Brenzel.


She is the campaign director of Yes on 4, which helped coordinate support for an abortion access initiative to appear on the ballot in Florida this fall.

Lauren, what did you make of what the state Supreme Court had to say? I mean, obviously a big setback for abortion rights in Florida in allowing this six-week abortion ban to go into effect.

LAUREN BRENZEL, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, YES ON 4: Yes, it was a day for a ton of mixed emotions for us. We had confirmed what we always knew to be true, which was that our language was constitutional and deserved to go to the voters in November but we also now have a six-week ban that's going to go into effect in Florida in May.

The consequences of that ban will be devastating and it makes it absolutely clear why voters need to vote yes on Amendment 4 in November.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, Lauren, I mean, what about this constitutional amendment that's going to appear on the ballot in November? Tell us more about that. What would that do and how might that galvanize abortion rights voters in Florida, as we've seen in other states around the country this past couple of years?

BRENZEL: This amendment is so simple. What it does is remove politicians' ability to interfere with their private medical decisions. In Florida already, we have a 15-week abortion ban that has no exemptions for rape or incest, and now we're about to see this six- week ban go into effect.

The point of this initiative is to stop this intense political interference that treats abortion as a wedge issue instead of health care.

ACOSTA: And, I mean, what do you think? Do you expect the same kind of outpouring of support for abortion rights that we've seen in some of these other states?

BRENZEL: We absolutely do. Normal people, people who aren't politicians, think of abortion as health care. They think of it as a private decision between themselves and their doctors. It's only politicians who are making this issue political right now.

ACOSTA: And what about -- I mean, might this put Florida in play? BRENZEL: I think that Florida is always in play. We are the third largest state in the nation. You can't just deny an entire electorate. There's too many people here. And there's so much at stake this cycle, especially with abortion now being directly on the ballot, going directly to the voters without any interference.

ACOSTA: All right, Lauren Brenzel, thank you very much.

We want to go straight out to Secretary of State Tony Blinken. He is now commenting on that strike that resulted in the deaths that killed aid workers with World Central Kitchen. Let's go to that right now.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me also reiterate what Stephen (ph) said about the attack on the World Food Kitchen members -- World Central Kitchen, excuse me. First, I can only say that for so many of us, we extend our condolences to the loved ones, to the families, friends, the colleagues of those who lost their lives as well as those who were injured.

I spoke to Jose Andres just about a week ago about the efforts that World Central Kitchen is engaged in in Gaza, as it is in many other conflict zones around the world, including in Ukraine. They have been doing extraordinary, brave work day in, day out, and critical work to try to make sure that people in need get what they need, starting with the most basic thing of all, food to survive.

The victims of yesterday's strike join a record number of humanitarian workers who've been killed in this particular conflict. These people are heroes. They run into the fire, not away from it. They show the best of what humanity has to offer when the going really gets tough. They have to be protected.

We shouldn't have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.

We've spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We've urged a swift, a thorough, an impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened. And as we have throughout this conflict, we've impressed upon the Israelis the absolute imperative of doing more to protect innocent civilian lives, be they Palestinian children, women, and men, or be they aid workers, as well as to get more humanitarian assistance to more people more effectively.

ACOSTA: And that was Secretary of State Tony Blinken in Paris talking about the Israeli strike on aid workers with the World Central Kitchen.


That is the global organization run by acclaimed Chef Jose Andres.

I want to bring in our International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson to weigh in on this.

Nic, I mean, obviously, it's just devastating news to hear what took place and hear about the deaths of those aid workers. I mean, we've talked to Jose Andres many times. These folks put their lives on the line, going to hot spots all over the world to try to help people in need. That's exactly what they were doing in Gaza, and seven of these aid workers lost their lives. Your sense of what the secretary of state had to say a few moments ago.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, it was moving. And he said he spoke to the Israelis about it, the imperative and the need that aid workers should be able to continue this important work. It was the best work that can be done in this situation, the humanitarian support, necessary work.

We heard from the French foreign minister as well, speaking about this strike as well, commending the workers. Very clear that both these men here want to take it to the highest levels that they can in Israel and make sure that it doesn't happen, the need to be able to continue to feed the people of Gaza, the desperate humanitarian situation there. So, this was something the secretary of state dwelt on quite a bit.

He was, of course, talking about France's support in Ukraine, France's support to deescalate the tensions in the Middle East as well, particularly in Lebanon. And we heard, which is, of course, subject to discussion at the moment because of that strike on the Iranian embassy, Iranian consulate building, killing senior IRGC members in Damascus yesterday.

The French foreign minister saying that they do have diplomatic relations with the Lebanese, that they have reached out to them, that they do think that they're working on a sort of a compromised solution at the moment between the Lebanese and Israel at the moment to deescalate tensions. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken echoed that.

But on the issue, I think, of the aid workers here, this is so important. And both men made it very central to their speeches here.

ACOSTA: Right. And, Nic, I mean, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israeli forces, quote, unintentionally struck innocent people in the Gaza Strip, referring to the strike, and he went on to say that it happens in war and we are thoroughly investigating it. I mean, I wonder how some of those comments are going to come across internationally, because there's so much respect for Jose Andres' organization and what they do. I mean, yes, this thing happens in war, but it shouldn't.

ROBERTSON: Right. And in war, thousands of civilians shouldn't also die and I think -- so, the credibility of Israeli officials will be put under the microscope again here and the credibility will be judged -- their credibility on this will be judged when they call for the highest level investigation.

On the outcome of that investigation, we have international figures calling, and here is Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for it there, you know, independent investigation. This is what the international community is asking of Israel for here. And Israel is not particularly in the past obliged to the level that the international community wants to investigate some of the unfortunate, as Israel would term, it consequences of the war inside of Gaza, some of the unintended consequences, as Israel would say, of the war in Gaza.

So, I think that the judgment here is, of course, going to be on the thoroughness of the investigation and how independent it is viewed as being. The vehicle appears to be clearly marked at the time of the attack. It seems to be a very precise strike on that vehicle. All of these things here will go into that will go into the investigation of why it came to be in the crosshairs of the missile that hit it, why these particular aid workers should find themselves victims in a conflict where they had gone just to give help to the innocent.

ACOSTA: That's right. All right, Nic Robertson. Thank you very much.

And we'll be right back.



ACOSTA: We're also following a story out of Syria this morning, an airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Tehran says 13 people were killed, including top members of its Revolutionary Guard Force. Iran has vowed retaliation after blaming Israel for the attack.

And joining us now is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it, as always.

I do want to ask you about the Baltimore bridge collapse in a few minutes, but let me ask about what is taking place in the Middle East, Iran and Hezbollah vowing revenge. Your thoughts on whether or not we could see this conflict that's already very, very intense, becoming a much wider conflict after this strike in Damascus?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, clearly, it's a high-risk situation. We are very concerned about the escalation of the conflict. It's in no one's interest to escalate this conflict. We know that in regards certainly to Israel, but also in regard to Iran.


So we hope that we will see calm prevail from the point of view of escalation. We recognize that could be a very dangerous situation.

Look, when Iran is supporting so many proxies in the region, you have serious challenges with Hezbollah in Lebanon, you have the militias in Syria, you have what's happening with the Houthis in the Red Sea. It's a very dangerous situation. That's why it's urgent that we move forward and find a way to end this threat of Hamas in the region.

ACOSTA: And, Senator, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is commenting on the strike that killed these seven World Central Kitchen workers who work with Jose Andres. As you know, they do amazing work all over the world. They were in Gaza. They were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

The prime minister is saying this morning, quote, it happens in war. Jose Andres put out a tweet last night that says a lot of things. He's obviously grieving for the people with his organization. But he also says the Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. Putting his tweet up on screen to our viewers.

Does Jose, does the chef have a point there? And what's your response to what the prime minister had to say?

CARDIN: Jose Andres does incredible work. His organization has provided such desperately needed nutrition around the world. I admire him greatly. It's a very dangerous situation that was caused by Hamas' attack against Israel. Israel needs to comply with the laws of war. They need to make sure that they respect the best possibility of avoiding civilian casualties, and they need to cooperate in regards to humanitarian assistance. We can all do better in that regard, but let's recognize the risk factor of Hamas in the region.

ACOSTA: You know, I did want to turn to this, sources telling CNN that the Biden administration is close to approving the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Israel, possibly as many as 50 of these jets. President Biden has faced international pressure, even from some Democrats, to impose conditions on Israel to limit civilian casualties in Gaza. Obviously, it's a critical issue this morning, given this deadly strike on the World Central Kitchen aid workers. What should the president do about that?

CARDIN: Jim, recognize that these F-15s won't be delivered for about five years. It takes a long time for them to be manufactured and produced and delivered. So, it has nothing to do with the current conflict in Gaza.

Also recognize the fact that there is conditions on all U.S. arms sales. So, we already have requirements of complying with the laws of war and humanitarian assistance and things like that are already built into all of our arms sales to all of our allies.

So, this is not an issue involving the current conflict. It's going through the normal review process. And I expect that we will continue to be a partner with Israel and the region.

ACOSTA: Senator, I don't have to tell you there are members of your own party who are very uncomfortable with the idea of sending more weapons to Israel with all of this killing that is going on in Gaza right now. You have seven aid workers this morning who have nothing to do with this conflict other than wanting to feed starving people who were killed.

What about that? What about members of your own party who say maybe Netanyahu needs to be sent a message here?

CARDIN: Well, first of all, it would not affect the current administration or the current circumstances in the Middle East. We're talking about modernization of forces moving forward. But we all agree that Israel needs to be engaged with us in a way to avoid the civilian losses we've seen. And we have been very direct about the Rafah campaign, that it must not involve unnecessary risk to civilian populations.

So, I think we are directed to the current circumstances, and that is how do we deal with the remaining threat of Hamas and how do we protect the civilian population? And how do we get more desperately needed humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians? So, we very much want to do everything we possibly can to aid the humanitarian assistance and to protect civilian populations from this war.

ACOSTA: And, Senator, finally, I did want to ask you about the bridge collapse in Baltimore. Are you satisfied with the pace of getting things going there in the harbor? And what do you think about some of these Republican members of Congress who are talking about holding up funding to get that bridge up and going again? What do you think?

CARDIN: Jim, it's been one week. It's been a long week. I want to thank the Biden administration. I want to thank the Coast Guard, the Army Corps, and all of our federal partners working with Governor Moore and the state of Maryland, our federal delegation, Senator Van Hollen.