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Manhattan Prosecutors Signal Trump Criminal Charges Likely; Xi Jinping Secures Unprecedented Third Term as China's President; Russia Sending U.S. Weapons Captured in Ukraine to Iran. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 06:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Have rain, melting snow, all running off, all running down into the valley. And there's no place for all this to go. It all has to go out through the Golden Gate, under the Golden Gate Bridge. All of that in California. Crazy.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable. All right. Chad Myers, a lot of weather news. Thank you so much.

And thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. Have a great rest of your day and a wonderful weekend, everybody. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. You know what? It is Friday! Happy Friday, everyone!

Poppy, the smart one, she took the day off. There's a lot going on, though, including this.

Storm clouds for Donald Trump. A new report says the Manhattan D.A. may soon file criminal charges against the former president in the hush-money case. This morning, what prosecutors are offering him before making their move.

And then, bracing for the jobs report. New numbers coming just hours from now that could sway the Fed's fight on inflation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also, a rampage in Germany. A gunman opening fire inside of a church. At least seven have been killed. We have the latest on the ongoing investigation.

Also, heading to Iowa. Governor Ron DeSantis is making his first trip to the state today in what could be a major step towards a possible White House run. We are live in Des Moines. What the voters are saying.

LEMON: Are you ready? Well, I guess folks in Hollywood are. You see what I'm talking about. Red carpet ready for the Oscars. Who will take home Hollywood's biggest prize?

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now. Everything we just said doesn't feel like a Friday, right?

COLLINS: I know. It's a very busy Friday.

LEMON: This is a very busy Friday. So we've been talking a lot about what's possibly going to happen with the former president. But there are a lot of people who are throwing their hats into the ring, unofficially, officially, unofficially.

COLLINS: Yes. And you know, his hat is in the ring, and he's got all these investigations facing him, which makes his run all the more unusual.

And now we're learning new developments about what is happening with his legal case, potentially here in New York. This is something that is a big question about whether or not he is about to potentially be criminally indicted.

"The New York Times" is reporting the Manhattan district attorney's office has recently signaled to Trump's lawyers that he will likely face criminal charges for hush-money payments to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

According to "The New York Times," quote, "Prosecutors offered Trump the chance to testify next week before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case." And then, "Such offers almost always indicate that an indictment is close."

All of this, as you remember, goes back to 2016, just days before the election. Trump's long-time attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, said that Trump directed him to pay $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair that they had.

Trump has repeatedly denied authorizing the pay-off and having authorizing the payoff and having an affair with Daniels, we should note.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why -- Why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my -- an attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don't know, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: One of most significant questions of his presidency that he answered there. Michael Cohen, though, says he has the receipts, personal checks that were actually signed by Trump.

Our senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, is following this story closely for us.

Paula, obviously, you know, what we're learning from this is that the Manhattan D.A. wants to hear from Trump. It seems maybe unlikely that he would do so, that an attorney would actually advise their client to go in. What's your sense of what could happen here?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it definitely seems highly unlikely that he will join the parade of high-profile witnesses that we've seen over the past few weeks testify before this grand jury, which is hearing evidence about whether the former president may have falsified business records when paying Cohen back for that hush money.

Now the fact that this invitation to possibly appear before the grand jury is coming now, certainly signals that it's likely their investigation could be wrapping up and an indictment could be coming. But there's no guarantee.

Now in a statement last night, Trump spokesman dismissed any suggestion of an indictment as, quote, "insane," and called the whole investigation a, quote, "witch hunt."

COLLINS: And this is a big development, of course, Paula. But I just think it's important to keep it in perspective. Because it is kind of this complicated theory here. A lot of it hinges on Michael Cohen, who as we all know, has gone to prison. He is a convicted felon. He has admitted to lying. I mean, the question to be realistic, is: is this a strong case?

REID: It's the question, Kaitlan. Because this is surely not as strong as other possible cases at the state and federal level that could be brought against the former president.

I mean, let's take a look. We're talking about conduct that occurred seven years ago. At its core, this is really a paperwork crime that relies on a novel legal theory.


And like you said, at the center of this case is Michael Cohen. He's a convicted liar, who for years, especially since Trump turned on him, has publicly appeared pretty fixated on the former president and on the idea of him being charged.

I mean, even some of Cohen's close associates have told me they really think it would be best if this case is not brought and if Cohen just kind of moved on with his life.

But there are also questions about, well, why would a prosecutor bring a case like this if it's not strong, if it's such a long shot? Well, the district attorney, he's facing a lot of political pressure here.

But political pressure should not be a basis to bring charges. Right? Because the former president, he dismisses every investigation that he faces as politically motivated.

So if you bring a case like this, you know, this indictment against a former president, and you're not successful, that really could undermine the legitimacy of all these other cases that we've seen that are much stronger, have a much more diverse array of witnesses, a lot more evidence.

COLLINS: Yes. Big challenge for prosecutors. Paula Reid, thank you.

LEMON: All right. Let's continue to discuss this now.

CNN's senior anchor and analyst, political analyst John Avlon is here; and then CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig. Good morning to you.

Let's pick up where these guys left off, because we were talking about Michael Cohen. We're talking about the big picture.

Well, Michael Cohen, according to my sources, going in on Monday to speak to the grand jury. He has been in, what, 19 times to talk to Bragg's office, or Cyrus Vance. He was in the correctional facility. He spoke to Cyrus Vance's office.

You don't typically have someone going in that many times if something isn't afoot here.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. That's correct. And this is an unusual feature, actually, of New York state now, where if you are close to indicting someone, you have to give that person a chance to come into the grand jury and testify. That's certainly not the way it works federally.

But, yes, this tells us that they're close to the end and that it's highly likely that they will seek an indictment from a grand jury.

LEMON: Everyone asks when -- when they read the reporting, the CNN reporting, "The New York Times" reporting, then what does that mean, then?


LEMON: What does that mean?

HONIG: Let's sort of put it in perspective here. If there's an indictment of the president, it will be a first. It will be historic. It will be monumental.

But we also need to keep the perspective here. This will be a state charge brought by a local elected county district attorney. This is not the feds. This is not the Justice Department.

The laws that they will be charging here, the New York state laws, are either going to be a misdemeanor. And just for comparison, shoplifting under $1,000 in New York state is a misdemeanor. No one is going to jail for a misdemeanor.

Or, potentially, the lowest level of felony, Class E, A through E. I'm telling you the reality, Don. I see you getting ready. But I'm telling you, these are facts. OK? We are looking at a case that is going to be, best-case scenario, the lowest level felony. Very well could result in no prison time.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Which is insane. And here's why.

First of all, this is an accusation that an alleged crime, if they do indict -- we need to say this hasn't occurred yet -- that already sent somebody to jail, Michael Cohen, who was lying on Trump's behalf and had a history of doing so.

One of the core principles of this country is equal justice under the law. The reason this hasn't been brought was, for four years, Trump was shielded by the OLC opinion that he couldn't be charged as president.

And this is a payoff that was used as hush money that could have swung the outcome of an election. This is not shoplifting. This isn't in the same world universe as shoplifting.

There was an impulse to hide this, because it could have impacted the outcome of an American election. So all those reasons are why it matters.

COLLINS: It does matter. But also, the situation we could be in is where we have a presidential candidate who is running and said, you know, I'm not going to drop out even if I am indicted. Even if this does happen.

Could it not potentially help him, though? If you're looking at it through a political lens --


COLLINS: -- someone who he likes to portray himself --

LEMON: I'm the most investigated president ever, or political figure ever. And this is a witch hunt by the Democrats and by the people who hate Trump.

AVLON: So that, I would argue, would be politics impacting an outcome. Right? Equal justice under law. Don't let anyone play the ref.

I mean, you can argue that Trump's 2024 campaign is partly about trying to intimidate people not to prosecute him for trying to overturn an election, in addition to other things he's being investigated for. Equal justice under law.

Now, Elie will tell you that people can run for office if they're indicted or even in prison, including president. James Michael Curley, mayor of Boston -- yes, I'm going to drop that -- was elected from prison.

COLLINS: Love having you on.

AVLON: So the only way this stops him from running again is 14th amendment, section three. Someone who gives aid or comfort to inciting an insurrection.

Otherwise, you can run for office. You can run from prison.

LEMON: I just want to say that he posted that he did nothing wrong, to your point. It's a witch hunt. Right?

But when you think about this, that will play very well with, as you know, the MAGA folks. Right? Because you covered the administration.

COLLINS: Especially because it's not a new story.

LEMON: Right.

But I find that Trump is not getting as much traction as he was at large. With the MAGA folks, with the CPAC crowd, yes. But will that play with a larger crowd, with the -- with the bigger electorate in the country? That's my question.


COLLINS: That's a -- it's a good question. And I don't think we know.

I also am curious if you think he would actually go sit down with them. I mean, that seems incredibly --


COLLINS: I talk to some of the people in the Trump legal world. Seems -- and they're -- his attorneys went and met with the D.A.'s office this week. But the idea that he would go in, it seems unlikely. Right?

HONIG: It's very common for attorneys in this situation to go in and meet with prosecutors, try to dissuade them at the last minute from bringing a charge.

The chances of Donald Trump taking them up on that offer and going to the grand jury are very, very close to zero.

And let's remember: There have been many times in the past -- impeachment proceeding, congressional hearings -- where he said, I want to testify. But he never actually has. It would be completely self-destructive to do.

LEMON: Especially Donald Trump.

HONIG: Anybody, but yes, especially. And it would be fascinating. Because he tends to just say it. I would not wait for him to go into the --

LEMON: What would you say -- because you know, Michael Cohen is going in on Monday, according to sources. Kellyanne Conway has been in a couple times. There have been other folks in the Trump, you know, orbit who have been in. I think about eight or nine people who have been in.

If there is an indictment, if there is an indictment, would it be next week? By the end of the month? When would we know?

HONIG: It will be soon. I mean, you are in end game when you're at the point of inviting the potential defendant to come on in. It's hard to put a date on it, but I think we're a matter of weeks, not months.

I also do think it's important to understand what are the legal problems with this case? And why is this not going to be a slam dunk?

First of all, this is old conduct. These payments were 6 1/2 years ago. That's going to matter when you're standing in front of a jury and trying to get them to care. Feels like ancient history.

Again, they're likely --

AVLON: Even though he's shielded by the fact he couldn't be prosecuted as president, according to OLC.

HONIG: How about since January 20 of 2021? That's two years and two months ago.

AVLON: Yes, but he's shielded for four years, which is what accounts for the gap.

COLLINS: Well, and a lot of disagreements. I mean, Alvin Bragg has been at the state. Well, a lot of disagreements in the office about how to proceed.

HONIG: Let me add this. Let me add this. The feds across the street, my former office, the Southern District of New York, famously aggressive, they took a pass on this. I read about this. I reported on this in my book.

And finally, let's not be sort of overly optimistic or, you know, overly glib about Michael Cohen as a witness. Michael Cohen is a deeply flawed witness. He's been convicted of perjury. He's been convicted of other frauds.

This is a man whose entire public identity is based on how much he personally despises Donald Trump. It would be --

LEMON: Get in line. I mean, you think about what happened with Michael Cohen, and listen, that's right. He is a convicted felon or whatever.

But everything that Michael Cohen said in his testimony to Congress has pretty much come true. Everything that he said in news accounts, it has all come true about what Donald Trump said.

HONIG: He's not going to -- he's not going to meaningfully testify. The Southern District of New York, again, my former office, rejected Michael Cohen. They said, We do not find him credible enough to use. They put that in a filing to a federal judge.

COHEN: Look, he was first known for being Don Trump's most loyal, you know, not consigliere, but sycophant who would defend and act as an enforcer.

And then, when Trump cut him loose, then he flipped on him.

And so, you know, I don't -- I don't know that -- that, you know, doesn't mean that he doesn't know where -- where the bodies are buried. But look, we will see. There are bigger charges -- That's part of the issue here -- that Trump is facing.

HONIG: Sure.

COHEN: But I wouldn't underestimate the significance of this in terms of the outcome of the election (ph).

LEMON: Yes. He's only one, too, of the people who were called in.

HONIG: Yes. Correct.

COLLINS: And other investigations.


COLLINS: So we have a lot to talk about.

AVLON: Yes, we do.

LEMON: Cutting people loose.

AVLON: We've been released.

HONIG: That's right.


LEMON: Appreciate it.

COLLINS: All right. Also new this morning, we have news on that deadly kidnapping of Americans in Mexico. The cartel that is believed to be responsible has issued an alleged -- we should say "alleged" -- apology letter. We're going to tell you what it says.

LEMON: Plus, an historic power grab. Xi Jinping officially awarded an unprecedented third term as China president -- China's president.

We're live in Beijing.

HONIG: Alvin Bragg texted me last night, said we had a separate issue --


[06:17:46] LEMON: So there's an update this morning to a story that we have been covering closely here on CNN. It's the story of armed kidnapping, that armed kidnapping of Mexican -- in Mexico that killed two American tourists and a Mexican woman.

The cartel believed to be responsible has now issued an apology and handed over five of its members to local authorities.

CNN obtained a version of the so-called apology letter which reads, in part, "The Gulf Cartel, Scorpion Group, strongly condemns the events off last Friday. For this reason, we decided to hand over those directly involved and responsible for the acts, who at all times acted under their own determination and indiscipline and against the rules in which the Gulf Cartel always operates."

The official who confirmed the apparent legitimacy of the letter said that they suspect it was issued after the attack brought considerable public attention and scrutiny onto the actions of the cartel.

COLLINS: Also this morning, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has secured an unprecedented third term as president after being essentially rubber- stamped by the nation's political elite.

China's one-party parliament reappointed him president for another five years in a very highly-choreographed ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

CNN's Selina Wang is covering all of this live.

Selina, I mean, the vote is 2,952-0. I don't think this was exactly a surprise to anyone, given this. But the fact that he secured this third term, what this -- this level of power looks like for him, this power grab, he is still facing a host of challenges, though.

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kaitlan. I mean, this was certainly expected.

In China, that role of president, it is largely ceremonial. But it is still symbolic. It's important. It's a reminder that he's got an iron grip over the country. It solidifies his control, and it makes him the longest-serving head of state of communist China since its founding in 1949.

Now back in 2018, Xi Jinping has scrapped the two-term limit on the presidency, meaning he could stay on as head of state for life.

But his true power comes from being the head of the party and the military. Those are roles he was already reappointed to at the Communist Party Congress back in October.

So really, what we saw today was political theater. Unanimous votes, as you said, from the rubber-stamp legislature. Then, they got up for a standing ovation.

Now at this ongoing big political event, we'll also being seeing reshuffles in leadership roles, state organizations. All of these changes will further increase Xi Jinping's power.


So in this next term, he's got a lot of challenges to face at home, including the economy, still recovering from harsh years of zero-COVID policies.

But we should also expect to see increasing Communist Party control at home and abroad. This continued, assertive, more aggressive foreign policy.

Beijing thinks its actions are restoring China's rightful standing in the world as a great power. It's becoming very clear. We're not going see an off-ramp in U.S.-China tensions any time soon.

Xi Jinping's view of the relationship is turning more pessimistic.

Earlier this week, Xi Jinping made a rare move by directly calling out the U.S., accusing America of leading a campaign to contain and suppress China.

The message to the people here is very much that the U.S. is trying to choke China off -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Meanwhile, Putin is congratulating Xi on his third term. Selina Wang, thank you for your coverage.

LEMON: This morning, German authorities are investigating the motive behind a shooting at a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Hamburg that left at least seven people dead. Witnesses describe what they saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We heard gun shots. And there were 12 continuous shots. We saw people being taken away in black bags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I also heard 12 shots at the Jehovah's Witnesses and then kept away. I saw seriously injured people.


LEMON: Police say they believe there was only shooter, who also found -- was also found dead inside the building.

COLLINS: Also this morning, we have some brand-new CNN reporting for you. Sources telling CNN that Russia has been sending U.S. weapons that are captured in Ukraine to Iran.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand has this reporting.

Natasha, so obviously, the U.S. has been sending a lot of weaponry to Ukraine since Russia invaded. What exactly are the Russian forces doing here? NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kaitlan, so what

we're told by four different sources is that the Russians have been capturing U.S.-made, U.S.-provided equipment on the battlefield in certain instances and sending that equipment to Iran.

Now, these are smaller items. These are things like shoulder-fired missiles, like Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft systems. And also the NATO equivalent. Right? Because NATO is also providing some of the similar equipment.

So they're taking this equipment that sometimes the Ukrainians are forced to leave behind on the battlefield, whether because they're overrun or they simply need to withdraw quickly. And they are sending that -- that equipment, in many instances, to Iran, likely so that Iran can then reverse-engineer that equipment so that they can potentially reproduce it and make their own kind of version.

Now the Russians are doing this, because they want Iran to continue to help them in their war in Ukraine. Right? This is part of the growing defense partnership that we have seen between Iran and Russia. And it really has intensified over the last year, with Iran providing hundreds of drones to Russia, other equipment.

And Russia now looking to kind of pay that back to Iran by providing them with these Western types of equipment, so that the Iranians can basically take them apart and try to reverse-engineer them.

COLLINS: And have they done this before, reverse-engineer Western weapons?

BERTRAND: Yes. So the Iranians are actually very adept at this. One of their top weapons in their inventory is an anti-tank guided missile that they actually reproduced from a -- an American anti-tank missile in the 1970s that it really is a key part of their inventory now.

They also were able to reproduce an American-made drone that they intercepted in 2011, making their own version of that, which then crossed into Israeli airspace before being shot down in 2018.

So they have proven very capable of doing this. And this one expert told me that could prove very dangerous to, of course, Israel and other allies in the region who are, of course, very concerned about the threat that Iran already poses -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Absolutely. We're seeing that partnership with Iran and Russia getting even closer. Natasha Bertrand, great reporting. Thank you.

Also this morning, New York state is asking major pharmacies to commit to dispensing that abortion pill. that comes after what you saw happen in California. We'll tell you how they're putting on the pressure.

LEMON: And Governor Ron DeSantis says tennis star Novak Djokovic should be able to play in Miami, despite being unvaccinated. Good politics? We'll discuss.



COLLINS: You see beautiful New York there this morning.

LEMON: Already?

COLLINS: I know. We, like, come in when the sun is not up. So it's, like, always confusing to me when it's bright when we leave. OK.

Anyway, though, there's a lot happening here in New York.

New York's governor and the attorney general are now calling on major pharmacy chains to commit to dispensing prescription abortion pills in the state, both in store and through mail.

Of course, this comes after we saw what happened in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom announced that his state is going to be ending a $54 million contract with Walgreens after it agreed to stop mailing abortion pills to 21 Republican-led states.

Joining us to talk about this is CNN's chief business correspondent, Christine Romans. And CNN anchor and senior political analyst John Avlon back here at the desk with us.

ROMANS: Hi, guys.

COLLINS: This has -- this is becoming a really complicated issue. It is all stemming from the Supreme Court decision, and now it is going to be on these states.

ROMANS: It's a political mess, and it's a legal mess.

LEMON: Did they open up a can of worms?

ROMANS: Oh, my -- yes. I mean, it's just -- it's a real mess here. You've got these companies who now are authorized to go through the certification process and be able to dispense this medication.

Now they're being threatened by Republican-led states and now threatened by blue states, as well, for how they're going to handle this.

Let me read to you what the New York governor and attorney general said to these pharmacies: "Even as access to this medication is under threat elsewhere for political reasons, we remind you that New York's law is simple. Abortion is legal and protected as a fundamental right under state law, and there are no legal barriers to dispensing this drug in New York pharmacies."

So they're trying to put the political pressure on these companies, who are also feeling political pressure from 20 -- 21 states. The attorney generals here who sent a letter, saying it is illegal for you to be mailing this medication. There are a lot of challenges to it. And we encourage you not to be sending this medication through the mail or dispensing it in your pharmacy. So it's just a big mess.

LEMON: So where does this lead?