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NYT: Prosecutors Indicate Possible Trump Indictment Coming Soon; Another Norfolk Southern Train Derails In Alabama; Russia Launched 95 Missiles Over Last 24 Hours. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 07:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll be watching. You'll be covering -- you know, Poppy is very interested in this issue. She's interviewed him.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And if he had not said he would show up, Bernie Sanders wanted to subpoena him, so --

YURKEVICH: There would have been a subpoena coming for sure.

LEMON: Thank you, Vanessa.

YURKEVICH: Thank you.

LEMON: I appreciate it. CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S FORMER LAWYER: The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.


LEMON: Good morning. Can you imagine, though, again, listen, we don't know what's going to happen if there is going to be an indictment. They're saying it's pointing that way, but no one knows. But can you imagine having a former president indicted?

COLLINS: Be the first time we ever had a former president be indicted.

LEMON: Yeah. That is a talk. That is what everyone is talking about. Good morning, everyone. Poppy is off today. The testimony that you just saw, that was four years ago from Michael Cohen.

But now will this be the case that finally sticks against the former president, Donald Trump? A new report suggests that criminal charges could be on the way over hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

COLLINS: Plus, this morning, we're also tracking a violent Mexican drug cartel that has now written an alleged apology letter. Saying, sorry for the deadly kidnapping of four Americans that killed two of them.

Did they actually turnover their own gunmen? We'll investigate.

LEMON: New trouble for Tiger Woods. His ex-girlfriend is now suing and trying to tear up a nondisclosure agreement. We're going to discuss all of that, but we're going to begin with the story that we told you right off the top here.

Donald Trump hush money and a potential indictment that could be coming soon. The New York Times is reporting that the District Attorney's office here in Manhattan is signaling Trump will likely face criminal charges over hush money payments to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

But this is not a slam dunk. The case could pose a big challenge for prosecutors. The Times reports the former President was told that he could appear before a Manhattan grand jury next week if he wishes to testify, a strong indication that an indictment could soon follow.

Trump has repeatedly denied having an affair with Stormy Daniels, and he denies telling his longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, to buy her silence for $130,000 right before the presidential election. But Cohen insists that he has the receipts, personal checks signed by the former president to reimburse him.

Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent is Paula Reid. He's following the story for us this morning in Washington. Good morning to you. The DA is giving Trump the chance to testify. Do you think he'll take it?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I do not, Don. We know that his lawyers have recently met with the district attorney and they're concerned because we're seeing this uptick in activity in this investigation. This probe has been going on for about five years, but in recent weeks, we've suddenly seen this parade of high-profile witnesses, close associates of the former president, like Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks, going to testify before this grand jury.

I do not think it is likely that the former president will join that parade of witnesses going before the grand jury. In a statement last night, a spokesperson for the former president dismissed this whole thing as, "insane." But the fact that the invitation has been extended signals that this investigation is likely wrapping up and that an indictment is possible.

LEMON: So, Paula, this is obviously a major development, but it's a complicated legal theory that the Manhattan district attorney is trying to apply here. There are a lot of hinges on Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, who has been convicted, right, and has served time. So is it a strong case, that does anyone even know at this point?

REID: Look, we know a lot about this, right? Because this case has been out there for years. Some people -- some entities have been investigated, some have been charged. So we do know a lot of the basic facts of this case. Look, Don, it's a fact. This conduct is approximately seven years old. At the core, this is a paperwork crime that would have to be prosecuted on a pretty novel legal theory in New York. And the witness at the center of all this is Michael Cohen.

And Don you know, you've interviewed Cohen, you've spoken with him. Every time he speaks in public, the issue of the former president comes up and he appears pretty arguably fixated on former President Trump being charged, and any good defense attorney would seize on that and the fact that he is a convicted liar to try to undermine his credibility. And you really need a credible witness to support a case like this.

So the larger question is, well, why is the District Attorney digging back into this now? We know that he's under a lot of political pressure. It's always possible that they have unearthed some additional evidence. But based on what we know now, this is not the strongest case that the former president is possibly facing as compared to something like down in Georgia where they're looking into his efforts to interfere with the election outcome there.

You have multiple witnesses, you have recordings, you have documents, something like that. Even though former president's attorneys will admit they are much more concerned about.


LEMON: But he did go to jail for actually brokering this deal? You know, you see what I'm saying?

REID: He had a lot of legal problems, personal legal problems with the IRS, with his business dealings beyond just this hush money payment. And I think intelligent minds can disagree whether the National Enquirer, right, who did not get enough accountability for this. But again, at this point, it's just about out the case against the former president and it is not terribly strong based on the facts that we know. But of course, we don't know everything.

LEMON: Right on. Thank you, Paula.

COLLINS: Speaking of the 2024 race, this morning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is going to Iowa amid expectations that he is going to be running for president potentially in 2024, something he has not announced yet.

His first visit to the GOP's first nominating state is coming months ahead of his expected potential launch. That is something that's not expected to happen until at least the end of the legislature session in Florida.

But Ron DeSantis is already polling in the top tier, second so far, only in several of them, to former President Trump. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Des Moines, Iowa this morning. Jeff, I know you've been speaking with a bunch of voters on the ground and this has kind of been the question right now. Is these former Trump voters, do they still want to stay with Trump? Do they like DeSantis? What are you hearing from them? JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kaitlan. That is exactly the sort of the issue, the dilemma that many Republicans here in Iowa have. We've been talking to them all week long. And there is high anticipation for the Florida governor to make his first trip here to Iowa. He is going to be speaking in Davenport, Iowa, in the eastern edge of the state and coming here to Des Moines. Only two public appearances. But behind the scenes I am told he's going to be having several meetings with Republicans, lawmakers, some top influential Republicans here. So we're heading from a soft launch, a book tour to an actual exploration for president.

It's not official, of course. He'll be doing that in May or June, we are told. But talking to those critical voters here, the ones who have the earliest voice in the Republican nominating contest, they are deciding to choose a Republican alternative Or stick with Donald Trump. Take a listen to what we found.



ZELENY: In Iowa, breakfast is served with the hearty side of politics.

KIM SCHMETT, WESTSIDE CONSERVATIVE CLUB: Welcome to the Westside conservatives.

ZELENY: In less than a year, these Republicans will help start the 2024 presidential contest. Yet talk has already turned to the end of the campaign, revolving around one question above all.

SCHMETT: We like him. The question is, can he win?

ZELENY: He, of course, is Donald Trump, who remains at the center of the conversation at a regular gathering of loyal conservatives that Kim Schmett presides over.

SCHMETT: Right now, he's closer to getting that majority, probably in the party than anyone else. But it didn't work last time, and we're concerned about that.

ZELENY: A clear sense of Trump fatigue has set in among many Republicans, but not Terry Pierce. He still proudly wears his Make America Great Again hat and believes, to his core, the former president can win again.

TERRY PEARCE, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I think Donald Trump is the only one that can lead us back to where we were in 2020.

ZELENY: Others are more blunt.

BRAD BOUSTEAD, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I'm a Trump supporter, and if he's not on the ballot, I'm going to write him in.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: So voters there often really reveal something about the mindset of the electorate. And right there, the voter said, if he's not on the ballot, I will write him in. Of course, that is a dilemma facing Republicans. What if Donald Trump does not win? What does he do? Of course, that is a central question playing out. Will Republicans support the ultimate nominee? But that is getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, we're at the beginning of the phase of the presidential campaign.

And one other thing I picked up certainly, this is not a two-man race. We should point out the fact that former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley campaigning here more than other candidates. And Republicans, the bottom line is they're in a couple of camps. You're either with Donald Trump and believe that he is the one who can restore the party, win back the White House, or you were looking for an alternative.

And yes, the Florida Governor is at the top of the list for many people now. They want to see him, but there are also many other choices. The Iowa caucuses have a long-storied history of humbling frontrunners and sort of rising or elevating other candidates.

So that is really the issue here when the Florida governor comes, he has meetings at the Iowa Capitol here behind me later today. This is his first sort of soft appearance, but has many more stops to do it and voters want to hear from him and to see if he can live up to all the hype. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yeah, it's a really good point. We don't actually know where this is going, so luckily you were talking to the voters to find out.

ZELENY: Right.

COLLINS: Jeff, thank you so much. I want to bring in Alyssa Farah Griffin, CNN's Political Commentator and the former White House Communications Director under former President Trump.

Jeff makes a really good point there. That yes, we are focusing on where DeSantis is going because he's in Iowa today. He's going to Nevada later, but Trump's going to be in Iowa on Monday. Nikki Haley has been all over the state. Asa Hutchinson, who's considering a run, has also been there.


LEMON: He's going to be on a little bit.

COLLINS: He will be on.

LEMON: A little bit later. Everyone wants to see DeSantis and Trump, DeSantis -- but there are a lot of -- it's early and there are a lot of folks who --

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's so early. I would just remind folks that at this time in 2015, ahead of 2016, Jeb Bush was the unequivocal front runner. So that speaks to could Trump drag and end up not doing as well? Could DeSantis speak? Sure. But a lot of early polling, which I'm skeptical of in this era, new Emerson poll, has Trump massively outperforming DeSantis at this point.

I think until he's a formally announced candidate, it's hard to even kind of see what that head-to-head is going to look like. I also anticipate there's going to be other candidates who get into the race. Potential former governors or current governors that may get in.


GRIFFIN: It's anyone's race at this time.

LEMON: Can we talk about this possible indictment? Look, not a slam dunk. Everyone's like, is it coming? Is it coming? We don't know for sure, but that's where they said the winds are heading that way. What's your response?

GRIFFIN: This -- you know, not a lawyer. This is probably the case that Trump's least afraid of, of the plethora of lawsuits, of different investigations he's facing. Two within the Department of Justice. The Jean Carroll case, the Fulton County case. This is one that their Trump world is prepared to hit back if it goes the way that we're anticipating to say this is the liberals still trying to undo the 2016 election. This is seven years ago. This was a weak campaign finance case. So I don't know that I think this is some kind of a slam dunk.

My other caution is this, Trump's usually emboldened when he looks like he's under attack. As we saw after the Mar-a-Lago raid, even really mainstream Republicans, the Dan Crenshaw, the Marco Rubio kind of rallied around Donald Trump, saying, this is unprecedented. This is an overstep of justice. I anticipate you may see this --

LEMON: They said he wasn't going run until -- I don't know if that's true, but remember they said he wasn't going to run until that raid happened. And then this sort of emboldened him like, I'm going to definitely do it.

GRIFFIN: And it emboldened his base because he positions himself, you know, I am your retribution. I am taking these spears and arrows for you. I think it honestly may help him. Doesn't mean justice shouldn't be served, but something like this is hardly going to be Trump's undoing.

COLLINS: Yeah, I think he was always going to run, but it was a rallying cry that he used at the time. But you just mentioned something that is really interesting, which is there are other governors that might get in this race. Ron DeSantis clearly not the only one. Asa Hutchinson is a former governor, but Glenn Youngkin in Virginia is also someone that people have been watching.

He was on CNN because he really got to his office using channeling anger over children's education and what that looked like. He was on CNN last night during a Town Hall on education. He had this answer about transgender students.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKO, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Governor Youngkin, your transgender model policies require that students play on the sports teams and use the restrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. Look at me, I am a transgender man. Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?

GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN, (R) VIRGINIA: Yup, so first of all, Niko, thank you for again asking the question, being here tonight. We need general neutral bathrooms and so people can use a bathroom that they, in fact, are comfortable with. I think sports are very clear and I don't think it's controversial. I don't think that biological boys should be playing sports with biological girls.


COLLINS: I was really fascinated by the whole town hall, but what did you make of that answer?

GRIFFIN: So this issue kind of some of the rights war with the transgender community is you see how overblown it is when you put a face to that community. I've cautioned this, the culture wars are animating for the base, but they are so destructive in a general election.

There are clear policy answers that could, you know, deal with the issues of how do we deal with bath and how do we deal with sports. But Glenn Youngkin is one who could be very formidable, he was winning when he was talking about, you know, getting kids back in the classroom after COVID, education choice. I think these issues are a lot more dicey because they impact families and they see their families in the faces of those people that are targeted.


LEMON: It's good to -- it was actually good to hear from having a transgender student there. It's -- as adults, it's easier. And in New York City, as you know, we all live here. There are gender neutral bathrooms, right? It's tougher, probably in schools, but usually it's just a gender-neutral bathroom. And maybe there's a common space where everyone goes to wash their hands, which is probably a good solution in most places, public school.

GRIFFIN: It seems simple, right.

LEMON: Yeah.

GRIFFIN: It seems simple.

LEMON: Thank you. Good to see you.

GRIFFIN: Good to see you.

COLLINS: A lot of topics.

LEMON: Yeah.

COLLINS: Thank you, Alyssa.

LEMON: So in the hot seat, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw grilled by a bipartisan group of senators over the train derailment last month in East Palestine, Ohio.


ALAN SHAW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN: I want to begin today by expressing how deeply sorry I am for the impact this derailment has had on the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities.


LEMON: The February 3 train derailment resulted in the release of toxic chemicals into the air, water, and soil, leaving residents fearful it is not safe to stay in their homes. Norfolk Southern says it has given $21 million already to help East Palestine, senators press Shaw to commit more funds and resources to the community, particularly for health care.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: You talked about covering the needs of the people of East Palestine. Does that include paying for their health care needs? All of their healthcare needs?

SHAW: Senator, we're going to do what's right for the citizens of --

SANDERS: What's right is to cover their healthcare needs. Will you do that?

SHAW: Everything is on the table, sir.


COLLINS: Now, there was a really remarkable moment as this hearing was going on. Over an hour into Shaw's testimony, this happened.


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: Mr. Shaw, the news is reporting that there's just been a significant derailment in Alabama of one of your trains. I certainly hope that all of your team and the -- anybody in the vicinity is safe and well.


COLLINS: That was another Norfolk train derailment, this time in my home state, Calhoun County, Alabama, northeast, about 80 miles of Birmingham, Alabama. That happened at about 06:45 a.m. The day that the CEO was testifying.

Crews were seen riding overturned trained cars. And initial reports indicate so far that about 30 cars ultimately derailed. So far though, no reports of injuries, no reports of toxic leaks. Those are two really important details.

But new this morning, Norfolk Southern said that it did find loose wheels on a series of derail cars that were involved in a separate derailment that happened in Springfield, Ohio last week. So what is behind all of this?

CNN's Ryan Young is live in Calhoun County, Alabama, at the scene of that derailment that happened yesterday. Ryan, it's just remarkable that we keep talking about this and the fact that this happened just hours before the CEO was testified before Congress?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kaitlan, when you think about this here in Calhoun County, you can see the train just behind us. We've been able to get extremely close to it. Luckily, this was in an area that's pretty remote, and there's almost a one lane road that leads to this location.

You can see that train right now. That rail workers will be working to write up just a little later on. And at some point they'll be able to move in and move some of this heavy machinery in to move some of these trains back.

Let's take a look from above. Even though it's raining here right now, we do have our eye in the sky and that gives us a chance to look at this derailment. You can see from above just the destruction that was created here, like you said before, luckily, the residents that are near here are not affected by this.

But look at that destruction and look at the machinery that they have to bring in to move these trains back onto the track at some point. Now, they brought new tracks in so they can kind of fix this. And you can see the wood line right there. We are about a mile away from any heavy residential area. But at the same time, you understand why America is focused on this right now, because when you see a derailment like this, you're concerned about the folks who live nearby, especially after what happened in Ohio.

But look at that destruction. And of course, we need to figure out from the NTSB exactly what caused this. So the question here now is what led up to this crash? Right before that CEO was talking, you have Norfolk Southern and their operations here now trying to put this together.

All the hotels in this area are actually full with workers who we back out here obviously at first light, like we are right now, to start putting this back together. But it's something to see, especially from the sky when you see those trains derailed and those containers there.

So we've been able to make it to this location. Hopefully we'll be able to talk to investigators a little later this afternoon to figure out exactly what happened here.

COLLINS: Yeah, it is amazing to be able to see that CNN's drone going over those train cars that ultimately derail about 30 of them. YOUNG: It's live.

COLLINS: Yeah, yeah, this is -- the drone is actually flying over it right now. And Ryan here's my question on this is, is -- it feels like we are hearing more and more about these derailments. You know, I understand why people are concerned because they see what happens in East Palestine and they're worried it's going to happen, because there are so many places just like this in Calhoun County where they have a train that runs through their backyard or their neighborhood. And so, is it a pattern? Is it happening more often or are we just paying attention more, Ryan?

YOUNG: Well, that is the scary part. And you know this people who live near train tracks sort of have this love hate relationship with it, right? You live in your house, you get to the point where you don't even hear the train go by anymore.

And everyone knows that they have to wait for some of these trains to pull through. They're also concerned, though, especially after what happened in Ohio about their livelihood, because nobody wants to have one of these trains derailed near their home with any sort of toxic chemicals or anything on board like that.

Luckily, in this case, we don't have that situation. And look, we had to work our way back this location and then get the drone up in the air for you to even be able to see it because it's so rule in this location.

Then you add on the fact that there's all this rain, you're hoping investigators can get back there and figure out. Was this a malfunction? Did a wheel come off? Did something dart out in front of the road and make the engineer have to slam on the brake? We don't have any of that sort of information right now. But obviously, for these communities that live right next to these train tracks, this is some of the most important news coverage they can have because they want to know what's going on with these trains.


COLLINS: Yeah, absolutely. We do, too. Ryan Young, thank you for being there. Let us know what you find out.

YOUNG: Sure.

COLLINS: All right. Also this morning, Russia, we're learning, launched a total of 95 missiles across Ukraine over just the last day alone. We brought you the story yesterday. Now, we're getting a bigger look, a better assessment of the damage. The forward Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, is going to join us to talk about his view, next.

LEMON: And later, an alleged apology letter from the Mexican cartel after that deadly kidnapping of American citizens. We'll tell you what it says.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: So, new this morning, nearly half a million people are without power in Ukraine's second largest city, it's Kharkiv, after Moscow launched 95 missiles over the past 24 hours, killing at least six people in Lviv.

Ukrainian officials say Russia has been targeting the energy grid, like this power plant in Kyiv. Let's bring you now Mark Esper, the former Defense Secretary under President Donald Trump.

Thank you for joining us, sir. The Ukrainian energy --


LEMON: -- says that Russia used a -- they're using a new tactic in this very large scale offensive against Ukrainians.


What does this tell you about the strategy right now? They're doing all of these cities? They seem to be bombarding them. The strategy seems to be ramping up.

ESPER: Well, the sense is, what -- was the attack in the last 24, 48 hours was retribution for an attack allegedly committed by the Ukrainians with than Russia. And so the Kremlin's response was to hit them hard with 95 plus missiles, to use a range of ballistic missiles, hypersonics, crews, drones.

And what you find out when you dig a little bit deeper is that they're actually using air defense missiles and anti-ship missiles to attack Ukraine's infrastructure. And it tells you that their stocks seem to be fairly depleted.

Now, kudos to the Ukrainians. It looks like their energy infrastructure is back online today. And it just shows you the resilience of the Ukrainian people when it comes to these unwarranted attacks on their infrastructure.

COLLINS: But when it comes to these hypersonic missiles that they're using, you know, they used, I think, it's six so far in this latest attack. They have barely used anything like that in the entire last year. So what does it say to you that they're ramping up hypersonic missiles? But also the concern, as we were talking to John (inaudible), is a -- Ukraine has nothing that can knock those out of the sky?

ESPER: Right. Look, they're very hard to defeat. They travel at five times the speed of sound, up to ten times the speed of sound, very difficult to knock out of the air. It's a challenge that we in the United States military were looking at as well, because we know that it's also developing hypersonic weapons. So it's going to remain a challenge. The fact that they haven't used more of them is surprising.

But this, again, calls for the need to Ukraine to get the air to offenses it needs. I don't think they still have Patriot air defense systems. Not that Patriot could defeat hypersonics, but still there's much more we need to give and provide the Ukrainians in order to beat back the Russian assaults.


LEMON: Would that be problematic, though, for America, for NATO, by giving them that, won't they -- I guess, while Putin will see it as any act of aggression, anything that NATO does is an act of aggression anyway?

ESPER: Well, we've already committed to providing Patriot. We actually have Ukrainian soldiers reportedly in Oklahoma training on the system. But it takes time to train, it takes time to deliver the systems, another European allies providing systems as well.

But again, these were things that the Ukrainians were asking for months and months ago and it's a shame that they don't have them yet. Same goes for tanks and F-16s.

COLLINS: But on the F-16s, you know, I'm fascinated by this because we are seeing a real split between the U.S. and Ukraine on this because President Biden is saying they've done the assessment, they don't think Ukraine needs them.

Zelenskyy is telling Wolf they could be make or break to the outcome of the war that they at least want to have the Ukrainian pilots training on them. Is it a mistake for the U.S. not to do it, in your view?

ESPER: Well sure it is. You know, President Biden said a few weeks ago no, no, no, we now understand that Ukrainian pilots are being evaluated here in the United States to do so. There were also reports coming out of the Munich Security Conference that the United States top general in Europe, Chris Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander, told lawmakers that yes, F-16s would make a difference for the Ukrainians. And it's -- look, it's obvious they need a platform to conduct strikes against Russian elements in Ukraine.

It would very much help with our Ukrainian counter offensive that hopefully will be launched sometime in the coming months. But sure, they need advanced fighter aircraft.

LEMON: Secretary, this is something that's very disturbing that we're hearing coming out of the war. We have new reporting here at CNN that Russia has been sending U.S. weapons captured in Ukraine to Iran. How dangerous could that be?

ESPER: Well, look, first of all, absolutely not surprised by this. I suspect frankly the Chinese have some as well because this is what happens in warfare. Weapons get left on the battlefield, a unit gets overrun, they scoop them up and this becomes important intelligence collection materials for our adversaries.

Now, look, the good news is these things are hard to reengineer. It's not like you're reengineering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And we also build design into our systems antitampering and other type of mechanisms to defeat anybody trying to take them apart and reengineer them.

But that said, we should be trying to find out what the Iranians have and how long it might take them to get -- gain some information about how we design our own systems and how they might go about countering them.

COLLINS: Mark, while we have you here, the New York times is reporting that prosecutors are signaling criminal charges may be likely for Trump, that he might be indicted here in New York in this case. It's been ongoing. He has said that even if he's indicted, he's not going to drop out of the presidential race. Do you think if he's indicted that he should drop out of the race?

ESPER: You know, I don't know. I have not been following all these cases he has, what, a half a dozen, so investigations into him. I'm not surprised that he's not going to drop out. I assume he's going to run all the way until the end and we'll see how that plays out.

LEMON: But you don't think he should run, right? You've said that before?

ESPER: Well, I've said I hope he doesn't run, and I actually hope we see a new generation of leaders in the Republican Party. And I think on both sides of the ledger, we need a new generation of leaders.


LEMON: All right.

COLLINS: Former Secretary Esper.

LEMON: Thank you, sir.