Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Former President Trump May Face Criminal Charges in Case Involving Hush Money Payment to Adult Actress Stormy Daniels; New York Governor Kathy Hochul Interviewed on Letter Sent to Pharmacies regarding Dispensing Prescriptions for Abortion Drug; California Braces for More Severe Storms; Mexican Drug Cartel Apologies for Killing of Two Americans; Cartel Issues Alleged Apology Letter In Kidnapping, Deaths Of Americans; Potential Field For GOP Presidential Nomination Begins Taking Shape; NYT: Manhattan Prosecutors Signal Trump Criminal Charges Likely. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 08:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: After these years of denials, there is new reporting from "The New York Times" that Former President Trump may soon face criminal charges in that Stormy Daniels hush case that he was being asked about there.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, this is a big story as well, the national divide over abortion pills deepening. It is a battle playing out in pharmacies all across America. A coalition of Democratic governors are fighting to protect access, including New York's Governor Kathy Hochul. The governor is going to join us in just a moment here on CNN THIS MORNING.

COLLINS: Also this morning, there is no relief for California as another massive storm is bearing down as millions are bracing for major flooding. Towns have already buried under feet of snow, right now preparing for even more.

But we're going to start this morning here in New York City where we were just talking about this story. And there is now a possible indication that former President Trump could soon face criminal charges. Now, this is not guaranteed, we should note, but "The New York Times" is reporting that the Manhattan district attorney's office is signaling charges against Trump are likely over those hush money payments to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. According to "The Times," prosecutors have offered Trump the chance to testify next week before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the case, seeing some of his former closest allies go before them. Such offers almost always indicate that an indictment is potentially likely.

But this case, we should note, is not a slam dunk. It could actually pose a huge challenge for prosecutors. Our senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid has been tracking this case with us all morning. Paula, we know that Trump's attorneys have gone in and met with the district attorney, but the idea that he, himself, is going to go in and testify seems incredibly unlikely. PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It does seem

incredibly unlikely, doesn't it, Kaitlan. But over the past few weeks we have seen this parade of high-profile witnesses going to testify before the grand jury. We have seen Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway. This investigation has been going on for five years. And there is clearly some uptick in activity.

But the idea that the former president would be the next high-profile witness to stroll into the courthouse, extremely unlikely. Last night in a statement his spokesman described this whole thing as, quote, "insane." But the fact that an invitation has been extended for him to come before the grand jury signals that the investigation is likely wrapping up, and it's possible there could be an indictment here.

COLLINS: OK. So there could be an indictment. But even if there is, I think it's important to be realistic about what that could look like. If he is indicted, it doesn't mean he is going to be convicted, it doesn't mean he is facing prison time. What are the stakes? What does it mean? Because it is a complicated legal theory here of what he would actually be charged with.

REID: The stakes couldn't be higher. An unprecedented indictment of a former president, and this case, to be generous, it's messy. But we are talking about something that happened seven years ago approximately. At its core it is a paperwork crime. The question not about an extramarital affair. It's not really about the hush-money payments. It's about whether business records were falsified when Michael Cohen was paid back the money that he had given to Stormy Daniels.

This is a novel legal theory in New York. This is something that is mostly untested, and at the center of the case would be Michael Cohen, a convicted liar who has publicly repeatedly insisted that he wants to see the former president charged and brought to justice. I mean, even Cohen's close associates tell me that they really think it would be best if this case, for their friend, Cohen, it would be best if this case didn't go forward and if he just moved on with his life. Any good defense attorney is going to seize on that. So this would be a very complicated case to prove.

And as you know, Kaitlan, you and I have reported on the former president for a long time. Every investigation he faces he argues this is politically motivated. And if they were to bring this case under this political pressure and fail, it would really arguably undermine the credibility of a lot of other much stronger, more legitimate cases.

COLLINS: Yes, it's a really good point. It's hard to believe this inquiry has spanned five years. Paula Reid, I know you will stay on top of it. Thank you.

LEMON: So New York's governor and attorney general urging Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid to commit to dispensing prescribed abortion medication both in store and by mail. Last week Walgreens said that it would not offer the drug in 21 states including a handful where abortion remains legal. That came after GOP attorneys general in those states challenged the legality of medication abortions. A letter from the New York governor and attorney general says it part, "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 mifepristone it in New York pharmacies."

New York's Governor Kathy Hochul joins us now. Governor, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us.


LEMON: So, Governor, let's just quickly, because it was the last story that we did, and I'm going to talk to you extensively about mifepristone, but do you have a response to what is happening with Alvin Bragg's office and the former president, as Kaitlan was just discussing with Paula Reid?


HOCHUL: Well, of course, the district attorney must have the evidence necessary to be pursuing this the way he is. And I have confidence in his ability to bring Donald Trump to justice. This is occurring in so many courts and so many venues because, basically, he was a corrupt president. And so I encourage the district attorney to pursue all means possible to bring this individual to justice once and for all.

LEMON: Governor, thank you for responding to that. Now let's talk about mifepristone here. As you state in your letter, abortion is legal in New York. So why send it to the pharmacies?

HOCHUL: We have to, because basically pharmacies have become the new battleground ever since women's rights were stripped in the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June. So we want to make sure we send a preemptive message that, despite the threats that you are receiving from Republican attorneys general, that here in states like New York these rights are protected. We're going to go to the mat and protect them every inch of the way. And if they try to suspend the distribution of this important drug to women in the state of New York, there will be consequences.

LEMON: I wonder, do you worry about this, but this is something that Democrats have been very critical of, similar issues, not the same, but similar, critical of Republicans, especially governors like Ron DeSantis, for getting involved with businesses and trying to influence how businesses operate. Are you concerned that this might have the same sort of result or effect or be seen in a similar way?

HOCHUL: There is no comparison. This is not a launch to a political campaign. This has nothing to do with politics. This is basic women's health care. And we want people to make sure that they know that this is a sacrosanct right here in the state of New York. It once was in our nation until the Trump stacked Supreme Court stripped these rights away from women. And I want to make sure that despite what happens in other states there is not a distraction. These rights are protected in the state of New York. LEMON: A federal judge in Texas is set it rule on a case brought by

anti-abortion groups who seek to block the FDA's approval of this drug altogether. About half of all abortions in this country are medication abortions. What is your plan if the judge blocks the drug, Governor?

HOCHUL: This is so abhorrent at every level. Like you said, half of all abortions are provided through this drug. It is legal. It is safe. And we want to make sure that women have access to this. This often can be weighed, a woman could save their lives. This is what we're talking about here. So we'll make sure that we pursue every remedy available to us to make sure that women in the state of New York, at least, are protected. But it is heartbreaking to see that this is the fallout of a decision that never should have happened last June for a right that my mother's generation fought for, I fought for, that my daughter enjoys right now, will not be there for my baby granddaughter.

So this is the stakes we are talking about here, and Attorney General James and I stood up and said our voices need to be heard and not overshadowed by attorneys general and anti-choice extremists who have really been dominating the debate. We are in this fight for the long haul.

LEMON: I know this is something that you have been discussing and that's important to you, even before your run just last year and winning. According to NYPD, crime was up by more than four percent overall in New York City in January. Murders were down slightly, but robberies, assaults, burglary, car theft all up. What action are you going to take in this rise in crime in these other categories besides murder and rape?

HOCHUL: Public safety is absolutely my number one priority. It's top of mind for all New Yorkers, and I am working closely with Mayor Adams to help provide resources to protect people in the subways, supporting our NYPD and their work. Subway crimes are down rather dramatically since we started our concerted efforts, so that's an important part of it. But we are not finished. I have put in a record amount of money to support district attorneys, to support law enforcement, diversion programs. So we're making a difference.

But we are nowhere near satisfied with the rates. But in comparison to other big cities in other states, New York is the safest big state in America. New York City is the safest city in America, large city. But I know that doesn't mean a thing to anyone who has that sense of concern and fear, something that New Yorkers deserve to be free from. And that's what I'm going to continue to fight for. Part is in my budget, which I expect to get through in the next few weeks, resources that will be there to support getting people with mental health problems to support they need so they don't live on our streets. Sometimes that's a cause of fear as well. And continuing to fight all the crimes from the petty crimes on up to the serious homicides. We take this very seriously in the state of New York.


LEMON: Governor, we appreciate having you. Listen, before you go, I just want to ask you something that I think that you would want to respond to. I have to ask you about recently we had on investor and "Shark Tank" personality Kevin O'Leary, and he said about New York that it was no longer, the state was un-investable, and I'm sure you would like to respond to that.

HOCHUL: Oh, boy. I just sat down with major investors and prominent business leaders a couple days ago, and they are enthusiastic about the future of New York. New York has always had its ups and downs. We are emerging from a dark time brought forth by the pandemic. That's it. We were on fire right before the pandemic hit. But there is no stopping us. And I think if you want to look for evidence of that, just ask the CEO of Micron bringing 50,000 jobs to the state of New York that could have gone to a place like Texas. And they are coming to New York because of our business climate, how we have the most educated, highly skilled workforce, a quality of life that is second to none. So there's a lot of people who have a very strong disagreement with those sentiments.

LEMON: Governor of the great state of New York, Kathy Hochul, thank you for joining us this morning. Have a good weekend.

HOCHUL: Thank you. You too.

COLLINS: Good to have her respond to what Kevin O'Leary said.

Also this morning, more than 17 million people are facing flood threats in California and Nevada this morning. It's this atmospheric river, as it's known. It is bringing heavy rain, potentially a pretty rapid snow melt after weeks of storms in those areas. It compounds flood issues for many, especially the California coast. Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a state of emergency for 21 more counties, that adds to the 13 from last week. Sacramento County is one of those where our CNN's Natasha Chen is joining us live from there. Natasha, what are the biggest concerns that officials there are bracing for right now with this expected storm?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, it's really about flooding, especially in the foothills and in areas that already flood inside January from this string of storms then. And it's also about structural collapses.

I do want to mention that we are right outside the state aquatic center here. The gates are closed because it's still very early this the morning. But behind us is the Nimbus Dam, and this is one of the dams that is releasing thousands and thousands of cubic feet of water per second today to try and manage the flooding that may be happening in rivers and creeks and levees downstream. This is a place that we see a lot of water being released, usually when that flood management needs to happen. So we are watching for that.

Now, the structural collapses I mentioned, here is an example. Here is some photos from a Facebook post from a Christian private school in Nevada City. Now, this collapse of their school gym happened last weekend, but it was just posted yesterday, an example of what happens when the heavy snow that's accumulated on rooftops from all these past storms now are mixed with this rain that's coming in, and it's just too heavy. And this is a big risk for structural collapse. We are hearing from our affiliates KOVR that there was another collapse in grass valley from this storm this time. We are also hearing about the Cosumnes River that may flood and crest by tomorrow morning. And there is a community of Wilton near there. They already experienced levee breaches from the new year's storm. So they are concerned about flooding there again. So for a lot of Californians, including them, this is deja vu, this is another storm, quite a winter they have had here, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, it's remarkable to see what they have been through. It's been quite a nightmare for them. Natasha Chen, thank you.

LEMON: Well, this morning, the Mexican cartel that is believed to be responsible for the armed kidnapping of American tourists now saying sorry. Gulf Cartel handed over five of its members to local authorities with an alleged apology letter which CNN obtained a version of, reading in part, quote, "The Gulf Cartel, Scorpion Group, strongly condemns the events of 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."

Now, sources tell CNN and investigators believe the letter is authentic. Bodies of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, the two Americans killed in the kidnapping, have been delivered to U.S. diplomatic authorities. The two survivors have returned to the U.S. for treated at a hospital. A group of friends from South Carolina drove to Matamoros, Mexico, last Friday so one of them could get a medical procedure. Investigators believe they were mistaken for drug smugglers.

I want to bring in now CNN's chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. John, good morning to you. This is odd, this cartel apologizing and then turning over its own members. What do you make of that?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: This is almost unheard of, turning over five street soldiers from the cartel without a fight to the government, and taping a letter of apology to it.


LEMON: Do you believe it's authentic? They say they do.

MILLER: I do. And I think it'll be easy to figure out fairly quickly, which is when you turn over those five bodies, the Mexican authorities and the U.S. authorities, you know, we've seen the attack on videotape, we can identify who those people are, there's human sources who know who are involved. So, it's entirely likely that these are the actual persons responsible and the letter bizarre, it's almost bureaucratic in its terms. I mean, they talk about things like, society needs to be calm because we are committed to make sure that these errors are not repeated. You know, it sounds like a note from a railroad that had a bad derailment or something. This was out of policy, and we are working to fix this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: So, where does the investigation go from here? Because -- and I want to get you to respond to something we're hearing from lawmakers too. But on the investigation front, they're questioning these people. What does that look like?

MILLER: So, the Mexican authorities have these people in custody, they're going to question them. We're already kind of seeing the what's next, which is metamorphosed has been flooded with hundreds of Mexican soldiers. So, what we're seeing, Kaitlan, it's fascinating, because it's a state of two governments, the Mexican government, and the Cartel government. The Cartel is asserting itself by saying we made an error. Here are the bad guys, here's a note, we're sorry. They're trying to get this back in the bottle. The government is saying, here are the soldiers were reasserting security. The area is safe for tourists again, and the government is here.

COLLINS: So, what about this idea that we're hearing from Republican lawmakers, is they want the U.S. military to go in and combat these Cartels? Is that realistic in your view?

MILLER: Well, it's been done before. It's all of -- it's a question of style, not substance. I mean, the U.S. military and intelligence community, and law enforcement community banded together as a coalition to work with the government in Colombia, when that was a country overrun by Cartels. And work that problem till it was under control. It's a very different Colombia today than it was in the 80s.

On the other hand, Mexican nationalism under President Obrador is a big issue. The idea that we are our own state we are in control and that, you know, big brother from next door does not need to come in and take over our problems is going to make that something that could happen. But it would all have to be behind the scenes. It would not be uniformed U.S. troops in large numbers in Mexico. If the Mexican government has anything to say about it.

LEMON: Yes. Watch this space, to be continued, as I say. Thank you very much, John Miller.

MILLER: Thanks.

COLLINS: Thanks, John. And also, our next guest cares a lot about this wants these Cartels to be designated as terrorist organizations. This all comes as the potential 2024 Republican field appears to be taking shape. Could our next guest jump in the race, we're going to ask him former governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, joins us next.



COLLINS: This morning the potential field for the 2024 GOP Presidential nomination is beginning to take shape but the key word is potential. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is making his first appearance in Iowa today, months ahead of his expected formal announcement. Virginia Governor Glenn Younkin, who is also not announced, an official run, sent a message to voters last night on public education at CNN town hall. As for those who have announced we're hearing from Nikki Haley, she's calling to change the retirement age for Social Security benefits at an Iowa town hall yesterday.

Meanwhile, for President Trump, who is currently the presumptive front-runner is also going to Iowa on Monday, as we are seeing new reporting that suggests him, might also be facing an indictment. In the case of the hush money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels. A lot of developments going on. So, joining us now is former Republican governor of Arkansas, who was also himself said to be considering a White House run in 2024. Asa Hutchinson, Governor, thank you so much for being here this morning. I want to start with you on what we heard from Nikki Haley yesterday, talking about raising the retirement age, talking about for people who are now in their 20s. Do you agree with her on that?

ASA HUTCHINSON, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS: Well, first of all, we want to strengthen Social Security not to weaken it, it is so incredibly important to those that have paid into the system, they want to have confidence in it. And so, it should be off the table in terms of cuts to that in terms of dismantling that or changing or even privatizing it. People need to have confidence in that system. Whenever you look at the entitlement programs, as they call them, Social Security Medicare and Medicaid. We've got to protect the -- all three but the Medicaid part is one that can be used to save additional money and reduce those costs of that entitlement by returning more authority, the states to manage those programs. That's the one I think we should focus on in the future first.

COLLINS: But what does strengthening Social Security look like to you? Because I feel like I hear that from a lot of Republicans. But what does that mean changing the age or means-testing benefits for other things? What does that look like?

HUTCHINSON: Well, making sure that we have enough workers paying into the system, actually we really looking at it to make sure it's sound for the future. We've had some conditions before and maybe we need another commission that looks at it and just say what can we do to strengthen it? What do we need to do to make sure that it's viable for the future? Let's just talk about the age part of it for a moment. You know, there's some people that's in a white-collar job in a profession that can work for an extended period of time, perhaps.

But how about that blue-collar worker that's working in the factory that's so tough on their body? I don't think he wants to extend their work requirements, so, that they have to wait longer for Social Security, that is the problem and adjusting the age limit across the board. So, I don't think that that's a wise idea. I think that we need to have a commission that looks at it as to how we can strengthen it and develop some bipartisan support for that.

COLLINS: OK, good to hear you say that you disagree with that. I want to ask you about something else that I know you care about, which is what we've seen happening out of Mexico. We were just talking about the letter; this alleged apology letter from the Cartel. We've seen some Republicans say that the U.S. military should be used to combat these Cartels. You said you believe that they should be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. We heard from the White House yesterday saying that they don't believe it would actually grant them additional authorities, they basically don't see a benefit in that. Do you disagree and what would the actual benefits be?


HUTCHINSON: Well, I disagree completely. First of all, they meet the definition of a foreign terrorist organization. They're engaged in kidnapping, they packed our national security, the fentanyl that comes in the United States is a national security risk and the Cartels control that, designate them. The White House when it says it doesn't give us more tools. First of all, they're wrong, but secondly, if it doesn't do any harm, it does a benefit because it draws attention to the fact that they are a National Security risk.

We use that tool in reference to other terrorist organizations, Colombia has been talked about, I was engaged as head of the DEA, in fighting the terrorist organizations in Colombia. We've had been successful, we've been successful going against the Cartels in Mexico. We need to re-engage them and elevate them as a concern and designating a national terrorist organization or a foreign terrorist organization would do exactly that.

COLLINS: Do you think that military force should be used to combat the Cartels? U.S. military force?

HUTCHINSON: Well, your previous guest was very close to being right on point that we ought to use them for intelligence purposes. We need to work with Mexico on it but if you use your military to go in without authority, that becomes an invasion. And so, in Colombia's instance, we had the cooperation of the Colombian authorities as we used our military resources. So, we have to make sure that we coordinate this we've had to use economic pressure on Mexico to be more supportive of going after the Cartel, where they are right now is unacceptable. They're saying the Cartel has a blank opportunity to operate with impunity in Mexico. And that is insufficient because it puts us at risk. And the military, certainly from an intelligence standpoint, and others need to be utilized.

COLLINS: Governor moving on to what's happening here at home. We are now hearing reporting that Trump may be facing criminal charges here in New York. He said recently at a conservative conference, he won't drop out of the presidential race, even if he is indicted. Do you think if he is indicted, he should drop out?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think the important question is, how do you have different leadership than Donald Trump and he's made it clear whether he's indicted or not, he's going to continue on. And so, the only way to beat Donald Trump is to beat him at the ballot box. And that's why we need to have alternatives when it comes to who's going to represent the republican party, who's going to potentially be our next president. And we need to have alternative voices. I'm pleased that I get encouragement for that we'll make a decision down the road. But in terms of the chaos that's surrounding Donald Trump and his candidacy, that's not the future of the Republican Party. That's not the leadership that we need in our country.

COLLINS: You have said that you're going to make a decision in April on whether or not you're running for president. If you do, obviously, you'd hope to be on the debate stage, the chair of the Republican National Committee says if you're on that debate stage, you will have to sign a pledge saying that you will support the eventual nominee. Are you going to sign that pledge? And will you support Trump if he's the nominee?

HUTCHINSON: Well, wait and see what the pledge provides. The wording is important, and I don't expect Donald Trump to be the nominee. I want to make sure that we have alternative voices to his leadership. What is important for the party is that we don't have somebody participating in the debate thing, then goes out there and runs as an independent or a third-party candidate. You can avoid that very simply and I'd be happy to sign a pledge saying, we're not going to be a third-party candidate and that accomplishes the goal of the Republican Party. We don't need loyalty oaths, that's been something I've been opposed to from a democrat party loyalty oath, and certainly not a Republican party loyalty oath.


HUTCHINSON: We need to really focus on what's best for America.

COLLINS: So, you want that pledge to look differently than what Ronna McDaniel has said, which is that you would support the nominee, you want it to say you won't run as a third party. Candidate Governor Asa Hutchinson, we look forward to when you make your decision and come back here when you do, please.

HUTCHINSON: All right, thank you. Great to be with you today.

COLLINS: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Interesting, Kaitlan. He doesn't think that he's going to be the nominee. I think that's news.

COLLINS: And Trump's going to be the nominee. Yes, we'll see.


COLLINS: Time will tell.

LEMON: OK, well, coming up soon, the February jobs report will be released. We're going to break down the numbers and the impact.