Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Settlement Reached in 14-Year-Old's Death; Investigating Trump's Hush Money Payment; Protests Erupt in France. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 06:30   ET



CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Slipped out of his seat because he wasn't properly secured. The report found operators made manual adjustments to two seats on the ride in order to accommodate, quote, larger people. According to investigators, the photo on the left shows the gap in Tyre's seat was nearly 7.2 inches. The photo on the right shows the average gap for the unadjusted seats was 3.3 inches. The report found the, quote, misadjustments of the seat's censor allowed for safety lights to turn on, which allowed the ride to start, even though it wasn't safe. Sampson weighed 383 pounds according to the family and was 100 pounds above the maximum weight for the ride according to the ride's manual.

MICHAEL HAGGARD, FAMILY'S ATTORNEY: They had nothing for weight on a ride that that was the most important thing because of the velocity of the ride and they had nothing to warn Tyre.

NEKIA DODD, MOTHER OF TYRE SAMPSON: Refused on other rides. Why not this one? As an adult, or the ride attendant, you should have made that call. His feelings would have been hurt, but he would still be here with me today.

SUAREZ: The family's attorney said they've reached a settlement in its wrongful death lawsuit with the amusement park and the operators of the ride. A lawsuit against the manufacturer of the ride and the company that designed the seat is pending. And Florida's state legislature is considering a bill that would increase safety regulations for rides. The Tyre Sampson Act would require any ride more than 100 feet tall to have seat belts in addition to other restraints. It would also increase training standards for ride attendants and inspections. The attendant who strapped Sampson in the day he was killed had only been on the job three days and was considered a trainee according to the state investigation.

Dodd welcomes the changes, but wishes they'd come sooner.

SUAREZ (on camera): A year later, is it easier, is it just as difficult?

DODD: It's difficult because a year later we're coming across birthdays and holidays and family functions and we have a spot where there's no Tyre. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SUAREZ: And so crews hope to have the entire ride taken down in time for the one-year mark this time next week. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. And Sampson's mother tells me she hopes to start a foundation in her son's honor.

Don, as for the criminal investigation into this accident, we're told that is still ongoing and the manufacturer of the ride, they declined to comment.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Carlos Suarez in Orlando this morning. Thank you, Carlos.

President Trump's team now preparing for a potential indictment. How strong is the case?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We've got two legal minds, great ones, standing by, but they do not agree. We'll let them tell you why, next.




LEMON: Having spoken and met with them so many times, do you believe that an indictment is imminent?


LEMON: OK. And do you -- when do you think it could happen? Sooner rather than later?

COHEN: Let's all hope it's sooner rather than later, because everyone needs to be held accountable.


COHEN: Everyone needs to be held to the same standard of the law, and that includes former presidents.


COLLINS: And he is speaking about one former president in particular, former President Trump. That is his ex-attorney, Michael Cohen, who says he's confident an indictment is coming soon from the Manhattan district attorney's hush money case.

Michael Cohen, of course, has been a crucial piece of the puzzle in that case. He's the one who actually made the $130,000 payment to the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, right before election day in 2016 to kill her allegations of an affair with Trump from going public. The former publisher of "The National Enquirer," David Pecker, allegedly helped arrange that payment. He has also testified before the grand jury. This wasn't only the hush money payment - the only hush money payment,

I should note. Michael Cohen also says there was a similar arrangement to pay off former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump. And there was a tape of that conversation with Trump as well.

Listen to this.


COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken -

DONALD TRUMP: Give it to me and -

COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding -

TRUMP: So, what are we going to pay, one fifty?

COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff.

TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because, here, you never know where that company, you never know what he's going to be -

TRUMP: You never know. Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm - I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be -

TRUMP: What a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: Pay with cash.

COHEN: No. No. No, no, no, no, I got it.


LEMON: Gosh, we forgot about that one.

COLLINS: That's a tape from Michael Cohen recording his client -

LEMON: That was so long - yes.

COLLINS: At the time when they were still on good terms. The question is this morning, as prosecutors do decide to indict Trump, how strong is their case? To give - bring us their perspective we have CNN's senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, who says prosecutors are facing an uphill battle, and former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman, who sees it differently. He sees straight-forward wrongdoing by the former president. You think - I want to start with you because -


COLLINS: You have a different opinion than what we've heard kind of overwhelmingly, which is that you actually think that it is a strong case against Trump.

AKERMAN: Well, it's a strong case if you include the overall theme of falsifying records. That is, if you go with the same thing that Latisha James went through with the attorney general's office -

COLLINS: And the Trump Organization.

AKERMAN: Right, and the Trump Organization, that the entire organization is just - it's a panoply, a potpourri of criminal activity with false financial statements every year, where they increased the values of property in order to get more money from the government on the taxes, where they gave environmental gifts to the government.


They committed bank fraud by increasing the values of various assets in the Trump Organization.

Donald Trump took the Fifth Amendment over 400 times when he was questioned by the attorney general. Now that can't be used in the criminal case.

COLLINS: Yes, a separate one, we should note.

AKERMAN: Right, but you -- in a civil case, you would do that with every single criminal act that you have because you can use an adverse inference in the civil case. So, if you sit back and say, well, what is the prosecutor doing with that? There have got to be at least five or six items in there that can be charged against Trump and put together in a pattern to show the complete activity of how that organization, and how Donald Trump ran it by falsifying the records. And certainly the Stormy Daniels situation fits right into that. It's part of the pattern.

LEMON: And Stormy Daniels testifying, at least appearing in front - before the grand jury the day before yesterday, I believe, via Zoom.

But you guys disagree because, and correct me if I'm wrong, the - on the strength of this case because of Michael Cohen's credibility, or lack thereof credibility, which you guys believe?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's one of the main points. I mean, let's be clear, this is not a criminal case about the overvaluation, undervaluation of assets. That's the civil case. There's no indication that that's what the D.A. is looking for. All of our reporting, all the public indications are that this criminal case is focused only on the payment of hush money. And I see a lot of problems with that case. First of all, the conduct is ancient. This happened six and a half years ago. That is an eternity by prosecutorial standards.

LEMON: But he was in office and - he was in office.

HONIG: Before he was in office. When he was running for office.

LEMON: OK, when he was running for office.

HONIG: Right.

LEMON: And then he was in office. So, he had some protections. So -

HONIG: Sure. And two and a half years have lapsed since then.

COLLINS: And shielded.

LEMON: Right.

HONIG: But it's hard to make that case to a jury to care about something that happened when Barack Obama was president, when kids who are at college right now were in middle school. That's a long time ago.

Michael Cohen is the central witness here. Michael Cohen -- look, I know him personally. I happen to like him. I respect him. But, let's be clear, he's going to get ripped apart on the witness stand. This is a man who is a convicted perjurer, he's convicted of committing financial fraud, tax fraud. He's a man who Nick's former office, my former office, the Southern District of New York, rejected him because they said he's not credible enough to testify.

LEMON: Can I just jump in and push back on something you said because you're saying it happened such a long time ago. Is that - I mean, really, is that, you know, viable?

AKERMAN: No, it's - I disagree with that.

LEMON: It's - it's like there's a - there should be a statute of limitations on wrongdoing when it comes to -

HONIG: There is.

AKERMAN: There is a statute of limitations. And it's within the statute of limitations. And the wrongdoing isn't just paying off a film star, it's also setting up the phony records in the Trump Organization so they file false tax returns. It's a matter of not just a campaign violation, but it's also a violation of New York state federal criminal tax.

HONIG: Juries care about this stuff, though. If a case feels like it's dredged up from the distant past, that will - that will work against prosecutors. It will feel less urgent and it will, frankly, feed the defense that this is just something that was pulled up for political reasons.

COLLINS: And that's what Trump has been saying all along.

And "The New York Times" is reporting today on how they are preparing to go on attack mode. I don't think they really know any other mode but they are - they're preparing a database of basically people who have argued there is not a strong case here.

And so, if this does happen, because it seems like we are heading in that direction, I think it's important to be realistic about what's going to happen on the other side of an indictment.

AKERMAN: Yes, but we don't know what that indictment is going to be. We're all just speculating.

LEMON: Or if there's going to be an indictment as well.


AKERMAN: Or if there's going to be an indictment. But clearly, there's been a joint investigation between the DA's office and the AG's office. The press has completely overlooked the fact that some of these items could be joined, just like Fani Willis is doing in Georgia and turn it into a criminal RICO case.

COLLINS: I don't think we've overlooked that, but what about the other witnesses here, because there is the Karen McDougal of it all. Does that help with this or is it - is it not directly enough tied to it?

AKERMAN: Of course, it does. It -- what helps is actually that tape. The real question with Michael Cohen is not whether you like the guy, whether he's a good guy. When you go to the jury, the question is, was he telling you the truth? And what you're going to look at is the other evidence, which are going to be the documents in this case with Donald Trump signing his name to check that were provided to Michael Cohen. You've got the phonying up of all the records that relate to this supposedly being for legal purposes and legal services when it was not, you've got other witnesses who are probably going to come in from the Trump Organization to testify about how this was set up and how it was out of the ordinary. The question only with Michael Cohen is, can you corroborate what he's saying. I had a witness in a criminal case. He admitted to 12 murders. I convict people based on his testimony -

LEMON: Every witness has - has some credibility issues.

AKERMAN: Right, everyone.

LEMON: But your cross, sir.

HONIG: (INAUDIBLE) about - about Michael. Here's the thing with Michael Cohen, he is corroborating to an extent. There's no question these payments were made. We've all seen the checks. There's no question they falsified the documents. But the key question here is, can you tie Donald Trump to the falsification of those documents?

[06:45:05] As far as we know, the only person who's going to do that is Michael Cohen. Let's - let's again be straight on Michael Cohen here. The man lied to Congress under oath. The man lied to the media, many times, under oath. He lied to the Federal Election Commission under oath. Michael Cohen said to the FEC, this was -- before he flipped, he said there was nothing illegal about these payments. He said that again in a way he could be punished under - under oath to the FEC. He has lied to virtually everybody.

LEMON: He said yesterday to me, I'm not lying about this. And there are other people who are going in -- I'm just playing devil's advocate here.

HONIG: Yes. No, no, I --

LEMON: There are other witnesses who were with Trump and who may know about this who have all been interviewed by Bragg's office.


LEMON: I just -- excuse me. I'm having the same issue that you're having this morning.

COLLINS: It's contagious.

LEMON: I've got to ask you, as I was speaking to sources about this in the last days and yesterday, they said, this is not just about the hush money payment. This is about exposure to Donald Trump in other areas. What will happen with Bragg's office is that people will learn about Donald Trump's businesses, it will lead to other things. I don't know if it will lead to other investigations, but they are surprised at this point the concern about what is coming out of this, the witnesses are telling them, and what these prosecutors and others are learning about Donald Trump's business.

AKERMAN: Well, look at this tape that we just played at the beginning of this. I mean that puts Donald Trump right in the middle of this whole plot to essentially set up a situation with "The National Enquirer" to catch and kill every woman who is going to come across the pike and basically talk about Donald Trump before the election.



And we have to go, but can I make an important point here, which is that, when Trump was in office and I was covering the White House, he denied knowing about the payment. He said to reporters, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Rudy Giuliani later went on Fox News and admitted Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for this payment. Trump, obviously, does not easily part with -- ways with his money, and I think that's such an important part here.

LEMON: But didn't the attorney -- the attorney, the one who's representing him, or at least speaking for him on television -

HONIG: Right.

LEMON: I know people don't like to be called, as I find out, TV attorneys. I thought it was a compliment, but apparently someone took issue with saying that. But didn't he admit sort of that Donald Trump knew about it -

HONIG: Right.

LEMON: And that in this interview on another network, and in a sense lied about it because he did not want to break the agreement? (INAUDIBLE).

HONIG: Yes, Kaitlan's right, that's a good piece of evidence for the prosecution. The fact that on Air Force One Donald Trump denied he knew about it. We know he knew about it. The response that we've heard from Joe Tacopina, the lawyer, is, he felt like he was bound by this nondisclosure agreement. And I think the better answer there is, he denied making this payment for the same reason he made the payment in the first place, he was trying to avoid personal embarrassment to him and his family.

COLLINS: Yes. All right, we've got to leave it there. Great conversation. We knew that was going to go long.


HONIG: Let's keep going. Come on. We could keep going.

COLLINS: All right, Elie Honig, Nick Akerman, thank you both for being here.

AKERMAN: Nice to be here.

LEMON: Thank you for getting us out of that.

A political flashpoint in France. Hundreds of protesters clashing with police -- this is a sign to what's happening in the U.S., right -- in these elections after the government forced through a controversial plan to raise the country's retirement age -- are listening Republican candidates -- this is happening on the streets of Paris right now.



LEMON: Fiery protests erupting France - all across France after the government forced through controversial plans to raise the country's retirement age from 62 to 64. President Emanuel Macron resorted to constitutional powers because he did not have enough votes to pass the bill. At least 310 people detained overnight in clashes between police and protesters who say the pension overhaul is unfair and unnecessary.

I want to get straight now to CNN's Sam Kiley, live for us in Paris with more on this.

Sam, hello to you. These visuals are remarkable. What's the latest on the ground there?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, I mean, Paris is sort of waking up to the hangover to what happened last night with these very much more violent than had been anticipated and, above all, they were spontaneous demonstrations against Macron's policy to force through this legislation because he just didn't have the majority in the national assembly. And here is part of the reason why it is so visible in this country. And this is not just Paris but right across country, public workers have gone on strike because of this effort being made by the government to reduce the $12.5 million (INAUDIBLE) euro deficit they've got in pensions.

Now, the city has been clogged now for some days, weeks rather, because of the garbage that's being left out on the streets. Don, but also we've seen strikes with railway workers, teachers, all kinds of others. Indeed, on this street here, the local restaurants are having to pay for garbage collection privately in order to keep the sanitation for their operations within the bounds of decency.

But it is indecency that the French population, the vast majority of the French population, are saying that Macron's policy of raising the retirement age from 60 to 64 is all about. They are saying this strikes at the very heart of the French way of life. And more than two-thirds of the population of the country so far support this strike action. And particularly the unions. And it's the unions now who want to try to get a grip on these demonstrations, dial down the violence, but bring up the public disruption that is ongoing here, Don.

LEMON: Wow, it's interesting to see all the disruption and the protests over this.

Sam Kiley on the streets of Paris for us today. Thank you, Sam.

COLLINS: All right, back here in the U.S., day one of March Madness and already one of the biggest upsets so far. Princeton shocking everyone, including the University of Arizona. How they pulled off their win and busted even President Biden's bracket, next.

LEMON: Shocking themselves too.




LEMON: You know what day it is, right? St. Patrick's Day.

COLLINS: Oh, I was going to say Friday, but - yes, St. Patrick's Day as well.

LEMON: It is. It is - we are both right on this. Poppy is off today. Thanks for joining us, everyone.

We're going to start with five things to know for this St. Patrick's Day, Friday, March 17th.

New overnight, China has announced that President Xi Jinping will be going to Russia for the first visit since the invasion of Ukraine. It comes at a very crucial moment in the war when there's growing fears that Beijing might send weapons to help Putin.


COLLINS: And sheriff's deputies and hospital workers have been charged with murder this morning after a black man died in a mental health facility in Virginia. Prosecutors arguing that surveillance video shows him being.