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CNN This Morning

Sources: Trump Facing 30+ Counts Related to Business Fraud; Trump Reaches Out to Capitol Hill Allies for Support. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 05:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Wow, what a day, right?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: She's back with a vengeance. Good morning. Are you rested?

HARLOW: I'm rested. What the world that happened.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: That happens when you take off.

LEMON: Did you look at the newspapers?

COLLINS: Changes at all, just in time.

LEMON: Yeah, historic day in America. Donald Trump indicted. Donald Trump indicted, the first former or sitting president ever to face criminal charges is Friday, March 31st.

Here's the very latest developments. A Manhattan grand jury indicting Trump on more than 30 counts related to business fraud, stems from the hush money case involving Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

HARLOW: Sources tell CNN Trump is expected to turn himself in on Tuesday and be arraigned in New York City. The NYPD is on high alert this morning. Every member of the force has been told to report in uniform today as a precaution.

COLLINS: Meanwhile in Washington, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other house Republicans are rallying around Trump blasting the indictment as a political attack. And as of this morning, President Biden has not weighed in on the indictment, not a surprise there. We'll see what he says.

We have all the latest reporting.

CNN THIS MORNING's special live coverage starts right now.


LEMON: Very early on this Friday morning and look at the papers you got was worried this morning when I left at the papers would not be ready. But they are.

COLLINS: Yesterday, you and I were talking about how the headlines have. There was so much news yesterday that the headlines that we had by the morning they didn't really reflect what we were even talking on the show. And now, of course, it's like the biggest headline.

HARLOW: Across them all.

LEMON: We were we were talking. We usually sort of read when not one of us is doing an interview, whatever we papers read, yeah.

That's "New York Times", Trump indicted. "Washington Post", Trump, New York grand jury indicts Trump. "Wall Street Journal", Trump indicted over hush money and, of course, well, you have this.

HARLOW: "The Post".

LEMON: "The Post". The gathering Stormy, interesting all of this happening over Stormy Daniels and an affair that Donald Trump denies or a fling that he denies that happened years ago and has come back to haunt him.

Trump is now the first ex-president in us history to face criminal charges and keep in mind that he is running for president right now, so this is really unprecedented, uncharted territory for our nation.

CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, who has gotten very little sleep over the past couple of months, especially the past couple of weeks. She has been following this from the very beginning.

Good morning to you.

What are we learning about what happens downtown?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think a lot of people will be surprised to learn that even the former president's legal team has not been informed of the specific charges that he's facing. That is standard in this court.

There is a desire I'm told to treat him like they would any other defendant, but, of course, this is going to be unlike anything we have seen in U.S. history.


REID (voice-over): A Manhattan grand jury voting to indict former President Donald Trump Thursday. While the case is still under seal, sources tell CNN he faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud.

The former president, responding to the indictment, calling the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, a disgrace and claiming the entire investigation is a witch hunt.

JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: He's ready to fight. You know, he's the toughest guy I know. He was shocked, you know, because we really were -- I shocked. Today, the rule of law in the United States America died.

REID: The indictment concludes a years long probe investigating a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to remain silent about an alleged affair with Trump, an affair Trump denies.

The case relies in part on the testimony of Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who has in the past pleaded guilty to nine federal crimes, including lying.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I am a convicted felon. I am a disbarred lawyer, but I also brought the documents. There's plenty of testimony, corroborating testimony to go around.

REID: Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 just weeks before the 2016 presidential election, according to court filings, the Trump organization reimbursed Cohen $420,000.

CLARK BREWSTER, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: It's a fight against his rejection of truth and his manufacturing of stories that really motivated her.

REID: The Manhattan district attorney's office was also asking questions during the grand jury proceedings about Karen McDougal.


She was paid $150,000 by the company that publishes "The National Enquirer" to stay silent about another alleged affair with Trump. Trump has denied any affair with McDougal.

Trump's longtime friend and then chairman of the "National Enquirer's" parent company, David Pecker, is believed to have orchestrated the payment and was one of the last witnesses to testify before the grand jury Monday.

But even Trump's potential Republican presidential rivals criticizing the indictment. Governor Ron DeSantis tweeting, it's American, and Trump's former Vice President Mike Pence, telling CNN: I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage.


REID (on camera): The district attorney and Trump's legal team are now in the process of negotiating his self surrender, told by one of his attorneys that he will likely appear on Tuesday and go through the normal process, and that includes everything from being photographed, fingerprinted and appearing before a judge. But even if this is the normal process, there is no playbook for something like this.

HARLOW: Very not normal.

LEMON: And this will be -- the arraignment will be expedited because of the circumstances here, according to my source that he probably won't see any time behind bars for this meaning --

REID: He's convicted.

LEMON: Yeah, no, no, no. Before this, that he won't spend any time it'll hold up. He won't.

HARLOW: Yeah, he would be released on his own right now.

LEMON: I'm also hearing the fingerprint part is not for sure. The mug shot parties for sure. But the fingerprint part is not for sure. And the handcuffs --

HARLOW: Why would that --

REID: Handcuffs? I don't. Yeah, I haven't. I haven't heard that.

But we have heard consistently. They're going to try to the greatest extent possible to treat him like any other defendant. And so, this is the usual process.

But there are considerations for things like the Secret Service protection. Certainly they're not going to put him in Rikers or anything like that. So we'll see how this plays out. But right now they're working through this process.

HARLOW: But your point about secret service, it is their job to always protect the former president so they will be ostensibly by his side on Tuesday, assuming he appears in court here in New York, which is also going to be a remarkable site.

REID: Absolutely, and I asked one of his attorneys before these charges were filed, well, can the Secret Service deter him from wanting to appear in person? And they said, look, they can't dictate what he does. They can only protect him.

LEMON: And the thing is, is he going to go through the front door? Is he going to go through?

REID: Because that courthouse is a circus, right? It's the love child of a DMV and a circus in this multi-story building on a normal day. You add the former leader of the free world, a security and logistical nightmare.

LEMON: And we'll be watching every New York City police officer --

HARLOW: In Uniform.

LEMON: -- in uniform, order to report to duty. So this is unprecedented.

Thank you, Paula. We'll be watching.

HARLOW: Okay, so take a look at Florida. This is Mar-a-Lago. Trump's Florida home and private clubs.

Sources tell us here at CNN, the former president is expected to turn himself in next week on Tuesday. That's what we're just talking about.

Kristen Holmes is live in Washington with the details.

This is your beat, and we were all listening, glued to the television last night as you were breaking the news, reading the first statement reacting to this indictment from the former president. What can you tell us about where he is right now?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Poppy, so that statement was, you know, the usual from what we hear from former President Trump. He talked about hoaxes witch hunted linked to this case to the investigation. But I am told by a number of sources who have talked to Trump in the last 24 hours that he is relatively controlled. He has at his Mar-a-Lago home that he was huddled with top advisers off and on throughout the evening, he ate dinner with Melania in front of guests at Mar-a-Lago.

And again, this was a controlled person. He seemed to calm. Now, one of the things that we know is for the last month they have essentially seen the former president go through a range of emotions. At times, he has been angry. At times he has celebrated that this potential indictment could lead to political success.

But last night I am told that he was very controlled. He seemed to understand the gravity of this moment, as we reported last night. Several of these advisers, including the -- and the former president himself were really blindsided by the timing of this indictment. Yes, for two weeks, they have been planning for potential indictment. They were literally sitting on edge every day, trying to figure out trying to read tea leaves of when this might come.

But they read the same media reports that we all did that said essentially, the grand jury was likely not to hear any more on the Trump case before they went on hiatus. So many of them thought they had some time. So now, after that initial surprise now they have moved on to that sort of shaping the narrative part of all this, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right, and that comes along with his allies both in the halls of Congress and outside and as I understand your reporting is that Trump's team is going to roll out these surrogates and keep a very close eye on who is being loyal to him to a fault throughout all this.


HOLMES: That's right. We actually started seeing them roll out those surrogates. Last night, we saw some of the staunchest Trump allies all over conservative media. We're talking about Marjorie Taylor Green, Matt Gaetz. We saw Tucker Carlson had a slew of guests on all defending the former president, and we expect to continue to see that today across not just conservative media in terms of TV, but also podcast, and as you said they are keeping a very close eye on who is defending the former president and making sure to blast out those responses, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yeah, Kristen Holmes, thank you.

LEMON: Yeah, there's so much to discuss if we can just back out a little bit because I think this is unprecedented. I think it's all of us have contacts and we have been following this especially, Kaitlan and Paul, and, Poppy, you have been watching this and covering.

None of us thought that we would be at this moment right where we have a former president who has been indicted, so I think it changes our world so much we've seen witness after witness come out people who said they knew about this case, and, um, and it's just been so many facets and so unprecedented and one of those people is Michael Cohen, who we have all interviewed and we all know he is the star witness in this case, and we got a chance to speak with him.

He knows the former president, having worked with his attorney, the so called fixer for years, telling all to the prosecutors downtown in Manhattan. So I spoke with Michael Cohen last night along with my colleague Alison Camerota, from "CNN TONIGHT", right after the indictment came down.

Here is some of what he said. Take a look.


LEMON: I want to talk about Robert Costello, because Donald Trump's team sent Robert Costello in directly to try to counteract what you were saying. What does this say about the importance of the significance of what they saw in his testimony?

COHEN: It was a mistake. You know, Bob Costello provided clearly nothing. There was no testimony that he gave that I was even needed to rebut. That's all been reported.

They had me there waiting for about two hours to be a rebuttal witness, but I wasn't needed, which means that the information that he provided was worthless.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: You know who else is talking about this? Donald Trump, and he basically said in this email to his supporters, Alvin Bragg is relying on the testimony of a convicted felon and a disbarred lawyer. So what is your response to Donald Trump tonight?

COHEN: Well, he's right. I am a convicted felon. I am disbarred lawyer but I also brought the documents. There's plenty of testimony, corroborating testimony to go around and at the end of the day we have an indictment today. So clearly, that means that the information provided was more than enough for the grand jury to come back with the determination for an indictment.

Oh by the way for Donald, since we're talking about convicted felons, see you on Tuesday, pal.

LEMON: They coordinate court dates, but they don't coordinate indictments, and they have to go when they have to go where the evidence leads and there are things like the statute of limitations or what have you.

But, technically, Fani Willis in Georgia, if she does indict could go first they could coordinate and allow her to go to trial first and this could go second. COHEN: This notion of oh, this is a weaker case than the January 6th. I acknowledge that January. 6th was an insurrection like we haven't seen in what 150 years in this country, but doesn't make this any less of a crime.

You know, I always call this the Capone theory, the Al Capone theory. They couldn't get him on murder, extortion, racketeering, bootlegging, et cetera. They got him on tax evasion. If that crime, Don, was enough for me to be charged, fined convicted and sent to prison. Why am I any different than Donald Trump?

LEMON: I don't think he's going to be handcuffed, according to sources, they said he's going to have an expedited arrangement right because of the unusual circumstances.

COHEN: Personally, I don't want to see him paraded that way, remember because he's a former president of the United States, because I actually care more about the office of the presidency of the United States than he does. I don't want to see this made into the laughingstock of the world.

This is a first time ever in the history of this country that the president, former president has been indicted. This is unprecedented and the more that we keep this. We'll call it classy, the better it is for our position in the world behind the scenes.

CAMEROTA: How is he handling something like this tonight?

COHEN: He's not thick skinned, right? I think we've also saw that during the -- what was it? The correspondents dinner. He is not thick skin. He's actually very thin skin and he has a very fragile ego.

This is his biggest fear, that he will be mug shotted and that he's going to now. Have an F a felony next to his name. These are not things that Donald Trump ever thought in his entire life, nor I, for that matter that he would ever be confronted with.

He's seething right now, because of all of the mistakes that so many people that were around him have made.

LEMON: Do you feel vindicated?


COHEN: This isn't about vindication. This is about accountability. This is about the adage that no one is above the law.

This is also about that whatever laws that sent me to prison, should send him to prison. We're all supposed to be looked at in the eyes of the law. The same right lady justice wears the blindfold. It's not supposed to matter you know about your race, religion, creed color, whether your former president, not if you break the law, you have to be held accountable.


COLLINS: I mean, what an interview and what a conversation --

LEMON: I did say to him, and he said, this is not about that. I said your book is called.

HARLOW: Revenge.

LEMON: Revenge.

COLLINS: Yeah, you can't ignore that title.

Joining us here at the table to talk about all of what we just saw there with Michael Cohen, is his former Manhattan assistant district attorney, Jeremy Saland, and back with us our senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

Jeremy, I wanted to start with you on a broad outlook of this, but you have a lot of thoughts on that interview.

REID: I have so many thoughts. The first one is what is he doing now that they're having charges filed under seal, he is one of the key witnesses. In this case we know from our sources that prosecutors are already unhappy about some of the interviews that Michael Cohen has given, particularly when he has tried to rebut arguments in the court of public opinion.

Now, he also said there that after Attorney Robert Costello went in and attacked his credibility that they didn't need to rebut that. That's not true. We know from our reporting that prosecutors were a little bit thrown by Costello's testimony, and they believed they had a button up that case. We saw David Pecker go before the grand jury earlier this week, and apparently, there was another witness who we don't know.

Now, I will note when I reached out to Robert Costello last night for comments. I mean, you know, he's a chatty, chatty one loves to talk. Loves to comment, he said, I cannot comment on this case right now because I am a potential witness, and that is a big difference right now between Michael Cohen and Robert Costello.

Look, Michael Cohen is a First Amendment right. He's absolutely key player in this, but it could also be a key witness in the prosecution of the former president. Doing this great.

Get by the way, great interview.

LEMON: Thank you.

REID: But for him, I have a feeling he's going to get a call for prosecutors today.

This is what his attorney says, Lanny Davis, says that you may think of him as a key witness. But there are three or four people who will back up what he says. So therefore, as you said, it's his First Amendment right to be able to talk about this so he doesn't see it as a big deal or detrimental to the case that Michael Cohen is out doing interviews.

REID: That is naive.

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Preposterous it's ridiculous. I can imagine that you just said the district attorney's office must be livid. You don't start singing and showing your anger and being glib helps build your credibility and keep a consistent story because the more you talk and the more you say, the more there is chance that you're going to say something that's going to come back and bite that case, and that's not what they want.

HARLOW: Walk through for people joining us just this morning. They've just read the headlines of the papers. What we're looking at here because we have to remind people. This is uncharted legal territory. This is an untested legal case to tie potential federal charges to a state crime.

And you also have the possibility of a judge either downgrading it saying no misdemeanor or throwing it out. How hard -- how high is the bar? How hard is this to get a conviction?

SALAND: Well, to start off, is that reasonable cause to believe that a felony was committed? A crime was committed for the grand jury. That's not a very high bar, but to your point, there's a much higher bar proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

So the lesser crime is just that there was an intent to defraud, and that there was false entries made in the business records of that organization. That's fairly easy to say and easy to do, but to your point again, what is that other crime that would elevate this to the felony? And that is uncharted territory, and I would imagine a lot of this delay.

And I use that in quotes because it's not really a delay. It's doing your homework and doing your job. A lot of that is figuring out can this case go forward on the theory that we're charging or looking at a federal statute to be the basis of that of that crime?

LEMON: But we don't know -- it's sealed, so we don't know what the charges are, specifically.

SALAND: Of course, there certainly could be other crimes, but you're not going into that grand jury assuming or looking for misdemeanor.

LEMON: We weren't even looking at Karen McDougal. Remember that last week, I said Poppy has said, you know, this is possibly the on Stormy Daniels. We don't know exactly what Alvin Bragg is going to do. We don't even know what's in there, specifically.

There is reporting I know and from very credible sources, John Miller, who is in you know just the best that you can get when it comes to these situations, especially with the reporting. But still, we don't know exactly what's in that. And what my sources say. I would warn you to stop saying that this is a weak case because Alvin Bragg would not see this week. It's a difficult case, sorry, to prove because you don't know what's in these charges.

SALAND: To your point. I don't know if it's a difficult charge to prove. But I do know that if it was solely on the shoulders of Michael Cohen, there would be concerned. But I wouldn't imagine the district attorney's office would be that naive or foolish.

These are experienced prosecutors who have been around the block many, many times. That they understand that and they're looking at either evidence to corroborate or evidence and charges beyond what we're thinking of documents I'm told are documents to support these charges.


COLLINS: We'll see what those documents look like and see what the charges ultimately look like.

Jeremy and Paul, thank you both for joining us here at the crack of dawn this morning as we break down all of these really important event.

HARLOW: It's not close to Don yet, right, don't just say dawn, they said.

COLLINS: All right. This is all coming out and you see, this is in the headlines. Today, many Republican leaders are rallying behind Trump. They're coming out publicly and forcefully. We'll tell you what his allies on Capitol Hill are saying that's next.

LEMON: Including right here on CNN, some of them along last night.

HARLOW: We also have more developments on this man, the American journalists waking up behind bars in Russia this morning. We're going to hear from one of the few people Trevor Reed, who knows what he's going through right now.

LEMON: I didn't see a lot of here, Kaitlan --




SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This is legal voodoo. You got a misdemeanor that's been made of felony. Nobody in the history of New York city has ever been prosecuted under this theory, except for Donald J. Trump.


HARLOW: There's one of them -- former President Trump's allies. I should say on Capitol Hill like Senator Lindsey Graham, he just saw there criticizing this historic and, yes, unprecedented indictment by a Manhattan grand jury sources, Trump has been reaching out to Republican leaders, key committee members to shore up support and tell them he plans to fight the charges.

Our Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with more.

So Lindsey Graham says it's a voodoo, voodoo case, and there's a whole lot more like that, that followed, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Poppy. I mean, it was really within minutes of this indictment that you started to see the rallying around former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, particularly in the House of Representatives, where he still has a stronghold over the Republican Party, including over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who promised in a tweet last night that Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan D.A. would be held to account. He did not say exactly what direction the House of Representatives is going to go to do that, but we've gotten some early clues.

We saw a letter just a couple of days ago before this indictment was even announced from Jim Jordans, as well as other powerful chairman like James Comer of the House Oversight Committee, warning that they wanted testimony from Alvin Bragg expect that that is going to intensify in the days and weeks ahead.

Lawmakers are on a two week recess right now, but there is a dramatic split screen that's playing out because while you have Republican leadership in the House, coming to Trump's defense. You have silence from some Republican leaders in the Senate, including from Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who has a fractured relationship with Donald Trump in the wake of the insurrection two years ago appear on Capitol Hill -- Poppy.

HARLOW: That's a really important point. Lauren Fox, thank you very much. We'll see what else comes today.

Sources do tell CNN that former president Trump faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud. More on what may be in that sealed indictment is ahead.

COLLINS: Plus our interview this morning with Trevor Reed. He is the marine veteran who is freed from Russian prison last year. He's going to talk about what it must be like the American journalist who has now been arrested.


TREVOR REED, U.S. MARINE CORPS VETERAN: The first few hours when you're wrongfully detained or extremely confusing. You're in a state of shock.