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Trump Indicted by New York Grand Jury. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired March 31, 2023 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. A busy day ahead. It was a busy night and you are waking up to history.
America waking up to the historic news that President Donald J. Trump has been indicted. He is the very first president. We've never seen this before in history. So here's the latest on this Friday, March 31, 2023.
Sources tell CNN Trump faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud. This case prosecuted by the Manhattan district attorney centers around the accounting of hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: As of now, this is how it's supposed to go down, because multiple sources say Trump will turn himself in next Tuesday. He is expected to appear in court for his arraignment in New York.
The NYPD getting ready for any sign of trouble. All officers are being told to report to work in uniform people prepared for deployment today.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Republicans in the House Senate and even some 2024 rivals are rushing to Trump's defense, calling the case political, an outrage, and even one of them saying, quote, "It's legal voodoo."
The White House un- -- or expectedly, is not commenting as of this morning. Reporters will have a chance to ask President Biden about it as he leaves from Mississippi shortly.
CNN THIS MORNING's special coverage continues right now.
This morning as you were waking up, the United States is entering uncharted territory. Donald Trump has now become the first ex- [resident in the history of the U.S. to face criminal charges. Not only that, he is running for reelection right now, as he is preparing to turn himself in and be arraigned here in New York on Tuesday.
CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, is here with us now.
Paul, obviously, the biggest part of this is that we don't actually know what the charges are here. It is still under seal. But we could learn what it is very soon. What are the other details? What are we expecting next?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What's so surprising is even the former president's legal team doesn't know what he has been charged with, but that is standard for this district attorney's office.
And I am told there is this desire to try to treat the former president the same way they would treat any other defendant.
So we're told even just moments ago, I was speaking with one of his lawyers. He is still expected to appear on Tuesday, and they are going to put him through a process that anyone else would go through. Appearing before a judge, being fingerprinted, photographed.
But look, even if they want to treat him like anyone else, this case is like nothing we've seen before.
COLLINS: Yes, it's like nothing we've seen before.
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, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He's ready to fight. You know, he's the toughest guy I know. And he -- he was shocked, you know, because we really were. I was shocked.
Today, the rule of law in the United States of America died.
REID (voice-over): 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 ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: 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 (voice-over): 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 (voice-over): 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
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 un-American," and Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, telling CNN --
MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage.
COLLINS: Paula, you're getting new reporting about when the Manhattan district attorney actually wanted Trump to turn himself in. What are we learning?
REID: So I'm just learning from one of the former president's attorneys that the Manhattan district attorney wanted Trump to turn himself in today, which would have been a really tight turnaround.
But because, of course, all the security concerns and preparations that was not possible, so he is still expected to appear next Tuesday.
One of the biggest outstanding questions here that I don't think has been answered is why now? This is conduct that occurred seven years ago. This has been under investigation for five years. And in recent months, we've suddenly seen this case heat up. And it's unclear why.
So that is something that the Manhattan district attorney is going to have to help people understand as he begins to talk about this publicly.
REID: Which, as we understand, will be during the arrangement.
HARLOW: That likely wouldn't be included when this indictment is unsealed, because generally, unless it's a speaking indictment, right, it's going to be very bare bones, listing those 30-plus charges.
REID: Yes, we expect at that time, that's when the district attorney will start speaking about this. It's probably not about everything, but at some point he's going to have to answer questions.
And this is the big question, because in the court of public opinion, the former president his allies are seizing on this as politically motivated, but it could be that there's new evidence or some other reason that caused this to all come to a head now.
LEMON: It is an arraignment where the D.A. will ask for the indictment to be unsealed, and then we'll find out what's in there, once he is granted that.
But beginning in a clip, it's 5 a.m. early, right? We were all here late last night. You said he's going to be treated. They're trying to treat him just like anyone else, except they'll probably expedite his arraignment when he sees a judge. He probably won't be in a lock-up.
And I said no fingerprinting earlier. Definitely fingerprinting. But possibly no mug shot, as well, but we still --
REID: We don't know it's unprecedented, and they couldn't start the negotiations until there was a possible indictment. And I was told, Look, they don't have all the details nailed down. If there was an indictment, they would begin the negotiation process. And that, we learned, started last night.
COLLINS: Thanks, Paula Reid.
LEMON: Great reporting. Thank you, Paula. Appreciate that.
So we're going to move on and talk about where the former president is now. It is believed he is at Mar-a-Lago, and there's a live look at Mar-a-Lago now.
The former president overnight blasting the indictment, calling it a political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.
Despite his defiance, though, sources are telling CNN that Trump is expected to turn himself in, in just days from now, on Tuesday. As you just heard the reporting from Paula, they wanted him to turn himself in, according to her sources to today, that did not happen.
So let's check in now with Kristen Holmes. Kristen, how exactly is this expected to go down? Good morning, by the way.
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Don.
Well, that's the big question. I'm told by a source that that's exactly what his team is working on.
Now this is going to be a huge security undertaking. It is going to involve cooperation and coordination between the Secret Service, as well as law enforcement officials in New York, which is why it's really stunning that they were trying to have such a quick turnaround, knowing the security concerns.
Now, while those entities will be working on security in terms of law enforcement, we know that Trump's team will be looking at the optics As we know, former President Trump cares about the optics.
I've talked to a number of sources who say they're trying to figure out exactly what this looks like from a media standpoint. Where will the cameras be? Where will Trump be walking? Is he able to give a statement? Should he give a statement? Is it safe to stand out there and give a statement?
Now, I am told by a number of sources who have spoke to Trump in the last 24 hours that his demeanor has been relatively controlled. That he went to dinner with Melania in front of guests and greeted them at Mar-a-Lago last night; that he met with advisers.
And as we reported last night, several members of Trump's team and the former president himself did feel blindsided by the timing of this indictment.
They had spent weeks on edge getting ready for this, but they'd seen the media reports saying that the grand jury was likely not to hear Trump's case before they went on hiatus, so they thought they had some time.
And in fact, some advisers actually believe that perhaps D.A. Bragg was considering not bringing charges, but obviously, that wasn't the case.
So what you're expected to see now is surrogates rolling out. The Trump team tells me they're putting out people on the airwaves doing podcasts, social media blasting out this message in support of the former president, defending him.
And they are certainly keeping track of who is defending the former president at this time, Don.
LEMON: All right. In Washington, Kristen Holmes. Kristen, thank you so much.
HARLOW: Also this. Kaitlan, you've got some new reporting on what some in the president's inner circle, their camp actually thought, right, thinking that maybe this wasn't going to happen just before the indictment came. Is that right?
COLLINS: Yes, they were a little bit surprised. It's weird, because they're surprised or they're not surprised. Because they've been bracing for this. Obviously. Trump had that post last week, saying he was going to be arrested on Tuesday. That didn't ultimately happen.
And we're told that people in Trump's -- in his camp were caught off- guard because his legal team and others have kind of been speculating over the last several days about what the Manhattan district attorney was doing: wondering, was this case falling apart, why had they not heard anything.
Sources said that Trump's legal team had been kind of arguing amongst themselves, that if the D.A. is trying to prove Trump committed this crime of falsifying business records, that he was potentially missing a key element when it came to the intent to defraud. They were talking about that.
They also questioned the timing. A lot of the political aspect of this political allies of Trump's were asking what's taking so long.
Trump had that rally in Waco, Texas, over the weekend when he told reporters on his plane on the way, quote, this of the Manhattan district attorney's office: "I think they've already dropped the case. It's a fake case. Some fake cases, they have absolutely nothing."
Obviously, that did not happen. Trump has now been indicted.
When news of the indictment came down yesterday, the former president was at Mar-a-Lago. They had been prepping these political attacks on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. They were caught off-guard when it actually came out.
They saw it in news reports before it actually had been confirmed to them by the D.A.'s office.
But even as Trump and his legal team had been speculating that the case may not go forward, may not have a ton of merits, they still have been bracing for an indictment. We should know they have not actually seen the indictment yet, either. It is still under seal. They're kind of basically as in the dark as the rest of us at this point.
Of course, we are in these uncharted waters, with a former president of the United States now being indicted. This has never happened before.
So to help us put all of this in context, I want to turn now to Elie Honig, who is the CNN senior legal analyst and the former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
You know a thing or two about how all of this is going down behind closed doors. but the historic nature of this can't be understated.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We are living history. This is the kind of thing they will be teaching in law schools decades from now.
So let's start with the facts here, because any a good legal analysis, you have to start with the facts.
This all circulates around two hush-money payments that were made by Donald Trump, or people around him to two women who alleged that they had had affairs with Donald Trump. Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 Karen McDougal was paid $150,000.
Now it's important to note these actual alleged affairs happened years before: 2006 for Stormy Daniels, 2006 to 2007 for Karen McDougal. And nearly a decade later, we all remember that moment in June of 2015 when Donald Trump came down that elevator and announced his presidential bid.
Now really important meeting happens two months after that, August 2015. Donald Trump meets with Michael Cohen, who will be important witness in this case, and David Pecker, who also has testified in the grand jury.
Now, David Pecker is in charge of AMI, the company that publishes "The National Enquirer," and they talk about how they need to catch and kill these damaging stories; pay for these stories and then not run them.
And then a couple months after that, Karen McDougal's story is paid for by AMI, by "The Enquirer," by Pecker. It is caught and killed. They pay for it. They do not run it.
Then we all remember that moment about a month before the election when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, Donald Trump caught on tape making inflammatory comments.
And then just days after that, they work out a catch and kill arrangement with Stormy Daniels. The way this one works is Michael Cohen pays Stormy Daniels $130,000. And then he gets reimbursed by a series of checks that get paid by Donald Trump and the Trump Organization over about a year after the election.
So that's the way these payments were all set up, and that's what leads us to the case here now.
LEMON: Elie, let's talk about Michael Cohen, right? He is the star witness, it is believed at this point. We don't know. It is still sealed. Right? So we don't know exactly what the charges are. We don't know what's in the indictment.
I asked him about last night. People are saying, you know, this is the weaker case. Not sure why they're indicting him on this. This is a misdemeanor. They said that was raised to the level of a --
LEMON: Felony. It's early, it's early.
So I want to hear what he has to say, and then get your response. So here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: This notion of oh, this is a weaker case than the January 6th. I acknowledge that. January 6th was an insurrection, but it doesn't make this any less of a crime.
You know, I always called 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?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you say to that?
HONIG: So I think Michael Cohen's right. This is the least serious of the cases. But that doesn't mean it's an unserious case.
Important to keep in mind, Michael Cohen was prosecuted federally by the Southern District of New York. That's a different office. We're talking now this indictment of Donald Trump is by the state prosecutors across the street.
But back in 2018, Michael Cohen was prosecuted federally. He ended up pleading guilty to campaign finance crimes relating to these very same payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
Michael Cohen also pled guilty to unrelated perjury, tax fraud and financial fraud.
And really important moment, the Justice Department, the Southern District of New York, when it came time for Michael Cohen's sentencing, here's what they said in their letter to the judge: "In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted with respect to both payments to Daniels and McDougall, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual One."
Of course, we know Individual One is Donald Trump. So one of the arguments that you're hearing is Michael Cohen went to prison, in part, for this. Shouldn't Donald Trump, as well?
LEMON: That was my question. If he faced consequences, why shouldn't Trump?
HONIG: Yes, I mean, there are some fine distinctions here, let's remember, because Michael Cohen was prosecuted federally. Donald Trump, we're now looking at a state prosecution. We could have some different laws with important differences.
Let me walk you through what some of those state laws could be here. Donald Trump, first of all, we don't know. We've not seen this indictment. But if they are based on these hush-money payments, important to understand? Hush-money payments are not criminal themselves.
The potential state misdemeanor here is for falsification of business records. Were these payments falsely logged as legal fees? Now that's a misdemeanor. That's a low-level offense.
However, if prosecutors can tie the falsification of business records to some other crime, then it becomes a felony, a much more serious offense maximum of four years, although the sentence could still be nothing. So what could that other crime be? One of the theories is that it could be related to campaign finance violations.
A little bit of a legal question about whether state prosecutors can charge something relating to a federal election, the election for president.
We have not seen that indictment. What we do know, thanks to our outstanding reporting team, is that there are over 30 charges in that indictment. We haven't seen them yet.
We are all waiting to see that when -- when the arraignment -- when the indictment gets unsealed at the arraignment on Tuesday.
HARLOW: Elie, let's talk about what happens now. So Tuesday, Trump's supposed to come appear in court, like any other defendant, but he's unlike any other defendant. Let's be clear.
OK, what if he doesn't come. Because he's in Florida and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, tweeted out last night Florida will not assist in any extradition.
So we could also be in another set of uncharted territory, which is what do you do if a governor of a state won't extradite you to another state where you're wanted in court?
HONIG: There's two ways this could play out. Either Donald Trump shows up on his own, and then we'll go through this court process. If there's some resistance here by Ron DeSantis, that will be political theater.
Ultimately, the law is clear. It's in the Constitution. There's a federal law. There's cases on this that say a governor cannot ultimately block extradition of a person from one state to another. When he appears -- when Donald Trump appears in court, as our reporting is on Tuesday, he may be fingerprinted. There may be a mug shot. The indictment will be unsealed, so we'll see it.
The charges will be read. He'll enter his plea, which will be not guilty. And then the judge will let him out on bail. What we call released on his own recognizance, meaning go home. Come back next time we need you.
COLLINS: Elie Honig.
COLLINS: A lot of slides that you'll be breaking down over the coming days.
HONIG: I'll be back.
COLLINS: Thank you so much.
LEMON: So Republicans are rushing to defend the former president this morning. It's interesting, who, right, and their relationship to the former president. What Kevin McCarthy and some of Trump's 2024 rivals are saying.
HARLOW: And as we continue to cover this indictment of former President Trump. We'll speak with lawyers for both Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. Republican Congressman Brian Mast also joins us and Democratic lawmaker Daniel Goldman, who was the lead counsel on Trump's first impeachment trial.
Also Mike Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short, is here, so there's a lot to unpack.
LEMON: OK, we are back now, with our news on the former President, Donald Trump, blasting the case on his social media platform last night and fundraising off of the indictment.
He was also calling key congressional allies to shore up support. For the most part, House Republicans circled the wagons, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, calling it an unprecedented abuse of power. His No. 2, Congressman Steve Scalise, called it weaponizing government.
Jim Jordan, Republican conference chair, Elise Stefanik blasting it, as well. And his former vice president and potential 2024 rival, Mike Pence, calling it an outrage and saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: No one is above the law, including former presidents. Let me be clear on that point. And -- and the American people know this. But in this case and a controversy over campaign finance, I can't speak to the merits of this case at all.
But I can speak to the issue emanating out of the question over campaign finance. Should never have risen to the level to bring an unprecedented and historic prosecution against the former president.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So if Trump had been treated --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All right. There was an interview last night with Wolf Blitzer.
So CNN political commentator and political anchor for "Spectrum News, Errol Louis, joins us now.
Errol, thank you very much.
So you see the -- the folks there? Kevin McCarthy. These are, you know, top-tier Republicans, the former vice president there. Obviously, they have ulterior motives. Some of them have presidential aspirations and what have you.
But is this really good for Trump? Is this unifying the entire party? I'm not so sure about that.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, there's no way. There's no way. This is not good for Donald Trump. Donald Trump is in a lot of legal trouble. He's in legal hot water that is very real.
And people should keep in mind -- I don't know why folks are rushing to his defense without, you know, at least recalling that the Trump Organization, two companies within it, were found guilty of extensive tax fraud. They should remember that his organization is facing up to $250 million in additional civil charges from the New York state attorney general.
This is serious stuff. It goes back a long, long time. And ultimately, although there are a lot of titillating details that are out there involving porn stars and so forth, this is a business fraud case. And this is an organization led by a man -- they've already been found guilty of criminal conduct in the operations of the business.
So it is not a far step to imagine that it's going to go just a little bit further, and all of the Republicans who are rushing to defend him without having seen the indictment are risking looking very, very foolish at the end of this.
HARLOW: One thing that's interesting, and I think it's an important nuance for us to point out. Our Jeff Zeleny was reporting it last night -- is that a lot of these Republican defenses are not necessarily defenses of Trump. They are against the indictment and the charge.
And Jeff's reporting was you can be Republican and be, you know, in Congress would be against the charge but also against Trump, right? It's not in a lot of these statements it's on. In the DeSantis tweet, Trump's name doesn't even come up. What do you make of that?
LOUIS: Well, look, they're trying to thread a needle that, in my opinion, cannot be threaded. I mean, the idea that somehow it's not serious in this case, where again, allegations of extensive business fraud are what we are very likely to see in this indictment; to say that, oh, that's no big deal when Michael Cohen, among others, have actually, you know, served time for this.
HARLOW: I think they're not saying it's no big deal. They're saying for this to be the basis of the first time ever in American history to indict a former president.
LOUIS: Well, I mean, you know, I --
LEMON: I was the first.
LOUIS: I wouldn't. Well, there had -- right. Somebody had to be first, right. You also, I think, would have to ask them. When have we ever had a president or an ex-president, whose company was convicted of criminal tax fraud going back 15 years.
When have we ever had an ex-president who pleaded the fifth 400 times in connection with that -- with these allegations of extensive criminal fraud? COLLINS: I'm really glad you said that, because I think there's so
much unknown here. And you know, we can speculate until the end of the day until Tuesday, as we will. We still have to wait to see what happens.
But the nature of this. Peter Baker writes this on the front page of "The New York Times" today, and it's so accurate. He says, "So many unthinkable firsts have occurred since Donald J. Trump was elected to the White House in 2016. So many invaluable lines crossed. So many unimaginable events have shocked the world. It's easy to lose sight of just how astonishing this particular moment really is."
LOUIS: Yes. No, that really is true. I mean, and going back -- and I've sat here. We've talked about this over the years. I mean, you know, the first unprecedented thing was to have a nominee, a major party nominee for president, who had never served in government, who had never been elected to any other office, who had never served in the military, you know?
And so we've -- we've been, you know, venturing into new ground, and that's OK. Americans made a decision. We made a decision in 2016 to go in an unprecedented direction.
COLLINS: Also, Americans voted for Trump knowing about the Stormy Daniels hush-money payments.
LOUIS: Kind of yes, kind of no. There were so much turmoil. And I mean, a lot of the political fallout from this expected indictment is really going to turn on that. Because you know this.
You know, this all happened on -- what was it -- October 28. It was in the closing hours, practically, of the campaign. And it's not clear whether or not that little additional piece of information, after the "Access Hollywood" scandal, would have made much of a difference.
But certainly, people within the Trump campaign, close to the ex- president, thought it was important enough to hurry up and get the hush-money paid and get the thing signed and make sure that nobody would talk about it.
So, you know, in a very close election, perhaps it made a difference. Perhaps it didn't. We'll never -- we'll never know.
What we know for sure, though, is that, you know, people are going to have to make a decision. Does this matter? Does it not matter? Does criminal business fraud make a difference or not? Are we going to take one more step and say we're going to re-elect someone who's been found guilty, has been impeached twice; found -- run an organization that was found guilty of criminal tax fraud; has been criminally indicted personally? Are we going to take that new step into the unknown?
It's -- that's a very different question from, you know, sort of trying to smear Alvin Bragg, trying to smear the rule of law, trying to downplay the idea that, you know, criminal business fraud is no big deal.
I think for a lot of people, it is kind of a big deal.
LEMON: You bring up a very good point. Remember we talked about this before. We were on the plane when everybody came back and talked about Michael Cohen. I think.
COLLINS: It was Katherine Lucy from the Associated Press.
LEMON: That was the seminal moment in this. And this was after the election, if I'm correct where he comes back on the plane, and he goes, he talked to Michael Cohen. Everyone's like, oh, my gosh. He's admitting that something happened.
So you're right. They did vote for him knowing, but not all the facts.
LOUIS: Yes. I love that clip. I remember I was -- I was doing some commentary. In fact, with some of you folks here here on CNN when that happened.
And I remember, you know, putting aside all of the analysis and all of the learning and all the stuff that we know. And I said, look, just look at that man. He's not telling the truth. You know he's standing there in the doorway.
COLLINS: He didn't know about the payments. You'd have to ask Michael Cohen. Of course, we've seen how that saga --
LOUIS: Look at his body language.
LOUIS: He wasn't telling the truth. Everybody knew that.
HARLOW: Errol Louis, thank you so much.
COLLINS: Thanks, Errol.
HARLOW: We will continue, obviously, to follow this historic indictment of former President Trump.
But first, newly-released audio reveals some of the chilling 911 calls from the elementary school shooting in Nashville.