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Trump Attorney In Classified Documents Case Responds To New York Indictment; CDC Team Got Sick Studying Health Effects Of Toxic Train Crash; Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) On Trump Reaching Out To Capitol Hill Allies After Indictment. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired March 31, 2023 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to talk to one of his attorneys about this unprecedented indictment.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome back.
We are being told this morning that Trump's defense team is likely to attack the credibility of a major witness in the Manhattan district attorney's case, Michael Cohen. The former Trump lawyer was convicted of lying to Congress among other financial crimes. He says he has -- or he plead guilty to that we should note. He says he has proof this morning that he is telling the truth here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I am a convicted felon and I am a 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 a determination for an indictment.
Oh, by the way, for Donald, since we're talking about convicted felons, see you on Tuesday, Pal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Joining us now Jim Trusty. He is a current attorney for Trump in the Department of Justice probe into the 2020 election, as well as the investigation involving classified documents at Mar-a- Lago. Good morning, Jim, and thank you for being here.
You're not representing Trump --
JAMES TRUSTY, TRUMP ATTORNEY IN CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS CASE: Good morning. COLLINS: -- in this Manhattan case, we should make clear, but you are on his legal team. Obviously, you spend a lot of time with him.
Do you expect that he's actually going to surrender himself on Tuesday as we've been talking about?
TRUSTY: Yes, I don't have any inside info to share on that. I mean, we'll sort through it. We'll deal with the process. I think right now we're dealing with the enormity of the injustice and the shock of seeing people like Michael Cohen touted as credible witnesses. Maybe he'll have Avenatti (PH) as a character witness -- I don't know. But it's a really astounding bad moment in the history of this country.
COLLINS: Why do you say that?
TRUSTY: Well, because we've got a completely politicized prosecution. In your last segment you had folks that actually talked openly about CNN appearances by Alvin Bragg running for office saying I will target Donald Trump.
I mean, that is not something to gloss over lightly. That is an upside-down world of criminal justice where we don't follow evidence. We don't act judiciously as prosecutors. And I was a prosecutor for 27 years, OK, so I have some background on this.
You've got people that announced politically they're going to target an individual. That is not the rule of law. That is not what this country was built upon. And so, when you talk about Donald Trump being angry he should be. I mean, I'm amazed he's not more apoplectic but he is right to be angry at political persecution, which is what this case is.
COLLINS: Is he angry? Have you spoken to him since this indictment happened?
TRUSTY: No, I don't talk about that kind of stuff. Sorry, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: What's your sense of what happens between --
TRUSTY: I'm angry. How about that?
COLLINS: What's your sense of what happens between now and Tuesday?
TRUSTY: Well, look, I'll tell you the big picture is if you're representing him on the New York case you've got a lot of stuff to be focusing on, but one of them is going to be pretrial motions. I know Elie in the earlier segment talked about how that's a part of the process.
You know, you don't usually win on a pretrial motion saying hey, the government's got the worst witness imaginable, even if that happens to be true. You win on legal issues. And this case is all about -- it looks like from the outside right now -- mental gymnastics that don't add up. I mean, legal gymnastics. They're going to fall apart.
So I would think in very short order you'll see a motion to dismiss or several motions to dismiss, talking about this kind of impossible theory of stacking a federal crime into a state misdemeanor, the statute of limitations issues, and very importantly, the intent to defraud that's an element of these false recordkeeping charges. That's just not present here. Under even the most dreamy of Michael Cohen moments it's not part of the case.
So there's a lot to look at. I think there will be pretrial motions that will be hugely important and well-founded to dismiss this travesty.
COLLINS: Those motions to dismiss that you say you're expecting, will those come before the indictment is unsealed on Tuesday, or what is your expectation there?
TRUSTY: Hey -- well, I don't know about the exact timing. I think the practical problem is we don't even have a case number. Keep in mind with Donald Trump there are no rules so, once again, we have sealed proceedings that have been leaked publicly that we're all talking about. I mean, it's just kind of an amazing breakdown of due process and fair play. So we don't even have a case number at this moment but it'll be soon. I think this will be something you can expect in days or weeks, not weeks or months.
COLLINS: OK, so you say there will likely be a motion to dismiss this -- that's important.
You are representing Trump in the January 6 investigation, in the classified documents investigation. There are several investigations now facing him, including with this indictment.
How does the legal team manage all of these investigations at once?
TRUSTY: Well, we've got a good team. We've got a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds and experience. I will say the one common thread that I'm seeing as somebody who was associated with DOJ for 17 years and watching what's happening unfolding in New York is prosecutorial overreach. There's an ends justify the means mentality that is unlike anything I've ever seen in prosecutorial circles.
You've got people like Letitia James and now Alvin Bragg announcing we will get him. You've got an attorney general of the United States doing press conferences after a search warrant, which is completely unprecedented and unethical.
And so, what we do is we kind of shadow the investigations, figure out the actual facts, and find ways to litigate, often under seal, some of the issues that are just rolling through these over -- these heavy- handed investigations into the president.
COLLINS: You noted all the --
TRUSTY: But he's got plenty of resources to bear to fight back.
COLLINS: You noted all the attorneys who are on the team.
TRUSTY: It's really good.
COLLINS: How many -- how many exactly are there? How many attorneys are there representing Trump at this time?
TRUSTY: Oh, I don't -- I don't have an exact number for you -- sorry.
COLLINS: When the former -- when you talk about Alvin Bragg -- and Trump has continued to attack him. He faced criticism over the weekend after there was a link that he posted on Truth Social that had a photo of Trump holding a baseball bat next to a picture of Alvin Bragg.
Is it inappropriate for the -- for your client to post things like that attacking the district attorney, calling him an animal, calling him a racist?
TRUSTY: Well, as I understand it, the meme that got retweeted didn't actually have the image until it showed up on Truth Social, so he didn't actually know that there was this baseball bat image thing.
Look, it's unfortunate that happened and there's a lot of room for an emotional reaction from anybody. Any client I have would be angry at this point.
But the general concern that President Trump has, and I think it's a very genuine one, is that this is not even just about him. Yes, he's being targeted for political persecution but this is an attack on the fabric of our system -- on the whole presumption of innocence, due process, prosecutorial ethics. I mean, all of this is in play under that category of rule of law and I'm as frustrated as anyone to see this kind of change in a system that heretofore had been the best in the world.
COLLINS: You're representing Trump on the classified documents matter. Did he still know that there were documents still -- classified documents still at Mar-a-Lago after a subpoena came to return those documents?
TRUSTY: Yes, I'm not going to get into the facts of any investigation that's pending. What I can tell you is as a President of the United States --
COLLINS: You can't say whether or not he knew if there were still documents there?
TRUSTY: Well, Kaitlan, do you really expect that we're going to have that kind of conversation? I think you know better.
But the reality is the president has every right -- we entrust presidents under the Constitution to know state secrets. To be familiar with these things. To even hold onto documents and determine which ones they're going to hold onto and which ones they're going to give to the archives.
So criminalizing that process was absurd. That's nothing that's ever happened in history. You've got thousands of classified documents sitting in Chicago for the Obama Foundation. No similar treatment.
And that's really what President Trump is fighting about and that's what we're fighting about is the idea that somehow this whole criminal justice system can be turned on its head because of him. One person gets differential treatment across the board, whether it's criminalizing a civil dispute about documents, whether it's ignoring peaceful words on January 6, or threading together this ridiculous misdemeanor through the worst credible -- the least credible witnesses you can imagine in New York.
It's only him. He's the only one that gets that treatment and we're going to fight back hard.
COLLINS: Well, I think it's a fair question to ask given the Justice Department wanted those documents back and we've seen the fight that played out.
But, Jim Trusty, representing President Trump right now, thank you for joining us this morning. Thank you for your time to talk about these investigations facing Trump.
TRUSTY: Sure. Thanks, Kaitlan.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan, it's good to hear from the Trump side there and to -- and remind the viewers there is more than just one case as it relates to Donald Trump that is pending and that is going on.
So, also this is just in. The DOJ announcing a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern following the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. We also have new CNN reporting on how some CDC investigators got sick near the crash site.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, new this morning, CNN has learned that seven CDC investigators who were studying the health impacts of the East Palestine, Ohio toxic train derailment got sick themselves. This happened in early March. They were doing those house-to-house surveys in the contaminated area where hazardous chemicals were released into the air, the water, and the soil.
Also, it was just announced moments ago the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern.
Our Jason Carroll is on top of both of these. We'll get to DOJ in a minute --
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
HARLOW: -- but these seven investigators -- that comes as a huge concern to the people who live there.
CARROLL: Very much, and it confirms what a lot of people there on the ground were already feeling. I mean, and this latest information came to light just after a member of CNN's health team saw a post on social media and checked with a government source about what exactly had happened.
According to the CDC, seven government investigators fell ill in early March. They were part of a 15-member team that was sent there to conduct what is called an assessment of chemical exposure, or an ACE investigation. They went door-to-door in an area near the derailment.
Apparently, seven members of the team said they started feeling sick. Their symptoms included sore throats, headaches, coughing, nausea. These are some of the same symptoms that both residents, first responders, and rail workers had also complained about.
When CNN asked the CDC about the investigators a spokesperson said the following. Quote, "Symptoms resolved for most team members later the same afternoon, and everyone resumed work on survey data collection within 24 hours. Impacted team members have not reported ongoing health effects."
It's unclear what caused their symptoms. The eight other team members did not report any symptoms. The EPA has repeatedly said, as you guys know, that all of the air and the water there is safe.
But what is unclear at this point is in the spirit of transparency -- and, you know, in the very beginning of this government officials said over and over we want to be transparent about what we're finding and what we're doing here. So in the spirit of transparency, the question is why wasn't this information revealed --
HARLOW: Why did they -- yes.
CARROLL: -- when it happened?
HARLOW: Why did people who live there have to look on the website and then ask about it?
HARLOW: Before you go, though, what is this DOJ lawsuit against the train company about?
CARROLL: Well, this is another lawsuit. As you know, the state of Ohio also filed a lawsuit there as well. The suit says -- basically, it says that Norfolk Southern violated numerous, quote, "state, federal, and Ohio common laws, and violated the state's comprehensive environmental response, and the Compensation and Liability Act."
So what does that mean? Basically, what they're alleging here is that Norfolk Southern cut costs in terms of rail safety in order to make profits. And as a result, you've got what we're seeing here.
HARLOW: And this is a federal brought by DOJ --
CARROLL: Federal brought by DOJ --
HARLOW: -- and not just a state case.
CARROLL: -- on behalf of the EPA.
HARLOW: Yes, wow.
Jason, thank you very much.
CARROLL: You bet.
LEMON: Thank you, Jason.
Michael Cohen telling CNN that the Trump indictment is just the beginning. Just ahead we're going to talk to Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, who was with him for every visit to the Manhattan district attorney.
COLLINS: Former President Trump calling on Republicans on Capitol Hill to back him after his historic indictment came down yesterday. A source telling CNN that Trump is calling some of his allies and telling them about his plans to fight the charges.
Joining us now is a Republican on Capitol Hill, Congressman Brian Mast of Florida, who served as the co-chair of Trump's 2020 reelection campaign in the state. Good morning, Congressman, and thank you for joining us from Florida this morning.
What's your reaction to this indictment making Trump the first president to ever face criminal charges?
REP. BRIAN MAST (R-FL) (via Skype): Yes. I react to this not just as a representative but as a constituent -- as a supporter of the president, and a lot of emotions going through me about this. I look at this and I feel like it's not a system of justice is blind.
You do have a D.A. -- and this has been brought up before -- that said hey, I know the president better than anybody, I know his businesses, implying that he was the guy to go after the president.
And I've felt this way from the very beginning that the left has had a wanted poster up for the president that's basically said wanted dead or alive. And I continue to feel that way right up to this very moment.
COLLINS: Alvin Bragg has pushed back on letters coming from Republican chairmen on Capitol Hill saying that they are just following the law and the facts here. I mean, if they do -- we haven't even seen the indictment yet, so if we do see the indictment once it's unsealed and there are these charges, what if there's evidence here to back up what they're alleging that Trump has done? MAST: Well, so I don't think they're following the law. I think you're taking an individual that, again, has been perfectly willing and bragged about the fact that he's willing to put Trump beneath the law. Not saying that justice is blind but be willing to go out there and say hey, we're looking for an individual that was a former president, about six-foot-four, blonde hair, lives in Palm Beach, Florida. Anything that we can do to get that guy that's what we'll do. That's the situation that's playing out.
COLLINS: Do you trust that this will play out fairly in the courts, though? I mean, if this does go to trial there will be a --
MAST: Absolutely not.
COLLINS: Even if there is a jury you don't trust that?
MAST: I have zero trust. I personally -- I'm speaking for myself right now. I have zero trust that this will play out fairly.
I look at all of the instances that -- again, I know people have brought this up before. But you look at the Russia hoax. You look at the Mueller investigation. You look at impeachment one, impeachment two, the raiding of Mar-a-Lago.
This list goes on and on of them trying to say oh, the shoe's about to drop. The shoe's about to drop. They are constantly dragging the president through the mud. The shoe doesn't drop but they still drag him through the mud.
COLLINS: It's interesting to see -- to hear you say you don't think -- you don't trust that it will play out because if it does go to trial there will be a jury there. You don't trust that the jury will make a fair assessment of this?
MAST: I don't have a trust that a jury will make a fair assessment of this, personally -- again, looking at what's happened with the president from the very beginning. So, no, I don't have that trust.
COLLINS: I want to ask you about something your governor said. Ron DeSantis, yesterday, saying that if there is a situation where Trump does not surrender himself on Tuesday that he will not grant an extradition request to take Trump from Florida to New York.
Do you agree with that statement from Gov. DeSantis?
MAST: I would say well done, Gov. DeSantis.
This is a battleground issue for so many individuals and especially people in Florida, which is the president's home, saying you're not going to continue this witch hunt -- this target of an individual just because you don't like the way that they fought for freedom from the very beginning. That's how I feel about this situation. And so I'm proud of the governor for saying that's not something they're going to participate in.
COLLINS: But Congressman, you know this. I mean, Gov. DeSantis knows this. He went to Harvard Law School. It's in the Constitution that if you are charged that must happen.
MAST: So I think the governor is dealing with an important battleground issue for the state of Florida and for one of his constituents here in the state of Florida that, again, justice is not treating President Trump blindly. They're treating President Trump as somebody -- and I'll say it again -- wanted dead or alive, and the governor's not going to play into that.
COLLINS: OK. I'll just note that it is in the Constitution.
The political aspect of this is something that people have been talking about how this impacts the 2024 race. Do you think this indictment benefits Trump politically?
MAST: I couldn't say, honestly. I don't know whether this is a game by the Democrats to say they want to codify his base around him, which they are doing, because they want to see him as the candidate and they think that that's a benefit against Joe Biden, or because they don't want him as the candidate against Joe Biden. I actually don't know which one the left is playing out right now but they are absolutely codifying the president's base. There's no doubt about that.
COLLINS: Well, we'll wait to see how it plays out politically.
Congressman Brian Mast, thank you for your time this morning.
MAST: All the best.
HARLOW: A fascinating interview --
LEMON: It is.
HARLOW: -- that he doesn't even believe, should this go all the way to trial -- and a trial by a jury of your -- a jury of your peers, that it would be a fair reckoning.
LEMON: Well, let's play this -- let's play this out because listen, I think the congressman said that he thinks it is a political witch hunt by the Democrats -- or that there are Democrats who are out there to get the former president. OK, let's just allow him that. I'm not saying that is true.
But it's not binary. There can be Democrats and people who are out there to get the president, but there can also be legitimacy to this investigation as well. It's not one or the other. It can be both.
And we don't even know what's in the indictment.
HARLOW: Let's wait -- yes, let's wait -- step by step.
LEMON: Let's wait and see.
HARLOW: OK, we have a lot ahead.
LEMON: CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.