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Erin Burnett Outfront
Soon: GOP Frontrunner Trump Takes Questions Amid Legal Woes; Soon: GOP Frontrunner Trump Takes Questions Amid Legal Woes; McCarthy To CNN: "I'm Not Going To Support" Santos For Re-Election. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 10, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT. I'm Erin Burnett in New York tonight, along with my friend Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Former President Donald Trump is set to arrive just moments from now at his first town hall of the 2024 election in New Hampshire to answer voters' questions. The former president looking to broaden his base as he attempts to win back the White House. He's leading all the other declared and non-declared Republican primary contenders by a wide margin in what are extremely early polls.
But it comes at a time when Trump is facing mounting legal troubles, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's absolutely right, Erin. This town hall comes just one day after a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation forcing him to pay some $5 million to the writer E. Jean Carroll.
And just one month ago, the former president was indicted by the Manhattan district attorney. The stakes are very high tonight for the former president of the United States.
Let's go right to CNN's Kristen Holmes who's at the site of the town hall for us in New Hampshire.
Kristen, how are Donald Trump and his allies feeling heading into this critically important night?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is critically important, and they know that. The plane landed here in New Hampshire just moments ago. Trump and a small group of advisers are on their way here to the town hall. And the advisers I've spoken to say he's as prepped as he's going to be.
We obviously have to keep in mind that Trump is not your traditional candidate. There weren't an extensive amount of preparation that went into this last-minute cram session. However, his advisers are urging him two things. One is to stay on message, talk about policy, the economy, immigration. And, two is to stay measured. As we know, Trump can act viscerally to things when he doesn't like
them. They are expecting tough questions, not only from CNN but also from members of the audience. They are taking Trump out of his comfort zone, out of that conservative media bubble that we've really seen him in for the last five years. And they believe that they have to do this if they are going to win, if Trump is going to win.
And we're watching closely here tonight, it's not just how Trump responds but also how this audience responds. These are Republican voters. We want to see what it is that they want to know from the former president and how they interact with what he is saying. Do they care about these legal battles? Or, like so many Republicans, particularly in Washington, do they tend to ignore that and focus on other aspects of Trump?
So, that is one thing that we are watching very closely. The other, of course, will be Trump's reaction himself. Not just the words he says, but also how he physically reacts to the questions. Can he stay calm, can he stay on message?
His advisers are certainly hoping so. They believe this is a risk that they are taking, but one that will pay off.
BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting for us from the scene of the town hall, thank you very much, Kristen.
Erin, back to you.
BURNETT: All right. And let's bring in our panel now. Republican strategist and pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson joins me, along with Karen Finney. Back with me, Ambassador Scott Brown. Back with me as well, and also here tonight, former deputy press secretary in the Trump White House, Hogan Gidley.
And, Hogan, good to see your face again.
So, Ambassador, let me start with you, though. We're extremely early. So it's hard to use the word frontrunner because you have people who haven't even declared. But nonetheless, the polls -- the current polls show Trump far ahead of others.
This town hall is part of what seems to be a new strategy to try to broaden himself out beyond his stalwart, but not big enough to win a general election base. Liable for sexual abuse and defamation, that's the latest yesterday, and possibly more could be coming.
So, does this change anything in the race for a nomination?
SCOTT BROWN (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: First of all, I think it's important that CNN's doing this. I think it makes him step outside his comfort zone. It gives -- I'm glad he didn't succumb to some of the outside pressure.
That being said, the allegations and the outcome from yesterday are serious. Not anything any person, including the president, wants to have hanging around, especially with the incredibly poll numbers, 36 percent, obviously with President Biden, 58 percent don't want him to run again, 32 percent questioned his mental acuity.
So there are very serious problems with the president now, the sitting president, and, quite frankly, a lot of these distractions that you're seeing really open up the door for the Democrats to potentially win again.
BURNETT: All right. So, you know, Hogan, you worked on Trump's last campaign.
Do you think -- how worried do you think he is about this latest legal issue, right? I mean, a jury reached a verdict, right, and that verdict was liable for sexual abuse and defamation.
HOGAN GIDLEY, FORMER DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR TRUMP: How worried is he? Not at all. I mean, let's be honest, this is obviously politically motivated. We know you're not really getting a fair trial in the state of New York where you can stack the jury with Democrats, and, of course, there's going to be an appeal process.
BURNETT: Okay, Hogan --
GIDLEY: Let's not forget also --
BURNETT: Hogan, just to be clear here. It's a jury. No, no, to come out and call a jury politically motivated and stacked with Democrats is not fair.
GIDLEY: Well, you -- you tell me the makeup of the state of New York and their electorate. They are mostly Democrat and while measure (ph) voting over, what, 80, 90 percent for Joe Biden. So let's not pretend we've got half Republican and half Democrat on the jury.
But not withstanding, let's not forget the last time Donald Trump got above 51 percent, do you remember when that was in popularity? It was when the Mar-a-Lago raid happened. The American people don't like it when a government or a judicial system is weaponized against a citizen, regardless of how they feel about the particular citizen, and this is another example of that, and I think as of right now, it's not going to hurt him.
Now, what that does in the future, how the Democrats use it, how other candidates use it in a primary, that remains to be seen. But right now, it's rallying the base around Donald Trump and saying this is a man who is vilified for years in the White House, all the things turned out not to be true, and this could just be another log on that fire, another witch hunt, another attack on a man, we did not do anything wrong.
BURNETT: Well, you'll certainly how vote -- we'll see how voters see it, Ambassador.
BROWN: First of all, Braggs' swing and miss I think emboldened base. But what happened yesterday, to have someone come forth, a woman and spend two days on the hot seat and be grilled and then to belittle the jury's decision, respectfully, I have to disagree.
I'm an attorney since 1985. And, as I said, I think it's going to matter, and I think ultimately the voters will decide, they'll weigh and measure everything and make that decision. But to just say outright --
GIDLEY: And I would imagine, Scott --
BROWN: No, listen. No disrespect.
GIDLEY: It's not disrespect.
BROWN: You're wrong about yesterday.
GIDLEY: Scott, that's fine. We'll let the voters decide. But let's be honest, don't pretend like you've never had a jury that you weren't fond of in all your times in court, okay?
GIDLEY: I mean, understand the fact, it sounds like she didn't remember the time or the place. She couldn't remember the year. So, when this all goes to appeal, we'll figure out how it goes down. Everything will shake out the way it's going to shake out. The voters will make their decision.
But the fact is Donald Trump has a record to run on. That's what we're going to be talking about tonight on this panel. That's what he's going to be talking about in front of this town hall, and a majority of the American people don't care about that kind of stuff. They care about a secure southern border, which it's not.
BURNETT: OK. So --
GIDLEY: They care about a good economy, which it isn't. And Donald Trump has prescriptions that can solve all the things that ail us right now, and I think he's going to outline them beautifully this evening.
BURNETT: OK. Kristen, let me just ask you is if he does which is what Hogan's doing, which is make those points after he says it's a stacked jury full of Democrats, and it's all B.S., is that going to work with voters?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: I think that Republican voters, when they feel like Donald Trump is under siege, do feel an instinct to defend him. It's something that I see in focus groups, conversations with Republicans. When it's inside the family, they'll say his mouth gets him into trouble. The stuff with the women, come on. You know, they'll say that.
But when it feels like it's coming from the outside, they feel like they have to defend him. It's almost like an antibody response.
So, what I'm going to be curious about tonight and as we move forward is how do Republicans react when Donald Trump, you know, says the sorts of things he's prone to say that get him into trouble. Do they say his legal troubles make him risky, his legal troubles make him risky, him letting his mouth get the best of him. And we can't risk another four years of Joe Biden, or do they say, hey, I'm standing with this guy because the world is coming after him.
BURNETT: All right. The one thing I will say, though, is that everything Kristen says may be completely true. But to win a general election, you have to win more than just the base of the GOP, right? You've got to win some people in the middle, right? And those are the people that right now are looking at what happened yesterday, looking at what the DOJ might do, looking at Trump tonight, looking at these next things.
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And those talking points from Hogan, that will not fly in a general election, that will not fly with a majority of American women who are now terrified about losing their reproductive rights. Remember, when we talk about the record of Donald Trump, he's the one who appointed the judges that overturned Roe v. Wade. That's a fair question.
So there are plenty of questions both around the indictment and how you feel about that. I think a lot of women never thought it was locker room talk, kind of went with it in 2016. But many of those same voters that Kristen is talking about in 2020, they didn't vote for him because of some of these things.
And, again, given that we now have additional indictments that we know are coming, he does have a record, Hogan is very proud of, I think many would say is problematic.
He's going to be facing some tough questions.
BURNETT: And, Scott, quickly, I know you're going to be hosting obviously your backyard barbecues, all the candidates coming through.
Do they see at this point that there is going to be oxygen in the room, that someone else could break out as this news marinates, as the DOJ possibly comes --
BROWN: Not if it's Chris Christie and Hutchinson. But if it's Haley, Pence, DeSantis, yeah, I mean, they have to take off the gloves and really -- the Republican Party wants a fighter, like President Trump was a fighter.
BROWN: They want a fighter to push back. And, you know, you can't -- if you're going to go toe to toe with the president, President Trump, you need to just do it. And I think it'll get a lot more heated. And you've got to do it with facts. You just can't start rambling, and ranting and raving.
All right. All stay with me. We're going to continue our conversation in a few mintues.
But, next, Speaker McCarthy saying he will not support Congressman George Santos' re-election bid amid his 13 federal charges. Santos vowing not to resign, but a growing number of his Republican colleagues say it's time for him to go. We're live on Capitol Hill.
Plus, we're moment as way from Trump arriving ahead of the CNN town hall. What his former White House lawyer Ty Cobb expects to hear from Trump tonight, and why he thinks this is just the beginning of legal troubles for the former president.
BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We have breaking news tonight. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tells CNN he will not support Congressman George Santos for re-election. This as Santos remains defiant in the face of 13 federal counts he's now charged with, calling it a witch hunt, and vowing to fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Are you planning on running for re-election?
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Yes. I am. I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to keep fighting for what I believe, and I'm going to keep fighting to represent my district. I'm going to keep fighting to deliver results. And now I have to keep fighting to deliver -0- you know, to defend my innocence. And I'm going to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Santos surrendered to federal authorities today and was charged with fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, lying to Congress. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a half a million dollar bond.
As part of that bond agreement, Santos can travel to New York City, Long Island, and Washington, D.C. That's it. Will need permission to travel to any other part of the continental United States.
He was noticeably absent on Capitol Hill this afternoon. While he was in court, the rest of the House of Representatives was posing for the official photo for the 118th Congress.
Manu Raju is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill now.
And, Manu, obviously, you had a chance to speak to Speaker McCarthy. What more can you tell us about what he told you? MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. He made very
clear that he will not support George Santos for re-election. Santos has said that he will run for re-election. You played that clip right there. He still plans to run for re-election, even in spite of all of these charges and the mounting political pressure, particularly back home for him to resign.
Now, Kevin McCarthy has not gone as far as calling on Santos to resign, saying that there's a process, let the process play out, if he's ultimately found to be guilty, that could change things.
But he did indicate to me that this could change, his view about Santos. If the House ethics comes back in its investigation, and finds that Santos broke the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Santos says he's running for re-election. Are you going to support him?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not going to support Santos.
RAJU: You're not? Will you work to try to defeat him in the primary?
MCCARTHY: Santos has a lot going on, but I think -- I think he has some other things to (INAUDIBLE) than running for (INAUDIBLE).
REPORTER: So, you don't plan to support Santos for re-election?
MCCARTHY: That's what I said.
RAJU: But if the ethics committee comes back and says that he broke the law, will you call on him to resign?
MCCARTHY: Yeah (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: The calculation is a complicated one for McCarthy, because if Santos were to step aside, to resign right now, that could impact his very narrow House majority, if this is a seat, a district that could swing to the Democrats, could narrow his majority in a potential special election if there was a vacancy right now, and that would mean if a Democrat picked it up. McCarthy right now could lose four Republican votes and any party line vote could only lose three Republican votes, making things much more difficult the past legislation.
But if there is an effort to try to expel him which could occur after the House Ethics Committee moves forward, that could see significant Republican support. I just talked to one congressman, Don Bacon of Nebraska, a Republican, who told me that he would vote to expel Don Bacon if the House Ethics Committee recommends that course of action. So, Erin, that could change, of course, for Santos and it remains to be seen when the ethics committee will finalize its probe despite the move by the federal prosecutors today.
BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you very much -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Erin.
I want to bring in our political and legal experts for their analysis and it's really important.
And, Laura Coates, you're our chief legal analyst right now. I'm sure you've read this 20-page indictment, entitled, the United States of America against George Anthony Devolder Santos, also known, it says, as George Santos.
And there's item after item, specific details, from your perspective and you're a legal analyst, what's the most damaging detail, the most damaging details in this 20-page indictment?
LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's not just the length, it's the substance. It's the fact that a lot of this is going to be based on actual documents, not having to have expert testimony or interpretation of how things could be interpreted or received. The documents can speak for themselves.
And, so, when you have a prosecutor, prosecutor's office who will go this quickly in terms of the pacing of this, it normally means that they have met, in their minds, a burden of proof at this particular level to satisfy that they feel confident that they could actually do a conviction out of this.
The documents are there. Discovery period is likely over. They don't have to worry about subpoenaing any more information they have in front of them. And, so, what they could do is called a superseding indictment and clarify or amend or buttress it in some way. The fact that these charges are primarily based on existing documents that have already been created, likely already been reviewed, is damning.
But, again, everyone is innocent until proving guilty. When documents do the talking, there's not a whole lot of persuasion to get a witness to testify.
BLITZER: Jamie, I want you and our viewers to listen to George Santos' clearly defiant message today just outside the federal courthouse.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTOS: This is the beginning of the ability for me to address and defend myself. We have an indictment, we have all -- we have the information that the government wants to come after me on. And I'm going to comply.
I'm going to fight my battle, I'm going to deliver, I'm going to fight the witch hunt. I'm going to take care of clearing my name and I look forward to doing that.
REPORTER: But you will not resign?
SANTOS: I will not resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, what do you make of Santos saying this whole case is just a witch hunt?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: As soon as you hear the word "witch hunt," who do you think of? That's right out of Donald Trump's playbook right there. What I thought was interesting today is Kevin McCarthy came out and did make this statement that he won't support him for re-election, but he is standing by him to stay in Congress. And George Santos just said there, I will not resign.
Kevin McCarthy is not yet, and my guess is will never get to expulsion of him. Because of political expediency, the Republicans have a very slim majority. He needs every vote in the House he can get. The member of Congress who held that seat before Santos was a Democrat. That district leans Democratic. And if they have a special election, he could lose his seat.
BLITZER: Out in Long Island, Nassau County, parts of Queens, it could be potentially a pretty Democratic district.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: For sure. We don't know in this moment, I mean, how it would go, but that's exactly the reason that the speaker is sticking with him.
And, look, by saying he's not supporting his re-election, what he's doing is telegraphing for other stronger candidates to get in, the NRCC, the National Republican Congressional Committee, will back a challenger rather than the incumbent here. So he's buying himself some time.
If there was a large House majority, of Speaker McCarthy had, say, a 10, 20, 30-seat majority, as he thought he would, my guess is that George Santos would already be gone. But he doesn't have the luxury to do that, because the reality is Republican fellow members of Congress don't want to be asked about George Santos every single day that they need him there now for that vote.
BLITZER: Jonah, how damaging is it to Republicans that Santos, at least for the time being, is going to remain in office?
JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I honestly don't think it's that damaging because he does not have a following. There is something about -- I'm not trying to cast any dispersions, but there is something about a gay Catholic guy from Long Island who's from Brazil who lies about being Jewish that just doesn't check any boxes for, like, populists, right?
He's from Long Island, and he's clearly a fraud, and he's an embarrassment to everybody. And it's not surprising that there's all this evidence that's coming out because he's so sloppy at lying, like, the paperwork is going to be sloppy, too. And so, I think what Kevin McCarthy's strategy is, and I think Jeff is absolutely right, is to run out the clock.
And that line that we heard about how some congressmen are saying if the ethics committee says they'll expel him, they'll vote in favor of that, that's a run-up the clock strategy, too. It lets you say on the stump, look, he's an embarrassment, I'll vote to expel him, but the ethics committee has to do its work.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to assess.
Up next, Trump's former White House lawyer Ty Cobb standing by to join us. We'll have the latest on that.
Plus, we'll go inside the town hall with a preview of what to expect tonight. This special edition of OUTFRONT continues, next.
BURNETT: And back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. Donald Trump about to take the stage for a CNN town hall in half an hour, it comes as the Republican frontrunner faces growing legal problems. A jury finding Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming columnist E. Jean Carroll.
The former president taking to social media, saying the jury was anti- Trump, the judge was partisan, and the whole case was a witch hunt. Those are all quotes from his posts.
The former New Jersey governor and potentially presidential candidate, Chris Christie, seizing on the jury's verdict, launching Facebook ads like this one today.
OUTFRONT now is Ty Cobb, the former Trump White House lawyer.
And, Ty, I always appreciate your perspective. So here we are with this town hall tonight, coming just hours after a jury of six men and three women found Trump liable for sexual abuse.
Now, do you think this verdict will stand on the appeal that Trump says is coming?
TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I think it's likely to stand on appeal. There are some appellate issues, evidentiary issues, technical issues, conflict between 404b and 415, which is a little bit esoteric with regard to the evidence that came in. But there will be appellate issues.
But the most dispositive factor here was the jury found facts, they heard witnesses. And fact-finding matters when you're on appeal, particularly after you have stiffed the jury and disrespected them by not even bothering to show up and deny the accusations. BURNETT: Right, and of course, they got to hear from his deposition,
which was an unbelievable thing. I would encourage anyone who hasn't watched it to watch it. And you think, Ty, that this could impact him with voters, this verdict hat we have. How so?
COBB: I think it almost certainly impacts him with voters. But it doesn't impact him with his base. I mean, I think it -- I don't think it impacts his ability to get the nomination. But it makes him, I think, even more unelectable than he should otherwise be.
BURNETT: In the general election?
COBB: In the general election. You add this to the long list of things that he's done that are controversial, bizarre, or wrong, and you're not going to attract independents. And the Republicans need independents to win.
BURNETT: So, which is crucial here when you take what this actually means, right, the GOP has a big choice in their primary of who to nominate. You told me the last time we spoke that you thought the justice department charges could come as early as this month in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, classified documents case.
And I should note at that time people weren't talking very much about the E. Jean Carroll case, which could end up being very significant with very important voters.
Do you think it's still the case, though, that the DOJ decision on Mar-a-Lago, and I'm making that point separate from January 6th, could come this month?
COBB: Yes, I think it could come any time. You know, they are tying down, as we learned today, they're tying down -- or yesterday from some of your good reporting -- that they're tying down the issue of the tapes, potential gaps in the tapes, the handling of the tapes, the movement of boxes, arguably, at Trump's direction. Those are the kind of details that, you know, could sort of come at the end, you want to close them off.
I think they have the evidence, and they've spoken to the people that will allow them to indict, as I've said, I said would be between May and September. I think the Mar-a-Lago case is teed up to go almost at any time. I wouldn't be surprised if it dropped later this month.
BURNETT: Right. And what about the DOJ case on January 6th?
COBB: I think they would prefer to bring the cling-to-power cases at the same time. But there are two separate grand juries so there's some logistical difficulty with that. Ultimately, I expect those cases to be combined and tried as a whole. I think those are the most consequential cases.
BURNETT: Right. It'll be interesting as that timing happens. If they don't announce charges at the same time, but you have one in May, and then you have one in July and August. As you talk about the electoral implications, they are there.
So, Ty, how do you think Trump will address his legal troubles tonight?
COBB: I think he'll do a lot of deflection, a lot of, you know, witch hunt, you know, abuse of power, Democrats, you know, judge hated me, you know, stuff that, that, you know, guilty people say. I think the reality is you'll see a lot of deflection as well in an attempt to answer questions that he's not asked. I think you'll see him waste time attacking Republicans when he should be running against Biden for the simple reason he doesn't really care about Republicans.
You know, he just wants them all flattened so he has an open field. I think he'll use tonight to do some of that when he should probably be fighting Biden.
BURNETT: All right. Ty, thank you very much, as always.
COBB: I did want to say one thing, Erin, about our friend Mr. Franco -- or Mr. Santos.
BURNETT: George Santos.
COBB: I hope none of what happened today interferes with his ability to play for the Knicks tonight in the NBA tournament.
BURNETT: That might be the one thing he has not yet claimed. But don't give him the idea.
All right, Ty, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
COBB: See you, take care.
BURNETT: All right. And, next, what do Senate Republicans hope to see from former President Trump tonight? Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio joins us.
And a sneak peek of what to expect tonight at tonight's town hall. We're OUTFRONT in New Hampshire, right after this.
BLITZER: We're now less than half an hour away from CNN's New Hampshire town hall with Donald Trump. The former president is the clear frontrunner right now for the Republican presidential nomination, but he's also looking to expand his appeal to undecided voters.
I want to bring in Republican Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio. He's a supporter of the Trump 2024 campaign.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. What do you want to see from the former president tonight? SEN. JD VANCE (R-OH): Well, I think the president has an opportunity
here to make a very simple argument, Wolf, which is that for four years, we had peace and prosperity. We had rising wage growth. We had a border under control, the fentanyl crisis getting better and not worse.
And he has to contrast that with two years of failure in the Biden administration and basically make the simple argument, if you'd like to get back to having a better life, a more peaceful and stable society, I'm your guy. If you want to have the chaos and the low wage growth, go for Joe Biden.
BLITZER: Well, does he have the discipline you think? And you've gotten to know him, the discipline to reach out beyond his base?
VANCE: Absolutely. And that's, of course, an important thing here. Because those all-important swing voters do decide these elections. I think the president has this ability to reinvigorate the debate in this country.
If you remember in 2016, he came on the stage talking about us losing to China, losing our long-term manufacturing base. He was talking about issues that traditional Republicans didn't touch, protecting entitlements from people who want to take them away from people. Trump has an ability to appeal across the aisle. I think he has the discipline to drive home that message tonight.
But I think he has a very effective and compelling message which is, look, the Trump administration delivered prosperity. We can get back to it. We just have to take this country in a different direction.
BLITZER: But as you know, this town hall tonight comes a day after he was found liable for sexually abusing this woman.
VANCE: Well, look, I think that case is illustrative of what's gone wrong in this country. Simply put, the Democrats don't want to have a debate about prosperity and peace, about the failures of the Biden administration. They wanted to try to destroy this guy through the legal process.
And if you look just at who's financing this litigation at some of their political motives, this is really not about what Donald Trump did 25 years ago. This is trying to destroy Trump personally so they don't have to have a debate about the condition of this country and where to take it in the future.
BLITZER: You know, you totally disagree with some of your fellow Republicans. I'll give you a few examples. Asa Hutchinson. He says, this is another example of Trump's indefensible behavior. Senator Mitt Romney, your Republican colleague, says it shows Trump is not suited to be president.
And there are more Republicans who keep coming out in the aftermath of all of these allegations against Trump, saying he should not be the nominee. VANCE: Well, Asa Hutchinson's running against Trump for president, so
I'm not surprised that he's saying some negative things, Wolf. But, look, I think we have to be very, very clear about what's gone on in this country. In one jurisdiction in particular, New York, you have had lawsuit after lawsuit that's been about things that have nothing to do with the future of this country.
The future of this country is, how do we secure the border, how do we get back to common sense economic policies that deliver good wages for workers and low inflation? I think it's unbelievable, and it's bizarre that you have an effort to take down Trump personally instead of the substances --
BLITZER: So you don't believe the allegations that E. Jean Carroll leveled against Trump?
VANCE: I think fundamentally the lawsuit is about something that happened 25 years ago. It's a he said/she said situation. And I trust my friend and the guy that I know and have gotten to know. But, look, what I also trust is the financial motives and the political motives of the people who financed this lawsuit.
And they have said pretty consistently that this is about politics, not about what Trump did 25 years ago. They are trying to take him down for political reasons. That, to me, is not about justice, that's not about discovering the truth. That's about using the legal system instead of the political system to win a debate against Donald Trump.
BLITZER: But this was a jury, a jury in New York who basically said, yes, what this woman is alleging is true.
VANCE: Well, multiple jurisdictions, but especially New York, have tried to throw everything they can against Donald Trump, seeing what sticks. But, again, I trust the financial motives of the people who are trying to take down Trump. I think they're a much better spokesperson for what this litigation is all about.
Again, it's about destroying the guy politically, Wolf. We have to be very careful here, and this is a pitch I would make to undecided and swing voters out there. We can have a debate about the future of this country, or we can have a legal debate that's rooted in spurious allegations.
And what we're trying to do is we're trying to get the country back on track. I think that's what the president wants to do, and we should be very careful about letting a political debate be solved in the courts. I don't think the American people are going to fall for that.
BLITZER: On a very, very different issue, before I let you go, Senator, the rail safety bill that you introduced with some Democrats as well, passed a big hurdle today in the Senate. Where is it heading? Tell our viewers why this is so important to you.
VANCE: Well, if you go back to what happened in East Palestine, that terrible train crash, we want to force the railroads to pay up when this cause these problems to begin with. I got to say, by the way, Donald Trump's endorsement was a huge part of getting that piece of legislation over this critical commerce committee meeting. It was passed out of the committee. We're going to have a full vote in the Senate. I think it's going to pass the Senate, and it's on the House.
But we can't let this stuff happen again. And when railroads affect our communities, we have to make sure they pay for it.
BLITZER: Senator JD Vance of Ohio, thanks very much for joining us.
VANCE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, we're just moment as way from CNN's town hall with former President Trump. We'll have a preview of what's to come.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: And welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We're looking at live pictures out of New Hampshire where in just a few minutes, former president and GOP 2024 frontrunner Donald Trump will take the stage for a CNN town hall. Taking questions from voters in the first in the nation primary state for Republicans.
Our political director David Chalian is OUTFRONT from that town hall.
And, David, what do you expect to see tonight?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, I mean, Erin, I'm looking, of course, to see what top-of-mind issues are for these Republican voters in New Hampshire. As you know, the audience here are Republicans and undeclared, independents here in New Hampshire is how they're referred to, undeclareds, who plan to vote in the Republican primary.
So, what issues are they looking to put directly before former President Trump? But I'm also looking to see how he handles questions about the unique circumstances of his candidacy, of the full context of where he finds himself as a former president facing a slew of investigations, of course, in this moment seeking the White House again.
BURNETT: So, who is Trump trying to speak to tonight? We've been talking so much here about his base versus the general election candidacy that he hopes to have the opportunity to be playing. So who is he talking to tonight?
CHALIAN: I think this may be one of the most fascinating things, because his aim, of course, is to talk to both of those audiences, right? But he's got a pretty commanding lead at the moment in the nomination race. And, so, clearly he and his advisers, by coming and doing this forum and doing it on CNN, have a potential general election audience in mind as well.
So, how does he deal with the primary crowd that is immediately in front of him and the issues that dominate their agenda? And how does he then also use this opportunity to speak to a broader American general election electorate, which clearly he's interested in talking to by choosing to do this format.
BURNETT: And, obviously, the polls now, as early as we are, show him as the frontrunner among Republicans, and of course you have some Republicans who aren't even declared. So it's an unformed field fully. But this town hall comes a day after the New York jury verdict that found him liable for sexual abuse of E. Jean Carroll, weeks after he was indicted in connection to that hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. He denies that.
How unusual are the circumstances that Trump finds himself in right now? And I guess, I mean, unusual seems like almost a silly word to use.
CHALIAN: I was just about to say, so unusual to be unique and unprecedented, there's no comparison. There just simply is no comparison to this moment for somebody. I mean, it's been more than a hundred years that somebody, a former president, was seeking the presidency, trying to win back the White House. The litany of things he's facing, there simply is no parallel. That is what's so captivating tonight to watch how he handles that context.
BURNETT: All right. David Chalian, thank you so much, from New Hampshire, thank you.
And my panel back with me.
So, Kristen, you hear what David said. He thinks he's trying to talk to both to his base and to persuadable general election voters. Can you do that at the same time?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: It'll be very challenging with his own party, what he needs to do is try to figure out how to energize Republican voters who, frankly, may have forgotten what having Donald Trump front and center in our national politics are like. I mean, Donald Trump has been relatively quiet. He's been posting a lot on Truth Social. But he has not been as central and in the spotlight as he was when he was president.
Do Republican voters walk away from tonight feeling energized? Or do they feel exhausted? Do they go, I just cannot do this.
We know that independent voters are much more likely to feel the latter. And, so, to them, he's got to project, I'm not somebody who's going to make you feel that feeling in the pit of your stomach, a feeling of chaos, like the wheels are coming off. That's what I hear independents tell me all the time.
They feel our country is divided. That things feel like they careened off course. Can he actually portray he is somebody that can keep the country on course? That's going to be a different tone than we've ever heard from him, but that would be the message that he would need to convey to try to win over independents.
BURNETT: Hogan, is that the message he's going to try to convey?
HOGAN GIDLEY, FORMER DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR TRUMP: I think he's going to talk to all Americans. I mean, Kristen's right, he's got to talk to the base but he's got to talk to everybody else.
I'm going to quote somebody on CNN that's never been probably quoted before and that is the 16-time World Wrestling Federation champion, Rick Flair, the Nature Boy, and he said and I quote, to be the man you've got to beat the man.
And right now, in Republican politics, Donald Trump is the man. He's carrying forth that torch, but it's not just Donald Trump who has to rally Americans around his cause. A lot of Americans are simply angry at Joe Biden and the policies he's put in place that have hurt their 401ks, that have hurt their economy, that have allowed crime to spike in their cities, made our border wide open so people can come into this country illegally and unlawfully.
Those are issues I think going to converge in this election. And to say it's going to be interesting I think is an understatement because to see what Donald Trump brings to the table, having been a former president, going up against the current president in Joe Biden, those two policies clashing, not to mention the personalities doing it in a 2.0 segment is going to be quite interesting to say the least.
BURNETT: So, Ambassador, you live in New Hampshire, as I said. You host those backyard barbecues where a lot of these candidates, declared and undeclared, they're going to be coming through in these next few weeks, right, and meeting the voters there. And so, you know a lot of people in the room tonight.
SCOTT BROWN (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: They're texting me right now.
BURNETT: And they're texting you. All right. What are they saying?
BROWN: They're saying there's a lot of energy, lot of excitement. And, you know, listen, he's nothing if not unpredictable. That's part of the fun of Donald Trump or that power of unpredictability. And he is a fighter and he's going to throw punch and you can't put him in a box.
That being said, I don't disagree obviously with what was just said. It is going to be -- if he focuses on Joe Biden and the economy and the border and fentanyl and all the things we all know about, big crime in our cities, that's where we should be focusing. To go in and demean and belittle what just happened yesterday, especially the women, in the six men, three women jury I don't think it's the right approach. I think he's better than that.
He needs to show his policies which were amazing against China. His foreign policy is tops. No doubt, I served under that administration.
BURNETT: You were ambassador of New Zealand.
BROWN: I was ambassador of New Zealand, Cook, Samoa, and our interests in Antarctica.
But if he focuses on this other stuff and kind of does what you just heard earlier, it's like, okay, I'm done, I'm going to find somebody who's not going to be under that cloud. I'm going to find somebody who's going to focus on President Xi and all the economic issues everyone is facing.
BURNETT: And this does put, as Kristen says, or everyone is saying, you're putting him right now in a position he has an opportunity to make it look it is him and Biden, take two, right? I mean, the voters looking at him, right? They remember him as a former president, they remember that election, right, when there is obviously a crowded primary field.
But this -- this gives him that opportunity to try to put himself him versus Biden.
FINNEY: It's an opportunity. However, he's also notoriously undisciplined. And so I think it's a huge question as to whether or not he'll be actually able to keep that focus because he is so dependent on grievance politics and how he's been wrong and being the victim. That is so core to what his message has been.
I don't think you're going to hear much in terms of substance. I think the substance we hear, I obviously have to say this is a Democrat, but I think he's going to mislead the audience about what the true record, Joe Biden's actual record is. I think he's going to mislead the audience about what his own record was.
And I agree with what Ty Cobb was saying in I think he'll deflect a lot and just try to say it is what he wants to say. But I think the biggest, Erin, the biggest challenge that he has is I think this is an opportunity he could turn people off because it will remind people if they're not energized, it would remind people --
BURNETT: That's why Kristen saying, do they feel the energy or a pit in their stomach, the persuadable audience?
FINNEY: Right. I mean, you heard JD Vance trying to say Biden is the chaos candidate. Well, remember how it felt to govern by tweet and we sort of, you know, the pit of our stomach. I think that is more likely what we're going to hear and see, and that is going to be a real moment for the Republican Party to ask itself, is this who you want to be? Is Donald Trump who you want to be?
BURNETT: And, Kristen, one final question to you. And, you know, you look at these polls, we're very early, obviously, but what stands out to you about the lead that Trump currently has?
ANDERSON: Well, I think it's important for people to remember even though Donald Trump is very unpopular with voters in the center, he very well could be re-elected president of the United States.
That we should not just assume there's no way we would do this again as a country, right? There is very much a way when I look at these polls because of that dissatisfaction we see with President Biden. And so, I think the more interesting question is, you know, when I look at these polls, they actually remind me a bit if you look at the favorables in 1992, Americans going, I don't know about this Bill Clinton guy, I'm not really sure about George H.W. Bush, what about a third party?
I don't think that's likely, but Americans are not loving what they think of as this rematch of the lesser of two evils.
BURNETT: Which is a fascinating question mark to hit pause on our panel with. Thank you all so much.
And let's send it back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Erin. We're back with our panel here in Washington, right before the town hall is about to begin.
Jeff Zeleny, what does Trump need to accomplish at this town hall that begins just about five minutes or so from now?
ZELENY: Look, I think the voting does not begin in this primary for at least seven months. So the primary will not be decided tonight, but he does need to remind New Hampshire voters who are very important that he's presidential and he has a command over things.
We are not going to see a different Donald Trump. At 76 years old and president once, lived a long life, he cannot turn a new leaf.
But he can sort of change how he's running this campaign. So I do think that it'll be interesting to see how much he uses this as an opportunity to try and reach out and expand his base because Republicans want to see a winner. So do we see a slightly new and improved version of him, or an older version? That's what we'll see.
But we should remember, this is the beginning of the Republican primary, it's not the end.
BLITZER: A lot of Republicans want him to strike, Jonah, a more balanced tone. Is he capable of that?
ZELENY: Yeah, a lot of professional Republicans would like him to strike a more balanced tone. His super fans want him to be Donald Trump. And I think part of the challenge trying to reach out to this broader coalition, to reach out to the center is the primaries haven't started yet.
And if one of the things he's rumored to believe that abortion is a loser for Republicans. If he starts talking about how abortion is not a priority, all that kind of stuff, it could cost him severely among parts of the coalition that just do not want to hear that.
BLITZER: Yeah. Important point. Jamie, what are the most important points you're going to be looking
GANGEL: I'm curious to see whether discipline is not his strong suit. Does he get triggered by some of this?
I'm also curious sort of from the special counsel's point of view. He is under investigation, credible investigation, federally, Georgia. He's going to I assume be asked about those, and those, you know, lawyers, those prosecutors are going to be listening. So I'm curious how he handles that.
BLITZER: I assume, Laura, you're going to be listening closely to how he responds to the legal challenges he's now facing.
LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Or if chooses not to respond and tries to punt and says something like, well, my lawyers told me not to talk about this which, frankly, would not be satisfactory, given the breadth of legal challenges against him.
But I will say this, as a matter of a civics lesson, remember the president is the head of had executive branch of government which means their job is to enforce the laws. He has to address the fact that he has a number of legal claims that are either pending, indicted or perhaps forthcoming. How does he convince any base, any potential party to make a broader tent that he could serve as the head of the executive branch and enforce the law and have all these matters against him.
BLITZER: How does he deal with this latest legal disaster he faced yesterday?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, we saw he was defiant when he came out. So I certainly don't think he'll change his tune on that, but I can't imagine he wants to dwell on that because politically speaking, it is a loser. Some of these other issues he's had have rallied his base around him. Some of his closest advisers I've been talking to over the last couple of days, they do not think this is winner for him.
So my guess is he's not going to dwell too much on that because this simply is not a winning issue for him, but of course, he'll be asked hard questions about this and so many other things. There's so many questions to talk to him.
BLITZER: What's the most important thing you're going to be looking for?
JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The exits. No.
GOLDBERG: Some people have Trump fatigue. I have Trump, Epstein, Barr. The prospect of doing another four years of this really just -- I'm looking for a way out. ZELENY: And you hear that from voters a lot, the exhaustion out there
about this and sort of sick of the drama of it. So we'll see how much he brings to that.
BLITZER: You sick of the drama?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't mean that -- I'm not even going to go there. I just -- I am curious about two other thing. How much does he try to hit Biden? How much does he try to hit other Republicans like DeSantis? And I'm also curious words have consequences. We saw that on January 6th. I'm very curious to see whether -- and I use the word measured in the broadest sense, but weather he sort of stays away from that kind of language.
BLITZER: An important night here in the United States. We're watching it very, very closely.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for joining us.
CNN's Republican presidential town hall with Donald Trump starts right now.