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Trump Flies to New York City for Arraignment; Bomb Kills Pro- War Russian Blogger; Tornadoes Rip Through South and Midwest U.S. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 03, 2023 - 05:00   ET



OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, former President Trump will be on his way to New York in just hours for his historic criminal arraignment. How the NYPD is bracing for his arrival. Plus, a pro-war Russian blogger killed in an explosion, dozens more injured. What investigators in Saint Petersburg think happened.

And a huge tornado outbreak across the south and Midwest over the weekend. The devastation and the death toll rising. We're live on the ground in Arkansas. Good morning, everyone, I'm Omar Jimenez, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, we've got a lot to get to this morning, so let's dive right in.

Just hours from now, Donald Trump boards a plane to New York, the first step of what many Americans are hoping will be a journey to accountability. You're looking at live pictures right now, and according to Trump's Truth Social posts, he'll leave Mar-a-Lago noon and make his way to Trump Tower.

His appearance in a Manhattan courtroom tomorrow will be the first time in American history, a former president is arraigned on criminal charges. Trump, his lawyers and many supporters claim the district attorney is pursuing a nakedly political prosecution.


JOSEPH TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Begin the battle to right this wrong because it's a really -- it's a day that in my opinion, the rule of law in the United States has died. So, very much anticipated motion to dismiss coming, because there's no law that fits this.


JIMENEZ: Now, what is undeniable here is that whatever happens, it will be the start of an unprecedented spectacle and a huge challenge to American democracy. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are the charges against President Donald Trump.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A historic court date set for former President Donald Trump on Tuesday in Manhattan, where District Attorney Alvin Bragg has brought an indictment against him. Trump is planning to leave his Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday for New York, and then on Tuesday, authorities will take his mug-shots and fingerprints before escorting him to his arraignment.

NYPD and Secret Service already working together to bolster security at the courthouse as they track any threats and possible protests. The indictment still under seal, styled, "the people of the state of New York against Donald J. Trump. CNN learning the grand jury voted to charge him with more than 30 counts related to business fraud after hearing from an unidentified witness for about 30 minutes Thursday.

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

SCHNEIDER: Former Trump fixer, Michael Cohen met with prosecutors and testified to the grand jury on multiple occasions in this year's long investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise your right hand --

SCHNEIDER: Cohen was convicted on federal charges and sentenced to three years in prison in part for his role, paying off porn star Stormy Daniels, to keep her quiet in the lead up to the 2016 election about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

CLARK BREWSTER, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: It's a fight against his rejection of truth, and his manufacturing of stories that really motivated her to try to cooperate any way certainly, to get the truth out.

SCHNEIDER: Trump denies the affair and any wrongdoing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

SCHNEIDER: Cohen though admits to writing the $130,000 check, and claims he was reimbursed by the Trump Organization. That reimbursement and the way Trump accounted for it appears to be at the heart of the case against Trump.

COHEN: For Donald, since we're talking about convicted felons, see you on Tuesday, pal.

SCHNEIDER: Sources tell CNN, the grand jury also heard testimony about a catch and kill scheme to bury a story about another alleged Trump affair with former Playboy playmate of the year Karen McDougal. Trump's long-time friend and then chairman of the "National Enquirer's" parent company, David Pecker, is believed to have orchestrated that $150,000 payment.

Pecker testified before the grand jury Monday. Trump also denies any affair with McDougal. Trump's lawyers are now vowing to fight, saying they will move to get all charges dismissed before any trial.

TACOPINA: There's no crime. I don't know if it's going to make the trial because we have substantial legal challenges that we have to front before we get to that point.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): CNN has been digging into who this last witness was on Thursday before the grand jury voted to indict Trump. A lot more could become clear as this case progresses, and we'll see just how strong this case might be after the indictment is unsealed, likely Tuesday at the arraignment.

In the meantime, former Attorney General Bill Barr is the latest now speaking out, joining Republicans in saying that this case is just a political hit-job and a weak case, notably though, no, no one has seen the exact charges or the evidence here. Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


JIMENEZ: Jessica Schneider, thank you. Let's bring in former General Counsel of the Federal Election Commission Larry Noble. Larry, thank you for waking up with us. I want to start with Trump's attorney Joe Tacopina, he says he plans to file quote, "substantial legal challenges to the indictment."

I mean, sources have told CNN, Trump faces more than 30 counts here related to business fraud. If you step into his world for a moment, what do you think Trump's strongest argument is here?

LARRY NOBLE, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY WASHINGTON COLLEGE OF LAW & FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION: Well, first, good morning, Jimenez, thanks for having me. You know, I think that's a normal thing a defense attorney would say in this case. I think the strongest argument is probably going to be that one, there was no underlying criminal fraud that was going on which they needed New York to try to boost this up to -- up to a felony.

And that, this was not a campaign finance violation. So therefore, they'll call it boot-strapping on that allegation, that, that is not really valid. I think it's a weak argument, but it is an argument. They have a number of arguments they can put forward like that, which will really go to the sufficiency over the evidence and how the law applies.

The problem is right now, we don't know what District Attorney Alvin Bragg has in his indictment. We do not know the evidence and they do not know the evidence. So, and we're all speculating now until Tuesday, but you know, they're going to come forward with defenses. Any good criminal lens -- defense lawyer would.

And what we've seen from Trump is that he will use every means he can, both legal and outside the courtroom to try to slow these cases down. And to try to, you know, defeat prosecutions.

JIMENEZ: And you know, I think that's a good point, that at this point, the indictment is still under seal. We haven't seen the exact details of this. Again, we've learned from sources that he's facing more than 30 counts related to business Friday. But I'm curious, you know, the former president's role or whether the former president's role in a hush money payment to Karen McDougal also plays a part in this, we do not know. How do you interpret what will happen here as far as the scope of looking at multiple cases?

NOBLE: Well, I think Karen McDougal case is an important case, and we don't know exactly if or how that's going to play into the indictment. But according to the allegations in the Karen McDougal case, that Trump is going to use David Pecker who is then I guess the publisher of the "National Enquirer", and did have her pay McDougal not to talk about the abandoned alleged affair with Trump.

And I think that's important because if that's true, it shows a pattern. It shows that because of the election, they were very concerned about these cases coming out about these alleged affairs coming out, and therefore they were taking steps to try to silence the women by paying them. And I think the Karen McDougal case is just -- it may very well be just another example of that.

And so, it would look like the Stormy Daniels case is not a one off, it's not something that I trust somebody else did. It looks like there's a pattern.

JIMENEZ: And even outside the cases themselves, you know, when you look at the defense or a world into the defense, Trump may give -- Trump is now almost true to form, lashing out against the judge in this case -- in this case, saying the judge hates him. Do you think that at this point, Trump team might ask for a different judge.

Is there - what do you even think the likelihood of even that being granted at this stage of again imposed grand jury indictment.

NOBLE: Yes, I think -- I think they probably will. I don't think they'll succeed at that. But again, there is a pattern of Trump and his legal defense teams doing this. They take -- they attacked the judges that they're before now. It's interesting in this case, one of Trump's lawyers said he had no problem with the judge.

He didn't think the judge was biased, which is a good thing for the lawyer who is about to appear before that judge to say. But you know -- but it's really hard to restrain Trump, and I suspect he will continue to go on attacking the judge. I suspect it may very well file a motion. But I don't think it will be successful -- I mean, he attacks every judge that he's before. And I don't see any indications this judge is biased in any way.

JIMENEZ: Larry Noble, thank you for waking up with us, appreciate your insight.

NOBLE: My pleasure, thank you.

JIMENEZ: Now to a separate investigation. The Justice Department has new evidence suggesting possible obstruction of justice by former President Trump in the Mar-a-Lago -- in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents probe.


Now, sources are telling "The Washington Post", there's evidence Trump personally reviewed some of the documents after receiving a subpoena from the Justice Department, apparently because he wanted to hold on to some things. Investigators also found indications, Trump told others to mislead government officials trying to recover documents from his time in the White House.

The DOJ has been investigating the potential mishandling of national security records and possible obstruction for about a year. Up next, a prominent Russian blogger killed in an explosion in Moscow, who authorities suspect is responsible. Plus, Senator John Fetterman open up -- opening up about his struggle with depression.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): The whole thing about depression is that objectively, you may have won, but depression can actually convince you that you actually lost. And that's exactly what happened. And that was the start of a downward spiral.


JIMENEZ: More on what he says he went through ahead.



JIMENEZ: An explosion at a Saint Petersburg cafe in Russia has killed a well known pro-war Russian blogger and injured at least 32 others. Russian officials say they suspect Vladlen Tatarsky was murdered. Let's bring in Clare Sebastian live now from London. So Clare, both Russian and Ukrainian officials have voiced their suspicions.

No surprise, both of them are pointing the finger at each other. What have you learned at this point?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, obviously, Omar, this is happening in the context of the war, it seems inextricably bound up in that. But what we know at the moment is that the Russian authorities have arrested someone who they say is a suspect, 26-year- old Saint Petersburg resident Darya Trepover, she -- hours before that appeared on the Interior Ministry wanted list.

And we're learning a little bit more about her, which could go some way to explaining this. She was arrested on the very first day of the war, February 24th of last year in an anti-war protest, and spent 10 days in prison, according to court records.

So she potentially anti-war, Vladlen Tatarsky, the blogger who was killed in this explosion, obviously very pro-war, part of an increasingly powerful cohort of bloggers who were documenting Russia's war in a much more raw, much more uncensored way than we see from the likes of the Russian defense ministry.

So that investigation is ongoing. The investigative committee in Russia has said it is a murder investigation, and of course, as you say, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Russia has immediately pointed the finger at Ukraine, saying that Russian journalists, she said, are increasingly facing reprisals from the Kyiv regime. That of course, without evidence at this stage.

JIMENEZ: Yes, and you know, as you mentioned, that suspect is in custody this morning. I want to -- you mentioned journalism and Russia. I want to turn to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is calling now for the immediate release of Wall Street journalist -- of journalist for the "Wall Street Journal", Evan Gershkovich, during a rare phone call with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. But what can you tell us about that phone call, and what we know there?

SEBASTIAN: Well, there was no discernible progress Omar, but of course, at least, the communication lines are open, and they have not, as you said, been speaking often since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine. Senator Blinken according to the U.S. readout, expresses grave concern, he called the detention of Evan Gershkovich unacceptable, and he also called for the immediate release of Paul Whelan, another U.S. citizen, who is now almost three years into a 16- year sentence for espionage in Russia.

As for the Russian readout, well, Sergey Lavrov said that the fate of Evan Gershkovich will be decided by the courts in Russia, and accused the Washington and the western media of sort of hyping this up, of politicizing this. So, as I say, no discernible progress, but the editor of the "Wall Street Journal" did on "CBS" on Sunday say that she was hugely reassured by this, and pleased that this is now being tackled at the top levels of the U.S. government.

JIMENEZ: Clare Sebastian, thank you so much as always. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy says the fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut is quote, "especially hot". Ukrainian troops have repelled more than a dozen Russian attacks, but they have yet to encircle the city center. Meanwhile, frequent shelling has killed at least, six people in a nearby town, devastating homes, businesses and a kindergarten.

CNN's Ben Wedeman joins us live from eastern Ukraine. Ben, these battles have gone on relentlessly for -- and I'm sure it felt like an eternity there. You've covered much of it. What are you seeing on the ground today?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fighting now has gone on now, Omar, now is seven months. The Russians desperate to take the city of Bakhmut, keeping in mind, of course, that earlier this year, they launched their much vaunted Winter offensive, and until now, they've not been able to even take one city, the city of Bakhmut, where they have expanded huge amounts of manpower and material.

Now, we did hear Yevgeny Prigozhin; the head of the Wagner Group say that in legal terms, Bakhmut has been taken -- say, he added that Ukrainian forces are concentrated in the western part of the city now. What exactly it means in legal terms. But in reality, it does appear that the Ukrainians continue to hold on to at least about 40 to -- 35 percent to 40 percent of that city.

Unfortunately, since the 21st of February, Bakhmut for journalists has been a red zone declared by the Ukrainians, so we don't -- we're not able to report firsthand on what's going on.


But certainly, by all accounts, by the video that's coming out from Ukrainian troops, the fighting is indeed intense, and that fighting sort of spills out over into the towns around Bakhmut, just south of here in Kostyantynivka, an apartment building was hit by Russian fire, in that instance, 6 civilians killed.

It appears that the Russians in addition to trying to take Bakhmut are trying to make life in the surrounding towns, unlivable, Omar?

JIMENEZ: Ben Wedeman, thank you as always, and please stay safe. Pope Francis jumping right into his holy week duties after leaving the hospital, an update on the pontiff's health next.



JIMENEZ: Pope Francis presiding over Palm Sunday mass in Saint Peter's Square, the day after being discharged from the hospital where he was treated for bronchitis. It's one of the longest services on the church's calendar. His voice sounded strong as he opened mass, but quickly turned strained. CNN's Delia Gallagher is live in Rome with more.

So, Delia, what's next for the pope this holy week? And are you -- are you confident that he's going to physically be able to hold out throughout it?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Omar. There is a lot coming up this week, but let's just stop and reflect for a minute on the fact that Pope Francis, 86 years old, just getting over bronchitis was even present for Palm Sunday mass yesterday in Saint Peter's Square. I don't think anybody would have bet on that on Wednesday when he went into the hospital complaining of breathing difficulties.

He did look OK, his voice was a bit softer than usual, maybe a bit more tired than usual the week coming up, the busiest week of the Christian calendar for the pope on Thursday. He's going to be in a juvenile jail here in Rome. It's the traditional Holy Thursday mass, when normally, they do the washing of the feet.

Now, we don't know if he'll do that, because he has a knee problem as well as we know. On Friday, he'll be outside in the evening in front of the coliseum for the via crucis, the way of the cross, that traditional ceremony. And on Saturday, Easter Vigil, and on Sunday, Easter Sunday mass. Keep in mind that all of these events he has to speak.

He spoke yesterday for about 15 minutes, again voice a little bit low, but that's to be expected with bronchitis. So, you're right. We'll have to monitor, see how he gets on this coming week, wishing him the best, obviously, but it's a delicate moment for the pope getting over bronchitis. Omar?

JIMENEZ: Yes, I mean, you bring up a good point that at that age just for him to even be back out there is a feat in itself, but he's got a lot on his plate. Delia Gallagher, thank you so much. Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman is giving us insight to his battle with depression. Fetterman had been recovering from a stroke he suffered in May, 2022, then he was hospitalized for major depression at Walter Reed in mid February.

In an interview with "CBS" -- with "CBS", Fetterman says he used to struggle to do daily activities.


FETTERMAN: It's like, you know, you just won the biggest, you know, race in the country. And the whole thing about depression is that objectively, you may have won, but depression can actually convince you that you actually lost. And that's exactly what happened. And that was the start of a downward spiral.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the interim between the campaign and being sworn in. At home in November, December, depression started gathering strength, is that correct?

FETTERMAN: Very much, very much. I had stopped leaving my bed. I've stopped eating, I had drop in weight. I stopped engaging some of the most things that I love in my life.


JIMENEZ: Fetterman is now back home and says his depression is in remission. He's expected to return to the Senate the week of April 17th. Up next, officials in New York are scrambling to set up security preparations ahead of the historic indictment of former President Trump. Some of their main concerns next.

And the death toll is sadly rising after a severe tornado outbreak devastates communities in the south and Midwest. The areas hit the hardest ahead.