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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Pleads Not Guilty to Election Conspiracy Charges; Georgia D.A. Says She's Been Targeted By Threats As Decision on Whether to Charge Trump Nears; Source: Ukrainian Behind Drone Attack on Russian Navy Ship; Trump's Judge Known for Strong Stance on January 6. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 04, 2023 - 05:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, Donald Trump the day after his third arrest on criminal charges. Grand jurors in a fourth case meet just a few hours from now.

Plus, new video just in of an attack on a Russian ship at sea.

Two U.S. Navy sailors accused of spying for China. What kind of secrets could they have spilled?


WALKER: Welcome everyone to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Yes, it is Friday, so happy Friday. I'm Amara Walker.

Today, former President Trump is set to speak at an Alabama Republican Party dinner in Montgomery. He will likely have more to say about his arrest and arraignment in federal court in Washington Thursday, on four charges stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump carefully enunciated his plea of not guilty before a magistrate judge. After the hearing, sources tell CNN that Trump was, quote, pissed off as he motorcaded to the airport for the flight back to his New Jersey golf club.

CNN's Chris Nguyen has more on Thursday's historic events.


CHRIS NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a historic move, former President Donald Trump was charged with conspiring to overturn the results of a 2020 election which prosecutors say fueled the violent riots on our nation's Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: This is a prosecution of the political opponent. This was never supposed to happen in America.

NGUYEN: Trump appeared before magistrate judge Thursday, and is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing a congressional proceeding, and conspiracy against voting rights.

BILL BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER TRUMP: Government has assumed the burden of proving that. The government in their indictment takes a position that he had actual knowledge that he lost the election and it was not stolen through fraud. They're going to have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt.

NGUYEN: Trump is now facing the 78 criminal charges total across three cases, while still the front runner for the Republican nomination for president. The former president's lawyer argues that he had a First Amendment right to express the ceilings about the outcome of the 2020 election.

ALINA HABBA, FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: What President Trump did is he said, go patriotically, and peacefully, and protest. That is an American right, that is why we are America.

NGUYEN: Trump has pleaded not guilty in the three cases against him.

In Washington, I'm Chris Nguyen reporting.


WALKER: Chris, thank you. The scheduling for the trial that was laid out a Thursday suggests that the presiding judge intends to stick to the Constitution's promise of a speedy trial.

More now from CNN's Paula Reid in Washington.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Trump in federal court Thursday, pleading not guilty to those four felony counts that he is facing and, going forward, it appears that this could be a rocket docket.

The judge who will oversee this case through a possible trial, giving just seven days it did tell her when they are going to be ready to take this case before a jury and how long that jury trial could take.

Now, defense attorneys are supposed to give her the same information just a week later, so that she can possibly set a trial date at the next hearing, which is in August 28th. That is a pretty quick turnaround for these kinds of decisions, suggesting that the judge would like to move this along quickly. Now, it is unclear at this point if this case really will go to trial before the 2024 election, one of the big outstanding questions that could really impact a possible schedule is if the special counsel intends to add additional charges or additional codefendants.

We know from our reporting that they will continue to interview witnesses over the next several days, suggesting that there could be additional charges, which could impact that timeline.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


WALKER: Former President Trump reportedly remained angry on the flight back to Bedminster, venting his frustrations on social media and spinning his arrest and arraignment as a win for him.

CNN's Kristen Holmes has more.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Former President Donald Trump lashing out again after landing at his New Jersey home after that arraignment, posting on truth social that this was him being arrested by a political opponent who is losing to him in the polls, and then calling it a very good day.

Obviously, this is the way that Trump interacts, it's the same way that he said outside, but it is interesting to note that of the political advisers that I speak to, they told me that on days like today, Trump is very angry. He is very frustrated. It is not something that he wants to be doing is getting indicted, being arraigned, he wants to be running for president again in 2024.

But, as we have noted and reported over and over again, we are at a point where the legal and political or one in the same.


His arguments for the political are that he has to win because he is being persecuted in a court of law. So it is interesting, but as we know now he is lashing out, we will see on Friday when he attends a dinner in Alabama where he speaking to the Republican Party there.

Kristen Holmes, CNN Washington.


WALKER: All right. Kristen, thank you.

Now, this is former President Trump's third arraignment in just four months. Those cases, plus another that may be filed soon in Georgia, pose numerous potential conflicts with Trump's run for president.

CNN's Brian Todd sorts it all out for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All of these criminal cases involving Trump can be dizzying, so I want to updating you on the cases and what lies ahead.

There are a total of four criminal cases that the former president has been investigated in, three of them where he has been formally charged and pleaded not guilty.

The January 6th case that he was just arraigned in on Thursday, where he is charged with four counts including obstructing federal proceedings and conspiracy did for the government.

Then there is the Mar-a-Lago documents case, where he faces 40 counts related to the allegedly illegal retention of documents as Florida state.

There is the New York hush money case brought by the Manhattan D.A., where he faces 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Those are the cases where Donald Trump is already been indicted.

Then there is the Georgia case, where an indictment could come soon. That case focuses on Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state of Georgia.

Now let's look at what happens next on the calendar. In just about a week, August 10th, he will be arraigned on three additional charges brought in the Mar-a-Lago case, although he is not expected to attend that hearing. Also likely in August, it could be a decision on an indictment in the Georgia case.

Now, as far as when the actual trials in these cases will begin and how they square with the election calendar for next year, well, two of the cases that he has been indicted in are scheduled to start in the middle of the primary season, Super Tuesday is on March 5th, 2024. And there are several other primaries during that month of March. And the first criminal case to began, the Manhattan D.A.'s hush money trial, is scheduled to start about three weeks after Super Tuesday on March 25th.

In the Mar-a-Lago documents case, a pre-trial hearing is scheduled for May 14th. The trial itself could begin as early as May 20th, on the election calendar. There are several primaries in the month of May and the Republican properties nomination deadline is 11 days after the Mar-a-Lago trial is slated to begin.

That deadline for the nomination is on May 31st, but that Mar-a-Lago trial, we need to point out, it could easily slide until later in the year.

As for the case that he is just been indicted in, the January six case, the start date could be set during the next hearing in that case, which is on August 28th.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


WALKER: All right. Speaking of the Georgia election interference case against Trump, that Brian mentioned, Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis says she's been the target of threats and harassment since the day she announced her investigation.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FANI WILLIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: Very grotesque things. You know, we're on family television, I don't even know if I'd like to say all of them, but slay four (ph) is one of them. I've been called everything pretty much but a child of God.

REPORTER: To clarify, you're receiving threats in connection with the grand jury investigation of the 2020 election in Georgia?

WILLIS: I'm receiving phone calls that in texts -- excuse me, phone calls, emails, and communications that are derogatory in nature, they don't always state what they -- what the reason is that they're calling, but I've probably been called the N-words more times in the last two and a half years than most -- a hundred people combined.

REPORTER: Are some of these menacing phone calls mentioning the Trump investigation, some of them?

WILLIS: They certainly mentioned different things that would leave you to believe that maybe that's what their concern is.


WALKER: Willis has said that she will announce the decision on whether to charge Trump by the end of this month. She also says the calls and threats have been getting worse as that announcement is nearing.

And just into CNN, video from the sea drone attacking a Russian navy ship operating in the Black Sea. A source tells CNN that the strike was a joint operation by Ukrainian forces.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Zaporizhzhia with more.

Hi there, Nick. What more do we know about this attack?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, again, a sign of the unthinkable, frankly, happening to Russians, Russian troops inside of Russia. Now a port on the Black Sea where you can see in these images here supplied by Ukrainian officials, a drone appears to slowly approach the Olenogorsky Gornyak ship.


Now, a Ukrainian source says that it was hit by this device that carried short of, just, short of half a metric ton, 450 kilograms of an explosive, a staggering payload, frankly. This Ukrainian source saying that there may have been 100 Russian soldiers or personnel on board when this struck.

So, this now coupled with the attack on the Kerch bridge, again, which appears to have been performed by Ukrainian drones as well, showing that long the Black Sea, a place that Russia for a long time has felt comfortable with its naval forces, is now deeply vulnerable to an attack like this, and a reminder that while Russian forces may be holding in some parts of the southern front here against Ukraine's counteroffensive, perhaps the seeing some progress in the east as well.

Regardless of that, Ukraine is using new, ingenious types of technology, drones like this to target parts of what it would think Moscow would think would be it's impregnable forces.

We haven't -- we are now hearing from Russian officials the suggestion that the port of Novorossiysk is again functioning okay. Back to normal, but this frankly startling images for Russians to wake up to. Again, particularly after the drone attacks that we have been seeing on Moscow as well. Again, a sign that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been saying that the war is gradually returning to Russian territory -- Amara.

WALKER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, we appreciate your reporting as always. Thank you very much.

A federal appeals court says that the Biden administration can continue enforcing a controversial asylum policy while the court expedite a final ruling. The policy restricts migrants who passed through another country from seeking asylum in the U.S. The Biden policy, and a similar one imposed by the Trump administration, has been the target of criticism and lawsuits from progressives and immigration advocates.

Coming up, two U.S. sailors accused of taking bribes and sharing sensitive information with Chinese spies.

Plus, a home explodes, leaving a one year old fighting for life.

And, who is her honor? Tanya Chutkan, the judge assigned to Trump's latest case. We'll have more, next.



WALKER: The judge overseeing Trump's election interference trial has also presided over dozens of trials of the January 6th rioters. In those cases, District Judge Tanya Chutkan has taken a strong stance against efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Now, all eyes are on the federal judge as she prepares to oversee this case.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more.


CROWD: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She has described the events of January 6th as a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has a reputation as someone who hands down harsh sentences, specifically in cases related to the January 6 rioters.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: She's talked about 2024 and the threat that these rioters pose before and during sentences.

KAYE: As a federal judge in D.C., Chutkan has presided over dozens of criminal cases against alleged January 6th rioters. She has also been outspoken at their sentencing hearings.

After January 22 sentencing hearing, for two friends who had gone to the Capitol, Chutkan said that this was not bill and hedge excellent adventure. She added, they came to Washington knowing full well the events of January 6th. Their actions were an assault on the American people.

She also called it a violent attempted overthrow of the government that almost succeeded. At the criminal sentencing of another rioter, she said this:

POLANTZ: He did not go to the U.S. Capitol out of any love for our country. He went for one man -- one man in that sentence would be Donald Trump.

KAYE: This won't be the first time that Chutkan has dealt with a case involving the former president. In November, 2021, Chutkan rejected Trump's efforts to block the House Select Committee investigating January 6 from accessing more than 700 pages of records from the White House.

In her ruling in that case, she wrote this memorable line: presidents are not kings and plaintive is not president. Chutkan is called the January 6 violence and assault on American democracy, saying that rioters soiled and defaced the halls of the capital and showed their contempt for the rule of law.

She's repeatedly gone above what prosecutors have requested for convicted rioters prison sentences. Chutkan has also issued a warning about future political violence at a sentencing hearing in December 2021. It has to be made clear that are trying to stop the peaceful transition of power, assaulting law enforcement, is going to be met with certain punishments.

Chutkan was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She was appointed by Barack Obama in 2014 and has served as a federal judge since the Senate confirmed her 95-0. Before that, she spent more than a decade working as a public defender after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania law school.

Randi Kaye, CNN.


WALKER: All right. A fascinating look there. Thank you, Randi.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor and author of "A Spy in Plain Sight", Lis Wiehl.

Good morning to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

So we know that the next hearing is set for August 28th where the judge is expected to schedule a trial date. And we know that the prosecution is pushing for a speedy trial, Trump's defense counsel wants more time, and perhaps they will try to delay through or past the 2024 election.

Will Trump other cases factor into setting a trial date, and what kind of timeline do you expect here?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Perhaps they might factor into it.


I expect a fast track, rocket docket even.

But the judge is going to have to consider the other federal case going on in Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, which is now set for May. She may want to postpone it until, say, June or July. But on the other hand, if the prosecutors are ready to go, there is only one defendant here, not multiple defendants as there are in the Florida case.

This may be a faster case to docket, and the last I looked at the criminal justice statute, speedy trial statute, there is nothing in it that's an exemption for defendants who are too busy or running for president. So, it will be set at that August hearing date.

WALKER: Why would this be a faster case to docket? Do you see this as a strong case for the prosecution?

WIEHL: You know, it's not even that, although I do because this is a much more commonsensical case. We get it, right? I mean, somebody tries to -- somebody is not happy with their election results while in office and they tried to overturn that. That makes common sense, I mean, bad common sense, but it makes more common sense than, you know, what are these documents, was he supposed to have, them not have them, what wasn't is intent. You know, it's a harder case.

But I say that it's not rocket docket not so much because the prosecution has a stronger case, or a more commonsensical case, but just because there is only one defendant. So, the judge doesn't have to look at different schedules and whether all the defendants go together, or the coconspirators go together, this is just one person in this indictment. Yes, there are unindicted coconspirators, but that doesn't matter.

So, he could set this early. The prosecution is going to be ready. The discovery is going to be ready. Hey, the discovery is pretty much right there in the indictment. It's a 45-page indictment.

So the prosecution is ready to hand all that over to the defense and then, at that point, the defense is just going to have to say we need more time. But for what? Once they have been given the materials, they have a reasonable time, but not an extraordinary amount of time, Amara.

WALKER: You know, we are already seeing one of Trump's attorneys making its rounds on TV arguing that Trump is protected by the First Amendment. Listen to part of what John Lauro had to say on Thursday.


JOHN LAURO, TRUMP ATTORNEY: I've talked a lot about how this has criminalized First Amendment speech because President Trump, like all of us, as a right to address grievances, as a right to protest an election that he felt was unfair, has a right to campaign on a position. And they have attacked that right, not just for President Trump but for everyone.


WALKER: Lis, do you expect the defense, during this particular defense, during trial, or is this just for the court of public opinion? What would the best defense be?

WIEHL: Oh no, that's absolutely going to be a theme. By the way, is that lawyer reading from Jack Smith's indictment because he says that right at the indictment. He says Trump has a right to say, you know, I'm angry, I don't like this, whatever. That is our First Amendment right. It is right there in the indictment.

But what Smith says, though, is that Trump went beyond that, right, in trying to orchestrate the overthrow, basically, of the election. And you can't do that. I mean, any fifth grader knows that.

So, of course, you know, he's going to use that. It's going to be a theme. I think the more prevalent theme, should this go to trial before the election, which is of course what they're trying to have -- not have happened, the defense lawyers, is going to be jury nullification.

In other words, you've heard all of this -- you've heard all the evidence, but vote with your heart. Let the man go. Don't vote with the evidence. Jury nullification, you know, it's going to be a common theme along with the First Amendment.

WALKER: Really appreciate the conversation, I know it's a little after 2:00 on the West Coast there and I am amazed by your energy at this time. Lis Wiehl, thank you so much.

WIEHL: Anytime, Amara. Coffee helps.

WALKER: For some, for others, maybe not so much. Thank you so much.

Quick hits across America right now, six white Mississippi ex-police officers have pleaded guilty to federal charges of torturing and sexually assaulting two Black men. They are also expected to plead guilty to state charges.

Police say that an explosion and fire at a Franklin County, New Jersey home left two people dead, two children injured, and two missing. Officials say that a one year old baby is in critical condition.

The College Board now advising Florida schools to cancel any AP psychology courses with LGBTQ content. It is the latest move in reaction to Florida, limiting lessons about LGBTQ issues and race in the state.


The U.S. is considering putting armed troops on civilian ships, we'll tell you why.

And, Saudi Arabia plans to extend its oil cuts as gas prices go up in America.


WALKER: The political crisis in West Africa's Niger is intensifying this morning.

Pro-military supporters turned out in force for the country's independence day on Thursday, protesting the recent sanctions against their country.