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Inside Politics

Sources: Manhattan D.A Invites Trump To Testify; Trump Invite To Testify Signals Indictment Decision Soon; FL Gov DeSantis Makes First Visit To Iowa; DeSantis And Haley In Iowa Today, Trump To Visit Monday; Haley's Dig: "I Didn't Go To An Ivy League"; Economy Added 311K Jobs In Feb, Beating Expectations; Biden On Jobs Report: "Not Just Good Numbers, People Can Feel It". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 12:00   ET



STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Also, we have to keep in mind, Will Smith is banned from the Oscars because of last year's incident. Normally he would present the Best Actress award as the best actor winner from the previous year. So, we have to wait and see who wins there. And best supporting actress will be Jamie Lee Curtis or Angela Bassett, those are the two front runners there.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST, AT THIS HOUR: We never have enough time because I actually have some serious thoughts and notes. I wanted to talk about stuff. And we'll leave it for our camera. I will text you again. What I'm saying Nostalgia. I'm really liking Nostalgia. It's great to see you. Have a great weekend. Thanks for watching everybody. Inside Politics starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing another very busy news day with us. And invitation, the teaser is a potential indictment. Manhattan prosecutors asked Donald Trump to testify before a grand jury. It is a very big indication they could be close to charging the former president for his role in buying the silence of a porn star mistress. A familiar Trump world character says, do not expect his onetime boss to show.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Now, knowing Donald as well as I do understand that he doesn't tell the truth. It's one thing to turn around and to lie on your untruth social. It's another thing to turn around and lie before a grand jury, which I don't suspect that he's going to be coming.


KING: Plus, Iowa today, Nevada tomorrow, a super PAC at the ready. Ron DeSantis sends very loud signals. Yes, he's running for president. And a new report card for the Biden economy, more jobs, more people looking for work, bigger paychecks. New numbers show more resilience. Yet, so much good news does feed worries about inflation and Fed rate hikes.

Up first for us though, prosecutors on the doorstep of what would be a history shattering possibility. A criminal indictment against the former President Donald Trump. A source confirming now to CNN, the Manhattan district attorney extended to Mr. Trump an opportunity to testify before a grand jury.

That invitation is a legally required step before New York prosecutors can ask the grand jury to return criminal charges. That panel we know is examining if Mr. Trump broke the law by allegedly orchestrating a hush money payment. In October 2016, October 2016, that's just before the election to buy the silence of Stephanie Clifford, better known in the adult film world by her screen name, Stormy Daniels.

The developments first reported by the New York Times pushed Mr. Trump into a new level of legal jeopardy, but the case is far from clear cut. It does rely on a novel legal theory. And it may hinge on a star witness who like Mr. Trump has a very rich history of straying far from the truth. That's the former Trump attorney fixer and felon, Michael Cohen.

Cohen is meeting with New York prosecutors today. And a source tells CNN, he is expected to provide additional testimony on Monday. A giant question is what new evidence of prosecutors collected to consider charges now, in a tabloid drama we have all lived for years.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

KATIE HILL, FORMER CALIFORNIA CONGRESSWOMAN: Did the president call you to coordinate on public messaging about the payments to miss Clifford's in or around February 2018?


HILL: What did the president ask or suggest that you say about the payments or reimbursements?

COHEN: He was not knowledgeable of these reimbursements, and he wasn't knowledgeable of my actions.

HILL: Yes, you to say that.

COHEN: Yes, ma'am.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their legal insights, CNN's Paula Reid, CNN's Kara Scannell, and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig. Kara let me start with you. You've been covering this case for some time in the investigation spans now nearly five years. It involves $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels back again in October 2016. The timing quite obvious a month before the election. Michael Cohen then was later he says reimbursed by the Trump White House for this from the White House. Why now, Kara? Why are they right at the threshold now where they have this legal responsibility to invite Mr. Trump in? Do we know what new evidence or what compilation of evidence has convinced the New York prosecutors? This is our moment.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think it's not that there is new evidence. It's just that there might be a new legal theory here, right. So, the issue here, hush money payments themselves are not illegal. The theory that the prosecutors are investigating and what they're weighing is possible charges against the former president for falsifying business records, and that that's a misdemeanor in New York and that is not for.

Again, the hush money payment, it's how the Trump organization accounted for the reimbursement payments to Michael Cohen in their books. They wrote in their books that they were legal expenses. The question there is, was that an accurate depiction?

Now prosecutors are exploring the possibility of bringing this as a felony, which means falsifying business records to conceal or commit another crime. And that brings you to this question of campaign finance, right? That's what Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to on federal charges and went to prison for making this outsized $130,000 payment, which prosecutors argued, and he admitted under oath and a guilty plea was a campaign finance violation.


The novel theory here is, does that apply under New York state law? And that's a question that has - what been one that has vexed prosecutors looking at this from both the current District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the previous District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

Now that office sources told me, would have brought this as part of a bigger case, but they would not have brought it as a standalone charge. It seems that the Bragg's office is taking a different look at this. They have decided not to pursue some of these other potential crimes that have the longest under investigation, more financial crimes.

They really seem to have honed into this. They're focusing on this as their new legal theory. And they appear to be moving forward quickly and soon to possibly making a decision, John?

KING: That would be a big decision. Now Paula Reid, Michael Cohen at the top of the show. He's meeting with prosecutors says, he doesn't think his former boss will show up. You've been in touch with the Trump legal team. What do they say?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's highly unlikely that he is going to join this parade of high-profile witnesses that we've seen going before the grand jury. In recent weeks, there has certainly been an uptick in activity in this investigation. That is Kara, you noted as we're going for five years, we've seen Hope Hicks. You've seen Kellyanne Conway, and Michael Cohen meeting with prosecutors today as well, highly, highly unlikely that the former president would go before that grand jury. But look, if you're going to take this unprecedented step to indict a former president.

Big question, is this the case that you want to bring? We're talking about conduct that is approximately seven years old. It's a novel legal theory at its core, it is a paperwork crime, and your central witness is Michael Cohen, a convicted liar who just moments ago. Once again for the umpteenth time, went before cameras and said disparaging things about the former president, any good defense attorney is going to seize on that.

KING: So, Elie Honig, jump in then. As the former prosecutor put those skills to play here. If you're the Manhattan district attorney, you understand what was just outlined there by Paula. It's an old case. Is it something you would charge anybody with, and justice is supposed to be blind?

Everyone is supposed to be treated equally. But this is the former president United States who happens to be a candidate in the next election as well. What do you make of, A, the evidence we know publicly? And this idea Kara presents of a novel legal theory to make what might be a misdemeanor into in this case, if you can connect the dots a felony.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, John. So, first of all, the publicly known evidence, I think, is sufficient to charge a case legally, technically sufficient. But I agree with Paula and Kara, it is not an overwhelming case. It is not a slam dunk case. for exactly the reasons we've been discussing.

If Michael Cohen is going to be your star witness, keep in mind, the federal prosecutors across the street, my former office, the Southern District of New York, A, rejected Michael Cohen. They said we're not using him. We don't find him credible. B, passed on bringing this case.

Now as to the novel legal theory here, absolutely correct. This is a novel legal theory. New York State law has never been charged in precisely this way. But I do think I should say, the fact that a theory is novel doesn't mean it's completely meritless.

And so, prosecutors are going to have to make a bit of a creative legal argument here. It's really a much better fit for federal laws. So, I think we're going to see state prosecutors sort of trying to wedge a square peg into a round hole here, which is another challenge with making this case.

KING: And so, Kara, we've had this conversation in just about every one of the Trump investigations, which is credibility issues with some of the other witnesses. Donald Trump has a very distant relationship with the truth, but so many of the people around him including Michael Cohen, which makes it interesting to me, that among the Trump insider is brought in late in this grand jury investigation recently. We assume it's late in the investigation.

Kellyanne Conway, the former Trump campaign manager, obviously. I worked with him in the White House. Hope Hicks, who was with Donald Trump in the business sector, before the campaign and then at the White House, David Pecker is the National Enquirer Publisher, Michael Cohen there.

But the two women on the left, Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks. Hope Hicks, especially the lengthy relationship with Donald Trump pre campaign and into the White House. Do we understand? Are they trying to get corroborating evidence? Because they know a good defense lawyer would say, you can't trust Michael Cohen.

SCANNELL: Yes. I mean, that's exactly why they're bringing these people. As we learned from the federal investigation, when there was word that Stormy Daniels was thinking about going public with her allegations of an affair with Trump, which he has denied. There was a scramble to try to lock down that story.

And as we've seen from the Federal filings in this case, it involved calls between Michael Cohen, David Pecker, Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, all relaying in real time how this was going to play out if they'd be able to stop Daniels, and the orchestration of this payment.

So, what prosecutors here want to do is they want to lock in the testimony under oath by these witnesses about their roles. They can lay out the timeline to the jury, and there's also paperwork that they can use to try to corroborate and support this. But you can see that's why they don't want to put it all in the hands of one witness.

And also, if this were to, if this wouldn't be charged, and if it were to go to trial. If you bring the same witnesses in to testify, they will have their grand jury testimony locked in and something that they could always use to hold them to account on, but they want to lock in this story now. John?

KING: So, Elie, let's listen to Donald Trump. This is April 2018. So, he has more than a year into his presidency, and he's asked, did you know about the payments to Stormy Daniels.



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

DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: No, no. What else?

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Again, we've discussed and for years people have discussed the credibility of Michael Cohen. Does it help Michael Cohen as a witness at all that Donald Trump there says, he's the guy who knows about it.

HONIG: It does help Michael Cohen and it helps prosecutors' case. That's actually a quite valuable piece of evidence for prosecutors. Because you show a jury, you go, here's Donald Trump. He is lying right here, folks. He's saying, he does not know about these payments. We know for sure that he does know about them.

Now there's a separate question as to criminal intent. But this shows that Donald Trump is trying to cover something up. It's a helpful piece of evidence. And I do want to be clear on this. I do not think the prosecution's case here is overwhelming, or a slam dunk or a smoking gun, but they do have a case.

And you know, I did some reporting on the deliberations behind the scenes at the Southern District of New York. Two years ago, they were considering this same fact pattern trying to decide whether to charge Donald Trump. And the consensus among the federal prosecutors was that there was enough evidence to charge.

Some felt it was close to the line. Others felt it was beyond that. So, this case does have some proof issues, but it is enough to charge now, whether it's going to result in a conviction, I think is a completely different question.

KING: And Paula Reid, just to button this up. This is the Trump spokesman, the CNN, the D.A, and the former D.A been scouring every aspect of President Trump's personal life and business fears for years in search of a crime and needs to stop. This is simply not what our justice system is about. That's what they say. And they throw witch hunt on everything. And they say, it's all Democrats and alike.

However, it has to be a pretty ominous word. When you get word, we'd like to invite you before the grand jury. And you understand the New York State law requires that before you can ask for charges.

REID: Yes. It's not great news for the Trump legal team. I spoke with one of the former president's attorneys a short time ago. And look, they came out swinging at the district attorney, they allege that this is politically motivated.

They point out well, we've all been discussing, which is these legal theories are largely untested, so not great news for them. But if you talk to his lawyers across the cases, this is not one that they are especially concerned about as compared to what's going on in Georgia.

KING: Now we are clearly getting close to decision time. We'll watch it play out. Paula Reid, Kara Scannell, Elie Honig, appreciate the insights. Up next for us. Out of Florida, into the heartland, Governor Ron DeSantis. You see right there, he's in Iowa today. It's his first big 2024 road test.




KING: Ron DeSantis making a big, a huge step toward 2024. Visiting Iowa for the first time today. The Florida Governor meeting with early-stage voters and influential Iowa Republicans, as he targets an official campaign announcement sometime after the Florida legislature wraps up its session in May.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA: I bring greetings from the free state of Florida. When I meet Iowans in Florida, they're happy. They love their state because it's well run.


KING: This Iowa swing also setting DeSantis, you see they're on a collision course with Donald Trump, who makes his first visit of the cycle to Iowa on Monday. Let's check in, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, just by happenstance live for us today in Des Moines. Jeff, you're there, DeSantis is there, Haley is there, Trump is coming. Proof to me, the calendar says March 2023, but?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's no doubt. I mean, we are probably nine or 10 months away before the first votes of the 2024 presidential contest. Of course, that will start in the Republican side right here in Iowa. And of course, Governor DeSantis is promoting his book, but he's selling his candidacy, at least the idea of his candidacy.

So many Republicans here have been eager to see the Florida governor in a person, in the flesh. They've heard so much about him. They've heard so much about his proposals. And on his first ever trip to Iowa, he talked about exactly what the Florida legislature has been doing.


GOV. DESANTIS: You know, I always tell my legislators, you watch Iowa, watch these - do not let them get ahead of us on any of this stuff. So, we've got our legislature in session now. So, buckle up, we will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Our state is where woke goes to die.


ZELENY: And speaking of legislators, the governor will be coming here to Des Moines, the capital. And in the building behind me here, the state capital, he'll be meeting with Republican legislators here. I'm told, he'll also be taking private meetings with other influential Republicans, some advisors, some donors, some operatives, so this is more than a fishing expedition. This is a sort of an exploration before he does a formal announcement. There is no flirtation here. He is running, his advisors believe.

But, John, the question is there are still some Trump allies here, some strong admirers. We've been talking to you all week. Others are open to a different Republican. But is it going to be Governor DeSantis? What is going to happen when they start defining each other?

The Trump allies are already pointing to the governor's record on COVID, other matters. So, this race is becoming fully joined here. We'll see what the governor does perhaps on his next visit, that could be even more important. John?

KING: Fascinating to watch. It is getting busier and busier and busier. Jeff Zeleny, glad you're there for us in Iowa. Thanks so much. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, Seung Min Kim of The Associated Press, Carl Hulse of The New York Times, and CNN's Eva McKend.

Jeff just hit it there. You see Governor DeSantis. The question is can he sell Florida to Iowa to New Hampshire and beyond in the primary calendar? He's going to be to raise the money. He believes he has the record in Florida to appeal at least to the Republican base. So, one of the things as Jeff noted, and this is from a piece Jeff did. There are still a lot of Trump supporters out there who say, we got a guy, why look at somebody else.


TERRY PEARCE, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I think Donald Trump is the only one that can lead us back to where we were in 2020. I especially like Ron DeSantis. However, I think this time is down the road a little bit.


BRAD BOUSTEAD, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I'm a Trump supporter. And if he's not on the ballot, I'm going to ride him in.


KING: It is. You know, most of these early Republican states, most Republican states throughout the counter have winner take all rules. Go in a crowded field, Donald Trump gets 20 something or 30 something. You can win the state and get it. The challenge for Governor DeSantis and anyone else is to convince those people, please, think again.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right, right. But those Trump voters are obviously diehard and will stick by Donald Trump, no matter what. But there are also a lot of rank-and-file voters who are looking at that electability issue. They looked at the results from not only 2020, but just how poorly a lot of these Trump backed candidates fared in 2022.

And they say, you know, we like Trump. We like his policies. We like, you know, perhaps even a style. But we have to win in 2024, which is why you do see kind of his openness. So, hearing about DeSantis, and I think, you know, DeSantis it seemed to, you know, very much win over the crowd, at least in Davenport.

This morning, I was looking at the headlines from his speech. You know, the Des Moines register said, he excites the crowd in is Iowa debut. And there's a lot of curiosity from Iowa voters about learning about this guy, who has attracted a lot of national attention, leading up to a perhaps an, you know, a likely presidential bid.

KING: Yes. Governor Haley has been out there, former Ambassador Haley from South Carolina, been out there as well, getting pretty good crowds. So, you could tell, Iowans are excited to have a campaign. They're unlikely to have a contested Democratic nomination. So, they're excited to have a campaign. And you see them out there.

Jonathan Martin in POLITICO writing this called, Trump's loyalists are so committed, and his skeptic so determined to find an alternative that the market of competition is shifting to the race-within-a-race, the battle to be the last Republican standing against the former president. That's at least what Republicans in Washington are saying, like can you get.

So, maybe we'll have six candidates at the beginning. Who's going to be the one standing. DeSantis thinks Florida fundraising, his record in the state. He's essentially a younger version of Trump in many ways. He thinks it's him. How does he get there? How does he prove it?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, these retail politics are important. I think this is sort of the only way that he can make inroads by sort of picking off voters one by one or speaking to voters one by one. That I think is a unique thing that he can do some of the other candidates as well. And something that is going to be harder for a former president to do, and especially someone like Trump, who is a celebrity, right?

Can he navigate and get into these small intimate settings in the same way that the governor can? So, I would imagine we're going to continue to see him really lean into this because it is sort of one of the only ways to distinguish yourself and what is going to be a crowded field.

KING: And I mentioned Governor Haley, she's been out in Iowa for a few days now. It's her second trip since announcing. In many ways, she implicitly criticizes Trump by saying, we don't need an 80-year-old guy. She's criticizing both Biden and Trump when she says that. But listen to this quarrel, no doubt who she has in mind here.


NIKKI HALEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not go to the Ivy League Schools, like you're going to see some of the other candidates come through here. I went to a public school. I went to Clemson University, Go Tigers. I don't mind being underestimated. It makes me good. It makes me scrappy.


KING: A couple of things. Governor DeSantis went to Harvard and Yale, that's who she had in mind there. And the underdog scrappy thing, history says sometimes that's the candidate who emerges. But the early take on this race is Trump DeSantis, and then, you know, who else? CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's a new, new that we game on. That's what I say. You know, this whole thing is, it's getting going. I do think that Governor DeSantis is someone who covered the Iowa caucuses, shows us a strong ability to pander Iowa voters in these remarks, which is a big attribute in these caucuses.

Trump thinks he created Governor DeSantis, right, by endorsing him, getting him elected governor. So, this is going to be a really ugly fight. I think Trump is going to try and take him down. But DeSantis seems to have a lot of confidence right now. He's gotten this great press coverage anyway.

And now I think the question is, how do these Florida policies play in the rest of the country? How are people going to accept him? But I mean, that was sort of the most up, I have seen him. So, you can see he's feeling it and is ready to go.

MCKEND: I will say one thing about Ambassador Haley. She doesn't sort of elicit this visceral response that some of the other candidates do, right? Governor DeSantis is a really divisive figure. Even Governor Glenn Youngkin last night who held a town hall here, there were protesters that showed up in opposition to his policy on trans students. So, I think that is the benefit that she has, right? She doesn't inspire a lot of anger. I think among at least some of the center and the left in this country.

KING: That's why it's interesting. They're out there now testing, but you make a very key point. The individual events are interesting, and they're all going to fit on a debate stage at some point. And we learned in 2016 what that can be like with Donald Trump in the middle.

Up next for us. The new jobs report is strong, even stronger than expected. It's good news for workers. And yes, it's good news for the president. Yet some worry, the Fed will see it as too good.



KING: The strong new jobs report today. Employers adding 311,000 jobs in February, exceeding expectations. The unemployment rate is just he ticked up slightly to 3.6 percent, but that is still exceptionally low. President Biden quick to celebrate, and yes, quick to take some credit.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: The job is about a lot more than a paycheck, as I said, it's about dignity. It's about your family's dignity. And 12 million more Americans can look their kids in the eye and say, honey is going to be OK. I mean it. You know, that's a little more dignity for 12 million Americans. It's not just good numbers, people can feel it.