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Inside Politics

Grand Jury Hearing Trump Hush Money Case to Take a Break; Christie Pledges to Never Support Trump Again; McCarthy Pressures Biden to Meet on Debt Ceiling; Biden says Budget and Debt Ceiling Talks Should Be Separate; No Talks, No Deal to Avert Nation's Default as Summer Deadline Looms to Raise Debt Ceiling. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 12:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN'S SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And we want to get straight to some Breaking News out of New York, where the Federal Grand Jury looking into the Donald Trump hush money case is now, we're learning, scheduled to go to a break in the month of April. Let's get straight to Kara Scannell, who is outside of the courthouse for us right now.

Kara, what are we learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Abby. So one court administration source is telling us that the Manhattan Grand Jury will go on break on Wednesday of next week, that's April 5th and then return later that month. And this one source says they will be returning on April 24th because of the holidays. Now, this Grand Jury is not meeting today. It is meeting tomorrow, though one court source or to court sources tell us that they're not hearing that Trump case tomorrow. It is unclear. They will be meeting next Monday and Wednesday, but it is unclear if they will hear any testimony about the Trump investigation at that point.

Now, it's important to underscore though that everything is fluid. You know, this Grand Jury process is secret and the D.A.'s Office can make changes as they go. They could always decide to bring in another witness. They could have the Grand Jury meeting and it doesn't preclude them from bringing up the Trump case if they have some new information they want to put before them. So everything is fluid, but we are learning that they do have this break that is scheduled, which could impact just how quickly a decision is made in this case. You know, we do know again, they're not meeting today. They will be in tomorrow.

The sources tell us that they will not be hearing the Trump case then. They are in again next Monday and Wednesday; it is unclear then if they will hear any testimony or be asked to vote on an indictment if D.A. Alvin Bragg decides to go in that direction. All of this is a bit up in the air, but they do have a scheduled break coming up, which means if a decision is not made in the next week and a half or so, then it's likely a decision would be made later this month or possibly later. Abby? PHILLIP: Very interesting development there, Kara Scannell. Let's go to CNN'S Elliott Williams, who is well here with us. So Elliot, what do you make of this? First of all, let's just remind folks that there were some last minute developments presented to the Grand Jury in the last week. And now, we're learning that if something doesn't happen in the next week or so, it could be another month or so before we learn how this will go.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN'S LEGAL ANALYST: It really could, Abby, and it's most important to note that deliberations and everything that happens around a Grand Jury, by law is secret. And so we don't know, number one, what went on in that Room #2, what were the basis for which Alvin Bragg in the D.A.'s Office put evidence on in the first place, and Number 3, what's driving their decisions now as to whether they're calling additional witnesses and so on.

Now, look, we can speculate, but you know -- but like Kara's reporting had noted, part of this was a planned break that the Grand Jury was going to take anyway, on account of a number of holidays that are approaching. So more information may trickle out over the coming weeks, but it's just hard to know at this moment why exactly they're pausing right now.

PHILLIP: That's right, and part of the break, if you look at the calendar, there are some holidays coming up, Passover, Easter, etcetera, and it's already pretty clear. You know, this is April 5th to April 24th.


PHILLIP: That would be already on the calendar, so they would have already known that that was coming down the pike. Elliot Williams, thank you very much. And let's all discuss this with our panel, CNN'S Nia-Malika Henderson is here. Jeff Mason of Reuters and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post are all here. Nia, part of the reason that we are now focused on this is because a certain former president --


PHILLIP: -- has tried to put a timeline on the table that is actually not really substantiated by any facts. And so, as we wait to find out what the Grand Jury is doing, there is an overlay of politics here in which Trump has set a timeline that everyone is now expecting, maybe an indictment, maybe not. The truth is, we don't really know.

HENDERSON: We don't really know. Trump didn't know. He tweeted and everybody sort of followed his lead. He didn't have any information at all about that. He was just putting something out there, all sorts of speculation and then sort of proceeded to beat up on Alvin Bragg in terrible ways and seemingly threatened him. And so, we have in some always been living in Trump's world in a Trump timeline that he created out of thin air.

This Grand Jury seems to be proceeding apace with their own timeline, you know the way other grand juries do, but Donald Trump had to sort of put his thumb on the scale and make us think that something was going to happen immediately.

PHILLIP: And we should also note, the former president is also, you know, socialing on his social media platform about this Grand Jury, about this case, about the D.A. He's trying to put his thumb on the scale, but we don't know if it's having an effect.

[12:35:00] MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: The only place it really is having an effect is actually in the House because just right after Trump talked about this, he made this claim. McCarthy reacted and told his several Committee Chairmen, you have to investigate this -- the Manhattan D.A. is corrupt, very much following the lines of Trump, and that is exactly where you're seeing a lot of this action, probably we will continue to see one of that speculation of look at the federal government weaponizing things against you, against Trump, against Americans. That's a lot of what we're hearing from these House Republicans, and I'm sure that they're only going to continue to tell whatever Trump says.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and I mean, we -- just to reiterate here, we are learning that there might be a break happening in April for this Grand Jury. What that means for Trump, we still don't know. We still don't know.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: No, we don't. I mean, other than as both of you have already said, this has been a timeline set by the former president and it's a reminder I think to the public and to the press that the president, the former president is very good at manipulating the news cycle, and not only the news cycle, but clearly having an impact on what lawmakers are doing, what other people in his party are doing, and that's just a good sort of public service announcement to say this is his MO and it was in his interest to get that out and to get people talking about that, and that's what happened.

PHILLIP: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think it's always good to remind people it's OK to not know. And I think in this case, these legal proceedings are secret for a reason, so that the justice system can operate the way that it is intended to operate. But we'll be right back, right after a quick break.



PHILLIP: Chris Christie, the Trump friend turned foe turned friend turned foe again tells Axios that he's done with the former president. Fresh off of a trip to New Hampshire, he's pledging to never again support Trump saying, Look, I just can't when you have the January 6th choir at a rally and you show video of it. I just don't think that person is appropriate for the presidency, which is good. On Chris Christie for putting his foot down in that moment, but it is amazing how many iterations that Christie has had.

He went from running against Trump to being Trump's ally. He prepared Trump for the 2020 debates and then got COVID as a result. WILLIAMS: He's the one (ph).


PHILLIP: And now this.

WILLIAMS: I think it is also interesting in the broader context of the other candidates who are running for the Republican nomination. You have the president -- former presidents -- former Vice President Mike Pence also doing kind of a slow walk of distancing himself from a man to whom he was absolutely tethered for four years, about whom he gave no criticism that entire time, and now is also drawing a little bit more of a line specifically on January 6th and maybe a few other issues. But it is noteworthy that Chris Christie is doing the same because of the back and forth that he displayed during that entire time, starting with the 2016 election and through Trump's term.

PHILLIP: So here's the reception that he got from New Hampshire voters. This is from Semafor. Christie says I'll be honest with you. We made -- all made a strategic error. I stayed with him in 2016, because I did not want Hillary Clinton to be president. None of us knew what kind of president he really would be or not, Christie added. The attendee replied, I did --



PHILLIP: -- which I think is the responsible of a lot of people, but certainly the response of the contingent, however small they are now, of never Trump Republicans, who really, really do not want Trump to be president, and never did.


PHILLIP: --who Christie's appealing to.

SOTOMAYOR: Yeah. And now, that never Trump group has obviously gotten bigger after the Trump presidency, and you privately hear it from a lot of members on Capitol Hill too, but they will never not vote for Trump if he is the nominee. I think Christie is definitely, if he does jump in, he's going to try and just be the anti-Trump guy. You know, I don't think it's an actual campaign to win the presidency as much as it is, as he's even said, look how I took down Marco Rubio --


SOTOMAYOR: -- just by calling him out and being around.

PHILLIP: Let's listen -- let's listen to him say that on Monday.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco because that's the only thing that's going to defeat Donald Trump. And that means you got to have the skill to do it. That means you have to be fearless.


PHILLIP: So basically, he's saying he's going to like kamikaze the situation. Go in there, run for president only to take Donald Trump out, maybe not to be president?

HENDERSON: Right, by being as pugnacious and in your face, and say anything in the way that Donald Trump is, right? There are never Trumpers; there are always Trumpers; and there are sometimes Trumpies, you know, right? And so he's trying to be the never Trumper. It's a small lane, I think, but what we know so far is that no one who's announced at this point or who seems to be about to announce is going to be in that never Trumper lane. They're essentially, you know, the sometimes Trumpers.

PHILLIP: So this is an interesting strategy. He certainly has the sort of kind of toxic masculinity bravado that Donald Trump has, that I think might be necessary in the Republican Primary (CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yeah, that I think serves him well in a Republican Primary, so we'll see if he actually runs.


PHILLIP: Just how small that contingent is, we have a little bit of evidence from this Marist Poll asking Republican voters, "Do you want Donald Trump to be president again?" 76% say yes. That's a lot of people, not -- which is not to say maybe they would vote for him exclusively in a primary. But they are -- 76% of Republicans are OK with Donald Trump being president, which really just tells us how hard this is going to be of a task for folks who want to take him out of the field.

But coming up next for us, the blame game over the debt ceiling. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is insisting that President Biden is dragging his feet. But Biden says, it's actually the Republican leader who is falling short.



PHILLIP: Happening today on Capitol Hill, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is meeting behind closed doors with House Republicans. Top of the agenda is this looming summer deadline to raise the debt limit. Without congressional action, the nation would default, leaving catastrophic fallout and there is a lot of posturing ahead of the substance. In a letter, Speaker McCarthy pushing for the White House to meet with him and here was the president's response.


UNKNOWN: Will you meet with Speaker McCarthy if he doesn't put a budget out?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, I don't know what we're going to meet on. But I'm --

UNKNOWN: He outlined some points today.

BIDEN: The deal was we each put down our budget.


PHILLIP: I mean, it is a real question here. What are they meeting on?


PHILLIP: What are the talks about? And here is what Kevin McCarthy said yesterday on CNBC about what they are willing to propose to the Biden Administration.


KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: If the president would have a meeting, exactly what I told him. I will have all the $4 trillion sitting there and provide it to you, and you can mark it up. You could tell it to the public. You could do anything you want. The difference here is, he wants to play politics with this and I do not.


PHILLIP: You know, there is another option here available to Speaker McCarthy, which is to release the $4 trillion in cuts, so that the public can see it and Biden will see it too, by default. He did provide some details in the letter about what they're proposing, lowering energy costs, reclaiming unspent COVID funds, reducing non- defense spending, strengthening work requirements for social programs. But, my math doesn't get to $4 trillion when I look at that.

WILLIAMS: There is a reason beyond the debt ceiling that President Biden and the White House wants Speaker McCarthy to release those details. It's because they're going to be unpopular with a good chunk of the American public, certainly with Democrats, because it's about social programs that are really important to the Democratic base and, quite frankly, to the non-Democratic everyone.



WILLIAMS: Yeah. So that's the reason I think, you know, one of the big questions that we will see answered or not answered in the next couple of months is who blinks. And right now, it's just getting closer and closer to that threshold.

PHILLIP: And what we do know is that they're basically not talking. Here is Congressman Patrick McHenry talking about the lack of talks right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: We are at a standstill. The only path for an agreement between this Administration is through the House of Representatives and with the Speaker. There's no back channel conversations going. I would be aware of those. There's no staff conversation going. I would be aware of those. So I've never been more pessimistic about where we stand with the debt ceiling and we've been in some bad situations before.


PHILLIP: That is not good news.



SOTOMAYOR: And you're hearing House Republicans say that out loud in the last couple of days for the first time that they're like, "OK, the math is not adding up on our side either." They're -- the anxieties that we have been hearing about this looming deadline that we are now seeing getting closer and closer with no solution, they are actually saying it out loud.

PHILLIP: I'm getting anxious here.

SOTOMAYOR: Seriously.



SOTOMAYOR: And when you ask about what are the cuts, they're still trying to figure that out. And right now, before the Freedom Caucus, the staunchest conservatives were saying, we need to pass the budget before the debt ceiling or tie both of them together, so that we can get what we want here. But now, even they're changing their tune saying, "You know what? Let's just pass the debt ceiling because they understand that defaulting is not the same as a government shutdown, and then we can deal with the budget."

So you are starting to see some moves. But still, everyone just wants Biden and McCarthy to meet and talk.


SOTOMAYOR: We don't know if they're going to have a conversation.


PHILLIP: What are they going to talk?

HENDERSON: You got to have something to talk about.

PHILLIP: Right. And I think this is to your point, if Republicans can't coalesce on what their demands are, it's going to be hard to come to a negotiating table with the Biden Administration who's basically saying we want to give you absolutely nothing.

HENDERSON: Exactly, exactly, and so far, I mean, Republicans have given them absolutely nothing in terms of what their ideas for the cuts are precisely because of what you've said. Democrats have been pretty expert at beating Republicans over the head with his idea that they want to cut Social Security, that they want to cut Medicare, that they want to cut all sorts of social programs. And over these last months, I think there has been this sort of waiting game for House Republicans to reveal what their grand plan is, and so far nothing. So you have the president saying there, "Well, what are we going to meet to talk about, Kevin?"

PHILLIP: I mean, how do you think this ends? Are you getting nervous? We've seen some standoffs before around this table, but --

WILLIAMS: I think more importantly than my nerves, I think the White House is a little nervous, you know.



WILLIAMS: I think that they realize that they may have -- be coming from a position of strength to the extent that they see a principal and we're not going to talk. We're not going to negotiate about raising the debt ceiling. This is the U.S. creditworthiness on the line. But on the other hand, they don't want it to get so close and they don't want that danger to start spooking the markets.


WILLIAMS: We have just come through a couple of weeks (ph) of a banking crisis, right?

PHILLIP: There is real --

SOTOMAYOR: Yeah, economic peril.

PHILLIP: Right here.

WILLIAMS: And there is -- it would be a lot worse -- I mean, they've -- people -- officials there have told me and it goes without saying that that would be a lot worse than this banking crisis.

HENDERSON: Yeah, and this group of House Republicans is very different from House Republicans we have covered in the past.

PHILLIP: Much further to the right, actually, in this group here. But that's it for us here on 'Inside Politics.' Thank you for joining us. Up next, right here on CNN, Alex Marquardt picks up our coverage after a quick break.