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Sources: Trump Facing 30+ Counts Related To Business Fraud; Trump Expected To Surrender Tuesday And Face Arraignment; Lawyer: Former President Will Not Accept Plea Deal; Historic: Trump Is First U.S. President To Face Criminal Charges; Op-Ed: "Failed Prosecution" Could Jeopardize Other Probes; Source: Trump Arraignment Expected Tuesday At 2:15pm; DA Bragg's Office Slams House GOP Investigation Of Trump Probe. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired March 31, 2023 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Abby Phillip in for John King in Washington. Indicted, a Manhattan grand jury makes history charging Donald Trump with more than 30 counts connected to a hush money cover up of his alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. All those details are still under seal. But Republicans aren't waiting on the fact that are rushing to defend the former president.
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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): This is legal Buddha. You got a misdemeanor that's been made a felony. This case will follow like a cheap suit under legal scrutiny.
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PHILLIP: Plus, team Trump plans to mount a loud defense in the court of public opinion, and to keep a list of who is defending him and who isn't.
But up first, the people of the state of New York versus Donald J. Trump. A Manhattan grand jury returning a 30 plus count indictment against the former president of the United States. Sources are telling CNN, and the arraignment and the charges are expected to be on Tuesday in a hold your breath moment for the entire country.
But today, Trump's attorney says that his client plans to plead not guilty and he puts the odds of a plea deal at precisely zero. And the Trump legal team promises substantial legal challenges to kill D.A. Alvin Bragg's case before it even gets to trial.
We also learned a little bit more about the x's and o's of getting a former president from his Florida compound to 100 Center Street in Manhattan. Prosecutors had wanted Trump to surrender today, but Trump's attorney says he'll show up next week, but that he won't be put in handcuffs. And every single one of New York City's 36,000 cops has been told to get ready to deploy. So, let's get straight to CNN's Kara Scannell, who is right now outside of that courthouse. Kara, we are learning much more about what the choreography of all of this will look like. Tell us about some of those details.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, law enforcement sources tell CNN that the NYPD Secret Service and the investigators with the Manhattan district attorney's office are having a meeting today to figure out the logistics of this historic moment with the heightened security concerns.
We, our colleague was just on the floor where the judge's chambers are and where the courtroom would be, and it's sealed off now to the public. They're trying to work through, go through, a walkthrough in a sense and figure out how they will handle this.
How will the motorcade transport the former president down to the courthouse? What entrance will he enter into? And he has to go through the normal process of being fingerprinted of having his mugshot taken and then escorted into the courtroom? So, all law enforcement on hands trying to figure out the best and the safest way to have this happen. Because of course, as you'll remember, the former president has called for protests.
Now we have not seen very many people out here protesting, it's mostly media for now. And the expectation is, of course, who knows what will happen on Tuesday when Trump is expected to be arraigned and those charges will be unsealed.
Now, at the same time, Trump is now starting to react to these charges. He's lashing out at the judge who has been handed this case that this judge has overseen the tax fraud trial of the Trump organization. Trump saying that he railroaded his former chief financial officer into pleading guilty.
And of course, that Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, did testify at the trial and did help secure that conviction for prosecutors. The judge did not railroad westward to doing that, he voluntarily pleaded guilty to 15 felony counts and he's currently serving a brief sentence at Rikers Island.
Now, as far as what else is happening here today, we did see Alvin Bragg attend an unrelated sentencing for a hate crime case, but giving the appearance that he wants to keep this business as usual. I asked him about the significance of yesterday's indictment. He declined to answer any questions.
PHILLIP: All right, Kara Scannell, in New York City. Thank you for all of that. And here to talk about this truly unprecedented moment for this country. And this case against the former president, CNN's Evan Perez, CNN's legal analyst Carrie Cordero, and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.
The contours of this case are still under seal as we've just been discussing. But what we do know it according to our sources is that we're looking at more than 30 counts, and that this pertains to falsification of business records, and potentially a felony that is associated with that that elevates it. So, can you explain to folks who might just be tuning in here today, what is facing Trump here in this case?
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Sure. So, as you mentioned that we - our understanding is that the investigation is focused on the falsification of business records, which is a misdemeanor in New York. It can be a felony, if the falsification was committed with the intent to cover up a separate crime. We don't know what that separate crime might be.
There are possibilities they could pin it to an alleged violation of federal campaign, financing laws, or an alleged violation of state campaign financing laws or potentially tax crimes are all, there's a broad spectrum of possibility there. But our assumption at this point, and it's entirely an assumption is that it'll be the business records falsification charge of the foundation, with potentially related to a second crime.
PHILLIP: And Evan, I want you to weigh in on this too, because one of the main arguments from the Trump side of this is that this is all old news. And I mean, people, viewers would have been hearing about these allegations to Stormy Daniels allegation since the 2016 campaign. So, what's your understanding of why this case has resurfaced now?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's, frankly, a bit of a mystery for everyone involved. The New York investigators have been looking at this for now about five years. The federal investigators had looked at these very same allegations and ended up deciding not to bring charges on this.
So, there is still very much, I think the onus is on the district attorney in Manhattan, to perhaps in the coming weeks, say why they're doing this and why after everyone had looked at this, they decided that this was the case.
Again, we don't know everything, right? We don't know, certainly the additional charges that may be leveled here and may be more than just the Stormy Daniels' allegations. So, until we see that, I think we can't really judge as to whether, you know, maybe they discovered something new, right, and it wasn't everybody else.
PHILLIP: Yes. Trump's attorneys, I want you to listen to this. This is Joe Tacopina on NBC Today. Basically saying, that this didn't really go beyond the internal documents of Trump organization.
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SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CO-ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: These business records were solely internally only for the Trump organization. No IRS, no third party, no insurance company. No one else on the outside of the Trump organization ever relied on these records that were called falsely legal services. JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: I wouldn't say falsely, but that's another issue. We can debate later if you'd like or right now. But yes, you're the answer your initial questions, you are correct. No one else relied on them. No one else had to rely on them. This was a personal resolution for a personal matter that would have been made irrespective of the campaign. So, with those facts together, there is no crime.
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PHILLIP: This OK, Carrie. I mean, this is I think most people would agree a bit of a tough case. And partly because these kinds of allegations are very difficult to sort of prove that there was an actual crime committed here.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. Well, so you're seeing there the preview of what the former president's defense is going to be. And one of the big questions that all of us have in this case, especially because we haven't yet seen the actual indictment. So hopefully, we'll see that next week and see what the charges are being filed.
Is that the underlying crime, this other crime that Andy was talking about, that pertains to the falsification of records, if that is not a crime that the former president was ever charged with. So, if he hasn't been charged, and he hadn't been with federal tax crimes, with the campaign finance violation himself, then there really is a question about the legal theory about the D.A.'s case as to whether this is a valid prosecution.
And I would expect that that will be the basis for the former president's motions to dismiss this case. And so, we should note that this has a long way to go. Before we even get to a trial if there is a trial in terms of motions that the former president will make. And there are some credible arguments, these are not going to be frivolous arguments that he may make.
PHILLIP: Is it possible that the D.A. has a lot more that we don't know? Take a listen to Lanny Davis. He's the attorney for Michael Cohen, who is a key part of this entire case.
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DON LEMON, CNN CO-ANCHORS, THIS MORNING: Are there more financial dealings that we don't know about Lanny?
LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY TO MICHAEL COHEN: A lot more.
LEMON: You said a lot like what?
DAVIS: Like documents memorializing the decision to pay the hush money, like telephone calls, like emails, like other witnesses involved in the payment of the hush money.
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PHILLIP: But I'm hearing that and he's still talking about the same underlying conduct, right? So, I mean do you think that there's - it's possible that this could be broader in scope that there's way more that we don't know that could be under seal in this case?
MCCABE: It's certainly possible, right. And we won't know until we see that indictment unsealed next week. I think it's likely that the prosecutor has evidence in some of the forms that the attorney just mentioned in the piece that you played, that we're not aware of. So, there's the case that he's bringing is likely stronger, or at least based on evidence that we're not aware of.
And I also think, I think you're absolutely right about the potential legal challenges to this theory. But you have to assume that Alvin Bragg has put some very smart people on these issues, researching them assiduously for the last, at least since January, when this thing really heated up in front of the grand jury. So, you've got to assume they know that they have some legal hurdles to get over, and of course of this prosecution, and they must feel confident enough about their ability to do that.
PHILLIP: What do you think about next week and the choreography of it all? We've been talking a lot about. I mean, Trump is literally fundraising off the idea that he'll be arrested and handcuffed and fingerprinted and photographed. What do we know about what that's going to look like?
PEREZ: Well, I mean, look, as you pointed out, it's a bit of a delicate choreography going on. The secret service is going to be there. They already are there working through the security arrangements. One of the things we know is, you know, they are treating this as, you know, from their standard protocols, right, which means that they're going to go test the magnetometers to make sure they're up to secret service standards.
They're going to be there in front of him, around him, armed security agents. The question of whether he's going to be handcuffed has been obviously something that's been ruminating a lot. There is no expectation that he will be, but obviously, that's something that this the lawyers and the D.A. are going to have to work out.
But you know, the secret service from the secret services standpoint, they believe that this is that should be quick, they can get him in and out, they have no concerns about his security, they know they can pull this off. Obviously, there is another factor here that we're not, I think accounted for, which is the Donald Trump can factor.
He obviously, wants to fundraise on this. He may want that picture of him in handcuffs. He definitely wants to wave at his supporters outside the Trump tower. So, there's a part of this that nobody really can orchestrate without Donald Trump.
PHILLIP: At the very least, he'll use it to his advantage. Carrie, before we go, John Edwards, former Democratic presidential candidate looms large in all of this because of the similarities with the campaign finance violation. Do you think those similarities are really at play here?
CORDERO: Well, so that was, you know, it was a different case. But I think it does provide just a historical marker to indicate that when you're talking about payments made to women in these types of situations, it's not necessarily clear cut. And that also involved the campaign finance laws.
So, you know, one of the reason that we are so and I am personally so interested to see the indictment, and whether it indicates that it relies on that campaign finance connection, which is the similarity to the Edwards' case, is that whether or not this type of payment goes in that direction, and the fact that the federal government appears to have passed on bringing that case.
PHILLIP: Yes, that's a key point. And also, there's a question here of intent, how much was Trump knowingly doing something that may have been---
PEREZ: Which, by the way, you can - which you can show with documents. I mean, it is possible that show with documents. So, you know, again, we have to reserve judgment until we see what they actually have.
PHILLIP: Exactly. All right. Thank you all for joining us on all of that. And as our coverage continues, coming up, John Dean, the former Nixon White House Counsel joins us on the historic nature of this indictment and the political fallout that is already unfolding.
PHILLIP: Donald Trump is the first American president to be indicted. And we have just learned that Trump will travel to New York City on Monday ahead of his arraignment on Tuesday. But for some historical contexts here, don't forget President Richard Nixon, the Watergate scandal may have gone this route. If Nixon successor Gerald Ford didn't preemptively pardon him for told CNN's Larry King, why in a 1999 interview?
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GERALD FORD, 38TH U.S. PRESIDENT: f I had not granted the pardon, there would have been an indictment. There would have been a trial. There probably without a question of a doubt a conviction. And then you would have had one, two, three or four years of appeal. It would have been a traumatic incident in the country for three to five years.
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PHILLIP: Let's discuss this with the star witness of the Watergate scandal. Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. John, you know better than anyone the kind of emotion that this sort of incident had in the Watergate era. Should people be concerned today about what Gerald Ford is describing there. Another three to five years of turmoil for this country, if Trump is indicted, and faces a trial over this?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, I understood Ford's position at the time he took it because he was very worried about his ability to govern his ability to do the things, he thought he should do as president. Because every day he was getting requests relating to Nixon tapes, Nixon documents, and they'd have to go through a whole process that would just tying up his presidency and not.
So, the pardon was as much for Gerald Ford, as it was for Richard Nixon. I don't think the men were close, but they were really, really good friends. And I don't think it was a matter of compassion, or even protecting the presidency. I think it was the Ford presidency itself that was jeopardized by the ongoing investigations.
PHILLIP: Yes. And we've just learned as we are talking right now that the former President Trump will be arraigned on Tuesday at 2:15pm in Manhattan, in this hush money case. There are a lot of questions being raised right now by people, whether they like Trump or not, Democrats and Republicans about the nature of this case. You have David Urban in a quote to, The Washington Post saying, if you're going to indict the president, there should be a dead body laying next to him. And this is far from it. What's your view on that?
DEAN: Well, first of all, we do not know exactly what those 30 plus counts of the indictment might be. So that's we're all speculating. So, at this point, I from what I've heard over the last 24 hours, think this is a heavy documents case, that what somebody like Michael Cohen can do is explained documents. And documents speak very loudly, and they're very hard to impeach.
So, I given the, the number of counts, I think it's going to be not the most exciting case when it goes to trial, but it's going to be a solid case. And the Manhattan D.A. brings these kinds of cases with great regularity. They are sort of standard fare where somebody messes with their business records. They're held accountable when they have to show those records. So, this isn't some off the wall case. It's standard procedure in that office.
PHILLIP: What makes this unprecedented on multiple levels, though, is that this is a former president who is facing not just this case, but as two other investigations, one in Georgia, and one being carried out by a special counsel.
And The Washington Post editorial board makes this point that the Justice Department's examinations at the January 6, 2021, insurrection, the classified documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago, those cases are straightforward cases compared with the one preceding in Manhattan. A failed prosecution over the hush money payment could put them all in jeopardy.
Do you agree that D.A. Bragg has a really a lot of pressure that he's facing right now, not just to prove this case but to not lose this case, so as to not jeopardize other cases that might proceed later? DEAN: I think he fully understands that. That's why I mentioned I thought it was heavy documents case. And those cases are very hard to defend against. Now, Trump's going to obviously do a lot of motions and things of that nature. That's all been anticipated. This is a very seasoned office in Manhattan. So, you know, I know, they know the responsibility they're taking on.
You know, it may have been the statute of limitations or some other reason they felt they had to move, when they're moving and why they're doing it now, and why they didn't wait until after the current recess of the grand jury and it came down yesterday. All those answers will really be revealed, I think, by the talking indictment, which sounds like it will be.
PHILLIP: John Dean, thank you for all of that and all of that historical context that you bring to this story. And up ahead for us, a Republican divide on Donald Trump's indictment. Reactions including outrageous and legal voodoo dominate these early responses, but there are some not so quick to rush to the former president's defense.
PHILLIP: I want to bring you up to speed on the latest developments. CNN has just learned that former President Donald Trump will head to New York on Monday before his arraignment. And according to sources, CNN also expects him to be arraigned on Tuesday at 2:15pm in that Manhattan Criminal Court. Also new today the same Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who indicted Donald Trump with some very strong pushback against House Republicans and their investigation of him.
In a new letter to the three GOP House committee chairs, the D.A.'s office writes, attempted interference with an ongoing state criminal investigation. And now prosecution is an unprecedented and illegitimate incursion on New York's sovereign interests. And it slams their cooperation with Trump in attempts to vilify the prosecutors in that case.
CNN chief political correspondent Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill. So, Manu, what are you hearing from Republicans over there in the wake of all of these developments?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been a lot of reaction and there's also some division among the top Republicans about exactly how to respond or whether to respond. But the House GOP leadership has made no question about it.
They are rushing to Donald Trump's defense, that came from the Speaker of the House on down to very rank and file members, conservative members and the like making clear that they believe this is a sham investigation in their words, outrageous in the words of others, and an unprecedent abuse of power as they tried to pursue Alan Bragg's testimony to get him to come to Capitol Hill and actually testify. Jim Jordan calling this outrageous, Matt Gaetz calling it a witch on, Elise Stefanik saying this is unprecedented election interference in her words. But that is not all what all the members have been saying including, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has not said anything so far.