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GOP Allies Defend Trump, Blast Manhattan D. A.; Graham: Trump Indictment Is "Legal Voodoo"; Biden In Mississippi To Visit Communities Impacted By Tornado; Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 12:30   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- pursue Alvin Bragg's testimony, get him to come to Capitol Hill and actually testify. Jim Jordan calling this outrageous, Jim Jordan calling it a witch hunt, Elise Stefanik saying this is unprecedented election interference, in her words.

But that is not what all the members have been saying, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has not said anything so far. Neither has Senator John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate. Both of them have been quiet on Donald Trump as they have been eager to move past the Trump era, and they do not want to be pulled into the fray on this at the moment.

But House Republican leaders, on the other hand, view Donald Trump very differently. Kevin McCarthy has credited Donald Trump for winning the speakership on the 15th ballot and others are making clear that they will go even to New York City to defend Donald Trump.

One of Donald Trump's closest allies in the House Republican Conference tweeted this morning that she is actually going to go up to New York to protest. That's Marjorie Taylor Greene saying, "I am going to New York on Tuesday. We must protest the unconstitutional witch hunt."

And the Republican leadership has been eager to try to say that they are supporting peaceful protests, not any other any protests that could become violent. They, of course, had to say that in the aftermath of the Donald Trump himself suggesting there could be death and destruction in the wake of any criminal prosecution.

So they are contending with Donald Trump's rhetoric here. Some aligning themselves with Trump and others staying quiet. Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: A range of reactions there. Manu Raju, thank you very much.

And joining me now here in the studio is CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Jackie Kucinich of the Boston Globe, and CNN's David Chalian. The reactions, I think, don't come as a surprise. This has been telegraphed since Trump threw this out there, saying that he was going to be indicted almost two weeks ago. But the tone, I think, is dialing up. Listen to Lindsey Graham on Fox last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is literally legal voodoo. This is political persecution. This is a combination of political hatred and selective prosecution on steroids. How does this end, Sean? Trump wins in court and he wins the election. Do not let them get away with this -- vote. Show up at the ballot box, Give the man some money so he can fight.


PHILLIP: And that is exactly what Donald Trump wants to hear.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: As if he had written the script himself for Lindsey Graham. I mean, clearly Lindsey Graham was going -- performing there in part for Donald Trump as an audience.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I needed music in the background.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

PHILLIP: There was a live audience, and they were --

KUCINICH: At least there was that.

PHILLIP: -- they were making (INAUDIBLE).

CHALIAN: But the former President and his team, I don't know how many minutes went by before the first fundraising appeal did go out. There is no doubt that they see this moment, one that nobody would welcome and nobody would want, including the former president. But they see this moment as an opportunity to utilize, as a political tactic for fortifying support and for raising money. And Lindsey Graham was just part -- a player in that process.

PHILLIP: And there are options here, though. I mean, sometimes it seems like Republicans have no choice but to defend Trump. That's sort of what maybe some pundits say, that maybe Trump wants people to believe that. But there are other options here.

Here is Asa Hutchinson, who may run for president against Trump, putting it very differently.


ASA HUTCHINSON (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: When a public official is indicted, I think in the regard for the office and the office is more important than the person, they should step aside, and that standard should apply here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that Trump should now step aside?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I do, but he's not going to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do? OK, OK, OK. HUTCHINSON: -- and only he can make that decision.


KUCINICH: He also said in his written statement that the voters are the ones to decide whether Trump should be president or not. But he really stood out last night in the reactions you saw from people who are running or might be running against Trump in the primary. Everyone else either attacked Alvin Bragg or they attacked the process, and they didn't really address the charges.

Mike Pence, of course, here on CNN said that it was outrageous -- was that the words -- that it was on the campaign finance charge.

PHILLIP: And actually --


PHILLIP: -- let's go ahead and play Mike Pence.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage. And it appears for millions of Americans to be nothing more than a political prosecution that's driven by a prosecutor who literally ran for office on a pledge to indict the former president.


KUCINICH: And no one's using this as a cuddle.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, look, he -- Pence is doing what Pence does, but he's not alone. Glenn Youngkin, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, I mean, even Ron DeSantis saying --


PHILLIP: Yes, even Ron DeSantis saying, I'm not going to extradite him to New York work. The folks running against Trump are -- know that they need to jump to his defense.


HENDERSON: Listen, I mean, at this point, they might show up with Marjorie Taylor Greene outside the courthouse, right, and protest this. It is very odd to think that people who are either currently running against him or going to run against him are essentially saying, this is all Alvin Bragg's fault, that this person did nothing wrong.

Typically, in a contest, you would say an indictment against your opponent is a bad thing and point to that as a reason they should be disqualified and shouldn't be the nominee and why you should be the nominee. But we don't see that. But listen, this is what we've seen for many, many years with Donald Trump. This is what Republicans do.

And listen, whatever Donald Trump faces in this case, in probably future cases, I think we can sort of expect Republicans to do the same thing.

PHILLIP: In some ways, it almost seems like they're -- like the DeSantis's of the world when he was forced to respond to this. It was almost like a disappointment that Trump is kind of putting him in a box where he has no choice but to defend him when he's trying to run against him.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, definitely, I think there's a bit of a nuanced to reaction going on here. I mean, they are certainly criticizing the indictment, and they're criticizing the district attorney, but not necessarily saying that they support, of course, his candidacy.

So I think in the days ahead, I was talking to a couple of Republican operatives, and they said, look, there's no choice but to go after this indictment. But that does not necessarily mean that they obviously support his candidacy. So I think in the coming days, it'll be interesting to see if more people sort of follow the Asa Hutchinson lane. I could see a Chris Christie in that lane.

PHILLIP: Sure. Yes.

ZELENY: I do not think that Governor DeSantis is doing that because the price of admission now is to at least express some level of a feelty to Donald Trump, and then they hope to pivot later.


ZELENY: But we'll see when later --

HENDERSON: It is the later ton.

ZELENY: I mean, because the reality is they know that they are in big trouble, I mean, if they put their distance between him right now. It's just not possible.

CHALIAN: And we should just be clear, we don't have the indictment yet, right? So they're really against something we actually don't have yet. But the 2024 campaign trail now seems likely, not just to be in Iowa, New Hampshire. It's going to go through a potential court room in New York --

ZELENY: And it's also frozen.

CHALIAN: -- in Georgia and maybe a federal courthouse here in D.C.

PHILLIP: I think we do also have to make a note here. This is Barbara Lee of California saying, "No one is above the law." She's a Democrat. "Now do the rest of his crimes."

It seems to me the subtext here on the Democratic side is, boy, we wish that some of these other more significant cases would produce an indictment, too. And there's some nervousness there.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. Even when we started hearing that this was coming, I think a lot of Democrats were nervous, as you said, because they believe that the case in Georgia and the case that's being made Georgia about some of the moves during the -- to subvert the 2020 election results is a more serious crime in their -- or allegations in their minds.

So that still --


KUCINICH: -- that's still could come.

PHILLIP: I'm sure they would.

KUCINICH: That's it's going to come first.

PHILLIP: They would take whatever indictments they're going to get, but they would like. I mean, I think January 6 is a hugely symbolic case for a lot of Democrats as well and for the whole country, frankly.

But ahead for us, new reaction from Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Donald Trump, after the news that her father has been indicted.



PHILLIP: Donald Trump is already fundraising off of his indictment. The subject line in this morning's appeal, one of many, is "Rumored details of my arrest." He writes that he's not afraid of what is to come before asking his supporters for campaign donations.

The former president is already a declared Republican candidate for the presidency, and while it is still very, very early, he is leading the Republican field in the polls, in some cases by a lot. But for now, he sees this as a politically advantageous situation. Still, sources do tell us Trump does not want to be arrested, and he is anxious about his own future.

Our panel is back with us. In just the last couple of minutes, Ivanka Trump has weighed in. We haven't heard a lot from her, frankly, since she's left the White House, but she says this on Instagram, "I love my father. I love my country. Today, I am pained for both. I appreciate the voices across the political spectrum expressing support and concern."

Just weighing in from the former president's daughter and a former White House official. But the scene down in Florida, where Trump has been spending most of his time is this according to The New York Times. "He's been keeping a relatively normal schedule at Mar-a-Lago, which he calls my beautiful home. He's been dining with guests, playing golf, telling nearly everyone that he's in a good mood and that he believes the case against him by Alvin Bragg and the Manhattan District Attorney had fallen apart."

That was until yesterday evening. And then everything changed.

ZELENY: It did. And I was talking to some people who were speaking with him, and they said, look, he was caught off guard by this, not necessarily the fact that it was going to happen, but he did think last week it would happen, it didn't happen. So some of his advisers often say what he wants to hear.

They said that, you know, this may not happen at all. So his level of optimism had increased. He'd even sent out a message last week, or earlier this week, excuse me, about the grand jury that --

PHILLIP: Yes, we have that here. He says --

ZELENY: -- that they were doing their jobs here.

PHILLIP: He says, "I have gained such respect for this grand jury, perhaps even the grand jury system." And then he adds, "The grand jury is saying, hold on, we're not a rubber stamp." He was really convinced that he had put his thumb on the scale here.

ZELENY: Without question. And look, he didn't. I mean, he long has lived his life as thinking that he is above the law here. Now we will see if that's happening.


So one of the reasons he's anxious, because he is not in control of this process. He's in control of sort of, you know, the optics of it, that once he enters inside that courtroom, this is not the Donald Trump show that he is used to doing.

But one thing that he can sort of take some heart in that, he's essentially frozen this presidential race. He has frozen this 2024 campaign. And as we enter the month of April here, the second quarter of the year, five months before the debates begin, that is good for him, that he has frozen this in place.

But we should say clearly, we have no idea what the long term politics of this are for Donald Trump. We have no idea.

PHILLIP: And he doesn't want to be indicted.


PHILLIP: He doesn't want to be charged with a crime.

HENDERSON: No indictment is not good for anyone. And listen, I think for Trump, this is in some ways humiliating, right?


HENDERSON: I mean, if you think about the circumstances of this case, what it means for his family and what he was doing, possibly, with Stormy Daniels, and also the fact that people who were essentially his sycophants, right? Somebody like Michael Cohen are part of this case and part of possibly bringing him down.

So he is going to be booked and processed, have to give his fingerprints and take a mug shot, possibly handcuffed. It's not clear. I mean, I think that's still up for a debate at this point, but this is not something he is looking forward to at all. And the idea that maybe it'll help him in the short term to raise some money, possibly, but in the long term, for his prospects, an indictment is just not good.

PHILLIP: Here's David Urban, who knows Donald Trump very well and has worked with him over the years, explaining just that psychology that you're describing, Nia.


DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, fingerprinted put his hands up, down and have his photograph taken, and he's not going to like it. He's not going to like it at all. It is a completely sobering thing and I think it's going to affect him deeply.


PHILLIP: Now, Trump is a master of taking a bad situation and trying to use it to raise money, trying to use it for his political benefit. But just as this is an unprecedented moment for this country, I think even he -- when he was facing his second impeachment, he also didn't want to be impeached a first time or a second time because of what that would say about his legacy.

CHALIAN: But to Jeff's point about control, he had far more control of that process, which was a political process, because of the loyalty and fealty that the Republicans on Capitol Hill were still displaying for him during the impeachment process.

Here, obviously, this goes back to what I think Urban is describing is this is exactly the moment where it all goes out of his control because he is going into this court system. So as much as, yes, he is a master brander, he is trying to call this without any evidence that it's election interference and he will work every lever he can work.

The problem is he has no levers inside the actual court process to work. That is for attorneys, the judge, a jury, and that is not a position he has normally found himself in.

KUCINICH: And it's going to be more important than ever you'd think that he would start listening to his attorneys because he is famously doesn't or his advisers. But, you know, he was put out on Truth Social. There was that meme of him holding a baseball bat and Alvin Bragg. Things like that are not going to be -- going to fly when, as you said, he doesn't have any control. He doesn't have a chorus of Republican senators to defend him here.

PHILLIP: And he's already starting to attack the judge in this case.

KUCINICH: Yes. PHILLIP: You know, it would be interesting to see whether or not that continues because this is a legal proceeding and judges typically don't like defendants going around trying to taint the case in the court of public opinion.

But up next for us, right now, President Biden is in Mississippi. He's getting a firsthand view of the aftermath of a devastating tornado. We are on the ground live, coming up next.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- totally destroyed. It's --

PHILLIP: Right now, President Biden speaking in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Let's listen.

BIDEN: -- let's talk more about the community.

PHILLIP: All right, he just wrapped up there just a moment ago. But President Biden and the First Lady are in Mississippi today visiting with communities that have been impacted by the devastating tornado that ripped through the area last week, leaving devastation in its wake.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is traveling with the President. Priscilla, what is he seeing as he is on the ground there?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Utter devastation, Abby. If you look at the building behind me, similar to what President Biden was referring to earlier, it has been leveled. And that's the case as you go down this stretch of road, even seeing vehicles, trucks, buses completely turned over, and frankly, the residents don't even know where they came from. That's the type of tornado that we're talking about here.

So President Biden is being briefed right now by federal and state officials. He is there alongside Mississippi Governor Reeves, and he is going to announce that the administration, the federal government, is going to cover all of the costs with the state emergency response. So that includes recovering debris, shelter operations, paying overtime for first responders, setting up FEMA disaster recovery centers, all of this to shore up resources and get them to residents urgently.

Now, of course, Abby, all of this, this visit in particular comes against the backdrop of President Trump's or the indictment of the former President Trump. But President Biden has declined to comment on that, as he has done with other ongoing legal cases.


And the focus today, though, the White House says, is going to be on these recovery efforts and making sure the residents here have exactly what they need now and moving forward. Abby?

PHILLIP: And Priscilla, the White House made some announcements this morning as it relates to federal aid for those communities in Mississippi. What can you tell us about that?

ALVAREZ: Well, that's going to include ways in which the residents here can get the resources they need, again, by helping them recover or get rid of the debris in this area, as well as set up shelters for them to have accommodations while the recovery happens here. Abby?

PHILLIP: All right.

Thank you for joining Inside Politics Sunday. Alex Marquardt will pick up our coverage right after this break.