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Trump Attorney: Indictment Is A Political Persecution; Trump Makes History As First Former President To Be Indicted; GOP Focus Group Likes Trump Even More After Indictment; Trump's GOP Allies Fan Outrage Of "Political Prosecution"; Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 02, 2023 - 11:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Indicted. For the first time in history, a former U.S. president will appear before a judge as a criminal defendant. The ex-president's lawyers say, he's the victim of political persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an attack on the fabric of our system.

PHILLIP: His opponents say no one is above the law.


PHILLIP: Plus, how strong is the case against him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There really is a question about whether this is a valid prosecution.

PHILLIP: After attacking the prosecutor and the judge, should he be invoking his right to remain silent?

And in the race for president, his would-be 2024 rivals are forced to defend the man they want to defeat.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States is an outrage.

PHILLIP: Welcome Sunday, I'm Abby Phillip. Thank you for joining us.

Real estate tycoon, television star, president of the United States, and this week, Donald J. Trump will add a new title, criminal defendant. Trump will fly to New York on Monday and will be arraigned in lower Manhattan on Tuesday. And sources tell CNN that the indictment includes more than 30 counts related to business fraud, though the specifics remain under seal.

We'll see what evidence there is when that indictment is released. But first, this morning, Trump's lawyers told CNN's Dana Bash that there is no case there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: -- very much anticipated motion to dismiss coming because there's no law that fits this. This is a case of political persecution. Had he not been running for office right now for the office of the presidency, which by the way the polls have shown since this has been announced, his numbers have gone up significantly, had he not been running for presidency, he would not have been indicted. Had he been John Smith, there's no scenario where he'd been indicted.


PHILLIP: Trump and his advisors are said to have been caught off guard by this indictment decision. And the ex-president has spent the last few days attacking the judge and the prosecutors on social media.

Just last night, he wrote on Truth Social that the radical left thugs and insurrectionists have taken over our country and are rapidly destroying it. They're using the levers of law enforcement and have completely weaponized the FBI and DOJ to interfere with rig and steal our once sacred elections.

Let's discuss all of this and more with former deputy FBI director and CNN law enforcement analyst, Andrew McCabe, CNN legal analyst, Elliot Williams, and CNN senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid.

Paula, let's start there with what we heard from Trump's lawyers both this morning and over the last couple of days. They're attacking the basic premise of this case. But in general, when we look at the Trump legal strategy over the course, not just of his presidency and post presidency, but his entire career in business, its attack and its delay.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFRAYS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. That has always been the strategy. And what's interesting about Joe's comments there is he hasn't seen the case yet, it's still under seal. That will be the case with any defendant. The charges will be unsealed on Tuesday.

What we're going to see here in this first phase is they are going to, at least, go through the artily postures of cooperating. They're going to go through the process. We don't expect there's going to be any kind of standoff at Mar-a-Lago. Former president is expected to fly in and go through the process of an arraignment. This initial appearance. That will include fingerprinting, a mug shot, and an appearance before a judge.

But after that, we expect they are going to fight. First off, as Joe mentioned, they intend to file a motion to dismiss. That's not terribly surprising. But then the strategy going forward will depend on exactly what the charges are. We know from our John Miller, we believe there are 30 -- over 30 accounts connected to falsifying business records. But if this relies on any kind of novel legal theory, we know they're going to challenge that.

You can also expect them to continue to attack a key witness here, Michael Cohen, not only for his previous convictions, but also for his repeated relentless attacks on the former president.

PHILLIP: And we saw that this morning as well. They're attacking Michael Cohen's credibility, not terribly hard to do, given that he is a bit of a problematic witness.

But Andrew, I wonder if, as we are preparing for Tuesday, when we will actually have some facts here, if you want -- if you are looking for a rock solid case, or at least a pretty solid case, what are you looking for in the indictment -- in the indictment?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So when we read the indictment on Tuesday, what we want to see is, are those facts? Those details, those pieces of evidence may be references to witnesses that we have not heard from yet, that we haven't seen going in and out of the grand jury offices and things like that.


So we all know about Michael Cohen, we know about David Pecker, we know about the general claims that Cohen has made against Trump. It is possible that there is a raft of additional evidence that we're not aware of, documents, text messages, phone calls, your evidence of phone calls between the parties that will support and bolster the testimony of the witnesses so far.

PHILLIP: Elliot, one of the things that I think is looming over this, you heard Paula just kind of referenced it, we've been discussing a quote-unquote, novel legal theory at play here. But actually, there's something even more basic than that, when you're talking about crimes, which is did he hurt anyone? Right? Did he defraud anyone?

What do you think about that question of whether that is up in the air? Actually, Bill Barr, Trump's former attorney general, just this morning said, he doesn't think that there's any evidence of defrauding either the government or an individual or is, you know, business partners, anything like that.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, with all due respect to the former attorney general, he hasn't seen the indictment either. So it's hard to say whether there is evidence to defraud or not

Now, look, the misrepresenting business records claim that might be a part of this is itself quite straightforward. If you misrepresent business records in New York, that is itself a misdemeanor. This idea of intent to defraud has to be proven if those -- that falsifying those records was used to conceal or cover up a crime.

And prosecutors, in order to move forward with the case, need to have establish this in front of a grand jury. It appears that they did. And so when this is on paper, we'll see. But I think it's premature and maybe even irresponsible to start saying, well, you know, they just don't have the evidence yet because the grand jury voted on it.

REID: And the argument that the district attorney's office has been amplifying. This is not my argument, but this is one they have amplified in talking points and elsewhere is that this payment could have potentially impacted the outcome of the 2016 election. A lot going on at the time, this hush money payment was made, of course, the Access Hollywood tape, the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. A lot of things that could have potentially impacted the outcome. That is one thing that they have amplified to try to elevate what appears to be a paperwork crime to something more significant.

PHILLIP: And let's talk about the paperwork, though, because that's really critically important here. We were talking about Michael Cohen as a problematic witness. How important are the documents here?

MCCABE: Absolutely essential. I mean, I -- you know, Cohen seems to loom large. He's constantly in the media oftentimes on this network telling the --

PHILLIP: Maybe he shouldn't be.

REID: Prosecutors have asked him not to be. Yes.

MCCABE: Right, because his legal representative is crazy. No doubt. There are other very important witnesses. I think David Pecker is at the heart of this, not just at the heart of the alleged scheme, but also was likely present for key meetings with Donald Trump.

But as I said, the documents behind those meetings, behind those interactions that will confirm that these contacts took place, that conversations took place, it refer to things like the campaign and the election around this scheme, to ultimately falsified business records. That's the tie in that the prosecutors absolutely have to have.

WILLIAMS: You know, and to that point, Michael Cohen, you know, is -- has been remarkably consistent in the testimony he's given about establishing sort of the basis for this hush money scheme. The problem is he's an intensely problematic witness, like we talked about earlier with credibility questions and even sort of blinded by his disdain for the former president, you have to support that evidence, any testimony he provides with the documents that Andrew is talking about here, because otherwise, any reasonable juror is going to say, wait, were you -- was he lying then? Or is he lying now?

REID: And I want to contrast how he and Michael Cohen, following the indictment, ran two cameras to talk about it, whereas the one defense witness that we know about, Attorney Robert Costello, I reached out to him. We all know Robert Costello is a chatty guy. He said, I'm sorry, I have to decline to comment because I could be accused.

PHILLIP: Speaking of problematic clients here. The former president is someone who's difficult to represent, in part because he does things like this; attacking the judge in this case. The actual judge who is going to be a part of the process starting on Tuesday.

But here is Cy Vance, the former Manhattan DA who actually saw a lot of this evidence prior to this, basically saying, this is a real problem for Trump's lawyers potentially.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CY VANCE, FORMER MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I would be mindful of not committing some other criminal offense, like obstruction of governmental administration, which is interfering with or by threat or otherwise the operation of government.

And I think that could take what perhaps we think is not the strongest case. When you add a count like that, put it in front of a jury, it can change the jury's mind about the severity of the case that they're looking at.


PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, that seems like a no-brainer. Don't --

REID: Yes, he's under investigation.


REID: Exactly obstructing a Mar-a-Lago is previous under investigation --

PHILLIP: Don't obstruct. Yes.

REID: Don't attack the judge, but that's something that former president has done repeatedly and it's something historically he has gotten away with.


WILLIAMS: Now, it's tricky because judges are very reluctant to issue gag orders in cases --


WILLIAMS: -- because of free speech questions, one for any citizen. But two, any potential candidate for office, you can't, or you don't wish to muzzle them and put them crimp the right speed. Now, of course, he's going to get some warnings here about the nature of the speech. And if he --

MCCABE: And it doesn't have to be a complete muzzle.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

MCCABE: He could be ordered by the judge to stop talking about the case or stop talking about the judge or stop talking about individual witnesses. That doesn't step on his right to go out and campaign and --

PHILLIP: Sure, yes. It seems unlikely that they would -- I think they can -- I don't know if we can do that.

Andrew, I want to get your reaction to this. This is from Bill Barr, Trump's former attorney general, talking about what he and a lot of others are saying is a slippery slope that could be triggered by this case against Trump and get your reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: The real danger of this thing over the long-term isn't so much narrowed to Trump, it's that now we have thousands of DAs around the country, now that the rubicon has been crossed, any one of them conservative find federal candidates or someone in --or federal office holders and so forth, can find some state law. They want to pursue the person on and get themselves into the national political arena.


PHILLIP: Is there any kernel of truth to that argument?

MCCABE: I think the only place that that argument has maybe a kernel of truth is in the Georgia investigation. Because Fani Willis is essentially investigating -- you could make the argument that she's investigating Donald Trump for things he did while he was president. So there's a legitimate question there about whether or not that activity should be pursued or investigated at the state and county level.

I think the Alvin Bragg case is very different. This is for conduct and actions that were taken before he was ever elected president, while he was a resident of New York. And while, of course, he was campaigning.


MCCABE: I think this this idea that -- we get so caught up in this idea that everything is so unprecedented about this, and it certainly is. But let's remember, this is just the latest in a long list of unprecedented things that this former president has done. And the fact that he's currently the subject of four aggressive criminal investigations tells us that maybe unprecedented but not unforeseeable.

PHILLIP: Yes. And to the point of this being unprecedented for the United States, it's not unprecedented for other democracies around the world.

But up next for us, Trump calls this election interference political persecution and a witch-hunt, but do his supporters agree? That's coming up.



PHILLIP: Donald Trump's historic indictment isn't just pushing the country into uncharted legal territory, it's also pushing it into uncharted political territory. So, how will this play out for the former president in the polls?

Well, we will have to wait to find out. But what we do know for certain now, is that Trump's Republican allies on Capitol Hill, they're boisterously rallying behind him and fanning the flames of outrage in his defense.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): We will wake up in a very different America tomorrow because we can no longer have moral authority against the dictators and despots who would always find it easier to jail their political rivals.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): They're sending a message and the message is, they will use any power that they have to interfere in the next presidential election.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This case will follow like a cheap suit under legal scrutiny. This is going to destroy America. We're going to fight back at the ballot box. We're not going to give in. How does this end Sean? Trump wins in court and he wins the election.


PHILLIP: Let's discuss all of this with our great political panel, CNN's David Chalian. Laura Barron-Lopez of the PBS NewsHour. Sarah Longwell of The Bulwark. And CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, what's striking to me, it's not that they're defending him, obviously, I think that we would expect especially those individuals to defend him, but it's the tone of it, dialing up the outrage meter as high as they can possibly get it, which seems to me to be right out of Trump's playbook, producing outrage about something that now is in the hands of the legal sphere.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without question. I mean, we've not really seen the rallying behind the former president since the last time he had a crisis or trouble. So we have seen it many times, but it's been a minute. And we all have been sort of wondering this year, is it going to be different? Is the exhaustion factor for the former president so high, will this be different? It's not different. It's exactly the same when there was any type of drama or crisis, all the Republicans have circled the wagons around him.

But what is different is the illegal situation. We've never seen -- Donald Trump has never really had things out of his control as much as he's going to starting on a Tuesday afternoon when he walks into that courtroom. He can't control it. So the politics, he can control.

I think one thing I was struck by for overall of just by how a frozen in time, this is going to make the 2024 campaign. I mean, it is essentially grinding to a halt. Everyone's rallying behind him. So the politics long-term, entirely uncertain, but short-term, he's won this $5 million, he notes this morning --


ZELENY: -- this campaign has raised already.

PHILLIP: Yes. And in the -- in the first 48 hours --

ZELENY: Right.

PHILLIP: -- of all of this. For Trump, doing this, making himself the victim, calling everything. It is unprecedented, but sort of making it seem as if he is sort of uniquely victimized by the system. It's a really powerful political tool that he's using.

You just conducted a focus group of two-time Trump voters. This is a group that -- I'll let you describe it in a minute, but this is a group that you've said has had some inkling to move away from Trump to some extent, but listen to how they reacted to the news of his indictment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As soon as I heard the news, I felt like I'm supporting him even more. I never donated to a party, but I feel like I might.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I can do it to him, which he has the power, the money, and he can defend himself, what would happen to us in jail somewhere?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's definitely a target. And it's just -- it's ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a shame that this is what one of our two great parties is resorting to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just a smear campaign that, you know, it's like they're out to get him and we all can see straight through it.


PHILLIP: So did this surprise you, Sarah?

SARAH LONGWELL, PUBLISHER, THE BULWARK: So here's what surprised me. It doesn't surprise me that the rally around like rallying around Trump, we always knew that's what was going to happen in the short- term.

What surprised me is for months now, ever since 2022, we've been doing this two time, Trump vote -- Trump voter focus groups. And there's a big appetite to move on from Trump, and then particularly to Ron DeSantis.

And so I haven't seen a group in which everybody wanted to vote for Trump in 2024, until this group. This is the first group in months and months, when you ask them head to head in 2024, would you rather see Donald Trump be the nominee or Ron DeSantis be the nominee? This is the first group where they everybody said Trump and they were ready to donate to Trump. They were ready to put -- and they were ready to buy the T-shirts with his mug shot on it, like, they were mad and animated.

But, you know, you said short-term, and I think short-term is an important thing to try to get our hands around, because we will see the short-term bump for Trump. The question is, is that short-term the length of a GOP primary or is it two weeks?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And I think it's so interesting to hear you say that since the election, the groups have been ready to move on and to Ron DeSantis. Now Ron DeSantis, obviously, thought he saw an opening here a couple of weeks ago, when Donald Trump first floated the idea that he was going to be arrested on a Tuesday, that he ended up not being arrested on. DeSantis certainly followed the scripted one after Alvin Bragg, but also raised the tawdry details of the Stormy Daniels affair.

That is gone, because I think Ron DeSantis is also aware of what you just learned in your groups, and what we saw how everyone reacted on Capitol Hill. So he quadrupled down on going after Alvin Bragg and gone from Ron DeSantis' talking points is the underlying tawdry details of this thing.

PHILLIP: But here's the -- here's the thing, and I think this is what you're getting at here, Sarah. The short-term of this is the Republican primary in which maybe Trump might consolidate his voters. But in the long-term, look at this ABC News-Ipsos poll that was just out this morning, asking voters, writ large, should Trump have been indicted in the hush money case? Forty-five percent say yes, 32 percent say no, 23 percent say don't know. So a majority -- more a plurality for yes. A lot of people don't know.

But look at Republicans even, should Trump have been indicted in the hush money case? Sixteen percent say yes, 62 percent say no, 21 percent say don't know. That chunk of people who say they don't know or yes, is actually bigger than I would anticipate it.

To me, it suggests there are probably more people who are willing to kind of see where this goes than maybe were given credit for at this moment.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, PBS NEWSHOUR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Potentially PBS News also had a poll this week that found that a majority of Americans think that the investigations are fair, when you look at all of the investigations.

And so the difference there, Abby, that you're talking about is what happens if future indictments come in cases where the justice officials are looking into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Fulton County? And how serious are those? And does the public perceive them as more serious, which they arguably are than this current indictment in the hush money payment?

I think they also right here to me, what I'm focusing on is like you said earlier that victimization language that Trump, as well as a number of Republicans are using saying weaponization of government persecution, calling it a witch-hunt.

I was talking to historians this week right after the indictment. They all said that that's classic language used by authoritarian leaders, by authoritarian movements in the past, and warning about the potential impact that could have.

We saw what happened last time with January 6. Right now, they aren't hearing similar chatter across, you know, extremist groups the way they did in the lead up to January 6, but they're still looking out for it.

PHILLIP: Yes. And it's -- it has been interesting to see maybe the lack of response to Trump's calls for protest. We'll see what happens on Tuesday. But I think the point that you're making is important, which is that when Trump is running for president, it's now going to be running against the entirety of the justice system.

I mean, he is bringing the January 6 insurrectionists into his campaign, and that he is saying that the justice system is against him. Just on its face, that's pretty remarkable.

ZELENY: For sure. And this isn't just a blip, this is something that's going to be with us for the rest of the presidential campaign. If you listen to his lawyers and things, so one thing we know about Donald Trump, he is not interested in a speedy trial here. He wants to sort of extend this out. So this is going to be with us throughout the campaign.


And the voting is not that far away. So this is all going to be unfolding at the same time. So it's hard to imagine sort of, A, how anyone else can get oxygen, but, B, how this sort of changes because the -- this is going to be with us, and it certainly muddies the waters for the other cases that you were talking about, which arguably are much more serious.

PHILLIP: Well, not for nothing. I mean, this New York case could take a long, long time.

ZELENY: For sure.

PHILLIP: I mean, it could take well over a year. You can sense --

CHALIAN: If it gets to trial --

PHILLIP: Even if -- if it gets to trial.


PHILLIP: We could see -- we could see other indictments before the New York case is even resolved.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt about that. And this is why I think your question, Laura, is an important one, because I think we can't forget voters can both say, OK, this seems like a grand jury voted for this, and I can approve of this indictment. But I can also, at the same time, say there may be politics at play here from this democratic, you know -- a Democrat who is elected to DA in Manhattan, going after a Republican president. You -- voters can hold two thoughts like that in their head at the same time. PHILLIP: Yes. And they will evaluate it all in the context of whether -- I mean, look, if you're a Republican, you probably will be trying to make the argument that the toxic environment of Trump is what the voters shouldn't vote for.

But we have more to talk about next. On taking on Trump, there is a new candidate in the 2024 race and he is the only one, as of right now, defending not defending the former president over this indictment charge.

And also coming up, a remarkable new interview with Senator John Fetterman. His very first since being hospitalized for depression. We'll have the details, next.



PHILLIP: Donald Trump's indictment has basically frozen the 2024 Republican primary race, and it's forcing his would be rivals to defend the very man that they want to defeat.


MIKE PENCE, (R) FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage.

GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: That is when you know that the law has been weaponized for political purposes. That is when you know that the left is using that to target their political opponents.


PHILLIP: Pence and DeSantis aren't the only ones. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley she called the probe more about revenge than it is about justice. And Senator Tim Scott, who may also run for president, said, this is a travesty. Governor Glenn Youngkin, beyond belief, he says. And as Jeff was just saying, this has kind of stopped everyone in their tracks. They can't really pursue the robust indictment of Trump in a political sense when they have to defend him against a legal indictment in New York, and that's going to basically set them back perhaps a couple of months here.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They don't have to defend him.


CHALIAN: They're choosing to.

PHILLIP: They're choosing to, yeah, absolutely.

CHALIAN: And this, I think, is absolutely one of the most telling moments about where the Republican Party is. Jeff said earlier, you know, nothing's changed each time. But one thing that has changed is we're in an active presidential campaign right now where he is a candidate for his third time to seek the White House. And so in a pre- Trump world, if you just want to understand how much Trump changed politics. In a pre-Trump world, a candidate gets indicted for a crime that would be seen as an opening for their opponents, right?

PHILLIP: Exactly. But generally speaking, that's a bad thing to be indicted for crime.

CHALIAN: Demonstrate his grip on the party and how you just heard from voters on this. These opponents of his understand that, and they are in such a bind because they are so careful not to want to offend that vociferous support, that swath of the party that is so strongly for him in hopes of one day courting them, that they're not taking advantage of what is a clear in a pre-Trump world, a clear opening line of attack.

PHILLIP: But can they really -- I mean, you talk to so many Trump voters, Sarah, is there really any room to attack Trump directly right now in the Republican Party?

SARAH LONGWELL, PUBLISHER OF THE BULWARK: I mean, they -- there is if they were good enough, like if Ron DeSantis --

PHILLIP: Fair enough.

LONGWELL: -- was politically good enough to have come out and sort of shown himself to be the Alpha and saying, you know, I'm going to protect Trump. You know, Trump is kind of old and he's got all these legal problems, and I'm the big dog here now to defend him. If he was able to turn the conversation that way and make himself look like the Alpha, maybe he could have done it. But instead, he's chasing around base voters. You know, he originally took the shot at Trump in his first comments. But then he said, oh, no, I will absolutely not extradite him. And what did that show? It showed base voters were controlling Ron DeSantis. They're pushing him around. They made demands of him and he acceded to them.

And so, yeah, they are in a bind, but they wouldn't be if somebody knew how to take proper advantage of it because they were politically capable.

PHILLIP: OK, so let's see Asa Hutchinson this morning announcing that he is going to run for President, but he's testing that theory about whether he can frame this as an argument against Trump. Take a listen.


ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's look at the three different investigations. One is the hush money out of New York. Secondly, it is the request and pressure for votes out of Georgia. And the third one, of course, is the mishandling of classified documents in Mar-a-Lago. Those are three very serious investigations. You might say one of them doesn't showcase anything, but when you look at all three of them combined, it should give Americans pause.


PHILLIP: Laura, we were just discussing that very argument. Just --

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, the coming potential indictments, you know. I mean, Hutchinson is one of the ones that appears to have gone the furthest out of the people that are potentially considering or running against the former president.


You know, one thing also, though, about his initial statement was that he said that it's up to voters to decide whether or not Trump will be the nominee.

PHILLIP: Well, he said both things. I mean, he said Trump should drop out, but also -- but it's up to the voters to decide, so.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I mean, when I talk to Republican strategists in swing states, they say that the only way you're going to take down Trump, and this is slightly to Sarah's point is if you are being effective and loud about distancing yourself from him and really go for the jugular there. And Hutchinson is, as you said, testing it, not fully breaking totally from the former president.

PHILLIP: There is a counterargument that, you know, in the New York Times opinion pages this morning was being made, which is that actually maybe it's not taking on Trump directly, maybe it's just being competent. This is what Ron DeSantis wants to do. Maybe it's just being competent, being not toxic and you don't have to actually take on Trump to defeat him. I don't know what you make of that?

ZELENY: Exactly, and one thing that of all the Republican voters I talked to, one through line is clear. They want to win back the White House, they want to talk about Joe Biden, inflation, other matters. So that I think is where some of these Republican rivals see potentially some mileage in the coming months.

There is an exhaustion factor and they hope there will be even more of an exhaustion factor of all the legal mess. Imagine by the summer, by the time that the first debate is held in August, if Donald Trump not only has this matter, but one in Georgia, potentially a different one, there is a sense of can he win the general election?

So once this becomes an electability conversation, it may be different. But for now, in the first moment, as Sarah was saying, all the candidates are simply afraid of getting on his wrong side. They know that they have to get those votes back in the end.

But I do think that we have to keep our eye on the sense that there are many Republicans who were not necessarily looking for Donald Trump to a return in the first place. So there is still a market for someone else, but I think we just have to see how that plays out.

PHILLIP: And in the public polling that we've seen so far, we're not really seeing DeSantis consolidating voters. I mean, look at this latest one from Fox News. There is a 30-point spread here between Trump and DeSantis, other polls showing more or less something similar. And even privately, the Trump campaign is sort of whispering about how Trump is actually doing better, as in the wake of the shack shadow of this indictment.

CHALIAN: Yeah, I mean, because he's playing the victim card and that we've seen that as a way where he can fortify support. There's no doubt. Donald Trump is the current frontrunner in this race. That's about all the polls can show us right now. I mean, we are so early in this race. It is a bit frozen and it's not fully engaged yet.

You know, you'd mentioned Asa Hutchinson, not as he gets into this race today, not necessarily doing the full on going for the jugular. He has said he won't support Trump if he's the nominee. He has said he is going to have to find a way around signing that pledge that Ronna Romney McDaniel has talked about to get on the debate stage because he doesn't want to commit to supporting Trump.

PHILLIP: He may not be alone. Trump may not sign it.

CHALIAN: That is true. So he is clearly trying to stay in this place of an anti-Trump candidate. It just what is unclear is, you know, where is Asa Hutchinson going to get enough money to do that in the most robust fashion? Where does he start building some support in the path to the nomination? He starts with a very long road ahead of him.

LONGWELL: Can I just say, part of what's happening with these Republicans, it's like they didn't watch what happened in 2016. It's like we've seen this movie before, we know how it ends and they're going to repeat and do exactly the same thing. If they all just rally around Trump, they will end up supporting characters in a play that is about Donald Trump.

They are going to have to find a way. There's no way around Trump. You have to go through him. You are not going to court his voters in the hopes that he will just collapse without anything by some exogenous event and they're all going to come to. Ron DeSantis in particular is going to have to show that he is good enough to go through Donald Trump. If you want to be the man, you got to beat the man, and he's got to figure out how to do that.

PHILLIP: And meanwhile, I mean, Trump is not only attacking him in ad hominem ways, but also attacking him on policy, putting out videos about his position on entitlements, on ethanol, on all kinds of things. And Ron DeSantis kind of has to remain silent, at least for a little while longer.

ZELENY: He does. And there's a paid advertising campaign. I was just watching Sports yesterday afternoon, and here the ads are coming on, at least in Washington, sort of reminding voters who the real Ron DeSantis is.

So once he actually gets in this race, which I'm still told is going to be mid-May, potentially slightly after that, we'll see if this changes it. He does need to sort of engage. And we will see what -- how strong of a candidate he is. He's never run for public office before. And as you said, he's not necessarily shown he's not had a strong month, necessarily.

PHILLIP: No, and -- ZELENY: This is supposed to be funny thing.

PHILLIP: And it was a pretty cloistered month. He gave interviews to friendly media outlets and still seemed to really struggle there.


But coming up next this morning, new this morning, in his very first interview since leaving the hospital, Senator John Fetterman is revealing in stark details just how difficult his battle against depression has been.


PHILLIP: In his first public interview since being released from Walter Reed, Senator John Fetterman is opening up about his battle with clinical depression. The Pennsylvania lawmaker offered an emotional and intimate look at how his mental health first started to decline in the days after he won one of the most critical races of the 2022 midterm elections.

SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: You know, you just won the biggest, you know, race in the country. And the whole thing about depression is -- is that objectively you may have one but depression can actually come convince you that you actually lost and that's exactly what happened. And that was the start of a down -- a downward spiral. I had stopped leaving my bed. I stopped eating, dropping weight, I stopped engaging some of the most things that I love in my life.



PHILLIP: There are a lot of Americans, I think, who understand exactly what he's talking about that depression doesn't really care whether or not things are going well or not. And so it is interesting, I think, in the context of all the crazy stuff that happens in politics, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, this is a kind of universal thing that I think a lot of people can understand.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt. And also just think of, first of all, here's a man who doesn't look like a senator, but is one right and now doesn't sound like a senator, because he's, he's talking about something that politicians don't. I can't think of a politician that has talked so publicly about something like this. So first of all, I'm just -- I'm glad he got the help. He saw it, and I and I'm glad he is well enough to be out of the hospital now.

But this is this is pretty brave, I think, for him to go -- to go on and talk about this publicly, because he's also in the very midst of actually still finding his footing in this new elected role that he has. But this is now the introduction to Pennsylvanians of what their senator is, is dealing with. I give him a lot of credit for doing that. BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, I think that, you know, one of the most recent

studies that I saw showed that like about 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression. And then it's also known that, that you're more likely to suffer from depression after something like a stroke, which is what the Senator experienced, and talking about this very openly and publicly is something that Americans aren't totally used to when they're looking at their elected officials and politicians in power. So, you know, I think that we're starting to see a few more talk about it and show that they can still do their jobs, even when they have very real world issues.

PHILLIP: I want to play another section of this, where he talks about when he made the decision to go to the hospital. Listen.


FETTERMAN: It makes me sad, you know, the -- the day that I go in, was my son's birthday. And I hope that for the rest of his life, his birthday, would be joyous. And you don't have to remember that your father was admitted.


ZELENY: And that is raw and real. And I think, as David was saying, when you have to give him credit for doing this. This is something that goes well beyond politics, beyond Republicans and Democrats. This is something that many Americans that deal with themselves or have loved ones who deal with themselves. So I think it is -- it's brave of him, for sure.

It's also -- you can sort of see the exhaustion there. He said he was in a downward spiral. His campaign was so interesting. He was almost watching the campaign from the sidelines. In some respects, he was unable to communicate like he wanted to. I remember being back talking with voters after he was hospitalized the first time his wife was saying he was frustrated because he could not sort of a hit back and do this thing.

So all of that emotion is building up into this now. But once he was here, when he was walking through the halls of the Senate, people were sort of wondering, what's wrong with him? Like he's our hero, and he had so many high expectations to live up to it almost would have been impossible to do so as he recovered here. So I think this is absolutely fascinating. And, you know, just hearing a senator talk about that. I think we'll do so much good.

PHILLIP: I just want to read a little bit from his wife, Gisele, who wrote actually, in a piece this past week about what she's experienced, which is the harassment of it all. She says, I'll admit, I was surprised to find that this time, the vast majority of the harassment wasn't directed toward John, but at me, they promoted conspiracy theories, claiming I was an ambitious power-hungry wife secretly plotting to fill his Senate seat threats against me and my family multiplied and frequency volume and severity, including active threats of harm.

I want to say that's extraordinary. But in this moment, our political moment, this is all too common that intense harassment at families.

LONGWELL: Yeah, it's horrible. And anybody who's in politics right now, or has been on either side of the aisle knows that there's just a lot of keyboard warriors out there who will come after you for political reasons.

But I do want to say, I'm from Pennsylvania, I did a ton of focus groups in Pennsylvania around that race when he was running, thing about, you know, he won that state by five points, and I would hear people all the time in the focus group say, he's like the physical embodiment of Pennsylvania. They just found him so authentic, and so true to what they saw as sort of a spirit of Pennsylvania. And I don't think this is going to change any of that.

PHILLIP: Yeah, yeah.

LONGWELL: I think this is going to --



PHILLIP: It may only -- exactly, they only enhance it, because I mean, it is a pretty common -- I mean, it's incredibly common and to -- there are some that will try to use it against him. I just don't think it's going to be particularly effective.


But coming up next Saturday Night Live skewers the former President's reaction to his historic indictment. That's next week.


PHILLIP: All right. Last night, Saturday Night Live was back and they were giving their take on this historic indictment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, great news for conservatives New York is finally cracking down on crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Biden on Friday told reporters that he had no comment on Trump's indictment. And then he danced away like the Six Flags guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron DeSantis said Florida officials would not help expedite Trump back to New York unless of course he agrees to take a busload of migrants with him.


PHILLIP: And here we thought that maybe SNL wouldn't have a lot of material for this season, but they're back just in time to make fun of everyone.


CHALIAN: Oh my God. That writer must be so --

PHILLIP: They're buzzing.

CHALIAN: The Biden joke was good.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean the Trump -- and there was a Trump impression which they made fun of him asking his supporters for money for everything.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, I mean, as David said earlier, he, what fundraise about 5 million off of this so far and there's constant fundraising emails about the indictment. He's actually telling Republicans that they can't fundraise off of it even though a number of them are trying to as well.

PHILLIP: Yeah, yeah.

ZELENY: By the way, every hour on most has been a fundraising opponent. But look SNL, this will get them through the season and likely into next.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and I think maybe we might need a laugh after what we've been through the past few years. But that's it for us here on Inside Politics Sunday. Thank you for joining us.

Coming up next, State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. And Dana's guest this morning, including Trump lawyer, Joe Tacopina, Michael Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, and Senator Joe Manchin. Thank you again for sharing your Sunday with us. Have a great day.