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Trump Attacks Judge, DA After NY Prosecutors Indict Him On 34 Counts Of Felony Business Fraud; Trump Indictment Hints At Possible State Tax Crimes; Gingrich: Back To All Trump, All The Time. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired April 05, 2023 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. New developments in the cases against Donald Trump. Top Trump aides tell a federal grand jury about the former president's plan to cease voting machines. And there's new fallout from the 34 felony count New York indictment. Trump attacks the prosecutor and the judge and that case now on a parallel path with the 2024 nominating calendar.

Plus two big middle election -- middle America elections in Chicago. A progressive wins the Chicago mayor's race dominated by crime and by schools and this Wisconsin blockbuster, Democrats seizing control of the state Supreme Court. That giant proof of the power of the abortion issue. And today the Speaker of the House plays host to Taiwan's president.

Beijing reacts angrily even though this meeting is a compromise of sorts. Up first for us, next steps in the 34 felony count New York case against Donald Trump and some important exclusive new CNN reporting about one of two federal investigations of the former president. New York first and what we are learning the day after Trump's history-making Manhattan arraignment.

The former president is attacking the prosecutor and the judge despite that judge telling all sides in the case, please watch your words. That part of a political strategy in a case now slated to play out on a parallel track with the 2024 Republican nominating calendar. More on the politics in a moment.

But the law first. The 16-page charging documents spells out 34 separate times the president allegedly falsified business records as part of a hush money scheme. Each count reads the same, and each count carries the same maximum penalty of four years in prison. Prosecutors inside the 15th floor courtroom drew a direct line between the cooking of the Trump books and what they allege was an urgent plot to hide damaging information from voters in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

What the prosecution leaves out though, is as important. District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his prosecutors can only charge the business fraud as felonies if they prove it was done as part of another crime. Bragg says he will connect the dots at trial. But he did not specify an underlying crime, either in the indictment or in an accompanying -- accompanying statement of facts.

Some legal experts see that as a weakness in the case. Others though, say smart poker players don't show all their cards until they have to. Let's begin in Florida and with CNN's Kristen Holmes. Kristen, the president responding to the indictment once back in his safe and happy place, Mar-a-Lago. More about the politics and the substance.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. Most of this was an attack on all of the current investigations into former President Trump and when we talk about that New York case, he essentially ignored the warning from the judge that was issued to all sides to tread lightly when talking about this case.

And he went full throttle, he attacked the District Attorney in New York, and he went after the judge and the judge's family. And there is no indication from any person close to Trump, who I've talked to that that's going to slow down. And in fact, I believe it will amplify. As we know, they've already started trying to fundraise off of this.

Immediately, during that arraignment, they put out that fundraising email where they had actually modified and put a manufactured mug shot on it to try to raise money there. They are looking at this through the 2024 lens. So of course the question becomes, what will the judge do? Will there be a gag issue ordered?

Well, there's going to be a very fine line to walk here because Donald Trump is not a normal defendant. He is running for President and his team is watching this very closely. They know that they want to again engage this as a political action. They want to look at this through that 2024 lens. So that's something to keep an eye on here.

Now, of course, as we know, there are some upcoming dates as this moves forward. First of all, you have the political side. Donald Trump is going to speak at the NRA next Friday. They are keeping this as campaign you know, this is the new normal despite the fact that he had this indictment. On the legal side motions need to be filed in August and September. Of course, as we know, Donald Trump's lawyers have said they were going to throw everything they can at this.

And then there is in-person hearings on December 4. So a lot coming up and it all goes around you know as we ramp up that 2024 calendar.

KING: This new chapter, just beginning. Kristen Holmes, grateful for the reporting live from Florida for us. Kristen, thank you. With me in studio to share some important legal insights the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu and the former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams.

So let's get to the commentary, yesterday. Here's the indictment. And here's the court transcript. Alvin Bragg also had a press conference afterwards and to prove these are felonies, the case the misdemeanor case, if you read the indictment, pretty clear they have documentation of all these things.

It's pretty clear you can refute it in court, but pretty -- seems pretty strong.


The question is can you make it a felony? To do that, under New York law, you have to prove that these -- these, what otherwise would be misdemeanors were committed in a deliberate effort to hide a crime or as part of another crime. Alvin Bragg says I don't have to show my cards.


ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The indictment doesn't specify that because the law does not so require. In my remarks, I mentioned a couple of laws, which I will highlight again now. The first is New York State election law, which makes it a crime to conspire, to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. I further indicated a number of unlawful means including more additional false statements, including statements that were planned to be made to tax authorities.


KING: I read that as I might have four aces, I might have a royal straight flush, I don't need to tell you today, I'm not required to so I'm not going to.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And not unlike when playing poker, John, that's an excellent analogy. It may not be in -- in your interest to put your cards out there. Every word that a prosecutor puts in an indictment is subject to being attacked by a defendant, picked apart by the public, overheard by jurors and so on.

And so what many prosecutors do and -- and as the law allows in New York has put the, the minimum legal amount that one can put in and bring the evidence up at trial. Now, the problem is that Donald Trump as a defendant, forget what you think of him as a politician, Donald Trump, the defendant is entitled to know the evidence against him that he will face in trial and the charges that he's going to be confronted with.

And if there's ambiguity as to what criminal charge would cause this bump up, that might cause a bit of a problem. And they even Trump's attorney said this at the hearing yesterday, they said, look, you know, we don't even know what the charges are. So we need we need more clarity.

KING: So a lot of smart lawyers were left to make analysis because you don't have. Alvin Bragg says I have it. But I'm just not going to show you right now and again, that he says that's his legal right and we'll watch as it plays out. One veteran New York state prosecutor Rebecca Roiphe says this, it turns out the indictment also includes a claim that Trump falsified records to commit a state tax crime.

That's a much simpler charge that avoids the potential pitfalls. But we don't know that, right? Alvin Bragg at one point said these payments exceeded the federal election contribution cap. He can't charge and FEC violation in the New York case, can he or does the New York -- does the New York law allow him to do that?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he wouldn't be technically charging the FEC violation.

KING: He'd be using it as the foundation.

WU: As the bump up, which probably legally is pretty significant here. Unlike the poker playing analogy, I use a martial arts analogy. Gives your sides the opponent very small target, same points that Elliot said, which gives them less to attack. But I thought the tax reference in the introduction was a mischaracterization.

And again, I don't know that he would need to actually charge a tax fraud there. But it seems to me he gives himself a lot of room in that indictment, less so to blur the battlefield here, but more to give him some flexibility. And he's referencing tax, maybe state election law violations as well as the federal -

WILLIAMS: And you know, bringing this back to Washington where we are today. The problem is that if he starts going down that federal campaign finance road, that opens the door to Congress may be starting to poke around this trial, in a way that some of the other things that Congress said they wanted.

Well, you're too political, you're a Democrat? Well, you know, that's there's no basis for that. If he's actually investigating campaign finance crimes, or at least given the impression that he is, maybe Congress has an avenue to investigate.

KING: And so Trump's indicted on Thursday, he is arraigned on Tuesday. That's when you finally get to read this in between everybody was speculating. The hope was we get this and everybody understands. You certainly do understand the false records case, it's laid out pretty clearly here about that.

But then so you get this as a result, New York Times opinion page, we finally know the case against Trump and it is strong. Slate: Donald Trump probably should not have been charged with this felony. There seems to be a legitimate debate among very smart lawyers and legal experts. Smart play by Bragg or legally not required to lay out everything. Publicly, you're charging a former president of the United States. Should he have laid out a little bit more?

WILLIAMS: No, what the world is seeing now is that there's a lot more art than science to charging someone with a crime and prosecutors all the time have to sort of try to fit facts into what the law allows and try to fit their own behavior as prosecutors into what the law allows.

Now, you're right, John, we live in the real world. And there's a political element to all of this. And if charging a former president, there's just an -- and someone who's also a candidate for office and the height of free speech rights in America, you have to be careful and I think some of that--

KING: And look, Trump is Trump. So this surprises nobody, but he was in court and the judge tried to be actually polite and fair about it, urging all sides, be careful what you say. Tell your witnesses don't go on television and say things. Trying to get this, lump this as everybody, not just Trump. Trump a couple hours later goes there.


DONALD J. TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a Trump hating judge with a Trump hating wife and family, whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris, and now receives money from the Biden-Harris campaign and a lot of it.

The criminal is the District Attorney because he illegally leaked massive amounts of Grand Jury information for which he should be prosecuted or at a minimum he should resign.



KING: The politics of that is crystal clear. Trump trying to keep his base ginned up, this is an outrage. It's a (inaudible). They're out to get me. Does Trump have a case? Can he make a case, the judge handled the Trump Organization case, the Trump is involved -- the judge is involved in the Steve Bannon case. The judge's daughter did work for the Biden-Harris campaign. You should not put a photo of her on the Internet and point that out that is reckless and dangerous and wrong. But do they have a case that maybe you should recuse yourself, sir?

WU: Probably not. He'd certainly can make that motion to ask the judge to recuse himself. I mean, certainly have to think about that. When you do that, because you're very well, judge says no, now they're kind of irritated with him. So probably his lawyers will make that motion probably several times throughout. But I doubt that that's going to happen.

KING: Right. That's the state case in New York. Gentlemen, standby, because we want to bring you now some exclusive new CNN reporting about one of the federal investigations. CNN is now learning for the first time what top Trump officials have told the federal grand jury about an effort by the then president to seize voting machines as part of his scheme to steal the 2020 election.

CNN National Security Reporter Zach Cohen, here to join the conversation. So lay this out. You have exclusive reporting. Ken Cuccinelli, top official at the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, who I believe at the time was his boss at the Department of Homeland Security, testifying to a federal grand jury about being involved in meetings where Trump wants to seize voting machines. What do we know?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & JUSTICE REPORTER: John, that's right. Multiple top national security officials that served in the Trump administration have gone into the grand jury and testified in recent months and talked a lot about how they had conversations directly with Trump himself and said, look, DHS, the military, they don't have the authority to seize voting machines and they had to repeat that message not just to Trump, but to his lawyers to various allies within the administration within the White House.

But the fact that Trump himself was asking whether or not the federal government could seize voting machines is really one of the first details that we're learning about this closed door testimony in the Jack Smith, January 6, federal investigation.

Now, this is all happening in secret. You know, witnesses go in and they testify in private. But, you know, our sources are telling us a little bit, giving us a little window into what prosecutors are asking in front of this grand jury.

KING: And there are two parallel -- two tracks to the Jack Smith investigation. One is about the classified documents. This is about trying to steal the election, trying to overturn the election, obstruct the government, transfer power and peace like that. What do we know about sort of the context in that?

COHEN: Absolutely. And so, you know, they've -- we know that witnesses have gone in Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf have gone in and talked about how they told Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who was obviously Trump's lawyer at the time that DHS couldn't seize voting machines.

But then Robert O'Brien, who was Trump's National Security Adviser at the time, has gone in and talked to prosecutors about a meeting that took place days after Cuccinelli and Wolf warned Trump, where the idea of seizing voting machines came up again, and Trump didn't shoot it down. So they're -- we're getting a little bit of a sense of what prosecutors are asking.

KING: Oh, that's a big deal. Gentlemen, let's get some legal context. If Donald Trump's in the room, and he's told you do not have the authority to do this, and he insists on doing it anyway.

WILLIAMS: Everything in a criminal case comes down to intent. And when you were advised of something that you're not allowed to do that speaks to your intent to do that thing. There are two possible crimes, conspiracy to defraud the United States, which you know, is investigating and maybe false statements made regarding some of this material. And that kind of information would touch on that directly.

KING: It was clear from the President's remarks last night, former President's remarks last night, he spent more time on Jack Smith, mostly about the documents but more time on Jack Smith than he did in New York, what does this new reporting tell you about what Mr. Smith is trying to put together?

WU: Well, I agree with Elliot on the intent. But here the real devils in the details. I mean, it's what they are saying about Trump's reaction. It's not enough just to ask the question, can I seize them? There's got to be something there that says he doesn't care that he hasn't lost. He still wants to take these ultra vires actions. That's where the devil is going to be is what really are they getting him to say? And he's very careful about that.

I mean, does the mob boss think he may just be saying, I just asked questions. KING: Fascinating. Such high level officials. Again, a lot of people to Trump's argument about witch hunt, these are members of Trump's team now being forced to testify before the grand jury. Zach Cohen very important reporting. Thank you. Up next for us the political fallout. There is no doubt, zero, that Trump is getting an immediate boost in Republican support. But last night's speech and it's litany of lies that many Republicans, more than a little nervous about the long term.



KING: It might be months before defendant Donald Trump is back in court in that New York felony case. In the meantime, his goal, crystal clear, rally the base, turn his legal woes into political gain.


TRUMP: I never thought anything like this could happen in America, I never thought it could happen. The only crime that I've committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it. This fake case was brought only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election and it should be dropped immediately, immediately.


KING: Even fierce Trump Republican critics do see an undeniable short term political boost. The question is whether he can sustain it as you can see there. This case right now parallels the Republican nominating calendar. Trump legal filing are due 10 days or so before the first Republican debate.

His next in-person Manhattan court date is set for December that just before the calendar turns to 2024 in the kickoff Iowa caucuses. Joining me now to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, and Mario Parker of Bloomberg.

It is interesting and you can put the calendar back up there for a second. Schedules in trial cases sometimes change. But right now, motion's being filed by the Trump team oh, 10 days or so before the first Republican debate. There will be more debates in the fall. They have yet to be scheduled. The prosecutors have to file a response. He's due in court in December.

In February the Iowa caucuses. Is it possible, yes, he's winning now. But how does the Trump campaign sustain that. He has gained in Republican polls, right? How do they sustain that if you're back in court through that season.


JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, they usually don't change their tactics very much. So I think this is about making him the victim that he's standing up for his people. And it's all about, you know, the -- the -- him being persecuted for his views. Now, the question is, whether his opponents on the Republican side, start attacking him for this, and we have not seen that in a widespread way, in a cohesive way quite yet.

KING: But you haven't even seen the idea. They all attack Bragg. They all attack the prosecution. They say it's over the line. That's pretty much a standard Republican. They don't say but -- but he's not electable. We don't want to do this. We don't do -- but Newt Gingrich, I think, in this political argument has it just right. And Newt himself remembers what it's like to be in the middle of political storms.

We're back to Trump -- all Trump all the time. Nothing makes him happier. Now he'd like it to be more positive than it is. But if his choice is between being totally ignored, or being in the middle of a firestorm, he's in the middle of a firestorm, and he's good at it.

That is a fact even if you're out there and you don't like Trump, whether you're Democrat or Republican or independent. Trump knows how to manage a storm.

MARIO PARKER, NATIONAL POLITICS TEAM LEADER, BLOOMBERG: No, absolutely. You're seeing the Trumpification of the GOP, right? Where a case that ostensibly he committed back in 2016 to help his electability is actually coming back to bite him in a way legally, but also powering him through the primary right now when he was at his weakest in the last seven years.

KING: And yet, during the speech last night, I was getting texts from Republicans, which I'll essentially describe as this, because they were watching him just lie, conspiracy theories, chaos, all the things that cost Republicans to lose in 2018 for Trump and Republicans to lose in 2020. And then Republicans to underperform in 2022.

He claimed again 2020 election fraud. He went after Hunter Biden, he claimed Biden obstructed the classified documents probe into him. He went after the Fulton County District Attorney, went after the Special Counsel Jack Smith, he went after the judge in the Manhattan case, went after the prosecutor in the case.

The chaos is what Republicans worry about that this strengthens him as the nominee and then screws them, forgive my language down the line.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and never mind admitting more than once that he took boxes from the White House.

KING: Openly.

BASH: Openly, openly took boxes from the White House. You're exactly right. In terms of the reaction from Republicans that there is almost no moment where the former president, now current candidate has, what in a -- as twisted as it is, a good political day, and it is twisted.

Anybody who goes in is arrested and is in court and has to say not guilty, is a good thing politically, but that's what it was for Donald Trump, at least that day, can take that and squander it. And he did that with his grievance filled, rambling, lie filled speech that he gave last night. Imagine a world, this is not me talking. This is several Republicans sending us unsolicited texts like you, in which he got up there and he said, This is a tough day for me. Tough day for my family. I'm innocent, we're going to keep fighting. See you later, and not what he did.

KING: But what he did was put out a fake mug shot to raise money off it. He goes, you see the room at Mar-a-Lago there, Don Jr, Mike Lindell, Marjorie Taylor Greene, this is a greatest hits of people who still say the 2020 election was stolen, who still say all the things that Republicans believe if he's the nominee again next time.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. I mean, I was watching his remarks last night, and it was really deja vu all over again, in terms of playing the greatest hits of his grievances and whatnot. And I am just really curious to see how much that support from his fellow, you know, current and future Republican primary challengers will sustain itself because you're right, that calendar is really remarkable.

And how all the court developments line up with the Republican nominating process. And I know that they are supportive now. You know, obviously concerned about offending the Trump base of voters, but I don't know how sustainable that's going to be. I mean, you're running or considering running for the presidential nomination because you think you would be the best candidate against Donald Trump.

And yet you are continuously promoting him and helping him in this process. I know that obviously Ron DeSantis has done a little personal dig saying I don't know anything about you know, making hush payments to a to a porn star. And I think you know, the former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has also talked about not attacking the prosecutor, respecting the rule of law, but that's getting drowned out.

BASH: Yes. And I think all you need to know about how complicated and unsure the ramifications of this are, is the sound of silence from Democrats.

KING: Right.

BASH: Chuck Schumer, senator from New York, senior senator from New York, put out a sort of a milquetoast statement saying he hopes that he has a fair trial and that's it. Pretty much no other Democrat has said anything. That tells you a lot. They want to stay away from it


KUCINICH: And that Biden hasn't declared he's running again yet. Why would -- why would -- why would you though if you have all of this turmoil going on, on the Republican side.

KING: In an odd way the fact that it's months now until the Trump team has to file their motions, if that calendar stands, again perversely, might help him politically, because if you're one of those Republicans, you're looking for something to grab on to determine and say, see, we can't elect this guy again. And you got to wait.

PARKER: And that's the problem, right? Just talking to Republicans and like, Ron DeSantis, what are you doing? He's like you haven't taken any shots. Nobody's standing up to him. Right now the field looks a little weaker than most people expected. And so Donald Trump is laughing it off of this irony, chock -- this -- this situation chock- full of irony.

KING: Chaos, helps him with the base. Hurts him with everybody else. We'll see how it plays. When we come back, progressives in the Midwest are celebrating. A major victory in Wisconsin reshapes its high court at a very key moment and Chicago gets a new mayor who says yes, more detectives but that better jobs and housing are even more important when it comes to fighting crime.