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Inside Politics

Trump in Court for Closing Arguments in New York Civil Fraud Trial; Future of Trump Organization at Risk in New York Fraud Lawsuit; Four Days Before Iowa Elections, Trump Campaigns from Courtroom; Ruling Anticipated Later This Month by Judge in Trump Civil Trial; Haley, DeSantis spar in Last Debate Before Iowa Caucuses; 2024 U.S. Race; Chris Christie Withdraws from Presidential Race and Declines to Endorse; Interview with The Washington Post Senior Political Reporter and The Campaign Moment Newsletter Author Aaron Blake. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on "Inside Politics", a courtroom stunt. Donald Trump is stepping away from the trail and choosing to sit inside a New York City court right now. The reason is pretty simple. He thinks it's the best place to boost his campaign.

Plus, four days left, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are crisscrossing Iowa after facing off in our heated "CNN Debate". They were quick to fire off attacks on each other, but did they spend enough time taking on a far and away frontrunner?

And Hunter Biden is heading to a Los Angeles courtroom today to be arraigned on federal tax charges, as the White House worries his legal troubles could lead to more political troubles for his father.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and inside politics.

We begin in New York where closing arguments are underway in Donald Trump's civil fraud trial, with hundreds of millions of dollars and the future of the Trump organization on the line. The former president is inside the courtroom right now. His team is just finishing their final presentation. We wanted to give our -- he wanted to give a closing argument but the judge there rejected that request after Trump would not agree to certain conditions. Remember, this judge already found Trump liable for committing fraud relating to his wealth and business empire. This trial is about other charges and the punishment he and his company will face.

CNN's Paula Reid is outside the courthouse in New York. Paula, what's the latest?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: A little over two hours right now. Now, there was, of course, some talk yesterday about Trump, possibly participating in the closing arguments, Dana, that would be highly unusual, and the judge was open to it but wanted Trump to agree to certain restrictions. Asking him to focus on the material facts of the case, not give a campaign speech, and his team would not agree to those limitations.

So, so far Trump has not participated in the proceedings today, instead his lawyer, Chris Kise, offering a summary of their case. Arguing that this is a politically motivated case that has been manufactured. Insisting that their client had no motivation to lie to Deutsche Bank about his net worth. And insisting that in Trump's experience, he didn't expect that the bank would just rely solely on these statements that were presented about his net worth.

Now, Kise also took aim at Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, because as you may remember, back in 2019, Cohen testified before Congress that Trump had misled the government and banks about his net worth to get more favorable terms on loans and for his taxes. And that testimony is part of what has brought us here to this civil case in New York.

They also took aim at Cohen's recent mishap where he relied on artificial intelligence to drum up some citations for a court case. Now, they're taking aim at his credibility because they argue that Cohen is the only one who testified here. That there was any intent to defraud.

Now, it's been interesting to watch the judge in this case. He has interrupted Kise a few times. As you know, this at times, this case has been pretty combative. He has interrupted Kise a few times today on some technical points. But I think, Dana, there you're seeing the judge try to preserve the record for appeal because he knows whatever his final decision here is will likely be appealed almost immediately. And this afternoon, of course, the district attorney will present her closing arguments -- for her team's closing arguments.

BASH: OK. Paula, thank you. And I'm told as you were talking, the -- they took a break in the court of -- for a little while. The former president came out, attacked the New York attorney general. We're going to see what happens when they go back because they're not finished with those final arguments.

I want to bring in our panel on this. Jonah Goldberg of "The Dispatch", Nia-Malika Henderson of Bloomberg, and CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams. Hi everybody.




BASH: Nice to see you. A little bleary from making it back from Iowa this morning.

HENDERSON: Right. I'm surprised you're here, actually. BASH: But we did it. OK. So, let's stay focused. And Elliot, I want you to kind of give the context for what is happening. Just stay focused on this particular case right now in New York.

WILLIAMS: OK. Fraud in New York, it is a civil suit being brought by the Attorney General of New York against the Trump Organization. Now, the judge has already found that there was, I believe the language was persistent fraud -- persistent and pervasive fraud. And now it's a question of what the damages will be and also some other, questions. Insurance fraud being one of them. Conspiracy to falsify business records and other things.

Now, it seems pretty clear -- and Paula touched on this a moment ago. It seems pretty clear that, you know, Trump's team has not done particularly well in the eyes of the judge in the course of this trial. And it's really just a question of what the damages will be. Will it be the full $300 plus million or something less than that? That remains to be seen. The judge will write an opinion within the coming weeks, not immediately, but probably a few weeks from now laying all that out.

BASH: Yes. And Jonah, he is the -- what is at stake right now, you mentioned money, 370 million in ill-gotten gains, that's what the New York Attorney General is saying, and trying to bar him from doing business in the state of New York. And also asking for a five-year business ban for Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., his sons. Just talk about the, sort of, psychology of this for Donald Trump.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CO-FOUNDER/EDITOR-IN- CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: That is a dark place, right? I'm not sure I want to answer. But, abandon all hope. So, let me just sort of set the -- broad parameters. I think this whole trial prosecution was a mistake. I think it's very political. It's somewhat campaigned on an election to do this. It's an elected judge. It's -- it was part of the -- sort of, the party machinery. Not to say, I think he's innocent of all this stuff. I think he's a sleazy businessman. I grew up in New York City, I think the Trumps are sleazy, and he's probably guilty of all this stuff. But it was kind of hard to find a victim. It feels very politicized.

The psychology of this is really brutal for him in the sense that he takes great pride in his business and his business empire. On the flip side, the politics of it is being on trial is really good for him. He doesn't have to be there. He's there on purpose. And it's an excuse not to be out on the campaign trail. It's an excuse not to do debates and all that kind of stuff. And it has been working for him.

HENDERSON: Yes, it's --

WILLIAMS: And he's made that -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

HENDERSON: No, I mean, he's sort of the crucified Messiah, right? Sitting there in the courthouse, he doesn't have to be there. He's fundraising off of it. It basically is proof to his supporters that he, you know, people like Letitia James, the AG in New York, are out to get him. So, it works very well. He doesn't have to be in Iowa. It's very cold there. As you know, you were just there.

And so, yes, this is good. I guess he came out at some point and was speaking before reporters and going at the attorney general again, who makes a really great foil, right? Because she's a black woman and she's a New Yorker. She makes a great foil for Donald Trump.

BASH: And --

HENDERSON: And so, he hammers --

GOLDBERG: But it's a classic Trump-era collective action problem. This is also really good for Letitia James. It's been great for her. It was great for Alvin Bragg to bring a case that I didn't think should be brought. You have all these people who have their incentives are being rewarded by doing things against Trump that also reward Trump but also elevate him and are bad for the country in general.

BASH: Yes, I mean, that's such a good point. It's -- that -- because they're elected officials, in addition to Donald Trump being one previously and wanting to be one again. The politics of this is so good for them on both sides. It really makes it hard to figure out what's real. I mean, that's what this judge is for and that's what this court hearing is for, and what the whole trial is for.

WILLIAMS: And not just that. In a jurisdiction that voted for Joe Biden was 85 or 90 percent. I mean, it's incredibly high. So, your political point is a good one. I think another point that they are making here, in addition to the politics, is that, well, what you are doing now is suing me for the art of business in effect. And look, real estate properties are -- it's subjective. And what you are doing is making the art of deal making itself criminal or at least simply actionable.

Now, if you look at the law and you look at what he is accused of doing, some of those valuations simply do not make sense. You know, like the duplex that was overvalued by a factor of three, certainly, isn't the case. But that's -- and they've made that point multiple times today. That, look, there was subjectivity here and President Trump and his team did their best to figure out what these properties were worth.

BASH: I want to look at some of the CNN reporting about his decision to go today to New York and to try to testify, which, as we mentioned at the beginning of the show, the judge said, uh-uh, we're not going to do that unless you meet these conditions, and he wouldn't agree to that.


This -- the reporting is, the closing arguments are coming two days after Trump's lackluster appearance in a Washington, D.C. courtroom yielded less fanfare than the former president has grown accustomed to while dropping in and out of the courthouse in New York.

HENDERSON: Yes, listen -- I mean, if you think about all of his appearances prior to this, it was sort of wall-to-wall coverage. He's taking off in his SUV or his plane. And listen, we've sort of gotten used to that. It worked for Donald Trump. He, sort of, liked it. There were crowds at times. And now, you know, he's sort of a run of the mill person who's in court because he's been in court so much. Even though again, he doesn't really have to be there, but he kind of wants the attention. He wants a spotlight. He says he wanted to testify. Who knows if he really wanted to get up there and maybe perjure himself, but yes.

WILLIAMS: And you know, it -- what's interesting with this whole practice is that you have to submit to the rules of the court even if you're Donald Trump. And this idea that, well, even though my attorneys are arguing, well, I could just go in and make the case myself. You know, the judge did not have to allow him to do that. And ultimately did not for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that they were late in responding to the judge's e-mail. But also, he's not entitled as a defendant to go up and talk. And, you know, the rules apply to everybody. And we saw that here.

GOLDBERG: But Trump has always had this view of the law going back to -- I mean, going way back. But, you know, we remember these incidents where he just say, you're doing an investigation and we'll handle the rest, kind of, thing. Legal proceedings are props for a political narrative for him. Have been when he was in office, before he -- when he was a businessman and now. And so, like, he can't see it as any other way except as a television scene.

BASH: Yes. Thank you, Roy Cohn. And also, I'm using the word fracas now more often in my life, because that's an underused word. Thank you so much. I -- stick around, you too.

One-on-one, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, they duked it out on the "CNN Debate" stage last night.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If she says she's never said something, that definitely means she said it. And then she'll say, you're lying, you're lying.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He spent more time trying to lie about me than he is about telling the truth about himself.


BASH: They were eager to go after one another, you just saw a little taste of it. But what about Donald Trump?




HALEY: Into a drinking game because you will be overserved by the end of the night. DESANTIS: Do not trust Nikki Haley with illegal immigration, That's like having the fox guard the hen house.

HALEY: Nobody knows what he believes because when President Obama was in office, he supported foreign aid to Ukraine.

DESANTIS: You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can't take the United Nations out of the ambassador.

HALEY: If he can't handle the financial parts of a campaign, how's he going to handle the economy when it comes to the White House?

DESANTIS: You are the new John Kerry, you're for it before you are against it. So, let's put our own people first --

HALEY: You're so desperate --

DESANTIS: We have to put --


HALEY: You're just so desperate --

TAPPER: Governor Haley --


BASH: But between those one liners, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis also laid out two very different visions for America, especially on foreign policy and specifically the war in Ukraine.


HALEY: Russia said once they take Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next. Those are NATO countries and that puts America at war. This is about preventing war. It's always been about preventing war.

DESANTIS: Nikki Haley is basically a carbon copy of what Biden is. It's an open-ended commitment. They want another $108 billion. They will not tell you when the -- they have achieved their goal. And this is going to go on maybe hundreds of billions more into the future.


BASH: The two also clashed on what's happening on America's southern border, which is a top issue for Republican primary voters.


HALEY: We passed E-Verify, which I want to take national, which is where businesses have to prove that the people they hire are -- in this country legally. I passed it within six months of being governor. Ron didn't pass it for five years. He only waited to pass it when he decided to run for president.

DESANTIS: It's like the lowest cost way to be able to harm this country. Just send people across the southern border. Nikki Haley also opposed the border wall in 2016. She said that, she -- she ridiculed it when Donald Trump was portraited (ph). I'm telling you, you need a wall. You can't trust politicians to do this. If the wall's there, it's a physical fact of life.


BASH: Haley and DeSantis remain far, far behind Donald Trump in the latest Iowa polls. Attacking the frontrunner for skipping the debate was one of the only things they agreed on. But they took decidedly different paths when asked if Trump had the character to be president again.


HALEY: I think the next president needs to have moral clarity. I think you need to have moral clarity to understand that it's taxpayer money, not your own money. I think you need to have moral clarity to understand that when you're dealing with dictators in the world, that we always have to fight for democracies and human rights and protecting Americans and preventing war.

DESANTIS: I appreciated what President Trump did, but let's just be honest, he said he was going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. He did not deliver that. He said he was going to drain the swamp. He did not deliver that. He said he was going to hold Hillary accountable and he let her off the hook. He said he was going to eliminate the debt and he added $7.8 trillion dollars to the debt.


BASH: Let's talk about all this with our panel at Nia-Malika and Jonah are back, and we also have now "The Washington Post", Aaron Blake. Nice to see you. It's great to have you here.


BASH: Let's start with you. The newbie here. What's your sense of what we just heard and what we saw?

BLAKE: So, look --

BASH: Well, I participated in last night.

BLAKE: Yes. So, look, I was struck early on the debate when Nikki Haley basically said, my opponent is Donald Trump, that's who I'm running against.


And then basically, for the rest of the debate, was engaging with the guy who really wants to bring her down because he's worried that she's going to take second place in Iowa, at which point DeSantis would have a very hard time moving forward. I think the setup of the debate was tricky for her because it made it so there were two candidates, and she really had to respond. If he was going to go after her, she had to respond in kind. And so, really, she got bogged down at a time when she really wanted to drive at least some kind of a message that was more geared towards Donald Trump. And she wasn't able to do that until the end of the debate when I thought there were some very helpful questions that really kind of brought the two of them out a little bit on these questions.

BASH: Yes -- I mean, we tried at the beginning on Donald Trump, but they weren't going there because they did seem so determined before even stepping on that stage to take one another down. And you just have to look at the URL, the website that she mentioned. I don't know what, like more than a dozen times. Let's just give you an example.


HALEY: You can go to and look at all of those --

Go to

DESANTIS: It's not been part of that -- and the enterprise for it --

HALEY:, it's on there.

Go to and you'll see it.

It's documented in

You can go to

Go to and you can find out for yourself.


BASH: It is about --


BASH: I think it might be, yes.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes.

BASH: It is something that we remember.

HENDERSON: Yes. Listen, I mean, I think -- you know, Nikki Haley is a very good debater. You know, they came in with this She really hammered it home. And listen, it is a fight for a second. If she's able to, sort of, overtake him in Iowa, finish well in New Hampshire, she could be the runner up to the nomination, right? I mean, that seems to be where they're fighting for in terms of really being able to topple Donald Trump. None of the polls suggest that that is going to happen. Time is getting short. Even if you look at polls in South Carolina. There's a poll on, I think, January 5th, she's like 30 points behind Donald Trump in her home state of South Carolina. In many ways, I think South Carolina is more cultural fit for Donald Trump than even Nikki Haley, at this point, who hadn't, you know, was last in the governorship, I think in 2017.

So, listen, again, I think it was a great debate. You guys did a great job on. And they were certainly some fireworks between them. But in terms of what this change, probably not a lot.

BASH: This came a day after President -- Former President Trump's attorneys were in a court arguing that he should have immunity from prosecution, from federal prosecution. So, we asked whether they agreed with the arguments that Donald Trump's lawyers were making.


DESANTIS: I think the D.C. Circuit is going to rule against Donald Trump on that issue. I'm not exactly sure what the outer limits are. I don't think it's necessarily been litigated. It's not going to be an issue with me because I'm always going to follow the constitution.

HALEY: That's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous. I mean, we need to use some common sense here. You can't go and kill a political rival and then claim, you know, immunity from a president. I think we have to start doing things that are right.


BASH: This is what Aaron was referring to, I think, where they finally got to the point where they could push back on some of the ideas that Donald Trump is pushing. Like -- I don't know, he shouldn't be prosecuted, or no president should be prosecuted if they commit a crime.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I mean, it just -- it came pretty late. We had Donald Trump on another channel, doing his shtick. I personally think that that -- the dynamic was more helpful to DeSantis. Whether you think he won on points or not, you know, people disagree about that. And so far --

BASH: the overall dynamic.

GOLDBERG: The overall dynamic is he owns his pugnaciousness. He comes by it honestly. It is part of his persona, fighter, never backs down kind of stuff. Nikki Haley has this different persona of, sort of, bless your heart, kind of take the high road kind of thing. And if it's just going to be you're a liar. No, you're a liar. No, you're a bigger liar. I think diminishes her more than it diminishes him.

And so, I thought it was sort of -- as someone who would -- I mean, I'd rather -- either of them be the nominee than Donald Trump. But I don't think it helped Nikki as much as it probably helped DeSantis. BASH: Meanwhile, you mentioned that the frontrunner, it was on another network, and he was trying to counter program. He did a town hall, and what was really noteworthy, one of the things that was noteworthy, is how he was trying to -- somebody got to him, or somebody's got to him about trying to pull back on some of the more outrageous things that he has said recently. Let's watch.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Can you say tonight that political violence is never acceptable?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, of course, that's right. And of course, I'm the one that had very little of it.

The new narrative they have, as you know, is I'm going to be a dictator.

I am not going to be a dictator. I'm going to manage like we did.


I'm not going to have time for retribution. We're going to make this country so successful again. I'm not going to have time for retribution. And remember this, our ultimate retribution is success.


BASH: Aaron.

BLAKE: I mean, look, this is what Donald Trump does. He will say one thing at one point, then he'll come around and say something that is amounting to like what you said, what his advisor would tell him is the right thing to say. And it sends the signal to certain supporters to believe the first thing. It sends a signal to other supporters to believe the second thing. And I thought the debate, actually, last night brought a very telling moment on that. Ron DeSantis was asked about Trump's tweet about terminating portions of the constitution. And he differed with it, but also described it as, "Word vomit."

So, this is the balance with Trump. He -- the whole take him seriously, not literally thing has paid enormous dividends for him over the years, because it invites people to pick and choose what they take seriously. Meanwhile, he can walk into the Oval Office if he's elected and decide which things are going to be part of his mandate. He's going to say, I said these things, I was elected. Now I can do this.

BASH: You've watched him for a long time, Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I mean, the real problem is, is that -- well, I've had arguments for years with people who take him seriously and not literally. The real problem is, is that people take them hypothetically, right? And they just imagine scenarios that fit whatever scenario that they want. And, you know -- and this, sort of, Yasser Arafat approach of speaking one language to one audience and another language to another audience. The -- I think it was the day before he was sending out fundraising e- mails or one of his PACs was sending out fundraising e-mails talking about, I'm going to be your retribution, right?

HENDERSON: Yes, exactly.

GOLDBERG: So, it's not -- he's what social scientists call a big fat liar.

BASH: All right. Really? Did they -- you have to get a Ph.D. --

GOLDBERG: It's a technical term --

HENDERSON: Yes, yes, yes.

BASH: -- to learn that. Yes, go ahead.

HENDERSON: And listen, I'm sure he will go back to this language of being, you know, the retribution because it works for his very rabid base of supporters, even the dictator line. So, listen, I think he felt like -- at least in that moment, he wanted to clean it up and then I bet he'll revert back.

BASH: I -- we obviously talked a lot about the debate and about what happened on another network, but just real quick on Chris Christie dropping out.

BLAKE: Yes. I mean, biggest upshot is I think this does actually help Nikki Haley, potentially, significantly in New Hampshire. If you look at the base of support that Christie had in a New Hampshire, it was significant. Double digits in most polls. Almost exclusively moderates, almost exclusively people who actually voted for Biden in 2020, according to CNN's polling. Those people, their obvious home is Nikki Haley. I think they probably either go to Nikki Haley or they don't turn out in the Republican primary because they decide none of these people are kind of anti-Trump enough.

BASH: OK. Thanks so much. Great discussion. Good to see you all.

Next, four days left, the candidates go into overdrive in Iowa courting voters where Donald Trump, as we've been talking about, is still ahead in the polls and still seems to have a pretty big appeal for the all-important evangelical voters there. We'll talk about that next.