Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Soon: Georgia D.A. Misconduct Hearing To Resume; Today: Hearing To Consider Removing D.A. From Georgia Election Case; Biden Camp Bracing For Trump Legal Coverage; Judge Sets March 25 Trial Date For NY Hush Money Case. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 15, 2024 - 12:30   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's bring in our panel to talk about what we've been covering over the last several hours. CNN Legal Analyst and Former Federal Prosecutor Elliot Williams, CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero, and CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Elliot, let me start with you first. I mean, is Fani Willis in peril here? I mean, could she be tossed off this case?



WILLIAMS: And it's up to the judge to decide what the actual remedy is. Do you remove the prosecutor? Do you bring in another individual from outside? Do you not remove the prosecutor and say that, well, because of the fact that the, you know, the relationship was consensual, there are reasons to say that the finances were not -- his personal finances were not commingled such that the trips they went on are permissible.

And perhaps it all stays, you know, proceeds as normal. It's a mess for the office, to be clear. Regardless of what the legality is, it is a mess for the office and something they're going to have to deal with. They have to put in front of a jury that is seeing all this playing out.

ACOSTA: And Carrie, I mean, let's talk about -- I mean, the main problem here for Fani Willis and for Nathan Wade is whether or not the judge believes this witness that we heard from earlier this morning and whether that's sufficient to tell the judge, OK, Willis and Wade were not up front with the court when they were asked about this, and then that's it -- is that that's it?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, look, we have come so far from what the substance of what the Georgia case is about, which was about the election and racketeering are the allegations and conspiracy to, you know obstruct the actual election outcome. And so this is so far removed. And what the judge is looking at is whether or not there is an actual conflict or an appearance of conflict. And I think it's that appearance piece that this hearing is starting to chip away at, not that they necessarily under the rules and laws of Georgia and ethics laws and ethics regulations, all of that.

Whether or not the judge will find that they actually violated those, I think is a question, but whether or not the appearance after all of this personal information being revealed in this public format has come out, whether the judge finds that the appearance piece leans in favor of disqualification.

WILLIAMS: You know, when I got admitted to the bar in New York, you do an interview, an ethics interview, and I sat down with this guy in his office, big, thick New York accent. He basically said, you know, there's one big rule. Don't commingle your funds.

It's literally that's it. Do not mix your personal funds with the funds of your business and the funds of your client. It is something that is written in stone for all attorneys. And even if it ends up being perfectly fine, as Carrie said here, there is the appearance of impropriety, there's an appearance of a conflict of interest that could really taint the office's work.

And they --


WILLIAMS: -- you know, these are folks who are senior successful attorneys who, frankly, even if it's OK, ought to have known better, you know?


ACOSTA: Yes, I mean, and a lot of what we heard this morning feels very small ball, but ultimately, the big question is, if she's pulled off the case, does this go off the rails?

CORDERO: Can it survive?

ACOSTA: Can it survive?

CORDERO: I mean, it's always been a question. I've always had the question in terms of a D.A.'s office bringing this enormous case against a former president, against his entire network of individuals who are the alleged co-conspirators.

And the fact that she had to go outside of the office to contract with other private sector attorneys is the only way that this office, which is doing like regular D.A. every day, criminal prosecution work that's important to this county into the city of Atlanta, how could they actually have the capacity to bring this case?

So the question is, as if she's disqualified or if at some point between the judge -- between now and the judge's decision, she decides to step away from the case, which is -- ACOSTA: Yes.

CORDERO: -- still a possibility just to settle down this entire focus on her and Mr. Wade whether or not the case could continue. And I think that would, in part, depend on whether the judge would determine that her staff can continue on --

ACOSTA: Right, right

CORDERO: -- those involved in the case or whether it would have to be removed to a completely different set of prosecutors in the state of Georgia.

ACOSTA: And Jeff, I mean, the other big headline, obviously, is the March 25th trial date in the hush money case in New York. And I have to think that Trump left that courtroom furious about that all taking place, perhaps getting into his limo or wherever and watching this unfold in Fulton County and watching with some glee.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without question. I mean, this is a gift for him. Just the fact that, as Carrie said, we are so far removed from the substance of this case, and that is something that sort of worried the Trump campaign and people who are supportive of him at the beginning. Because the substance of this case, he is recorded in phone conversations and others trying to subvert and overturn an election.

I mean, so the substance of this always worried them, it could play it on television. Now something else is playing out on television in real time. So I'm sure he will comment on this. Also the fact that this is in Georgia. It is a key battleground that is at the center of this re- election campaign as well.

But the fact that the first trial is likely to happen on what many believe is the weakest case in terms of a politically, it's helpful for the former president. Thinking back to a year ago --


ZELENY: -- in March last year, that's when he first started to sort of circle the wagons in the Republican base because of this Alvin Bragg arraignment and indictment. So I'm sure we'll hear from him. But the Georgia case if it falls apart, it has impacts --

ACOSTA: It's a gift.

ZELENY: -- in its own backyard (ph) because it's in Georgia.

ACOSTA: Yes. And March 25th, I mean, he could have the nomination pretty much wrapped up by that.

ZELENY: Because on March 19th just has the calendar goes. That's likely when he could clinch, the earliest he could clinch. So, yes, he could be the nominee and then the illegal cases again.

WILLIAMS: And the failure of any case, because if you recall the former president's comments this morning in court, he's made the point that, oh, the Biden administration is pushing all of this and pulling the strings on all of these cases. He has gotten in -- certainly his supporters' heads that this is all conspiracy being brought by prosecutors in Georgia and New York, and so federal government --

ZELENY: Not true. Separate case.

WILLIAMS: It's not true. They're all separate cases. But the failure of one of them almost vindicates that point, at least, in the eyes of the former president supporters because they see it as one big thing, and that's just simply inaccurate.

ACOSTA: Right, right, right. Of course, probably more than accurate.

All right. Thanks, guys.

Coming up, how is Biden world preparing for the months of Donald Trump courtroom drama on the horizon? We'll talk about that next at the White House live after a short break. Stay with us.



ACOSTA: As the former president's legal trials unfold before the cameras, the current president's advisers are bracing for months of media covers that will put a spotlight on Trump for better or for worse. And for more, I'm joined by CNN's Arlette Saenz over at the White House. Arlette, how is the Biden camp planning to deal with all this? Are they planning to deal with all those?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden today is behind closed doors with no public events. But so far, Biden's team has no sign -- show no signs of shifting their strategy when it comes to the specific legal proceedings. We really haven't heard Biden campaign or the president himself weigh in on the actual legal matters being debated due to the fact that they don't want to give Trump any fodder to argue that there is any type of political interference.

That's something that Trump has consistently argued, and the Biden team doesn't want to contribute to that in any way. But Biden's campaign is grappling with the fact that this campaign will play out against the backdrop of these legal trials where former President Donald Trump will be front and center.

You know, one thing that officials argue is that they believe that Trump going out there and showing that he's fighting against these legal cases that that might sway his existing supporters, but it's not going to do much to move the needle with people who are already frustrated with the former president's conduct.

But the Biden a team, their senior advisers have said that they believe that they need to offer strong counterprogramming to these trials that are featuring Trump to ensure that the president's message and the president himself stay front and center. [12:45:04]

They're planning to deploy surrogates, elected democratic officials to try these -- make these cases about Biden's campaign as they're fully cognizant of the fact that they need to be out there offering some type of counterprogramming as these legal trials are expected to take place over the coming months.

ACOSTA: All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you very much.

Our excellent panel joins me now to discuss. Nia-Malika Henderson of CNN and Bloomberg, CNN's Kylie Atwood, and CNN's Jeff Zeleny is back. Guys, let me first play a little bit of what Trump said when he was coming out of the courtroom and talk about it on the other side. If we can play that.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So instead of being in South Carolina and other states campaigning, I'm stuck here, it's an election interference case. I'll be here during the day and I'll be campaigning during the night. Biden should be doing the same thing, but he'll be sleeping.


ACOSTA: All right. I mean, before we get started, Nia, fact check --


ACOSTA: -- Trump was not stuck in the courthouse today.


ACOSTA: He was not required to be at the courthouse today. He is lying to his supporters. He is lying to the public right there.

HENDERSON: Surprised that he's lying.

ACOSTA: Yes, yes.

HENDERSON: Right. I mean, this is a campaign ploy. He knows that the cameras are going to follow him there and take his every word in a way that they wouldn't if he was in South Carolina. It's easier to go sit in the courtroom than it is to go and campaign in South Carolina. So that is why he's there.

This has been his playbook for many, many months. It will likely be his playbook. It allows him to also tell his supporters, you know, look at what they're doing to me. They're prosecuting your king, essentially, is what he's telling his supporters and they buy it.

ZELENY: You could really --

ACOSTA: Yes. ZELENY: -- essentially marked the rise of his revival by these court appearances. It was a year ago when he first arrived, you know, from Trump Tower going down very dramatically. You know, and we covered it all very dramatically as well.

ACOSTA: These are the new rallies.

ZELENY: For sure, they are the new rallies. And they're -- he was in South Carolina last evening. He's not going back to South Carolina. I mean, he's going to Mar-a-Lago. So the reality is --


ZELENY: -- he campaigns a couple times a week, and this does not interfere with that at all. But it's been very beneficial to him, it's been really the brightest light of his third presidential campaign.

ACOSTA: And Kylie, I mean, you've been covering Nikki Haley. We've been talking about the Biden of it all, how do they respond, how does Nikki Haley respond? He sucks up all the oxygen, we've been talking -- it's been like Trump Court TV all morning long, we've been talking, he's in New York, the stuff from Georgia.



ATWOOD: She's talking about the fact that he's in court today, now that he's going to have this trial starting on March 25th. The fact that he's spending millions of dollars of his supporters' money on his legal fees, she's not delving into the meat of the matter. She is resisted doing that throughout the entirety of her campaign.

But I do think that this sets up a bit of a challenging dynamic for the Haley campaign. Because she said just yesterday that she doesn't think the American people are going to vote for a convicted criminal. And that conviction likely wouldn't come until after Trump has enough delegates to actually secure the nomination.

So does she get out when Trump potentially has those delegates, or does she decide to stay in because she doesn't think the American people are going to vote for a convicted criminal? It's a question for the campaign. They're really not trying to talk about these court cases, but this is a dynamic for us to watch.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, Nia, I mean, getting back to the White House, Arlette was talking about this, what do they do about this? Let it play out?

HENDERSON: I think that's right.


HENDERSON: Let it play out.


HENDERSON: I mean, their essential strategy is the contrast, right? The contrast between 91 indictments and Biden's legislative record. That's what they want to show. They think this is ultimately good for a general election because the folks who decided to switch from Trump to Biden decided that because of the chaos, because of some of the corruption and the lying that they saw from this president when he was in office.

So they're hoping, the Biden team is hoping, that this just reminds those voters of Trump fatigue, of Trump chaos, of the reasons why they didn't want to see him get four more years.

ACOSTA: Yes, I mean, I guess the Biden White House folks can say, if you're exhausted by this now, we've got six more months of this or nine more months of this.

ZELENY: Without a doubt. And, you know, certainly there's a lot of exhaustion, but it does consume the oxygen of what the president is trying to promote his agenda, et cetera. But the end of all this, I think you make such a good point, Kylie, that this is one a really wild card that we've never seen in previous races when arrivals get out.

There's always the question of when is the right time to get out to sort of save face or preserve your future. This is different. I mean, the convention is not that far away. It's this summer in Milwaukee. So that is one of the things that will be sort of in the Haley camps mindset as they make this calculation for what's next.


ZELENY: So I think it's, you know, very unusual of the course. But, look, the Georgia case probably is the most interesting at the moment. And my guess is we'll hear from the former president to weighing in on all this. He's got to love it.

ACOSTA: Well, and he's been trying to clean up, you know, in recent days, there's been a lot of talk about, Biden and mental fitness. And there's also talk, of course, you know, Jeff, Trump and mental fitness. And, you know, he -- Trump tried to clean up his mixing up of Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley. Let's watch some of this and talk about on the other side.



TRUMP: It's very hard to be sarcastic when I interpose because I'm not a Nikki fan and I'm not a Pelosi fan. And when I purposely interpose names, they said he didn't know Pelosi from Nikki, from Tricky Nicky, and they make a big deal out of it. I said, no, no, I think they both stink. They have something in common.


HENDERSON: Tricky Nicky?

ACOSTA: OK, he -- OK, Tricky, right. Does anybody believe that he mixed up those names on purpose? I mean, even among his supporters.

HENDERSON: Right. I mean, listen, his supporters believe 99.9 percent of what he tells them to believe. So, yes, I think they probably -- yes.

ACOSTA: They would even believe this.

HENDERSON: I think they probably believe it, but this is what Trump does all the time, right?


HENDERSON: Oh, I was just joking. I think he's trying to sort of soft pedal some of the things that he said about NATO and Russia as well, because he says something and then he gets blowback for -- from it, and then he's like, oh, the press is taking me too seriously. And I was just being sarcastic. That's also the first time I heard him use the word interpose as well.

ATWOOD: But I also think --

ACOSTA: Impressive.

ATWOOD: -- it's important to know, like if you go back and look at when he actually mixed up Nikki Haley and Pelosi and you watch that tape, he's not saying it in a joking way. You could tell that Nikki Haley was on his mind. He says, Nikki, Nikki, Nikki, three times in a very serious tone. So I think we do have to, you know, look at that as the case to really be discussed here.

But then the other thing is that Nikki Haley's campaign is now using things like this that he is saying and trying to remind folks that there's a pattern here. That he didn't just get confused here, but he's gotten confused in the past. They're really trying to use that to their advantage as she has made this generational pitch that we shouldn't have these older politicians.

ZELENY: You make such a good point. I was thinking of that moment in New Hampshire. If you watch that, the vacant look in his eye, that he sort of forgets his place and who he's talking about. Nikki Haley's in his head, certainly. So that, I think, is one of the best examples to show that to both of these candidates are not who they used to be. He's remarkably slower than he was eight years ago.

Obviously, the president is as well, but that was --

ACOSTA: But if you look at the coverage of who gets covered more for these types of things, it's Biden gets covered a lot more for this than Trump.

HENDERSON: And hopefully that changes, yes.

ACOSTA: And going back to this, I was being sarcastic when I was -- when I mixed them up. I mean, I'm old enough to remember when they blamed it on sarcasm when he said Russia, if you're listening, please hack into Hillary Clinton's emails. They blame that on him joking around and being sarcastic. Wasn't true then, isn't true now. This isn't true when he said this about Pelosi and Nikki Haley.

All right, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, more INSIDE POLITICS. Back in a moment.



ACOSTA: All right. In just a few moments, we will be going back down to Atlanta as that hearing resumes in the Georgia election interference case and whether or not the district attorney there, Fani Willis, could get disqualified from handling that case. We'll be joining that in just a few moments. So stay with us for that.

In the meantime, thanks very much for joining INSIDE POLITICS today. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right after the break. Have a great day.