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Fani Willis' Father Testifies At Disqualification Hearing; Russian Prison Service: Alexey Navalny Dead At 47; Soon: Judge Expected To Rule On Penalty In Civil Fraud Case. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2024 - 12:00   ET





JUDGE SCOTT MCAFEE: All right, anything else? Seeing and hearing none, thank you Mr. Floyd.

JOHN CLIFFORD FLOYD III, FANI WILLIS' FATHER: Thank you very much ,Your Honor. It's a pleasure to appear in front of you, Your Honor.

MCAFEE: Take Care. All right, Ms. Krause (ph), let me check in was the sequence to call additional witnesses?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not at this time, Your Honor. But we're trying to accommodate if there's a --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: - (inaudible) schedule to be able to this afternoon, right now that looks (inaudible).

MCAFEE: OK. So even if Mr. Bradley (ph) testifies to some extent, there's still the potential that the state has no further witnesses?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I anticipate at least one more will be available this afternoon. But that - that would be it.

MCAFEE: OK. So there are potentially more state's witnesses, all right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But before we move on, can we strike last witness' testimony. (inaudible)

MCAFEE: All right. So I think the rule is invoked and the instruction was for the parties to tell all witnesses subpoenaed or expected to appear about the rule. I don't think the remedy is necessarily striking it. I think it can go also to its credibility as well. So to that extent, unless Ms. Krause (ph), do you want something else to be heard on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Jim

Acosta in for Dana Bash. We're going to break out of that hearing in Fulton County for just a short while because any moment now President Biden will speak on the reported death of one of Vladimir Putin's top critics Alexey Navalny.

Vice President Kamala Harris, already making the case, making it clear she says that Russia is responsible. CNN's Arlette Saenz is with us from the White House. CNN's Matthew Chance is in London. This has just been an earthquake globally, learning about the death of Alexey Navalny. Let's start with Matthew first. Matthew, what do we know right now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, we haven't had official confirmation yet, at least from the family that they've been informed that Alexey Navalny is dead. I mean, that's come from the prison authorities in the Far North of Russia. Apparently, this leading prominent opposition figure in Russia hadn't complained to the court that it appeared in earlier about any health problems affecting him.

But the prison authorities say that he went for a walk, his daily exercise sort of outside in the prison yard, and then complained to feeling ill and collapsed and lost consciousness. They called ambulance crews to the prison. But those ambulances have told Russian state television, that they tried for an hour and a half to revive Alexey Navalny, but to no avail, that he didn't respond.

And so we're waiting now for that for the family to get a lawyer and get their representatives to that that prison colony in Russia's Far North, a very remote place with a very hard regime enforced there, to try and sort of get some sort of facts that they can digest and that they can accept about the fate of this prominent opposition leader.

There's been not much response yet from the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have said that there are investigations underway, involving, obviously medical research and doctors to try and establish the cause of death. And until then, they essentially say, look, it's wrong to jump to conclusions and blame anyone for this death.

But I think the truth is, Jim, that many people inside Russia and around the world are already laying blame for this at the sort of the door of the Kremlin, because, of course, Alexey Navalny was in Russian custody when he died. And of course, it wouldn't be the first time that - that, you know, he's - he's, you know, been severely affected or injured, you know, by his - by his opponents. And so look, I mean, this is, you know, something that is shocking, but it's not altogether surprising, given how many other opposition figures have met sticky ends in Russia.

ACOSTA: Right. And Matthew, I mean, obviously, Alexey Navalny would be alive today if he were not thrown into one of Putin's prisons. I mean, it stands to reason that that would certainly be the case or almost certainly be the case. Let me go to Arlette Saenz over at the White House right now. Arlette, obviously, the President is going to be speaking in just a few moments so we may have to break in as you're speaking.

But tell us a little bit about how the administration has responded so far. They've been careful to some extent in not saying that things are crystal clear as to what has occurred and how Alexey Navalny died, but they are placing blame, placing responsibility on the head of Vladimir Putin.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jim. That's right. U.S. officials really have been quite cautious in saying that they have yet to confirm these reports that Alexey Navalny has died while imprisoned in Russia. But we are expecting any minute now to hear from President Biden. Those remarks were scheduled for noon. So hopefully we will be hearing from the president soon.

Really it will be his first opportunity to comment in any way on the reports of Navalny's death. But it does come as we have heard top U.S. officials including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that even while they await confirmation for this, they believe Russia is to blame. Take a listen to the Vice President as she spoke at the Munich Security Conference a bit earlier, today.



KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If confirmed, this would be a further sign of Putin's brutality. Whatever story they tell, let us be clear, Russia is responsible.


SAENZ: Now both Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken took some time to meet privately with the wife of Alexey Navalny, Yulia. And you'll remember that she gave some remarks, the - the wife of Alexey Navalny gave some remarks at the Munich Security Conference, where she said that if this is true, that Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be punished.

Now back in 2021, President Biden face to face warned Putin about what would happen if Navalny was to die while he was in prison. The president told reporters in Geneva shortly after his meeting that he told Putin that there would be devastating consequences were Navalny to die while he was in Russian prison. The big question now is how exactly the U.S. and its allies would respond.

We've seen the U.S. impose these sanctions alongside allies throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So question is, could there be additional sanctions. Almost certainly anything that would be built as a response likely would be done alongside allies. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan earlier today said that they would be consulting with various countries and then just determining the steps forward.

But the White House today is watching these reports with a lot of concern. And pretty soon, we'll hear from President Biden about his thoughts whether they've received any official confirmation, but also if he could outline any action, response that the U.S. might take in this matter.

ACOSTA: Yes, it is a very critical moment right now between the U.S. and Russia. Arlette Saenz, thank you very much. And while we wait for President Biden -- again, he is going to speak at any moment. We'll bring that to you. But in the meantime, let's take you to New York because we are standing by for a ruling that could unravel Donald Trump's pride and joy, the business empire his family spent decades building. CNN's Paula Reid is talking to her sources, joins me now. Paula, we've been spending so much time talking about what's going on down in Fulton County. There could be a huge decision out of New York today. What are you hearing?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, as you know, among Trump's many legal issues, this case here in New York, this is a civil fraud trial, this is the most personal. This is something that strikes at the heart of his family business and his identity as a successful businessman. Now, last fall, Judge Arthur Engoron found Trump liable for fraud, finding that he had lied about the value of some of his assets to get more favorable terms from banks and insurance companies.

Then what followed was a month long trial. And you may remember, Trump attended much of that trial. He even testified along with three of his adult children, Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr. Trump was also very combative during these proceedings. He attacked the judge, he attacked the judge's clerk, he frequently attacked the Attorney General Letitia James, who brought this case.

He even violated a gag order that just restricted him from attacking members of the court staff. That trial focused on some other charges and possible penalties. And here the New York Attorney General is seeking a penalty of $370 million and wants to bar Trump from doing business in the state of New York. The so-called corporate death penalty is rarely enacted here in the state of New York, especially when there's not a clear victim.

That was one of the lines of Trump's defense that no one really lost money here and they continued doing business. But this is why Trump is watching this so closely, Jim. I mean this is a case, you think about it hundreds of millions of dollars, in addition to the tens of millions of dollars the jury just awarded E. Jean Carroll. This is a case that potentially, depending on what the judge decides today, could drain his coffers and again possibly prevent him from doing business in the state.

ACOSTA: Yeah, could be a devastating blow to Donald Trump. All right, Paula Reid, we're going to keep our eyes on that as well. Thanks so much. And now to Georgia, you're looking at live pictures right now of a Fulton County courtroom. A judge is hearing testimony to determine if the District Attorney spearheading Donald Trump's election racketeering case in Georgia should be disqualified because of an alleged inappropriate relationship with the lead prosecutor there.

CNN's Laura Coates is outside the courthouse. You've been watching this the last couple of days. Laura, I feel like we've been on a rollercoaster ride. I mean, about 24 hours ago, you and I were talking about this. And it seemed as though Fani Willis might be in some trouble, and then she walked into that courtroom yesterday. I mean, the eyes of the nation were on her. It was fascinating to watch and then she did a pretty effective job of defending herself. What's happening inside now? What are you seeing?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, the adrenaline rush that was yesterday really continued into the courtroom today. Even though she was not there, we have been standing by to see who was going to testify next. We already know that she was not going to be in the courtroom already this morning.

They feel that she had already done her due diligence and essentially undermined the case against her to disqualify her.


Now it's up to the judge ultimately to decide that issue. But where we are now instead is having her father. I mean, first of all, imagine that her father is now testifying. Why have they brought him in? In part to try to corroborate their case against her that suggests that she didn't really feel unsafe in her home, that she instead he wanted to have some kind of a love shack in the city, that she could have a more covert relationship with her lead prosecutor.

Now, he did nothing to support that particular narrative. And instead, he talked about the real safety concerns. At one point, you even heard him from a father's perspective say that he personally observed graffiti with - with profanities on it, with the N word, with the B word and had to take the graffiti away, not even notifying his daughter, potentially, of what was there.

People waiting outside of her home, having to sweep the area every hour on the hour for bombs with dogs and beyonds. So he really described a real safety concern. He also described that he himself was unaware of any relationship between Fani Willis and Nathan Wade until frankly, the rest of the world knew it.

Now they tried to poke holes in that undermines credibility. And they were befuddled and incredulous at the thought that he did not know about that. But he reminded them as a father that he also did not share his love life with his daughter and vice versa, even naming a person that she was in a relationship with prior to Nathan Wade as who he was more familiar with.

Now, we have a long way to go here to actually prove what is at stake in this case. But I'll tell you finally Willis yesterday, reminded me of this moment, she reminded everyone, despite disqualification leveled against her, she is not the one on trial.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It's like a woman doesn't have the right to keep her private life private. And I'm speaking on this because there have been all these intimations. You've been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're confused. You think I'm on trial, these people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.


COATES: And she's right. She's not on trial. She is not a criminal defendant, but she is a prosecutor who is facing disqualification. Why? Because they are alleging that she financially benefited from her relationship with Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor. Now in order to prove that you have to actually show that conflict of interest created the opportunity not to have a fair trial for any of the defendants in this case.

Remember, four have already pleaded guilty. They have a high bar to meet. And it's their responsibility to actually prove that. Now one more point, Jim, there was a lot of discussion about cash. The father was asked a great deal about cash. She was asked a great deal about cash. Nathan Wade was asked about cash. I mean, cash apparently rules everything around us. OK? The issue here why they were saying it was because there was no records of repayment, and there was not the actual physical receipts and they were trying to undermine the statement that she had cash on hand for that reason. But at the end of the day, it's not her burden to prove.

ACOSTA: Yeah, a lot of us still use cash. I mean, you know, it's not that old fashioned. Maybe it's a little old fashioned, but you know, cash is king with a lot of folks.

COATES: I'm glad you said that because I am selling Girl Scout cookies, Jim Acosta. I'll leave them in your office.

ACOSTA: I got plenty of cash for you.

CAOTES: I have a whole variety. Wonderful. Noted. Thank you so much.

ACOSTA: There going to be a big envelope waiting for you, Laura. All right, thank you very much, Laura. Appreciate it. We are standing by to hear from President Biden about the reported death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. A very important comments coming from the President just moments from now. We'll also talk to our panel about everything that's been unfolding in these courtrooms from Atlanta, New York. Stay with us. That's coming up.




ACOSTA: Another busy day of Trump legal news. Trials, tribulations so let me bring in my panel here in DC. We have CNN's Kristen Holmes and Former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu and CNN Legal Analyst Norm Eisen joins me from Seattle. Hi, Norm. Let me start with Shan, first. Shan, you're in the studio.

Yesterday we were talking about with this - with Laura Coates, just a few moments ago, it seemed like Fani Willis might have been a little bit of trouble around this time yesterday. But then she came into the courtroom and it just, it seemed to flip. She - she really I think did an effective job of defending herself and reminding everybody oh, by the way, I'm not on trial, here, it's Donald Trump and his co- defendants who are on trial.

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yeah, I thought it was a gutsy move. I wouldn't have counseled her to do. It seems like impulsive on our part. But she did a great job. And she really came across very strong and reminded the judge and the world as to what the real issue was. And the disqualification lawyers have just done a really poor job and they've been blundering around. They ran into wall after wall just on trying to get into evidence and they're so consumed with the salacious details, they have completely lost sight.

Sometimes the judge has too that the focus was on trying to follow the money and see if they could show that Willis has a conflict of interest because she's benefiting from it. That's been completely lost at this point.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Norm, there was this whole - whole conversation about cash and I was just talking about this with Laura a few moments ago. People using cash and so let's play a little bit of that. Talk about it on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you got cash to pay him back on these trips, would you go to the ATM?

WILLIS: No lady.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were not going to ATM?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So, Fulton County pays you direct deposit, I assume?

WILLIS: Yes. Fulton County and the State of Georgia, both pay me direct deposits.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So the cash that you would pay him, you wouldn't get it out of the bank.

WILLIS: I have money in my house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do not know where that money came from?

WILLIS: I do know where it came from. It came from my sweat and tears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking if you have any proof that you paid from any of these places.

WILLIS: The proof is what I just told you.



ACOSTA: Yeah, Norm, how do you make sense of all this? Can you?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Jim, yes. Jim, my dad to the day he died carried a large lot of cash in his pocket at all times in case he needed it and had more at home. He was a migrant to this country and his life taught him that you needed that. I thought DA Willis was absolutely credible on this point.

This is the only hope that the defendants have of disqualifying her because being in a relationship, even hiring your paramour are just not grounds for disqualification because they don't go to what Willis said, the strength of the evidence in this case of election overthrow. But if she had been getting secret payments, somehow that might create a conflict. She hit the ball out of the park on that.

She was credible. I believed her. And there's no longer any grounds that I can see possible even for disqualification here.

ACOSTA: Yeah, I mean, Shan I mean, the absence of evidence is not evidence. I mean, isn't that, I mean part of this. And at the end of the day, if the judge were to disqualify Fani Willis, I mean, what would your reaction be to that?

WU: I'd be shocked. I don't really think he has the record to do that, there just hasn't been any testimony about I mean, it'd be a huge setback for the case. You know, some people are saying just, just the sort of public image problem is a setback for the case, I don't think so. This will get through it. And she'll continue to prosecute the case. But there's just such a dearth of evidence at this point. It's really hard to imagine how he reaches that conclusion.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Kristen, I can imagine yesterday, you know, when Trump had the Alvin Bragg case, the hush money case, scheduled that he was not happy when he came out of that courtroom yesterday, and that was - that was apparent when he was speaking to the cameras. But I have to assume that when he got into the limo or whatever, it was watching this Fani Willis stuff unfold down in Atlanta that perhaps there - there might have been some sense of relief. But I have to think all of that just went away throughout the course of the afternoon.


ACOSTA: He must be frustrated.

HOLMES: His - his team was very happy watching the testimony unfold, yesterday. He was in a limo. He was on the plane watching it, kind of understanding the salaciousness of the questions. But again, now, not so much. We've already heard from him saying that he doesn't think the lawyers did a good job of test - of questioning her. The other thing that I want to point out is you know you talk about how is the case impacted by all the damages that we've seen personally? That's how Donald Trump does everything. Everything is playing out in

the court of public opinion. It's how he wants this to play out. He doesn't want this to be in a legal court. He wants to smear her and put her on trial, as he has done with various judges, various courtroom, you know, clerks, that is how he handles all of these legal cases. And sometimes it works. I mean, that's politically, politically, not legally, it works for him.

ACOSTA: Up until now.

HOLMES: Right.

ACOSTA: And Norm, I mean, we also have - we're - we're awaiting this really huge decision out of New York right now. Judge - Judge Engoron in the civil fraud trial, and the damages that might be assessed there. What's your sense of what we might see, by the end of today? It sounds like we might see a whopper of a ruling.

EISEN: That's right, Jim. We know that Judge Engoron already found partial summary judgment that Donald Trump conducted his business in a fraudulent nature by grossly inflating the data about his property. She can't say a condo that's about 10,000 square feet is over 30,000 square feet and the same thing with Seven Springs, Mar-a-Lago; 40, Wall Street; many properties.

So we're expecting that the judge will find additional fraud on the other six counts against Donald Trump. The evidence was powerful, substantial damages of disgorgement. Perhaps the corporate death penalty, take away the business certificates. And Jim, it's very powerfully connected to that Alvin Bragg case, because one is a civil fraud case. But Alvin Bragg has said, he's prosecuting Donald Trump for fraud in making these hush money payments that corrupted an election, that it's an election interference case.

Because if Donald Trump had not made those payments, another sex scandal after Access Hollywood could have changed the outcome of that election. So New York has not been kind to Donald Trump. And that is a very serious one-two punch. The criminal case going forward yesterday. A big civil verdict expected today.

ACOSTA: Yeah, Shan, and getting back to the question that Kristen raises, you know, what works politically, what works legally? You know, we might - the curve may be bending all the way around and these things may not be working legally. I mean, he did put this on Truth Social about Judge Engoron, Judge Engoron wrongfully ruled against me before the trial even started. We've already won the No Jury Engoron case.


You know, poking these judges in the eye over and over again repeatedly. I mean, it may get some last (inaudible) amount on the campaign trail, and he can whip up a crowd with this kind of stuff, and it plays over on conservative media and so on. How does this work with any of these judges? And I - they'll say, oh, we'll appeal. How will it work with any of those judges? Just, you know, and at some point, this may blow back on him politically.

WU: Yeah. And I think, you know, speaking of that curve, I think in the beginning, what he is doing is he's doing the PR political strategy, and his lawyers need to back it up in court with something legal, they've completely been unable to do that. So now all he is left with is the campaign public image strategy. And one of the questions of no victim in the civil trial coming up. Usually they say, oh, maybe there won't be the civil death penalty, because of that but actually, this whole pattern of constant fraud is a good reason to impose that.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Kristen, let's play Nikki Haley, was talking about this, I believe yesterday about all these court cases. And she has started I mean, we've been monitoring all this, noticing this from Nikki Haley, in recent weeks that she's stepped up her rhetoric on all this. Let's listen to her talk about all these trials for Trump.


NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's got his first court case, March 25. March and April, he's in one case court case. May and June, he's in another. He's already said he's going to spend most of this year in a courtroom, not on a campaign trail. That's not a way you win.


ACOSTA: Yeah, I mean, she's talking about it like it's a liability. He thinks it's -- it's helpful to him. The flip side of this, though, is Kristen, if he has the nomination wrapped up, before even the Alvin Bragg case gets started -

HOLMES: Which they expect.

ACOSTA: - which they expect, we're then in a general election campaign mode, are we not? And maybe go into the courthouse and ranting and raving?

HOLMES: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: How does that work in the suburbs of Philadelphia? How does that work?

HOLMES: With independent voters? Right? That's a good question. And nobody knows the answer to that. I mean, they were actually concerned that it wouldn't play this well, with Republicans. At first they thought that, yes, it'll help with fundraising, it will boost our numbers.

But aren't people going to get tired of this constant in and out of court rooms? Turns out, Republicans didn't get tired of it. They voted for him, it seems like he's likely to be the GOP nominee. However, yet changes when you're in a general election, who you're trying to court? You're trying to court new voters, you are trying to court independent voters, not just your base, not just Republicans who want to follow the same ideology. That's very hard to do one, if you're in a courtroom the whole time and two, to sell yourself as someone who is in a courtroom all the time, and also wants to be president. So that's a difficult line that he's going to have watched. And his campaign is aware of that. They know that this is not necessarily going to play out the same way it did in the primaries.

ACOSTA: So the question becomes, does he continue to go to these hearings and so on.

HOLMES: But he has to.

ACOSTA: He's required to. Yeah.

HOLMES: See, the problem is that moving forward, almost all of the cases, he's going to be required to go to, criminal cases, right?

ACOSTA: Those will be required appearance in a lot of these.

HOLMES: Exactly. Instead of all these voluntary appearances, he's at and one of the things that I do want to point out because I continue to say this, he always says, oh, I should be campaigning right now. Well, he could be campaigning. He is choosing to be in the courtroom. That changes on March 25. Now, he'll be forced to be in the courtroom.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Yesterday he said I'm stuck here because and I can't go to South Carolina. That was wrong, as we pointed out.

HOLMES: But then he went home.

ACOSTA: And then he went home. Exactly. All right guys, thank you very much. Up next, we will have more insight on the reported death of Alexey Navalny, as we are still waiting to hear from President Biden. You can see the cameras are on. Looks like in the Roosevelt Room inside the White House. We'll see the president come out to the cameras any moment from now. We'll break in when that happens. Stay with us.