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Trump In New York Court For Hearing In Hush Money Case; Appeals Court Slashes Trump Bond In Fraud Case To &175M; Judge: Trump Hush Money Trial Will Begin On April 15. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 25, 2024 - 12:00   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Manu Raju in for Dana Bash. And a crucial day for Donald Trump's legal, financial and political future. Moments ago, the former president got a financial lifeline from a New York appeals court. It reduced the bond he must pay in a civil fraud case for more than $450 million to $175 million and gave him more time to pay for it. That means he might have the cash to put up without having to sell off any of his assets.

Meanwhile, Trump is inside a New York courtroom -- courthouse for a criminal hearing, a separate case involving hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. Trump's legal team was just chastised by the judge for accusing the Manhattan district attorney's office of prosecutorial misconduct without any evidence.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live in New York City outside the courthouse. Kaitlan, what's happening behind you right now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yeah. A lot going on here, Manu. Multiple legal developments on that front for Donald Trump. And what we're witnessing right now is Donald Trump is back inside that courtroom. The judge had taken a 45-minute recess, as they were sorting through this -- before they left the judge had been deeply skeptical of the arguments that Trump's legal team was making -- essentially questioning why this was happening at all.

Clearly not into their argument for either dismissing the trial outright or delaying it even further than it has already been delayed. A reminder, it has been delayed because of this very issue over documents related to Michael Cohen. And when they were turned over to Trump's legal team. That is why that case is not starting today, as it had initially been scheduled. And we heard from Donald Trump a few moments ago.

I should note that was his reaction, walking into the courtroom to the bond announcement that we got from a New York state appeals court, saying that not only does he have 10 more days to pay his bond in the civil fraud case to put up that bond, he also does not have to put up the entire amount which is about $450 million and growing by about $100,000 each day. The judge now says, he only has to pay -- the appeals court says he now only has to pay $175 million of that. For more on this reaction, I want to bring in CNN's Paula Reid. And Paula, we were just hearing Trump as he was walking into there, not talking about what's happening inside the courtroom. But instead talking about this decision by the appeals court. He said he will pay this in the next 10 days. It's not unclear entirely how, but it is way -- way less than what he was initially believing he was going to put up.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This is huge. And we saw him head into this court hearing several hours ago. He barely spoke to cameras. He was sort of looking down, hunched over inside the court. He was facing a possibility that at the end of the day, the attorney general of New York could start the process of seizing his assets.

And now he has been handed this incredible win, this lifeline from the appeals court that says he only has to put up $175 million, not the nearly 500 million that he was unable to get either underwritten or post. And then they've also reined in some other aspects of that civil fraud verdict.

He and his sons can continue to run businesses and seek loans in the state of New York. And they've also put off the attorney general's ability to enforce this judgment until September. So, this is an enormous victory for former President Trump in terms of the civil fraud verdict.

Now, one of his lawyers in the civil fraud case, Alina Habba, just released a statement saying that they're very pleased with this ruling. And they believe that it rains in some of the judges' verdict, which they of course believe is, quote, an affront to all Americans is the first important step in what will be a continued fight because they are appealing that decision.

Now, Kaitlan, it's not expected that they will win on an appeal. But this issue of the bond this has been hanging over Trump and a huge victory for him.

COLLINS: But this doesn't actually change what the judge -- the judge found here at all. I mean, whatever Alina Habba, who argued and lost this case is saying there, it doesn't change what the judge decided here or the fact that Trump was found liable. Trump and his family and his sons as well, it's just saying that essentially this is delayed but that enforcement by the attorney general could not happen today.


And meanwhile on the other front, he is just back in the courtroom here in New York with Judge Juan Merchan. That's the judge overseeing the criminal hush money probe that's being brought by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Could we see a decision from this judge any moment now on a trial date?

REID: Yeah. I would actually expect that the judge is going to come back after this morning's arguments and set a trial date. The district attorney's office has said they will be OK with a 30-day delay to review this additional evidence. But the Trump team is pushing for 90 days. And things not going quite as well for the Trump team here in this case this morning.

The judge clearly skeptical of their accusation that the prosecutors conspired with federal investigators to withhold evidence and just released it in recent weeks. And he really pushed the Trump team to show proof or case law or something to support these serious accusations that they have made against the prosecutors here.

So, the judge for a few times there, his temper flared a little bit, his voice was raised. So, he's clearly very skeptical of what the Trump team is alleging here. And it's important to know how much of this is relevant, right, and what exactly happened in deciding how long to delay this?

COLLINS: Yeah. And of course, delay has been the name of the game, Manu. But it's a remarkable development of what has happened here just in the last half hour alone where Trump's team exited this courtroom in a situation that had not gone well for them inside the courtroom. A lot of testy questioning from the judge to Trump's attorney to walk out to this welcome news for them, at least when it comes to putting up that bond and also having more time to do so.

RAJU: Right. Kaitlan Collins, we'll check back in with you as news develops this hour. Thanks for that. And here with me our excellent panels to discuss all of this, CNN anchor and chief domestic correspondent Phil Mattingly, CNN anchor and chief legal analyst Laura Coates, and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. Thanks all for joining me. Good to see you all.

Laura, can you just remind viewers. There is so many Trump bases out there, it's hard for us to keep up with him.


RAJU: Exactly. Let alone viewers who are tuning in. Just about the financial fraud case. And now the fact that Trump won this to reduce the bond he has to pay from 464 million to 175 million. First, remind viewers what it is? And why do we think the appeals court sided with Trump in this case?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the codes CliffsNotes version of this essentially is -- there was a trial about whether or not he overvalued or undervalued his assets, secured financial benefit. He otherwise would not have been able to get. The judge said he committed fraud in the filing of financial statements and paperwork, and also committed fraud in other ways by overvaluing.

And so, now the judge after a bench trial, there was no jury involved said, I have these findings. I decided about the credibility of witnesses. That's all under my purview to do so. You've got this huge amount you're going to have to pay.

Now in New York, it is close to bond in order to then appeal that decision. It's twofold for the reasons why. One is because look, you don't want to pay out immediately to who you owe. Because what if the appeals court says you shouldn't have had to, you can't get that money back (Inaudible) you already paid out.

Second issue is what if in the course of your appeal, you become insolvent, or your money is gone all of a sudden or something else happens. And now the person you owe money to can't get it. The court want to have some assurance that you can actually pay. That's why we find ourselves here right now. And originally it was this full amount.

Now the judges saying -- the judges of the appellate court are saying, actually you have 10 more days to pay it, and it's but half of what you had to pay. It doesn't to me say they're going to tell you that the judge on the trial court got it wrong. But it does say look, maybe there's enough money to actually give that guarantee that I'll get something back and that the appeal can still go forward.

RAJU: Yeah. And look -- Letitia James, New York Attorney General, can't collect or enforce this judgment until September when they hear these arguments. What is your sense of why that Trump won this and what it means for this case overall?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What's notable is that the appeals court didn't give reasons as to why. Now, look, it is incredibly common for appeals courts looking at judgments, whether they're punitive damages, or compensatory damages, or even bonds to lower values. Saying that for whatever reason, we don't need 400 or however many million dollars to secure the plaintiff -- the defendant's payment down the road, $150 million insufficient. The differences they didn't tell us why.

Now, it could have been they thought it was excessive. That could have been they thought that he wasn't able to pay it. I mean, who knows. But the simple fact is they did. And so somewhere they are confident that the defendant is going to be able to post this money. And it'll be enforced down.

RAJU: The trouble is caused all these court proceedings, a witch hunt, he wins some of them. I mean, this is the way the justice system works. Do you think that, you know, in Trump world that this should -- he should be able to post this without a problem here?


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he said he would in his brief press conference there. Now you take that with a grain of salt to some degree, maybe a little more certainty than the Truth Social posts, but maybe not that much of -- rank it. We need some Coates' CliffsNotes on that as well.

COATES: I'm marketing that. By the end of the day will be a trademark.

MATTINGLY: What's like, it's going to look like a newsletter, like nobody's believed, be careful. I think it's interesting having spent a lot of time going through his financial disclosures and financial statements over the course of the last week or so, trying to figure out how this would actually work.

He actually does have a lot of cash on hand, particularly for a developer, not the 500 million he claimed on the Truth Social posts. But between 350 and 400 million has been pretty consistent in the filings and people that are involved in his financial. So that's about right where he's at. So, he is liquid enough for that.

I think the bonding companies have made clear that, while they weren't going to be able to take property and they certainly needed cash or cash equivalent. If you kind of pool them together, you could probably figure out a way to make this work. I think it's plausible. I think the bigger question right now is, it's a win for now.

RAJU: Yes.

MATTINGLY: And to Elliot's point -- Laura's point as well, we did not hear the appeals court judges weigh in on whether this was a problem with what the judge actually found in this case. He still owes the money in this case. The appeal is still standing in this case. And it also comes at the same exact time as Kaitlan and Paula were laying out, his legal team was kind of getting lit up.

RAJU: Yeah. And that's actually what I'm going to turn to.


RAJU: Nice segue. Thank you. In fact, he is facing these 34 counts of falsifying business records related to these payments that he made destroying (Inaudible) allegedly to keep this extra marital affair quiet. What do we make of the fact that the judge in this case Juan Merchan railed against the Trump team and suggested that there's allegations of prosecutorial misconduct didn't have any evidence, didn't have any merit? Why are they making this? Do we think that means that there's going to be a trial before November?

COATES: Well, the judge is spot on. It's a huge claim and allegation to suggest prosecutorial misconduct, right? It's not the individual prosecutor. They are interchangeable. It's also the entire jurisdiction. You're saying that the government has lied and conspired against you and that -- and you'd have a lot of ramifications down the line as well.

Every time a prosecutor from that office comes in, that's going to be essentially their burden to carry. So, you have to have the evidence to back it up. They did not. This is a political statement he's making, but in a court of law, you better have the goods.

RAJU: Yeah. And talking about the Judge Juan Merchan. He is the acting New York Supreme Court judge. He's been involved in several Trump cases in the past. He donated $15 to the Biden campaign in 2020. Trump has called them a quote, Trump hating judge. He pretty much calls that against any judge here. What do we make of the way he has handled this case so?

WILLIAMS: No. I think, you know, he's handled it with distinction. And, you know -- and the point that Phil had made a moment ago, litigation is often about wins and losses, series of incremental ones. Over the course of potentially years, Trump wins some, Trump loses some. Yes, the things that we've seen today have been, you know, minor wins or losses.

Now, sort of to this documents question, who knows where this comes out. But where it starts -- and this is why it's very perilous for a court to wade into this documents issue because a defendant is entitled to review the evidence against him. Donald Trump might have a history of playing around with time and so on. But you got to be really careful with documents and he has to have the opportunity to review it.

RAJU: And I want to get back to Kaitlan Collins because there's some breaking news in the courthouse. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yeah, Manu. We have just heard from the judge. He is now issuing a ruling from the bench. He is rejecting the motion by -- the effort by Trump's team to delay this trial even further or dismiss it altogether, saying that is not going to happen. And instead, the first criminal trial of a former president will now begin on April 15 here in New York.

That is when Judge Merchan said that the jury selection will begin of course, that is just in a matter of weeks from now when that trial is set to begin. And with that the judge is effectively saying that everything that Trump's team had brought here today.

The reason that they are in that courtroom behind us that that trial did not begin today with the production of those documents related to Michael Cohen. The judge is pushing back on saying that that warrants a further delay here. And is instead scheduled this to start on Monday, April 15.

Paula Reid is here with me as we are getting these real time updates from inside the courtroom. It seems like this is where it was headed when the judge left that room and took that 45-minute break. And now he is saying this is when this is going to begin.

REID: Yeah. This is a rejection of the Trump team's request for 90 days to review additional evidence that has surface. He also said at the beginning before he gave us the jury date -- the date for jury selection. He also dismissed this accusation that the district attorney's office is somehow engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. So clearly, he is not buying what the Trump team is selling. He says the jury selection will begin on April 15.


Now that is going to run into a few religious holidays. And he has said that court will not be held on days where any juror cannot attend because of religious observances. Now this -- the schedule is already a little unique because there's no court on Wednesday, so jury selection will be done on April 15. This case is expected to last about six weeks but that could be pushed out a little bit, depending on how many jurors will be observing religious holidays in late April.

So, this is significant. This will be the first criminal prosecution of former President Trump. And Kaitlan, as we've seen, even though he's facing four criminal cases. This could be the only case to go before November. And they have tried and have been largely successful in delaying these cases.

COLLINS: Yeah. And so, the judge is saying no harm was done to Trump's defense by the delayed production of these documents. And he's keeping the trial date in place, which is notable because that makes him stand out from every other judge, in every other criminal case that Trump is facing by saying we're keeping this date, which the district attorney's office has predicted would happen that this would still not be incredibly delayed.

When this first came out, everyone was saying, oh, nothing is going to trial, or nothing is going to happen before the election. And now this one right now is scheduled to still begin on April 15.

REID: Yeah. I certainly was shocked when this got delayed because this was the one that was on the calendar firmly and there was nothing that could potentially delay it. They had this issue with some evidence handed over from federal prosecutors. We've been hearing arguments about today. But now it appears once again, we have a firm date on the calendar of April 15 for the first criminal case against former President Trump, the other three all on hold.

The January 6 federal prosecution on hold until the Supreme Court hears arguments about whether he has immunity, unclear what's going on down in Florida. We're still waiting for Judge Aileen Cannon to put a firm date on the calendar. It's unlikely that the late May date will stick.

And then the case down in Georgia. Fani Willis said she's going to continue to push forward, potentially trying to start that case in August, but it's unclear how that will work after the last several months because of these efforts to disqualify her. So, this is incredibly significant. At this point it appears the first time that Trump will face criminal prosecution will be here in New York on April 15.

COLLINS: Yeah. Manu, major news on two legal fronts for Donald Trump, of course hearing from the New York appeals court on his bond. But now Judge Merchan deciding that, yes, they will keep that April 15 beginning date and he is rejecting Trump's efforts to dismiss it or delay it any further than that.

RAJU: Yeah. Hugely significant news. And what does this mean for the presidential campaign? Part of what we will discuss, coming up next.


RAJU: Moments ago, Donald Trump responding to this critical day that he's facing in court. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a case that could have been brought three and a half years ago. And now they're fighting over days because they were going to try to do it during the election. This is election interference and so on. It's election interference and it's a disgrace. We'll obviously be appealing. But this is a pure case of voter examination and election interference. And it shouldn't be allowed to happen.


This case could have been brought by the D.A., but they didn't want to bring it because they said they have no case. And then they bring it anyway. As you know, D.A. Bragg did not want to bring this case. He was forced into it by for outside reasons. And it's a disgrace that it can happen. This was a case could have been brought three and a half years ago. And they decided to wait now, just during the election. So that I won't be able to campaign. We'll be appealing this.

On the other decision, it will be my honor to post and we'll post whatever is necessary, whether it be cash or security or bonds, you know, the decision, we appreciate and respect the appellate division very much. And we will -- I think, do very well in that whole thing. We have a judge, who I believe is a crooked judge and a crooked attorney general, absolutely crooked.

We did nothing wrong at all 100 percent. And that was proven, and everybody there said, it was proven. Only we have to do is read the legal scholars and you see that was proven. But we will continue with that. But we appreciate very much the decision of the appellate division. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your (Inaudible)?

BIDEN: Cash.


RAJU: You just heard Donald Trump there railing on the court for this historic decision. Donald Trump, the first ex-president to face a criminal trial, especially in the middle of an election year for April 15 is when this Trump hush money trial is set to begin.

I want to go back outside the courthouse where Kaitlan Collins is there. It's been there all morning. So, Kaitlan, how much of what we heard from Donald Trump is actually true?

COLLINS: Well, it's certainly not accurate to say that the district attorney here Alvin Bragg was forced into bringing this case. It's not clear what Trump is essentially implying there beyond, saying that it was not the district attorney's sole decision here, which of course, was his decision to bring this case.

And there were a lot of questions about how he brought it the legal theories that he is relying on and what it's going to look like when it's actually argued at trial. But the idea that Alvin Bragg himself did not want to bring this is not true. But I think, Manu, what's important and what's being telegraphed there so clearly by the former president is his unhappiness with the decision that we just got from the judge there.

Judge Juan Merchan, who decided that, yes, this case will be going forward. They are not going to dismiss it as Trump's attorneys had been arguing for and they're also not going to delay it any further than it was already delayed. It was supposed to start today.

Now jury selection will begin on April 15. And that was essentially what Trump was summing up there, which really -- we got an indication that he was quite annoyed with how today went by what we were hearing from our reporters inside the room, the observations of Trump's body language as he was sitting there, and the judge was pressing his attorney Todd Blanche on these efforts.

They were hopeful going into this that they would succeed in getting at least a few more weeks of delay out of the judge here. They were not ultimately successful with that. And I think that's what you saw reflected there in Trump's comments.

Paula Reid is here with me, listening to that as well. And clearly something not the outcome that Donald Trump was looking for here.

REID: Certainly not. And it's interesting -- he's accusing the district attorney of election interference. So, election interference is how they're framing this case. They are accusing him of trying to interfere with the 2016 election. So, look, this is a preview of what we're going to see over the six weeks of this case and three weeks jury selection will get underway.

Again, this case is expected to last sixish weeks. And that's heading into the heart of campaign season. And Trump is likely going to use this courthouse behind us at every opportunity to continue to campaign and the way he does that is to speak to reporters and frame this all as a political persecution.

So, what we just heard from him right there, I think that's what we're going to hear every day possible -- multiple times a day, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, of course, on Wednesday, it'll be no court, and he could hit the campaign trail if he wants.

COLLINS: And the after the judge came in and made the decision here. He did say he's going to allow them to continue to file more motions to try to delay this. Do we have any indication of whether or not those would succeed or have any merit?

REID: Yeah. At this point, I don't think that there's any factual basis to sustain any sort of delay at the appellate level. But it doesn't mean they're not going to try. He has a right to do that. I'm sure they have some already queued up, and they will continue to file those probably for the next three weeks.

But I'll also say, Kaitlan, we were here a few weeks ago and we thought for sure. This criminal case was going to start today on March 25. And then we saw this unexpected a trove of documents being handed over by federal prosecutors. So, nothing, nothing in Trump legal world is for sure. But right now, on the calendar, April 15.


COLLINS: And Manu, I think this is so significant in the sense of why this bothers Trump is not because his team is worried about the legal threats that are posed to him by this case. Maybe they are given it's the only one going -- a trial that appears before the November election, still waiting to see on the election interference case, the classified documents case as well in addition to the Georgia case.

But I also think it's personally sensitive for Donald Trump because what this case would mean and what this judge has already ruled previously is that Michael Cohen can testify, Stormy Daniels can testify, Karen McDougal can testify. Really resurrecting, you know, one of the most personally turbulent periods of Donald Trump's life, which will be on trial every single day starting April 15.

RAJU: Yeah. Facing those charges of the 34 counts of falsifying business records relating to that 2016 payment of allegedly covering up that extramarital affair for Stormy Daniels' big, big, day here in Washington. And in New York unfolding as -- by the minute it seems. We're going to be back with more breaking news after a quick break.