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Tonight: Biden Fundraiser With Barack Obama & Bill Clinton; Biden Campaign: $25M Raised Ahead Of Tonight's Fundraiser; Trump Cuts Into Biden's Margin With Voters Of Color In New Polls; Trump Attorney Pushes For GA Election Interference Dismissal; Willis: Despite Efforts To Slow It "The Train Is Coming"; Sources: Conservative Matt Schlapp Agrees To $480,000 Sexual Assault Settlement. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on INSIDE POLITICS. Lights, camera, court. The Georgia election racketeering case against Donald Trump is back on. We'll bring you all the breaking details from the first hearing since the judge allowed Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis to continue spearheading the case, which the former president's legal team is trying to get dismissed.

Plus, three presidents and a queen. If you count Queen Latifah. That's who will attend an unprecedented star-studded fundraiser for President Biden tonight. It's already brought in millions of dollars. But will those dollars translate into votes? And I did it my way.


BASH: That was Joe Lieberman singing his favorite Frank Sinatra song. It sums up how the democratic vice-presidential candidate turned independent Senator, approach two decades in public service. We'll pay tribute to Lieberman's legacy with his former colleague and dear friend, Senator Susan Collins.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at INSIDE POLITICS.

First up, President Biden is on his way to New York where the stars and two former presidents are coming out for a massive fundraising event tonight. The fundraiser with firepower has already brought in millions for the president.

CNN's MJ Lee is live from New York. MJ?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, yeah, this is a pretty eye-popping call from the Biden campaign, some $25 million and counting tied to this single fundraising event in New York City tonight. The campaign is clearly capitalizing on this rare joint appearance by the three presidents, one sitting and two-former. And this is a notable political moment for several reasons.

First of all, you can't understate the importance of the money here. This is a campaign that had already ended the month of February with some $71 million of cash on hand. That was a double the amount that the Trump campaign had. And now they get to make a significant add to that pot of money and resources.

And secondly, there's just the symbolic significance of seeing these three presidents sort of banding together to take on the former President Donald Trump and trying to stop him from returning to the White House.

Now, sources have told CNN that President Biden has been in regular touch with both former President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. And that those two former presidents have also been in pretty regular contact with senior White House officials like Jeff Zients or Steve Ricchetti.

And when we see, Dana, tonight's conversation moderated by Stephen Colbert, we expect that the two presidents are basically going to be lending President Biden a hand in helping explain to voters, sort of the stakes of the election upcoming in November.

The idea here, of course, is that quite literally, there are no two other people that can better understand and explain to people exactly the importance and the urgency that the Biden campaign sees heading into November as they expect a rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump. Dana?

BASH: MJ, thanks so much for that reporting. I want to bring in my political panel to talk more about this, PBS NewsHour's Laura Barron- Lopez, the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, and Isaac Arnsdorf of The Washington Post. Isaac is also the author of the new book, Finish What We Started: The MAGA Movement's Ground War to End Democracy. That does not sound like a comedy. Thank you so much for being here all of you.

Let's just kind of start big picture about the significance of this event tonight, Laura. I mean, there is so many ways to kind of slice this and to look at this. One of them is the money. Another is the fact that you have three Democratic presidents, two formers and a current. At a time where the last Republican who happens to be running for his job back, not only has his own vice president isn't even supporting him, nevermind other former Republicans.


LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: That's right. This is really a show of force on multiple fronts. On the fact that these former Democratic presidents are rallying behind Joe Biden to say that they are with him as he establishes this choice is one that is about, you know, democracy and freedom and where the campaign has really made clear that they're going to be hammering that home. It's also about the money.

As you said, Dana, which is that this event alone surpasses almost every kind of fundraising, not just event but hall that the president has had to date this year. In February, he raised some 21 million, but this is already beyond that. And so, they're really revving up the campaign is. They have a big springs ad spin that is prepared a round, I think, 31 million or so. And that is going to be how they're establishing the choice. You know, they're far ahead of Trump and the Republican National Committee in terms of the amount of money that they have on hand in order to make that choice and establish that choice.

BASH: And, you know, to play devil's advocate of the argument that we're all hearing from the Biden campaign. We have all covered campaigns and elections where the person who had way more money than the other candidate didn't end up winning. So, money doesn't always help. Doesn't hurt necessarily, but it doesn't always get them across the finish line.

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: I think that there are two components of this money who is important, of course, but it's also the message, and the message is all-hands on deck. It's the message to Democrats saying, forget about your qualms about Biden's age, forget about your policy disagreements on this issue or that issue. We're behind in the polls. The other guy is unacceptable. And everybody has to get in this together.

BASH: We want to show you some humor -- some satire. As we see often on late night and that is -- this is from Seth Meyers from last night, I believe. Take a look.


SETH MEYERS: And so, President Biden is set to appear at Radio City Music Hall with former President Barack Obama, and they definitely know how to sell it.


BASH: Just to clarify, that's not actually what the marquee looks like. And I just want to say that because you never know, because the point that he's making is a real one that Barack Obama obviously, is the draw right now.

ISAAC ARNSDORF, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, and you know, there's a lot of history there between Biden and Obama and being his vice president and sort of feeling second fiddle. And, you know, there was kind of some awkwardness when Obama came back to the White House and accidentally referred to -- one of them referred to them, I think maybe Biden referred to what they were -- the role reversal was confusing.

BASH: Yeah, yeah.

ARNSDORF: And, you know, Obama, it's been hard for him to be on the sidelines of this. And he's still one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party and expect to see a lot of him out on the campaign this year.

BASH: Yeah. Out on the campaign this year. And remember, he was very, very active at the end, at least of 2020. So was -- so it was his wife. So, it was the former First Lady. Let's dig in a little bit to the challenge that the Biden campaign has. And we talk about Obama, and we talk about the Obama coalition and the various groups that he brought together to allow him to win not once, but twice at the White House.

One of the key aspects of the Obama coalition are voters of color. And that is an area where Joe Biden is struggling. I want to read part of a new story out today from our colleague, Ron Brownstein.

The headline is the unexpected dynamic that could decide the Trump- Biden rematch. The more important question may be whether Trump can sustain whatever level of support he now has among non-white voters. Both national and battleground state public polls consistently show Trump, at this point, drawing more support from black and Hispanic voters than any Republican nominee since at least 1960.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And we've talked a lot about the realignment of the non- college educated white voters, the working-class white voters and college educated white voters. They flipped, right in modern elections where those non college educated, working-class white voters have gotten to Trump.

And now you're starting to see where he is chipping away at the working class, black and brown voters. And that's where he's drawing voters away from President Biden and also especially young black men and young Latino men. That is where he's seen in in that -- with those voters.

And that's something that President Biden clearly has to address. And a number of Democrats have talked about. It's a big concern of theirs. They do still feel though -- as though between now and Election Day that they have enough time to win back those voters. I mean, they're going to be key. They were the reason that President Biden carried states like Arizona and carried states like Nevada. And if he's going to carry them again, he has to win them back.


BASH: And let me just put a little bit of meat on the bones, as I like to say, and look at some of the numbers that our team put together to give a sense. I mean obviously if you look at these numbers, Joe Biden is still in the past in 2020 when he won did much better with both black voters and Hispanic voters.

But he did less well with -- you start with 1992, '96, 2008, 2012 and 2020, which is what we're talking about. 75 if he did, again, well, but not as well as Obama did in 2008 and 2012 with both of those groups, particularly with black voters, which one of the -- something he needs to fix.

PONNURU: One of the surprising results of 2020 was that the racial polarization and voting shifted a little bit, declined a little bit with the non-white vote being a little bit more Republican than it had been 2016. And white voters being a slight bit more pro Democrats than they had been in 2016.

And right now, it looks like that trend is continuing and it's going to have all kinds of effects. One of them is what does it do to Republican get out the vote efforts? It's going to take a lot more investment in money.

BASH: OK. You guys don't go far. We're going to come back to politics in Washington or on the campaign trail in a minute. But coming up a hearing just wrapped up in Georgia's election interference case against Donald Trump. But the former president was not in the Fulton County courtroom, neither was D.A. Fani Willis. And later remembering Senator Joe Lieberman, his distinguished and unusual career from Connecticut to D.C., and why one Republican senator said he was her favorite person to work with in Washington.




BASH: Now to Georgia where Donald Trump's lawyers just asked a judge to throw out the election subversion case against him. It was the first hearing since that same judge rejected their efforts to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the case. She was notably absent today.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is outside the Fulton County courthouse. Katelyn, what happened?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Dana, no rolling, no trial date, no Donald Trump or Fani Willis physically in the courtroom today. But these hearings -- this hearing are important ones in this case because this hearing is where defendants like Donald Trump today. His team is able to argue to the judge why they think the law is not right, the facts are not right, or this case needs to be dismissed.

The judge heard their argument because what it's about here is the First Amendment. They have been arguing quite forcefully that what is charged here in this case in Fulton County, Georgia racketeering conspiracy against Donald Trump. That is just protected speech. It's things that she should have been allowed to say under the constitution. His tweets, his speech on the ellipse, all of that does not amount to a crime under the law.

Here's a little bit more from Donald Trump's Attorney Steve Sadow in court today.


STEVE SADOW, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: What President Trump said speech wise or expressed either through his speech or conduct, which is still freedom of expression. Because that's false in the eyes of the state, it's lost all protections of the First Amendment, just the opposite. If anything under the circumstances, it needs more protection.

(END VIDEO CLIP) POLANTZ: But the prosecutor Donald Wakeford was also able to argue to the judge that this case is rightfully charged. That the law is correct here in the way that the D.A.'s office has interpreted it. And that Donald Trump was making false statements that were -- false statements that were lies after the 2020 election. And that is the core of the criminal activity, the criminal conspiracy that they alleged Trump is at the top of.

Now the judge didn't say what he's actually going to do here. He's heard challenges like this before to this case from other defendants said, they were unsuccessful and move the case along to trial. That is quite a possibility here because the other thing the prosecutors were arguing was, let the law stand and let the intent question come down to the jury. Dana?

BASH: Katelyn, thank you so much for that reporting. I want to now talk to this panel of CNN all-stars, Kristen Holmes, Paula Reid and Sara Murray. Nice to see you all. Welcome back from maternity leave. We're going to talk about the trial in a second. But I just realized all three of you are moms to babies.


BASH: That's very cool. OK.

HOLMES: And we all support each other.

BASH: And back to -- back to our regularly scheduled programming. Sara, what was your takeaway from what we saw this morning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look. I think the first thing is just the optics. This is the first time we're seeing the case get back to what the defendants allegedly did here. And you know, what's actually on trial as opposed to Fani Willis' personal life. And it was probably a cognizant decision she made, not to appear in person in the courtroom to let her team minus Nathan Wade, of course, is no longer with them sort of run with this.

And, you know, look, I think that the Trump team made a valiant effort. Paula can talk more about this. But trying to say why everything that Donald Trump did is protected under the First Amendment and why -- you know, we don't need to do a pesky thing like a trial. We can just toss this indictment out right now.

But I think one of the points that prosecutors made is that a tweet itself does not have to be a crime. A statement itself does not have to be a crime that the way the racketeering law works in Georgia. These things need to be asked that further this broader conspiracy that Trump and his allies were involved in to try to overturn the 2020 election.

BASH: As you come in, Paula. I just want our viewers to hear some of that argument from the chief senior D.A. Donald Wakeford.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD WAKEFORD, CHIEF SENIOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY: It's not just that he lied over and over and over again, as counsel for the defendant points out by listing all of the instances in the indictment is that each of those was employed as part of criminal activity with criminal intentions.



PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So, the Trump team is arguing, look, this was a group of politicians, talking about a presidential election. That's political speech. The government, they're saying, wait a second, there are limits on the First Amendment and the protections afforded to political speech. For one thing, this was false. Falsity is not a viewpoint that is protected. The Trump attorneys then say, no, the government doesn't get to decide what is true and what is false.

Look, good effort on the Trump team, but this is not something that is going to carry the day. But look, the Trump lawyers, they have an obligation to file every action for their client. And I'm told that in addition to the perpetual delay strategy, they're playing a long game here. They have to file these motions to preserve them for an appeal.

So hypothetically, this goes to trial. There is a conviction. Their hope is that there'll be enough issues, enough mistakes over the life of this case that they can eventually kill this sort of a death by thousand cuts, eventually on appeal.

HOLMES: And Dana, to that -- you know, this isn't one of those cases where those arguments that they thought was going to change the trajectory of a case. When I'm talking to them, is I'm sure we're going to be keeping an eye on it, but Donald Trump's not there. We see him in court all the time when he wants to be there. If he wants to be at a hearing. They're necessarily hanging their hat on this argument.

But as Paula said, and as one of his senior advisers told me, look, Donald Trump is paying these lawyers a lot of money. They are being paid to exhaust every single avenue possible and to really fight for that end game, which is to delay this trial as long as possible and delay this path that November election. And they do believe at this point, particularly following what we saw Fani Willis that it's going to be likely that they can get this delayed past the election.

BASH: So, on Fani Willis, as I mentioned, she -- and Katelyn did as well. She was not in court today. This was the first hearing since that same judge said that she can stay on the case. She did speak out on Saturday about what happened. Let's listen.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I'm not embarrassed by anything I've done. You know, I guess my greatest crime is I had a relationship with a man. I don't feel like we've been slowed down at all. I do think that there are efforts to slow down this train, but the train is coming.


MURRAY: You know, I think Fani Willis has definitely a defiant streak, sort of similar to Donald Trump in many ways. And I do think that her office really views this as what was a consenting relationship between two adults. They got unfairly blown out of proportion. But the reality is, this is now something that is still hanging over the case.

You know, the case is proceeding. We saw that today. The focus was on the criminal case at hand and the defendants, but the judge has allowed the Trump team to continue appealing. That's something that's going to hang over.

You know, what the judge said in his ruling, which was not very flattering to Fani Willis or to Nathan Wade still hangs over the court of public opinion. It still hangs over a potential jury pool. And so, you know, we'll see what happens. But I think the best thing for them was that this was a hearing that was focused not on Fani Willis and her personal life today.

REID: Yeah. I mean, the idea that my only crime was right having this relationship. Well, no, no one accuse you of a crime. But the judge has criticized your judgment, your professionalism and called into question your honesty. Not a good sign when you're heading into a trial like this. But what I will say for her is this the case is moving forward. The judge is hearing motions. She says she's going to keep pushing to trial.

BASH: Final thought?

HOLMES: I think, you know, it's both been said by them. The idea is that, yes. Fani Willis gets to stay on the case. Yes, she is defiant. But when we play this out in the court of public opinion, that was a scathing ruling that Donald Trump is planning on using.

BASH: Thank you all. Appreciate it. Don't go anywhere because coming up CNN exclusive reporting revealing how much money was paid to drop the sexual assault lawsuit against a well-known Republican lobbyist. That's after a quick break.




BASH: Now to a CNN exclusive. Sources tell CNN's Jamie Gangel that conservative heavyweight match slap is agreeing to a hefty settlement to end a sexual assault lawsuit. Even though the accuser is claiming there was not a payout from Schlapp. CNN's Jamie Gangel broke the story and joins the panel. Can you explain that, Jamie?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. So, here we go. What we have learned is, in fact, there was a payment to settle this suit. That it was $480,000, almost half a million dollars. It is a significant payout in a case like this. It was paid by an insurance company on behalf of Schlapp and the ACU. That is the important distinction here.

So, it's also notable because when Schlapp and his legal team announced that he had been dismissed. They made it sound as if he had been exonerated and cleared. He made a statement saying from the beginning, I asserted my innocence. He did an interview. That made it sound as if he had been cleared.

He posted something on Twitter, which has now been deleted. I think what they did was they were trying to do a PR move. What they thought was clever the first day and make it sound as if he had been exonerated, when in fact he had not.

BASH: So, let's take a step back. You have done some reporting on this as well to why it's happened in the first place. About the allegations, the text messages and other evidence that I know that you -- just like you have as well reported in the past.