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Source: Trump Pleads Not Guilty To 34 Counts Of Falsifying Business Records. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired April 04, 2023 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The fact that he's already - if the reporting is correct - the fact that he's already pled not guilty to all 34 charges leads me to believe that he - that probably did happen here that they read the reading - they waived the reading of the 34 charges and instead just arraigned him on the indictment.
This is a long proceeding, I will say, for an arraignment, because especially if he's already pled not guilty. That's the main thing that would happen here is the reading of the indictment and how do you - the plead - the entry of plea of guilty or not guilty and he entered not guilty.
So the question to me is what has been happening since he entered those pleas of not guilty here. And if potentially they could be looking at future dates or scheduling or whether or not he wants to appear or has to appear, I should say at future dates. But more likely is there some legal arguments that are being sought after by either the DA or the defense attorneys who are asking the judge to rule on certain legal questions that they may or may not have or perhaps the judge is setting the parameters of what is appropriate to be talked about or not.
But this is going on a lot longer than a typical arraignment where there's no question of bail, because this is not a bail eligible offense in New York. So even if he was a flight risk or in some ways they were concerned with that, this is not a crime for which you can even ask for bail. So custody is not an issue and if you waive the rights there, then that's also not an issue.
And so I don't know what's going on there but looking at that picture on the screen, the lead prosecutor in this case, is - that's Chris Conroy who's been at the DA's. He's a long-term Assistant District Attorney and he's been there for a long time.
The woman behind him is Susan Hoffinger. She is the attorney who prosecuted, successfully prosecuted The Trump Organization and got a 17-count conviction where her - the opposing counsel was Susan Necheles, the woman seated to Mr. Trump's right and then you have, obviously, the same judge, Judge Merchan there.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And with the - just to be clear that Susan Hoffinger is the woman - the gentleman at the prosecutor's table is Chris Conroy.
AGNIFILO: Yes, the woman behind him with the black jacket and the white shirt.
TAPPER: Okay. That's Susan Hoffinger.
AGNIFILO: That's Susan Hoffinger sitting, right, sitting behind. So she's the head of the whole investigation division, which is the white collar arm of the Manhattan DA's Office. So she was a defense attorney before and she was a prosecutor before that. And Mr. Bragg, DA Bragg brought her back to lead his investigation division, which is a - it's an executive level position, very prestigious. And like I said, she was the trial lawyer who successfully tried the case against The Trump Organization and got the 17 count conviction on behalf of the Office.
TAPPER: And Karen, who's the woman at the table with Chris Conroy to our left, his right, in the blue dress?
AGNIFILO: She's another ADA on the case who works in the major economic crime bureau. This is - the team is going to have multiple attorneys on it. And the question is we just didn't know who was going to be the lead lawyer, who's going to be speaking on the record. It could have been Susan Hoffinger, it could have been Peter Pope or others who are at an executive level who are working on this case.
Chris Conroy is a senior investigative counsel. He's just an ADA, I should say. He's an assistant district attorney, very senior, seasoned, excellent lawyer, who they are having be the ADA who - the ADA meaning assistant district attorney - who will be arranging Mr. Trump and speaking on the record.
TAPPER: So - and so - the interesting context you also brought up is that Susan Hoffinger, the woman with the white shirt, and black jackets sitting behind Chris Conroy at the prosecutors table just defeated in court the woman, Susan Necheles, in the green suit at the defendants table right next to Donald Trump in The Trump Organization case, which was a big victory for District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, I believe, right?
AGNIFILO: Exactly. Exactly right. Seventeen felony count conviction against The Trump Organization.
TAPPER: And Carrie, go ahead.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's worth noting that that case ended in fines. I mean, it was convictions of - and the case was successfully prosecuted from a prosecutor's perspective, but the end result was fines for The Trump Organization. I just think we have to keep that in context ...
CORDERO: ... in terms of this - even though this particular proceeding today has a lot of gravity to it and the former president is sitting there at the defendants table, there are a lot of possible outcomes, and some of them are other than the former president ending up with a felony conviction, some of them could potentially be something as simple as a fine.
TAPPER: Absolutely. And all of us should - in the - in journalism and in the public should be skeptical and open minded when it comes to any accusations made by the government against any individual. And we'll see exactly what the District Attorney Alvin Bragg is proceeding with against Donald Trump when he brings this indictment forward, which we're told has been unsealed, although we - the public is still waiting to see it.
Adam Kaufmann, let me just ask you, when we're told Trump pleads not guilty to 34 counts, which is what a New York government official has told CNN, 34 counts, what does that mean? Is that 34 different felonies? Is it 34 misdemeanors? Is it one felony in 34 counts of that one felony? Translate that into public speaking for us?
ADAM KAUFMANN, FORMER PROSECUTOR, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: KAUFMANN: Right, so we don't know, we don't know what the counts are. We know because this is a felony indictment being arraigned in Supreme Court that at least one count is a felony. If it's the falsifying business records, under New York State procedural law, every time there was a false business record, it would have to be charged as a separate count and so it is entirely possible that it's all multiple counts, because every fake check or every fake entry in a ledger would be its own discrete count, that's another possibility.
To go back to the way the arraignment probably worked, you would expect the court to simply - generally the court will simply inform the - advice the defendant that a New York County grand jury has filed an indictment charging you with and then they'll list the counts and then ask the defendant, how do you plead guilty or not guilty and that's the point when Mr. Trump would have entered his plea of not guilty. But at this point, we just don't know what all of those different counts are and what the indictment contains.
TAPPER: And how long does it take for an indictment to go from being unsealed to posted online, especially when you have when you have something that is of such public interest, internationally?
KAUFMANN: It's surprising to me. I mean, in some of the more high profile cases that were handled when I was there and I know Karen can also share this experience, you have it sort of teed up and ready to go. You know you have to wait for the unsealing at the arraignment. But you also have someone sort of standing by to feed that indictment out because the media is waiting for it. So I'm a little surprised that we're not seeing it yet.
TAPPER: Interesting. Andy McCabe, any thoughts and reactions to these images we're getting from inside this courtroom are just extraordinary. The annoyed, chastened Donald Trump, the reports that he has pleaded not guilty to 34 charges, we're still waiting, of course, to hear what they are.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Still waiting to hear what they are and I would say still waiting to understand what exactly is still taking place in that courtroom. Because as other others have mentioned, this has really gone on at least twice as long as any of us expected.
My guests and this is speculation is the battling over issues and motions and scheduling has probably already begun. One of the goals that the judge will have had in this first arraignment would be to set up at least a provisional schedule of when those motions would be due. So you can imagine we've already heard reporting from the Trump legal team that they intend to fight. I think they said every issue related to this case and my guess is that those battles have probably already begun behind the closed doors in 100 Centre Street.
TAPPER: Carrie Cordero, let me ask you, the Trump defense team has already signaled that they are immediately going to make a motion to have this case dismissed, that they think it's nonsense, that they don't think these charges hold water, that it's misdemeanors, et cetera. Would they make that motion at this court appearance or would it be for a later appearance?
CORDERO: Normally, I think they would take more time to be able to actually write out their motions. I mean, they could have started drafting it based on what they think was coming, but they got to really be able to look at the documents. So I don't think they would make a motion to dismiss orally in front of the judge, because they want to make every single possible written argument that they can in their brief, but I would expect that they would do it relatively soon. I don't I don't think it would be during this proceeding, but soon.
TAPPER: And Karen, let me ask you because one of the speculations and obviously we're going to get an answer to all of this as soon as the Manhattan district attorney posts the indictment, but one of the speculations is that the felony count will come from the guy idea that this business fraud was committed in the name of hiding another crime.
That in New York prosecutorial discretion is such that if you commit a misdemeanor in business fraud to hide a different crime, then that could be up to a felony. Is that used often that kind of prosecution?
AGNIFILO: Yes. So this is a common bread and butter charge for the District Attorney's Office. It's used in New York State, not just the Manhattan DA's Office, but in multiple counties around the state. It's a very common white collar fraud charge. It's called falsifying a business record in the first degree. It's a Class E felony, which is the lowest felony there is in New York State, but it's very, very common.
And the question is going to be what is the charge that brings the falsifying a business record from the misdemeanor to a felony. The misdemeanor and falsifying a business record is just when you - with the intent to deceive, you enter a false or erroneous record. You make an - a record entry that is false or erroneous in some way with the intent to deceive someone.
What makes it a felony is when you make that erroneous entry and your intent to deceive includes the commission or concealment of another crime. And there's been a lot of speculation about what - what's appropriate and what could that other crime be. And that's going to be the thing that I think most legal analysts are waiting to see if we get any indication of that from the unsealing of the indictment, because then we might not know which crime they relied upon or crimes, because it could be multiple, they could have multiple theories of what the crimes are that they're thinking about.
It also doesn't say in the statute whose crime you are intending to conceal or commit. It could be, for example, that the falsification was made in furtherance of the charges by Michael Cohen, who was already prosecuted and pled guilty in 2018 federally for this exact charge.
So we just don't know what the crime will be that the District Attorney used to elevate it to a felony. And again, there's been a lot of question about is it okay to use a federal election law violation as the crime that makes this a felony, and that's going to be one of the legal arguments, I think, that the lawyers are going to make in this case, because that is something that although it's been done many times or several times, I should say before, it's not ever been tested or litigated in court.
TAPPER: And also the idea, Karen, and tell me if I'm wrong about this, but the idea that this alleged campaign finance falsification that the business fraud would have been covering up the hush money payment in 2016, that normally the statute of limitation, this is what I've been told is the theory would have run out, but because Donald Trump was in Washington, D.C. for four years and then has been in Florida since leaving the White House, it's almost as if the statute of limitations is - there's a pause button hit, because he's ...
TAPPER: ... no longer in New York, is that right?
AGNIFILO: Yes, that's exactly right. So the statute of limitations for a felony in New York is five years, but there are a couple of pauses here. In addition to the one you just mentioned that he was outside the jurisdiction continuously when he was in Washington and don't forget he also moved his residence from New York to Florida, the governor of New York during the COVID pandemic pressed pause on the statute of limitations for a period of time for all cases, for all criminal cases in New York and that pause was for more than a year.
So that is going to be another tolling is what they call it of the statute of limitations that the prosecution will rely upon here.
TAPPER: So Gov. Cuomo put pause on that for how long?
AGNIFILO: So that - it's unclear because there were some that it was renewed and then it was stopped a couple of times, but I assure you that the lawyers at the Manhattan DA's Office have calculated exactly what that period of time is with respect to this particular case.
Jamie Gangel, when you're looking at these images, one of the things by the way, David Urban was wondering about Boris Epshteyn, who is on the far right side of your screen, who is really more of a political adviser than a lawyer sitting at the table although I do believe he is an attorney.
Our own reporter, Sara Murray, notes that Boris has made arguments before about not having to testify in front - in various legal proceedings and prosecutions or investigations of Donald Trump by claiming that he has this privilege that attorneys are given.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he's not the only one we saw. I thought it was interesting we saw Jason Miller come out through those doors, another aide. I don't know why, Andy, I can't imagine for normal people, do aides get to go back for processing?
MCCABE: Not typically a lot of political advisors brought to arraignment day and in many arraignments that I have seen. But as Carrie pointed out as hard as they are trying to make this normal process, it just doesn't fit into that box in many ways. And the former President has, obviously, a larger group with him than you normally see on arraignment day, but I think we all expected that.
GANGEL: There's - can I just say there's a wide shot we're not seeing it right now. But one of the things that's striking, there we go, there is no Secret Service agent ...
GANGEL: ... anywhere near him. And they're probably in the back standing against the wall. I spoke to some sources familiar with the Secret Service, who've told me that that's exactly what would happen in this case that they just stand back from the situation.
And in some ways, I think, the close ups of Trump's face are quite striking. But seeing that wide shot, where he is at the defense table and you see the court police, he's in custody, he's in their control I think is very striking.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's almost like any other defendant ...
PHILLIP: ... on any other defendants were on any other day sitting in a courtroom. And I noted having covered Trump for a long time, his body language hunched over, hands clasped between his legs. Jamie, you were talking about anger, that is an angry Trump. That is someone whose lips are pursed, his eyes are small, he's looking right at the cameras because he knows that they are there and what they're there to do.
He is - this is a frustrating moment for someone who actually has tried in so many ways to use the justice system to do things that he has wanted it to do and has been frustrated when it hasn't happened. And now he finds that he is - he calls himself a victim, but he is now the subject of the justice system itself and it's a frustrating moment for him I'm sure.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's forced today to live in reality. We're reading body language right now. Pretty sure we'll get to read an indictment, that's the most important thing that will happen today seeing what's actually on paper and what they can lay out to Carrie's point about how do they connect the dots here.
But reading his body language, this is a man who Andy mentioned CEOs in court, average Joes in court, this has to be a thud for him because he lives in a fantasy land. He's going to go back to Mar-A-Lago tonight where he has an office that he made deliberately to look like the Oval Office where they have napkins with a seal that looks like the Presidential seal. He calls his plane Trump Force One, he insisted everybody call him Mr. President. He says that Joe Biden lost the election and that he should have been reinstated already.
He's not in that world anymore. He's in - he's a defendant in a trial case right now. One other point I just want to make, I'm just looking at Twitter, Donald Trump, Jr. just tweeted a picture of the judge's daughter saying she worked for the Biden-Harris campaign seems to be irrelevant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.
KING: It is not relevant. It is not relevant. She's an individual adult. But this is what - I was about to say this is the game they play, it's not a game. It's not a game. This is how they play.
KING: They try to intimidate they attack and they put at risk people who should not be dragged into this process. If Donald Trump is presumed innocent, if he can beat these charges, good for him. The judge's daughter has nothing to do with this, but this is what they do. This is how he - they have so taken this country off the rails and outside the norms.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And there's a reason why they took the prosecutors' pictures off the website for similar reasons and it's really unfortunate that that is a world in which we live and you have people on social media doing what you just described.
Another thing that I keep thinking about is that Trump fought back against media companies, against businesses, you name it for decades, trying to use the threat of lawsuits by doing that. One of the people in recent years - well, before he became president that he used as his chief henchmen, this is what he calls himself was Michael Cohen.
Michael Cohen was the man who kept him out of the very situation that we're looking at that he is in right now. And today, because Michael Cohen turned after he took the fall for Donald Trump, that is why Donald Trump is sitting there right now, the man that he employed, put him there.
[15:20:05] And again, it is not only necessarily Michael Cohen's testimony. We believe there's certainly documentation and evidence that are going to go into these 34 counts that we're going to see soon. But that those turn - that turn of events is quite noteworthy.
TAPPER: Karen, I want to ask you a question and then throwback to Anderson. When somebody within the president's - former presidents circle like his son or campaign or people directly affiliated with him, posts an image of the daughter of the judge at a time where political violence is increasingly becoming more and more normal and more and more accepted, is that something that the judge could admonish the defendant and those in his immediate circle to not do or is that something that people just now accept as a modern reality?
AGNIFILO: No, that will, that will not be accepted, that will not be okay. In fact, the fact that this is going on significantly longer than anyone would have anticipated much longer than a normal arraignment leads me to believe that the judge is having some sort of very serious discussions in court right now.
Because motion practice and all the things that Donald Trump wants to do make the arguments about whether it's statute of limitations or sufficiency of the grand jury or whether a charge counts as elevating it to false business record, that will all be done in writing, in motion practice. It will be briefed by lawyers at another date.
Right now, the only thing that's happening in court, it was just supposed to be an arraignment, it would not be anything about custody or bail since this crime is not bail eligible. So what could they possibly be talking about? I think it's the fact that Donald Trump has crossed a massive line here in New York when he had a picture of himself with a baseball bat to Alvin Braggs head and then, right after that calling - in his way, calling for death and destruction in the streets, that crossed a line in New York. He could have easily be charged with another crime there, obstruction of governmental administration because he was trying to intimidate - using intimidation and threats to interfere with the court process.
Doing the same thing to the judge, these veiled threats to his daughter, that's another - he's - they are committing more crimes. And so whether he gets arrested for them is a decision that will have to be made by law enforcement. But I can assure you, this judge, Judge Merchan is not going to put up with it and this judge knows The Trump Organization and Trump and his ways and his allies, he sat and was the judge who presided over The Trump Organization trial.
So he is not a stranger to the ways of Donald Trump and Donald Trump's orbit. And he will absolutely have a pre-prepared and pre-planned speech and admonition that he is giving to - he is defendant Trump right now before Judge Merchan and letting him know what that means and what - as the judge of this court will expect of him as a defendant.
TAPPER: Anderson, back to you.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Yes. Adam Kaufmann has been watching this. Adam - Karen was just talking about the one possible thing that the Judge is discussing. What else would account for the length of time here? We talked earlier about whether this indictments sort of tells a story whether it's just a dry recitation of facts or if it's a lengthier indictment that sort of tells a story, I'm wondering if that plays a role here as well?
KAUFMANN: Anderson, it it's not - unless - I mean, unless they didn't waive the reading of the indictment, that's certainly a possibility in which case they're reading however many pages and however many counts this is. I've - prosecutor - I never saw that happen, but it's certainly possible.
But it's to Karen's point, an arraignment takes five minutes. It's over and done with, especially here, there's no bail consideration. There's nothing really to talk about. Motions are made on papers. They're not made orally. Even if defense counsel wanted to stand up and give a speech for five minutes about how outrageous this is, I still can't imagine what could possibly be taking this much time.
COOPER: Karen, we had talked earlier about the - Adam had brought up the idea of a conspiracy count. Talk a little bit about what that might entail if in fact there is such a thing of why that would be important.
AGNIFILO: Yes. So interestingly, what it says right there on the monitor, Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts. What that tells me is there may not be a conspiracy charge.
Because the charges that we expect to see here are falsifying a business record in the first degree, which is a Class E felony, the lowest level felony, and a conspiracy to commit that crime would make it an A misdemeanor. So to Adams point that he made earlier about what would the ...
COOPER: It looks like - I'm sorry, Karen ...
AGNIFILO: Go ahead.
COOPER: ... it looks like they're about to come out of the court room. Let's listen into the hall.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) how did you plea, President Trump? How did you plea?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible), President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone is to stay put (inaudible) ...
COOPER: So obviously any thought that the President - former president was going to be coming to cameras and not - obviously not happening, whether or not he wanted to, we don't know. He is still in the custody and correct me if I'm wrong, Elie, he is still in the custody of authorities. HONIG: He is until he walks out that door, Anderson, he is in the custody of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. He presumably has been released on his own recognizance, which means he will come back whenever he is told. We should get a sense of what the schedule is. What we will learn coming out of this, of course, the biggest thing is the indictment itself and we're still waiting on that.
It has now been unsealed that should be available to the public. It's possible they were waiting for this proceeding to end before they posted it. We also should get a sense of the schedule moving forward, when will discovery be due and when will motions been made, so we'll have a sense of how this is going to proceed.
And we'll also learn presumably what took so long in there, was the judge talking to them about some of the over the line statements that have been made.
COOPER: Karen, just in terms of what is happening right now, so the former president has left the courtroom, where does he go from here?
AGNIFILO: So now that they are going to take him out of the building, probably the same way that they brought him in, which is through a separate elevator that's typically only available to judges and the district attorney. It's - they'll take them from the 15th floor all the way down to the first floor where he will then walk out of what's - the Hogan Place entrance.
This street right here is called Hogan Place. It's a very tiny little street in lower Manhattan named after District Attorney Hogan and they'll put him in a car and he's - it's over. He'll ...
COOPER: So at what point is he no longer in custody? When he exited ...
AGNIFILO: He's no lower in custody now. He's under guard because he - they have to protect him, but as soon as he's released from court, he's no longer in custody.
COOPER: And I believe he's leaving now, John.
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So presumably he was released on his own recognizance. We don't - we have years in the courtroom, but they're trying to get to places to communicate to us. But he'll get in the same motorcade package that brought him here, that will take him back to LaGuardia Airport where his plane is standing by and he is scheduled to fly out of New York today.
Now, this is all subject to change. But the plan was to fly out of New York today on his private jet to Mar-A-Lago without coming back to Trump Tower, to hold a press conference. And what we've seen is for all the discussions about making a statement on the way in or a statement on the way out at the courthouse, that obviously didn't happen so that motorcade is now on the move.
COOPER: Also, standing by, Laura Coates, John Dean are joining us. Laura Coates, we haven't heard from you today. The former president now leaving the court building, are they heading back to other, John, do you think Trump Tower or do you think the airport?
MILLER: They're going - if they're sticking to the schedule, they're going straight to LaGuardia Airport, straight to his private jet and straight back to Palm Beach.
COOPER: Laura Coates, what do you make of the lengthy arraignment?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, listen, there has only been 46 presidents in the history of our country and millions of criminal defendants and look what we have now, one who is now a criminal defendant on his way out of a courtroom, an extraordinary amount of time to have him there.
He is likely trying to argue a point about the relevance of this particular case. I assume his lawyers were the ones to do so, but note who was behind him in that courtroom. You didn't have Secret Service, you had two presumable marshals, one with handcuffs dangling on her own waistband and appeared to wear gloves.
You're seeing the conduct of what would happen for every criminal defendant in this country and Donald Trump was now one of them. Going forward, the schedule is going to be so important.
Importantly, Anderson, look for that motion - pre-trial motion briefing schedule that will have the motion to dismiss that, we will have the challenges as to whether this is likely to be an appropriate elevation from a misdemeanor to a felony offense. That's going to be the next consequential step here. And, of course, whatever this president now says - former president now says about this, we know the law and order adage. Anything he says can and will be used against him, including his statements on social media and even through different agents on his behalf.