Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
The Arrest And Arraignment Of Donald Trump. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired April 04, 2023 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: One of them is $130,000 payment from Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump's attorney/fixer, to Stormy Daniels. One is a $150,000 payment made from the "National Enquirer" parent company AMI to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate of the month, who also had alleged relationship with Donald Trump. And then third, a payment from AMI to a doorman of for a claim he was making that AMI later determined to be false.
Do you dispute those three actions? Which, I'm not sure -- I mean, I suspect that the district attorney is alleging that these are violations of federal election laws, even though I don't think they go after the president, the former president for those laws. But do you -- do you dispute these assertions that these three actions happened?
JIM TRUSTY, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Yeah, well, I'm not -- I'm not going to, you know, try the case with you that way or piecemeal it. Let me just say, like that's not going to add up to a case where Alvin Bragg has jurisdiction. Never mind the complete lack of discretion. Never mind the fact that it's a personal political persecution when it comes to announcing target first and trying to string together evidence later.
But that's what it goes to. You know, when you have a guy that runs for office, saying, I will get Donald Trump, it shouldn't be a surprise that he will string together a flimsy case because he feels like, hey, this is how I got here. I've got to do it.
And it turns upside down how prosecutors are supposed to act in this country.
TAPPER: See --
TRUSTY: They're supposed to begin judiciously. And that's not where we are. We're picking and choosing a target to try to pin charges on and, you know, it's a sad day.
TAPPER: Do you -- do you know any details about what happened when Mr. Trump went in for processing before he went into the courtroom?
TRUSTY: Yeah, I don't. You know, again, I'm on the Mar-a-Lago and J6 side of things. The last thing that the New York team needed was a bunch of phone calls for me for media consumption.
I assume it was what everybody predicted. You know, this is a -- for all of the excitement, all the hoopla. It's actually a very routine court appearance. They're handled consistently.
Other white collar cases that I've had have kind of gone down the same road when it when you talk about, you know, turning yourself in to face the charges in the arrangement, so I suspect that was pretty easily done.
TAPPER: We're told that the prosecution in the courtroom raised issues about some of Donald Trump, Mr. Trump's media -- social media, rather, postings, worried about inciting. And the judge told everybody, not just Donald Trump, told everybody to watch what they say in terms of inciting.
As somebody who represents Donald Trump on other issues, the January 6th and the documents cases that the special counsel here in D.C. are investigating, is that of issue to you? Is that of concern that Donald Trump, President Trump does go on social media and gets his base whipped up?
TRUSTY: Well, it's certainly be a concern if the judge issued a gag order, you know, kind of completing the cycle for DOJ and for New York and Georgia, and trying to silence the leading contender for presidency. It'd be an amazing moment to think that First Amendment would allow them to gag him.
So they made a run at it. The judge basically said, I don't want to see anything. I hope that the judge is also equal handed when it comes to leaks, because at least on the DOJ side, and I suspect from what I've seen in New York so far, it'll be the same, that there are one sided leaks, incomplete leaks, leaks to pressure witnesses that are flying out by the dozen.
So, you know, there's a lot of behavioral stuff that needs to be looked at on the prosecution side. I'm not too worried about an occasional truth or an occasional moment where a man who has every right to be frustrated, says something publicly.
TAPPER: The prosecution has suggested that Stormy Daniels, the adult film star and director, at who was at the center of this case, in terms of the hush money payment to her, will be called to testify. Does that concern you at all?
TRUSTY: Not particularly. I mean, look, you know pretty funny tonight circuit today added onto her tab of what she owes the president for breaching the nondisclosure agreement. But look, at the end of the day, Stormy Daniels looks like almost a credible witness.
You know, Michael Cohen, as is a convicted perjurer, disbarred lawyer, guy with an ax to grind, and you know, anybody that's even watch "Law and Order" once would love the opportunity to cross examine that guy.
So, you know, they can put window dressing all around it and say, look, it's not just him. It's documents. It's Stormy, but it's him. It's Michael Cohen.
It's a guy that basically -- at least if you listen to Bob Costello, perjured himself in front of the grand jury again. And they're going to -- that's again, that's when, that shows you it's politically motivated. No reasonable prosecutor would go to bat with Michael Cohen as your star witness, but Alvin Bragg is not a reasonable prosecutor.
TAPPER: But is it not true that Michael Cohen brought documentation for the charges he's made? And those documentations are at the core of the 34-count indictment of Donald Trump, which I've never heard -- I have yet to hear anybody dispute the facts in the indictment. I realized it's early yet, but as a matter of fact, it does appear that Michael Cohen was telling the truth on these hush money payments.
TRUSTY: Well, that -- you're making a little bit of a leap. But, look, nondisclosure agreements, we can demonize it. It's a hush money and, you know, talk about how salacious it is.
You know, if that was illegal, Congress should be in a lot of trouble, right? You've got an entire fund set up for congressional NDAs based on harassment.
So it's not illegal to have it. Nobody's disputing whether there was a nondisclosure agreement. The Ninth Circuit just found out who violated it and has to pay attorney's costs.
The issue is the credibility in terms of deciphering some sort of intent, looping some sort of federal felony into the case, and it's just not going to come together. It was a political promise that Alvin Bragg made and he's run through.
And if I wanted to point to a particular document, the significant, it would be the federal case against him. You know, they had an interest in trying to make it into a federal prosecution. Nobody would ever accuse the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan of being afraid of going after Donald Trump. They set it up in his plea with the federal election violation is one of the charges, with all the other stuff that that Cohen had been involved in.
And then he failed as a cooperator. And they couldn't even give him the 5K departure. They couldn't even give him the credit for being an honest cooperator, and that case fell apart.
So, Alvin Bragg is picking up the trash that the U.S. attorney's office wouldn't touch, that his predecessor wouldn't touch that he wouldn't even touch the first time. But now, for whatever back reason, you know, back channel reason, I will be really interested in pushing for information about how he made this decision.
Now we've got this case. We'll have to deal with it. But pretrial motions should be very powerful.
TAPPER: Just as the point of fact, I believe the issue is not whether or not an NDA is legal. It's the question about whether or not, if you're paying somebody to be quiet because of an election, whether or not that counts as an election expense that needs to be counted as such. But let's move on, because I want to ask you. The next court appearance in this case is not until December. It's April now. That's a considerable amount of time away.
Are you concerned that it's so far away and that much closer to 2024? Would you like it to be moved up?
TRUSTY: Well, I'm not really, you know, paid to be on the political side. I'm on the legal side, and so I don't want to speak out of turn.
The only thing I would say is because I think most of us anticipated an indictment that would have the frailties this one has. the idea of trying to expedite a motion to dismiss is not totally foreign. So we'll see if we're stuck with December, we're stuck with December. But I know that, you know, the attorneys will get their heads together and figure out if there's a way to try to push this earlier.
I think the December date is probably a pretty typical kind of auto generated date when it comes to a new case coming in the door, but I like the idea of at least resolving some important motions to dismiss earlier rather than later, but we'll see.
TAPPER: All right. Trump Attorney Jim Trusty, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.
TRUSTY: All right. Good seeing you.
TAPPER: And, Carrie Cordero, I mean, you heard Jim Trusty there talking about what he called the frailties of the case. What I've heard other people, including you talk about, how strong this case may be or may not be.
Your reaction now that you've had a chance to go through it. is it what you thought it was going to be? And are you unimpressed?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is what I thought it was going to be, in terms of focusing on the payments that were made the falsification of the records in really tied to the payment that was made to Stormy Daniels. In terms of a case that's being brought against a former president, it's a little underwhelming.
There's not more to it. There's not more violations tax violations. There's not an incredible new set of facts that we didn't know about publicly. It's really the facts of this case, as they have existed for basically almost seven years.
TAPPER: And we've known about quite a bit of this. I mean, Anderson interviewed Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal years ago.
TAPPER: And we knew about this as well as the payments.
CORDERO: So the facts are almost seven years long, and the facts are pretty stale. And what the D.A.'s office has done is put that together in a theory of the fact that the former president falsified his business records, enable to -- in order to enable those that payment to be made to her.
To the extent that the documents appear to link that to the effect that it would have theoretically had on the 2016 election brings into the picture, then whether or not the D.A.'s office is really arguing that this was campaign finance violations, which is something that the U.S. Justice Department never charged with respect to the former president himself.
He was not charged with campaign finance violations. So that is probably the basis upon which the former president's defense attorneys are going to make a number of motions and legal arguments.
TAPPER: Yeah. Let me bring in Kaitlan Collins, who's been in the court building all day.
And, Kaitlan, tell us about what happened in that room when the judge spoke to the attorneys.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: What such a remarkable moment I mean, we were wondering what was going on for so long that Trump attorneys had predicted it would be about a 30 minute hearing and they're obviously it went longer than that. And when those three defense attorneys came out, including the newest member of the team, Todd Blanche, who spoke first as you saw when he came out and he was speaking there with reporters.
Excuse me, Jake. Obviously we're sitting right outside the courthouse. It's a little bit loud over here.
Todd Blanche came out and he was arguing that he believed it was boilerplate language in this indictment that nothing really surprised him. But the conversation quickly turned into questions to those attorneys to the four presidents, social media posts about this case, which we know they spent time on with the judge there in the room behind closed doors because Trump is posted in recent days about the judge himself claiming in all caps, letters that he hates him criticizing, of course, of how he presided over Allen Weisselberg case. That was the chief financial officer for the Trump Organization.
He has also obviously gone after the district attorney in this case, Alvin Bragg, calling him an animal, calling him a racist attacking him at length. And also, there was the question about that post that Trump had posted on Truth Social, which included a link to a photo of Alvin Bragg next to a photo of Trump holding a baseball bat, and a photo from his time at the White House.
And it was just remarkable to see those three Trump attorneys spending a lengthy amount of time right after they got out of the courthouse where their client just pleaded not guilty defending his social media post. You heard Joe Tacopina, saying he wasn't swinging the baseball bat in that picture, saying, we're not social media consultants, we're not P.R. consultants, we're attorneys, but we are seeing how those two things are colliding here because those social media posts by the former president were brought up there inside the courtroom when it came to what he has said about Alvin Bragg and about the case at large.
And just a remarkable moment there to see how that has affected this, and Trump attorneys have kind of struggled with this, saying they believe some of them were ill, ill advised, saying, that's not really their purview, but certainly when you're a Trump attorney what he does post on social media, especially when it's about a case.
TAPPER: Okay, Kaitlan, I got to interrupt. I'm sorry. Well, here's the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Let's listen in.
ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: On the New York Supreme Court indictment, returned by Manhattan grand jury on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.
Under New York state law is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud and intent to conceal another crime. That is exactly what this case is about, 34 false statements made to cover up other crimes. These are felony crimes in New York state no matter who you are.
We cannot and will not normalized serious criminal conduct. The defendant repeatedly made false statements on New York business records. He also caused others to make false statements.
The defendant claimed that he was paying Michael Cohen for legal services performed in 2017. This simply was not true. And it was a false statement that the defendant made month after month in 2017. April, May, June and so on, through the rest of the year. For nine straight months, the defendant held documents in his hand containing this key lie. That he was paying Michael Cohen for legal services performed in 2017 and he personally signed checks for payments to Michael Cohen for each of these nine months.
In total, the grand jury found there were 34 documents with this critical false statement.
Why did Donald Trump repeatedly make these false statements? The evidence will show that he did so to cover up crimes relating to the 2016 election.
Donald Trump, executives at the publishing company, American Media Incorporated, Mr. Cohen and others agreed in 2015 to a catch and kill scheme, that is a scheme to buy and suppress negative information to help Mr. Trump's chance of winning the election. As part of this scheme, Donald Trump and others made three payments to people who claim to have negative information about Mr. Trump.
To make these payments, they set up shell companies and they made yet more false statements, including, for example, in AMI, American Media Incorporated's business records.
One of the three people that they paid to keep quiet was a woman named Stormy Daniels. Less than two weeks before the presidential election, Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels' lawyer. That payment was to hide damaging information from the voting public.
The participants' scheme was illegal. The scheme violated New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to conspire, to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. $130,000 wire payment exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap. And the false statements in AMI's books violated New York law.
That is why Mr. Trump made false statements about his payments to Mr. Cohen. He could not simply say that the payments were reimbursement for Mr. Cohen's payments to Sandy -- to Stormy Daniels to do so. To make that true statement would have been to admit a crime.
So instead, Mr. Trump said that he was paying Mr. Cohen for fictitious legal services in 2017 to cover up actual crime committed the prior year. And in order to get Michael Cohen his money back, they planned one last false statement. In order to complete the scheme, they plan to mischaracterize the repayments to Mr. Cohen as income to the New York state tax authorities.
The conduct I just describe and that which was charged by the grand jury is felony criminal conduct in New York state. True and accurate business records are important, everywhere to be sure. They are all the more important in Manhattan, the financial center of the world.
That is why we have a history in the Manhattan D.A.'s office of vigorously enforcing white collar crime. My office, including the talented prosecutors you saw an arraignment earlier today, has charged hundreds of felony falsifying business records.
This charge, it can be said, is the bread and butte of our white collar work. Fraud presents itself at all different forms here in Manhattan. We have charged falsifying business records for those who violated federal bank secrecy laws. We have charged falsifying business records for those who are seeking to cover up sex crimes. And we have brought this charge for those committed tax violations.
At its core, this case today is one with allegations like so many of our white collar cases. Allegations that someone lied again and again to protect their interests and evade the laws to which we are all held accountable. As this office has done, time and time again, we today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law. No amount of money and no amount of power changes that enduring American principle.
I'll now take questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to take a limited number of questions. There are no follow questions. One question per reporter. I will call on you. And again, we have limited time. Thank you.
BRAGG: We conducted thorough and rigorous investigations as we're going to do at the Manhattan district attorney's office. I've been doing this for 24 years, and I'm no stranger to rigorous, complex investigations. I bring cases when they're ready.
Having now conducted a rigorous, thorough investigation, the case was ready to be brought. And it was brought.
REPORTER: Mr. Bragg that implies that there were 34 falls business records. And they were not conceal another crime, but the indictment does not specifically say what those crimes were. We are assuming perhaps that they might be election related. I'm wondering if you can classify what laws were also broken.
BRAGG: Right. So let me -- let me say as an initial matter, that the indictment doesn't specify it because the law does not so require. In my remarks, I mentioned a couple of laws which I will highlight again now.
The first is New York state election law, which makes it a crime to conspire, to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. I further indicated a number of unlawful means, including more additional false statements, including statements that were planned to be made to tax authorities. I also noted the federal election law cap on contribution limits.
REPORTER: But why weren't those crimes charged? What can be charged of those crimes?
BRAGG: Well, we -- I'm not going to go into our delivery process on what was brought, the charges that were brought, were the ones that were brought, the evidence and the law is the basis for those decisions.
REPORTER: You had expressed a year ago that you have some reservations about the cases' readiness. You talked to us about what was in the questions in your mind that needed to be on this in order to bring a case, you know, this manner (ph).
BRAGG: I'm not going to go chapter and verse into many thinking. What I will say is, I believe the time period you're talking about, I've been in office for a couple of months. The investigation in my view was not concluded into the conduct in particular that that is the base for the charges today. Since that time, we've had more evidence made available to the office and opportunity to meet with additional witnesses.
So, as I said earlier, earlier. I've been doing this for 24 years. I don't bring cases prior to a thorough and rigorous investigation. Now, having done so, the case has been brought.
REPORTER: Mr. Bragg, Garrett Haake, NBC News. Your predecessor took a hard look at this case and decided not to charge it. Federal prosecutors took a hard look at this case and decided not to charge it. Do you believe you have new evidence that led you to decide to charge this or why now?
BRAGG: As I -- as I just mentioned, we have had available to the office additional evidence that was not in the office's possession prior to my time here. And as to your part of your question about the federal, we have a distinct and strong, I would say profound independent interest in New York state.
This is the business capital of the world. We regularly do cases involving false business statements. The bedrock, in fact, the basis for business integrity and a well-functioning business marketplace is true and accurate record keeping. That's the charge of fraud here, falsifying New York state business records.
REPORTER: Thank you. D.A. Bragg, I'm just going to read that one line from your statement of facts. The participants (INAUDIBLE) mischaracterized for tax purposes the true nature of payments and schemed. Do you allege former President Trump was one of the participants mischaracterized payments for tax purposes?
BRAGG: I'm not going to go beyond the plain language. Statement of facts I think speaks for itself.
REPORTER: Mr. Bragg, can you just comment on the strength of the evidence that Trump personal (INAUDIBLE) state election laws, actions that are charged with the indictment?
BRAGG: Yeah, so the charge is falsifying business records. The charge requires, as I as I specified, criminal conduct that was concealed, one of the concealed crimes we allege is New York state election law. I went through in our statement of facts. I think many of you have in front of you, you know, goes through things, including, you know, text messages, emails, contemporaneous phone records, multiple witnesses. All of that will be as you saw in the fall, born out in a public courtroom in downtown Manhattan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And last question from Jonah.
REPORTER: D.A. Bragg, the charge of payment to the hush payment to Stormy Daniels, the release from your office also mentions another woman, Karen McDougal, as well as a doorman. You comment on how those players are related charges you brought or to the case overall.
BRAGG: It's a -- I'm glad you put your finger on that because it's not just about one payment. It is 34 business records, 34 false statements and business records.
They were concealing criminal conduct. And the earlier question about New York state election law when they talked about conspiracy to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. Those are lawful means, we allege, include the conduct, you know, set forth in the statement of facts, which is, you know, additional false statements, separate apart from the charge ones in AMI documents, planned false statements to taxing authorities. It is not just that one $130,000 wire payment. Thanks so much.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You've been listening to the Manhattan district attorney speaking after today's court hearings. Let's talk.
Karen Friedman Agnifilo, what do you make of what the D.A. has said, and also what the attorneys for the former president have said?
KAREN AGNIFILO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, so I think the district attorney here is showing everybody that this is a case that has a lot of corroboration, a lot of evidence, text messages, emails, other things. It's not just relying on Michael Cohen. And he was very clear to emphasize that the crime that bumps this up from a misdemeanor to a felony includes at least two New York state crimes, in addition to a federal crime because one of the criticisms that has been -- that has been given to the D.A.'s office and the theory here is how could you possibly use a federal election crime since this is a federal election to bump up in New York state crime.
Now, it should be noted that that has been done before under Cy Vance and Robert Morgenthau. There were several falsifying business records, cases that were brought under theories such as this. One of which was a big bank case that involved a lot of money in asset forfeiture, and the bank pled guilty, so it was never tested in court.
But it's certainly a theory that's not novel that's been relied on in the past, but Alvin Bragg, I think wanted to make very clear that that this here also relies on New York state crimes to kind of take that out of the conversation, take that out of the motion practice because that is clearly was anticipated to be one of the big weaknesses in the case. It was a legal weakness, as opposed to a factual weakness.
And obviously, another criticism of the case has been that there's been factual weaknesses in the case because it relied on storm -- on Michael Cohen. And Michael Cohen, as we know is somebody who not only has been convicted for lying to Congress but also convicted of crimes relating to this hush money scheme, as well as other crimes that he himself committed involving taxi medallions and things that had nothing to do with Donald Trump.
So there's a lot of fodder for cross examination and Michael Cohen and it's somebody who, any good defense attorney could easily --
AGNIFILO: Impugn him. Yes, exactly. So, so you need to corroborate anything, he says, and I think it was significant that Alvin Bragg was signaling to everybody, making it very clear. This doesn't just rely on Michael Cohen. There is a lot of corroboration here.
And I think that he's just really taking this -- he's just taking certain issues off the table for people who have been speculating all along here.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The core conduct that is charged in this indictment is the payment of hush money. Now, payment of hush money is not a crime. It's not a federal crime. It's not a state crime.
So how did they get here to state charges? They're relying on a state law that makes it in the first instance a misdemeanor to falsify business records. These are the repayments to Michael Cohen that were falsely logged within the Trump organization as legal fees, when they were not legal fees.
One of the complicated legal questions here is in order to bump that up from a misdemeanor to a felony, you have to show that those records were falsified to commit some other crime, some second crime. Now the indictment does not specify what that second crime is. You heard the defense lawyers, I think, rightly complaining about that.
The whole purpose of an indictment is to serve notice on the defendant of what exactly you're charged with, and what exactly, you're going to be defending yourself against.
Now, D.A. Bragg, again who was a former colleague of mine, just clarified that a bit. He said federal campaign laws, there's going to be a legal question there, he said state campaign laws -- I'm not sure how violations related to a presidential election would count as state campaign laws. There may be some creative argument there.
And he did say in passing, and it's mentioned one time in the statement of facts, tax fraud. Now there's no indication that they actually claimed a deduction. In fact, I believe they did not claim a deduction on this, but perhaps the theory is this was the plan.
In terms of the evidence, it is clear that Michael Cohen is the star witness. He has referred to over and over again in the statement of facts. He is quoted at length in the statement of facts from him -- during his prior -- his prior prosecution, federally.
David Pecker is an important -- important witness, too. He's mentioned here. He was actually an interesting mention, that he was invited to the White House after the inauguration, and the purpose there is to show this was campaign related, according to the D.A. This was not personal.
There are documents. They do corroborate the fact that money was paid, but they don't necessarily show Donald Trump's exact involvement in it.
COOPER: Alyssa Farah Griffin, I'm wondering what stands out to you. It was also interesting here in this indictment, there's talk that the former president and Michael Cohen actually were in the Oval Office, discussing how to characterize these payments.
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMETNATOR: Yes. And Karen laid out, listen, Michael Cohen was always going to be challenging start witness, but the D.A. did a good job of laying out the facts that back it up. However the court of public opinion matters here.
And I think the politics that Donald Trump is going to lean into when we hear him speak tonight are going -- there are some things that are in his favor here. So the next hearing, according to CNN's reporting is scheduled for December 4th. So if you're somebody at home who skeptical of this case you're saying, so they waited seven years to try it. Then they're waiting about eight months to have the second hearing on it, and by the way, it's going to fall two months before the Republican primary.
If you're Donald Trump, you're going to say it's a witch hunt. It's political. It's a partisan D.A.
I've also seen some of his folks leaning into the fact that, you know, Alvin Bragg saying nobody is above the law. We prosecute even these white collar crimes. They're going to lean into the fact that, you know, he has decided to downgrade sub felony offenses to misdemeanors, things like marijuana, things like trespassing.
So there's some fodder here for Trump to push back. We're going to see this play out, but I'm not sure in my interpretation as a non-lawyer. This is quite as strong as I expected it to be.
COOPER: David Urban?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I've listened to Elie and others say that if this was all that was there this is going to be a really weak case. And I think that Joe Tacopina stood out there and said, if this defendant's name was not Donald Trump, this wouldn't be charged. And I have to believe that to be true.
I've heard this is it -- this is going to be weak. It's going to get dismissed. It's going to be a loser.
I think Donald Trump's couldn't tonight is going to wave this in the air and Mar-a-Lago and say, they're after me. There's a witch hunt, and rightfully so.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that that the D.A. did something good by presenting this as a about democracy. Up until now, everything else was defending democracy in Georgia, the coup and then we have this weird porn star stuff. Everybody says what the heck is this?
He says no. This was about corrupting our democracy. This is about corrupting our electoral system. I think in that regard, he helped himself by clarifying that.
COOPER: All right. Dramatic few hours, former President Trump indicted on 34 felony counts and falsifying business records. The former national security advisor gives his read on the case against Donald Trump after this quick break.
TAPPER: Not guilty today. Donald Trump personally entering a not guilty plea, or rather 34 not guilty pleas in front of the Manhattan judge. Prosecutors in Manhattan today dropping a bare bones indictment against for the far former President Trump, listing out 34 separate times they say, Mr. Trump falsified or encourage the falsification of business records, allegedly lying about why he was paying his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
Here's what we learned from prosecutors in court, a 16-page indictment and a 13-page statement of facts, they say. Prosecutors plan to put Stormy Daniels, the adult film star and director on the stand, Trump and Cohen hashed out how the president would pay back his lawyer in the Oval Office. Some of the payments were made to Cohen directly from Donald Trump's bank account and critically, prosecutors allege everyone involved in the scheme knew that what they were doing was illegal.
We're joined now by former ambassador and Trump national security adviser John Bolton.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Two quick questions for you. One big picture, what do you think of the indictment?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well speaking as someone who very strongly does not want Donald Trump to get the Republican presidential nomination. I'm extraordinarily distressed by this document. I think this is even weaker than I feared. It would be, and I think it's easily subject to being dismissed or a quick acquittal for Trump.
Just speaking, going back to the days when I represented Jim Buckley and Gene McCarthy and the constitutional challenge to the underlying federal statute here passed in 1974. I can say there is no basis in the statutory language to say that Trump's behavior forms either a contribution or an expenditure under federal law. The two key definitions and issue here.
If it did, it would mean that every single expenditure a candidate made could be taken to have something to do with his campaign. Do I buy a $1 comb to comb my hair or $10 comb to comb my hair?
If you can construe the statute to cover this behavior, then I think it violates the First Amendment because you're deeply into territory that that makes this statute absolutely, federal statute too vague for enforcement. And I just what I understood the district attorney to say that he thinks there's a New York election law involved here. All I can say is the Federal Election Campaign Act absolutely preempts any state or local law to the contrary.
How could it be otherwise? You've got one law governing corporate finance and a presidential election. At the federal level, you're going to have 50 state laws interfering with it, so he's just wrong on the applicability of the New York statute.
TAPPER: A lot to digest there. But one other thing I want to note is that the statement of facts describes Donald Trump inviting David Pecker, the CEO of the "National Enquirer" parent company AMI who helped pay off Karen McDougal, the Playboy playmate of the month or of the year? I should say, who was given $150,000 to keep her story quiet?
Catch and kill, the defendant, Donald Trump, invited Pecker to the White House for dinner to thank him for his help during the campaign. So that's after Trump was president. And then there's another reference where Donald Trump and Michael Cohen lawyer A meet in the Oval Office at the White House to confirm the repayment arrangement.
Now, that that's obviously an attempt to show that this was election related, help provided by Michael Cohen, help provided by David Pecker. It's also you know, as was said during the Clinton presidency for different reasons, rather gross, that this is happening in the confines of the White House.
BOLTON: Yeah. Well, I think the defense attorneys don't have to prove that Trump had a different intent. They simply have to show reasonable doubt that the intent was to affect federal election. And I can come up with a very plausible reason why a person would have the intent of paying these hush money payments. He doesn't want his wife to find out about it.
TAPPER: It's a John Edwards claimed. Yeah.
BOLTON: And I think to the average juror, that's a pretty convincing argument.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do address -- I should just say -- they do address that in the -- in the documents where they say there was discussion about delaying the payment until after the election, perhaps even not paying until after the election so that they didn't have to pay it if Trump -- if Trump won.
So I'm just to say, the idea that it was just to hide it from Melania is kind of addressed in the document.
BOLTON: Right, I'm not saying that's the fact I'm just saying the defense can make a case.
TAPPER: Reasonable doubt.
BOLTON: That puts reasonable doubt in. This is -- this is in a criminal case, they often say you have to prove 95 percent, not a civil case where you only have to prove 51 percent.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I just want to say that what we have here is the indictment and the statement of facts. We don't have any of the supporting evidence. They didn't release anything to actually answer those questions.
BASH: Mr. Ambassador, I think the somebody who's a bigger critic of Donald Trump, and you is Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. He just put out a statement saying, I believe president Trump's character and conduct make him unfit for office. Even so, I believe the New York prosecutor has stretched to reach felony criminal charges in order to fit a political agenda.
BOLTON: I think -- I think he's right. The man campaigned to get Donald Trump and that the -- when I heard that, my first thought was Lavrentiy Beria, the former head of the NKVD in Soviet times, who once said to Joe Stalin, you show me the man, I'll show you the crime.
So I think, as I say from somebody who does not want Trump to get the nomination, this feeds into Trump's narrative. And it may answer one of history's great question, who was Donald Trump's greatest political supporter? Alvin Bragg.
BASH: Well, you said on Sunday, I believe, that what we are going to see in Manhattan today and maybe over the next few months is rocket fuel for Trump's campaign.
BOLTON: Right. Especially if he gets acquitted or --
BASH: But now that you've seen this, you --
BOLTON: I feel this complaint, this criminal complaint could easily be dismissed on a motion to dismiss. I think it's that thin.
TAPPER: And, Carrie, is it not -- Is it not possible that member just to remind everybody at home, so these are misdemeanor business fraud allegations, and because Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, is alleging that they were committed this fraud to hide a different crime. That's what makes it a felony possible that the argument is that because he hasn't really been very specific about it. That the underlying crime that that he was trying to hide by committing this crime, that this fraud crimes committed by David Pecker, who signed a non-prosecution agreement, and Michael Cohen.
Is it not possible that -- I mean, I'm not saying that justifies this anymore for anybody who's a skeptic of these charges. But is it not possible that that was the crime that he was covering up?
CORDERO: Well, if that's their theory of the case, that's not what they've laid out in the documents that we've seen so far, and that's not really what the D.A. just said in his press conference because what he said in his press conference is he mentioned the federal campaign, the campaign for presidency and then he also made reference to New York state election law.
And so that's what he talked about the press conference. But normally -- and you'll, you'll hear me and my colleagues on the legal side talk about this a lot. Usually, prosecutors speak through their indictments. They speak through their charging documents.
And so, the fact that he was describing in his press conference potential violations of law that are not in the charging documents raises a lot of questions that I do think that defense attorneys will have some legitimate basis upon which to make their motions to dismiss. PHILLIP: What is also interesting to me is related to what Ambassador
Bolton is raising and, Carrie, you've talked about this, too, is that the federal election violation was never charged here. So the question of whether it was even chargeable or prosecutable wasn't even ever answered. And I wonder, how does that get resolved on the federal level, and then there's probably a separate question about whether there is even a New York state law that would -- that would apply to Trump who at the time was a federal --
BASH: Well, on the federal level, they said --
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: They declined.
BASH: Before they have written about it in a memo, but they declined to prosecute at first because he was president, and then effectively because they had other things like the interaction that they were trying to deal.
PHILLIP: But that's exactly my point. They never declined to prosecute because they didn't -- they didn't say that the law didn't apply to Trump the facts of the case.
CORDERO: Well, first of all, the Justice Department -- the justice department doesn't have to explain why they don't -- public -- they don't have to publicly explain why they don't make certain prosecutive decisions. Based on just what has transpired, we know that the former president was not charged with campaign violations in relation to this specific fact pattern that's described in the New York D.A. statement of facts.
Now, Michael Cohen did plead guilty to one charge. And so that could be also what is involved here. But they're just is this some discrepancies and just some differences in some blink space in between the conduct that's charged, facts that are in the statement of facts that include conduct that wasn't charge.
So, two of the fact patterns described in the New York D.A. statement of facts weren't even charged in the indictment themselves. And then the separate issues that the D.A. described in his press conference.
BOLTON: And, remember, under the federal election law, the Justice Department is responsible for criminal prosecution, but the Federal Election Commission is responsible for civil enforcement, and there is a huge body of regulations, advisory opinions, enforcement actions that the FEC has taken over the years.
If there's something in here that says this is covered by the law, I'm unaware of it. Maybe somebody can find it. Certainly the D.A. didn't find it.
TAPPER: Just a -- just a point of put a point on it. You're not disputing that Donald Trump did what is alleged in this document.
BOLTON: I have no doubt he did. TAPPER: And you're not disputing that he's guilty of misdemeanors and maybe even what is a white collar felony. You're just saying. This does not rise to the level that you would take do this against former president.
BOLTON: Precisely, look, we've all talked about the four pending criminal investigations about Trump, ranking them in rough order of importance or viability. I would have ranked this one about sixth or seventh.
BOLTON: And if it blows up in the D.A.'s face, Trump will ride this to the Republican nomination. That's my fear.
TAPPER: All right. Anderson Cooper?
COOPER: Jake, thanks very much.
CNN's Kristen Holmes is at Mar-a-Lago.
Kristen, Donald Trump is expected to respond to the indictment from Manhattan prosecutors tonight. What do we know about the -- his plan?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So he's supposed to land in a few hours. He took off just after 4:00. We're expecting him around 7:00. So, it will be a little later and those remarks are going to be around 8:15.
And as we know, reported this before, that speech is not expected to be finalized until after he lands. He is looking at it right now, reviewing, revising it. They needed to see what this indictment said in it before they could actually finalize that, and go beyond just having the advisors. Look at it now.
Now, the thing to note here is think about who is on that plane with him, and that will give you an idea of what that speech is going to look like. He is not on a plane with all of his lawyers. He is on a plane with his entire political team. He has two campaign heads, Chris LaCivita, Susie Wiles. He has his closest campaign aides.
That should give you an indication of where they are going to take this. We have already seen them make this about 2024, make this political. While he was in that arraignment, they put out a blast fundraising off of a mug shot that they made. They put it on a computer and made a mug shot. Printed it on t shirts and blasted it out to raise money off of it.
Again, showing you where they are mentally around this, and right now, I have talked to two sources close to the president who say they feel pretty good. They feel like this indictment was thin and a weak case. That is something we have heard from Donald Trump over and over again.
But to be very clear: Donald Trump was not happy. He did not want to be indicted. There was so much going on, so just seems to think about, as he takes this stage. We're going to get a real understanding of how exactly he feels about that indictment.
And Anderson just one thing to point out. This is his club. He is going to be surrounded by lawmakers that support him, by his allies like club members here who I have seen them interact with them. They act as though he is still president.
That is the crowd is going to be speaking to and so that is the kind of energy that he's going to be feeding off of here tonight. We've obviously seen what that leads to, but his campaign managers, his advisers, they're all hoping he stays on message.
But, again, we'll have to see it. We'll give you a very clear indication of where his head is that once he takes that stage.
COOPER: And what time is he planning to speak?
HOLMES: He's going to take the stage at 8:15, but it might be a little bit later. We're still kind of sussing that out. They did leave later than expected. They're supposed to leave it for they left shortly afterwards. So, we will keep you posted on that, monitoring it closely.
COOPER: Kristen Holmes, I appreciate it.
Back to the team here in New York.
I mean, Alyssa, this is probably as days ago where you get arraigned and indicted a pretty -- not a terrible day for the former president, in terms of how it could have gone.
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, things are probably looking up after the former president read the indictment, which his team's going to interpret us then and that's going to be their message tonight. I expect to hear him be indignant. After a day where he, you know, as I mentioned earlier was really out of control of the situation.
He didn't define the terms. He didn't get to choose the audience he was speaking to. We didn't get to get to come and go as you want to. Now, he's back home. He's at his club. He's surrounded by supporters and even Mitt Romney, a constant detractor of the former president, came out and said, you know he's unfit to be president. I don't support him again. However, this is a weak case by the D.A.
So he's seeing even people like Mitt Romney. Give him that feedback. I think he's going to use this moment is a reset to say my people are with me. They reportedly have raised $10 million in the last couple of weeks since this came down, and it's going to say, you know, it's a time to be on our side of this because it's a political witch.
COOPER: Does this hurt? I mean, I'm throwing this up to the channel. Does this hurt the other cases right now being pursued?
JONES: I worry. I mean, look, if this is the only pebble that gets thrown at Donald Trump, it's a very small pebble. If it's the first pebble in an avalanche of other indictments that strike more to the heart of, I think people's core concern about Donald Trump, which is his threat to democracy.
So, this is the first pebble, the next one is about the election interference in Georgia. The next one is about the coup, the insurrection in January 6th. The next one is about him hoarding these documents and why then it begins to fit.
But if this is the only pebble, it's not much of a pebble and I do think it could. It could, that the backlash against this pebble mike cow, other people who might otherwise have been courageous enough to step forward.
URBAN: I got to say two observations. First to Alyssa's point, you know, today, this morning, we saw he had an away game in a very unfriendly stadium, right? Tonight, he's got a home game in front of a home crowd who are riled up.
It is. It's like a homecoming. He'll be -- he'll be. He'll be jubilant. He'll be defiant. It'll be you know, classic Donald Trump.
To talk to Vance point, I think it does injured what comes next because people -- American public was watching today. People were tuned into their TVs. Everyone's watching with this -- this is the first -- first time ever. And they say this is it. This is what they got?
Everyone's been saying for weeks, if this is it -- it's nothing and now people are going to turn it off. In the next case that comes it's going to be like the second impeachment, the third impeachment just going to be more. It's going to be white noise, unfortunately, and people will tune out.
HONIG: In terms of public perception and the politics, if Van, and David, and Alyssa all agree, I'm going to take your word for it. I do think it may cause people to take if there are subsequent indictments to sort of have a little bit of skepticism.
HONIG: But, legally, it's important to understand each one of these indictments stands absolutely on its own. There's nothing about this case that will impede, interfere with, have any impact on what the Fulton County D.A. may do down in Georgia, what the Justice Department may do.
The big question to me heading in today, is there more? Is there more than what we already basically knew about the hush money payments and falsification of business records? And the answer by and large is no.
There are some extra details in here. We have a little better sense of what some of the documentary evidence is. But at its core, this is what we expected heading into today.
URBAN: But I just want one final point on that part. You're talking about these other cases may be brought, we found out today, this -- if this case goes to trial, it'll be sometime and after the election, 24, 25, 26. These other cases are even -- if he's indicted on these other things, it's going to be -- you're looking far after that as well.
So people will say, this is -- this is an effort to keep him off the ballot and your -- you may be right in the court, the real court, but the court of public opinion will be a loser.
COOPER: There won't be resolutions --
URBAN: Absolutely, for years, for years.
COOPER: For years.
GRIFFIN: And I think it's a frustration. Sorry, John, just real quick, to the many very credible investigations into the former president. I've cooperated with the Department of Justice, as have a number of other officials, who want to see him held accountable for things that rise to that level. For this to take the historic step of being the first indictment of a former president, I think it's a bit disappointing how not strong it is because it could, in the public's mind make those other cases seem weaker and gives them call has people call them in a question.
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: And it's -- it's an interesting shift today because -- and maybe it's all our own fault. You know, we've kind of whipped ourselves up over the last week about, you know, if they're bringing this case, it must be more than what we know is inside and we looked inside today and say, oh, it's just the same stuff we already knew. So what changed? You know, it's a seven year old case.
In the D.A.'s office, they call this zombie case because every time they put it away, it came back to life. Nobody wanted to go forward with it. They had a larger, more complicated case involving hundreds of millions of dollars in overvaluing property in order to secure lines of credit and undervaluing property when it was time to pay taxes and not just a little, but you know, to the power of five, and it was a large, complex fraud based on the exact same charges, falsification of business records.
But it was easy to articulate the victims are the public, the taxpayers, the banks, the fraud.
COOPER: Bragg chose not to go forward.
MILLER: And he chose not to go forward with it and yet chose forward to go with this. So, it's a -- it's an odd turn.
COOPER: It has been history making day here in New York.
Donald Trump becoming the first former president to be arrested and arraigned on criminal charges. Trump pleaded not guilty today, that 34 felony charges, falsifying business records. We're digging into all the details in the 16-page indictment.
Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett pick up CNN's special live coverage right after a quick break.