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Prosecutor: Trump Involved In "Conspiracy" To Undermine 2016 Election; Trump On Way Back To F.L. Facing 34 Felony Charges In N.Y.; Prosecutors: Trump Signed Check's Reimbursing Cohen For Hush Money; Trump Faces Criminal Charges In Court After Historic Indictment. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 04, 2023 - 17:00   ET




ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to CNN's special live coverage of the indictment of Donald Trump. This is a special edition of The Lead on this Tuesday. The former President right now in the air heading back to Mar-a-Lago after appearing in court in downtown Manhattan where he pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in order to hide damaging information from the public. Those are the charges.

And according to the indictment, from August 2015 to December 2017, the defendant, I'm quoting and that obviously is Donald Trump, "orchestrated a scheme with others the defense," the indictment reads, to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and to benefit the defendants electoral prospects. Now, according to the statement of facts which accompanies this actual indictment, which they go through here through here, $130,000 were paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels, $30,000 to a doorman, and $150,000 to another woman, which it is clear from the statement of facts is Karen McDougal. It is an unprecedented chapter in American history.

And good afternoon to all. I'm Erin Burnett here in New York.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington.

The lead up to Trump's arrest was truly a remarkable sight to see. The former president of the United States leaving Trump Tower early this afternoon. His 11 car motorcade arriving at the Manhattan criminal court building just around 1:30 p.m. That's where he was arrested and fingerprinted. Trump was then escorted to the courtroom where he pled not guilty.

Shortly after Trump's hearing, Trump's attorneys slammed the case.


JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Today's unsealing of this indictment shows that the rule of law died in this country because while everyone is not above the law, no one's below it either. And if this man's name was not Donald J. Trump, there is no scenario we'd all be here today. Please understand that based on these charges.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, the man at the forefront of Trump's truly historic indictment, the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, pushed back on Team Trump's claims.


ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Thirty-four false statements made to cover up other crimes. These are felony crimes in New York State no matter who you are. I've been doing this for 24 years and don't bring cases prior to a thorough and rigorous investigation. Now having done so, the case has been brought.


BLITZER: We have a team of reporters standing by. Jeff Zeleny is just outside Trump Tower in New York. Kara Scannell is over at the courthouse in New York. Let's start with Kara.

Kara, you were inside the courtroom during the arraignment. Where is this case headed down?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this widely anticipated moment, right, Donald Trump coming in for this arraignment, now his attorneys are really starting to put forward their legal arguments, they've made it very clear that they're going to fight this case. They don't think that there is a case here. And there's a lot of different areas that they may attack this.

So, I mean, that's going to be the first thing that we'll see. They will start filing motions. The judge has given them several months in order to do that. But we're also seeing some other issues that are on the table here, the questions of former president's rhetoric, the comments, the verbal attacks he's made against the judge and the district attorney's office.

Now, the prosecutors have said to the judge that they're concerned about these statements, these threats and intimidation, and they're asking for a protective order. That is a common practice. But they are saying that they're doing because they don't want the former president to make all of these documents they've accumulated through their investigation public, either through the media or posting it on social media. That's one issue that they raise.

Another issue that prosecutors raised is whether Trump's current legal team can stand as it is. Joe Tacopina, the attorney whose sound bite you just played, they said that they believe he might have a conflict of interest and maybe he should be disqualified from the case. They want the judge to examine that.

Now, Tacopina said in open court that he never met Stormy Daniels. He never talked to stormy Daniels and he never reviewed any of stormy Daniels documents. He said that if there was any disqualification, it should just be if she were to take the stand that he would not be involved in the cross examination.

But we're starting to see some of these battle lines getting drawn. Now what is next is a formality or the next formal thing will be that there will be a motion schedule. That's where the defense will put lay out a motion to dismiss. Other motions they've, you know, suggested, Trump suggests there could be a motion for a change of venue. All of that will be determined now that they have the indictment and see the exact charges that they're facing.

The next court appearance in this case is not until December. And then the judge said he will decide those motions. Also up in the air as the trial date, prosecutors that they wanted it for January 2024, Trump's lawyer said spring of 2024 was more likely, Wolf.


BLITZER: Yes, Kara, you were one of the few reporters allowed in that courtroom today. Take us inside what happened in that courtroom.

SCANNELL: Well, Wolf, when Donald Trump when the doors open and he appeared, you could hear a pin drop, it was absolutely silent. He walked very slowly down the long -- the aisle way between the rows, the rows were packed with reporters. He appeared to have a scowl on his face, and he was scanning each row side by side seeming to look at who was there in attendance. Then, you know, he sat down, he was mostly looking forward.

He spoke only to the judge, when addressed. When he was asked to enter a plea, he said himself that he was not guilty. He also said he understood the potential conflicts and that he was entitled to a conflict free representation. I mean otherwise he seemed to be, you know, a little bit hunched forward while they were talking.

He looked over at the photographer's when they were taking the pictures at the start of it. And then he walked slowly out of the courtroom, again, scanning the room to see who was there and attendance. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kara Scannell, excellent reporting. Thank you very, very much.

I want to bring in Jeff Zeleny right now. He's outside Trump Tower in New York.

Jeff, the former president, he's on his way back to Mar-a-Lago down in Florida right now getting ready to make what's being described as a major speech later tonight. What are you hearing from the Trump team?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we did know that former President Donald Trump had initially planned to make a brief comment at the courthouse, he did not do that. But I am told by his advisors he is not going to hold back this evening when he addresses the nation from Mar-a-Lago offering a full throated defense of these charges against him. In fact, just a few moments ago, his campaign sent out yet another fundraising appeal. They'd been doing them virtually, most every hour for the last several days. And he writes this, as I fly back home Mar-a-Lago, we're living through the darkest hours in American history, but he adds, I am in great spirits.

So certainly, I'm told by talking to advisors, he will have a defiant tone. Even though you can clearly see by the look on his face in the courtroom, as Kara was just describing there, this absolutely took him aback. He was sitting in a legal proceeding, he had no control over what was going on. He was really alone in ways that he has not been for certainly, since he's been president, even long before that.

We also though, got a glimpse from his new defense attorney Todd Blanche about his client's defiance. Let's take a listen.


TODD BLANCHE, TRUMP ATTORNEY: He's frustrated, he's upset. But I'll tell you what, he's motivated. And it's not going to stop him, and it's not going to slow him down. And it's exactly what he expected. And so to that extent, there is no surprise.


ZELENY: So his defense attorney there said, in fact, the former president is motivated by these charges against him.

And, Wolf, we know talking to advisers throughout the day here at Trump Tower where the former president spent about 21 hours or so since arriving here yesterday, he's also thinking about the other legal cases that are looming around him, that case in Georgia, a couple of cases in Washington and federal court as well. So his advisors expect him to sort of wrap all of this together in his speech from Mar-a-Lago this evening, saying that he is the victim of all of this.

So, there's no doubt that, at least for a moment, he has frozen this presidential campaign in place. He is the Republican front runner without a doubt. But it is also clear that this legal case, the courtroom now is a central stop on the campaign trail. But look for tonight's speech to not be about the nuances of the law, if they should throw these cases out, but about his politics, and why he believes he should be the Republican nominee and indeed, the next president. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly didn't look like he was in great spirits, as his lawyer suggested. All right, Jeff Zeleny --

ZELENY: He's not.

BLITZER: -- in New York, thank you very, very much.

Erin, back to you.

BURNETT: All right. And you know, as Wolf and Jeff are talking about, right, clearly not in high spirits, not a situation you want to be in. And yet now they're going to go through these documents themselves, the indictment itself as well as the statement of facts.

Joining me now Karen Agnifilo, Ryan Goodman, Karen Finney, Jonah Goldberg, and also joining us from London, Laura Coates.

So let me go down the line here, Ryan, when you got a chance to look at this, you got 12 pages here for the actual statement of facts, right, which I guess is the talking indictment such that there is one and then you've got the actual 16 pages of copy and paste with different dates on falsifying business documents in the first degree. Was -- is there anything here that surprised you? Either this is stronger than I thought or no, this is weaker?

RYAN GOODMAN, JUST SECURITY CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: A lot of it is unsurprising. A lot of it has been reported or is in the federal government documents. The pieces that were surprising to me are some of the evidence that they have. And the district attorney said that he got more evidence than the federal government did or that his predecessor got, and one of them is David Pecker. So, we all thought Michael Cohen is the center peace, David Pecker seems like a pretty important witness here having direct conversation --


BURNETT: Right. National Enquirer, right --


BURNETT: -- who is part of this catch and kill scheme.

GOODMAN: Right. And he's there from the start. He's there at this most important meeting of August 2015 --


GOODMAN: -- two months after Trump Announces that he's running for president to set up a catch and kill scheme to suppress stories coming out for the purpose of the election. That's what the argument is. I assume that's what he has said before the grand jury. And then there are direct conversations between Pecker and Trump multiple times, including later on Trump inviting him once he's president for dinner to thank him for all his help during the campaign. That's powerful evidence, because that goes to one of the key defenses that Trump would have paid this money in any case, just to suppress a bad story coming out for his family, for Melania and the like,

BURNETT: Right. OK. Karen, here's the thing, though, that I still am confused about. And that is, we know that Michael Cohen himself has said that this catch and kill scheme was in place prior to 2007 when he joined the Trump Organization, which obviously is before Trump was a candidate. We also know from the AP in "Washington Post" reporting that Trump -- team Trump including Cohen pressured In Touch Magazine, with money to not print the Stormy Daniels story 2011. Again, Trump was not a candidate. How do they get around it and make this this was for the election, a predicate upon which the felony counts are charged? KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, I think the way they that they can show that is the timing, in particular, the fact that the money and the agreement was right before the election, it was I think, a couple of weeks before --

BURNETT: Stormy Daniels specific.

AGNIFILO: Yes, exactly. And I think I think the conversations that it was about the election, also that Ryan just talked about, I think really is going to be powerful evidence here to show that this wasn't for some other purpose. This was clearly about the election, then, of course, as Ryan just said, the thank you for helping me when office dinner afterward.


AGNIFILO: And I think those are -- the timing of this, I think is critical.

BURNETT: All right. So the timing is critical. Laura Coates, let me ask you, though, if Trump can make the case that he would have done it anyway, but then Bragg (ph) can say, but in this case, part of your motivation was the election, even though you would have done it anyway. Is that enough to sustain 34 felony counts of falsifying business documents in the case they're making?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, depending on the strength of what they actually ultimately present. Remember, Erin, right now we do have this very bare bones indictment, which I should add, it is not required for a prosecutor to give the entire -- entirety of their entire argument, their entire trial. That's really what we want to consume as part of the court of public opinion. But they have no requirement to give everything, to give notice and opportunity to be heard to kind of due process.

And there's a lot said today, Erin, about the fact that, well, this obviously is for the federal government. Well, listen, they're talking about a thing called preemption, which means that listen, the federal government, they have their role, there are federal laws, and you have state courts and state laws and one has to stay in their lanes. But although the FEC has been very clear over time, the campaign contribution world is our own, there are things that they will not preempt, and one of them is a candidate's personal financial disclosure as one. There are other areas in state law that might allude to the fact that look, it's about campaign finance, but not right under the wheelhouse of your laws, there have been court to uphold the ability of a state prosecutor to do those things.

And so, I know this is not as serious to many as a January 6 insurrection or the transition of power from one president to another. But as Alvin Bragg detailed, you're still talking about transparency and disclosure and the ability to know how money is being spent, for what purpose, for the transparent benefit of the electorate. That appears to be the lane that they're in, in New York State, and that's where they're falling right now. But I fully admit, this is quite the Achilles heel. The more you're explaining in politics, the more you're losing than where you're trying to explain the nuance of a law in a courtroom, the less a jury is enticed into convicting.

We'll have to overcome quite a bit today. But finally, Erin, think about it, in our American history, voters have not been averse to trying to reelect or elect a candidate when there is consensual sexual activity involved. I point to President Bill Clinton, who was reelected even after admitting and lying and under oath. President Trump, we knew about the Stormy Daniels accusations prior to millions of people even trying to get elected again, so it doesn't have to be a fatal --


COATES: -- undermining of their candidacy.

BURNETT: No. And of course, being under indictment is no -- doesn't preclude you from anything either.

COATES: Absolutely not.

BURNETT: Too many Rick Perry (ph) and many others, I mean, American history is rife with that. Indictment in and of itself is not going to do it.

I will say, and this is I guess, a political question, I read through both the indictment and the statement of facts. And Karen, I'll be honest, I kind of thought I would see something new. And maybe we've been talking about it so much, that was my mistake, but I really didn't. Is that good or bad?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think over the last week or so we have, you know really distilled this down to hush money payments I do think it's important that we go back to our democracy. And remember that this is information that the voters did not have when they went to the ballot in 2016, we will never, ever know if that would have had a bearing on the outcome of that election. The voters never had the opportunity for themselves to know that information when they went to vote.


So I do think we need to remember that connection. And it's rather unseemly to hear that then the president in the Oval Office, you know, was having the conversation with Michael Cohen about the payments, you know, that's not what the Oval Office is for. And, unfortunately, it follows a pattern and this obviously, is the political, not the legal --


FINNEY: -- of the president undermining our democracy.

BURNETT: OK, this is true. Now, I know -- I only thinking this if you say it, but then I think about things happening in the Oval Office that shouldn't have there of a sexual nature, Jonah, and I'm thinking, OK, Clinton, JFK, and that's just too of many, so. JONAH GOLDBERG, AMERICAN COLUMNIST: Right. I mean, but I mean, all due respect for the lawyers, right, I mean, the -- I'm thinking about what Trump is going to say tonight. He wants to say, there was no affair. Right? He has been -- he's stuck to this and nobody is getting his back on that.

Their defense legally is not their defense morally, and I don't know that he wants to be going into months of trial stuff admitting to an affair or implicitly admitting to an affair while he's trying to run in the Iowa caucuses.

BURNETT: Right. Right. And that, as you know, I mean, there's been some extensive reporting in the Atlantic, right. But you know, Tim Alberta (ph), about the evangelical sort of turning away from him.

But we'll hit pause on this because we will be back through this special coverage, because coming up more on the historic arrest and arraignment of Donald Trump. Plus, the former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance will be my guest. Now, as you know, he initially opened this investigation into the former president. So here he is, he's read through these documents. What is his reaction to the indictment today?



BURNETT: And welcome back to our special coverage of the arrest and arraignment of Donald Trump. You are watching a special edition of The Lead. Now moments ago, Donald Trump departed New York City on his way back to Mar-a-Lago. He said nothing to reporters before or after his arraignment. He is, of course, expected to give a speech at Mar-a-Lago tonight. But joining me now is John Miller, our Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst.

John, we have a new picture that just came in another sketch from the courtroom and this is of Trump sitting there during his arraignment, I will show it here. Obviously, there is no laughing matter. I will point out that Trump is obsessed with these sorts of things. And this takes off 30 years and 30 pounds. And for him, this is something he's going to be very happy to see.

I mean, this is not --


BURNETT: Right, right. When we hear Kara reporting the scowl, the frustration, you know, here, there's more of a determination or at least what is conveyed through this image. But obviously, he -- now, I guess, is obligated to be here for these proceedings that could be going on at various times for years. So, he's going to be a candidate that same time. So how does this work?

MILLER: So New York State law requires that a defendant attend to all proceedings, whether it's a motion hearing or any other kind of hearing, even before the trial. But interestingly, the judge read a particular order in court today, which is designed for defendants who may flee.

Now, he's released on his own recognizance, it's a non bailable charge anyway. But in this case, I think the application was not that they expect Donald Trump to flee the country. But that they understand there are probably hearings where he can't be there or won't come back to New York, and they don't want the case to drag on. So that means his attorneys can show up, make their motions go through the hearing.

BURNETT: Without the defendant.

MILLER: Without him and the case will keep on going.

BURNETT: Which is interesting, though, that they would have to use a motion to flee --

MILLER: Right.

BURNETT: -- to actually get there. I'm seeing a sort of some of this minutia can matter so much as we're looking at this, Wolf. You know, because all of this, I guess, is evidence, right? That this is an uncharted territory that we are now all in.

BLITZER: Certainly true. All right, Erin, standby, got a good panel of our law enforcement, our political -- our legal experts here to assess the dramatic developments that have unfolded on this day.

And Elliot, let me start with you. What stands out to you from this indictment that we've now all read, and it's entitled, The People of the State of New York Against Donald J. Trump Defendant?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think what stands out is that it doesn't say a lot, Wolf. Now, that's part of that's New York law. It doesn't require prosecutors to lay out with exact specificity every single fact that they intend to prove at trial. But it does leave a lot of openings for the former president and his attorneys to say, wait a second, you're accusing us of quite serious crimes here, what is the evidence you tend -- intend to produce? And I -- and you can almost be certain that the defense will move to dismiss the indictment on this basis or at least asked the judge to clarify what it says, that's one.

Number two, the particular crime charged here is falsifying business records that can be bumped up to a felony, if you use it to conceal a crime, right? It's a misdemeanor, it gets bumped up to a felony. It's a really easy misdemeanor, you got business records, and they're falsified, lock stock and barrel, simple. When you start getting into the felonies in which crime is being concealed here, that's a lot harder to prove. And the kinds of things that the Trump's attorneys were talking about today might come up in any motion they put him to dismiss this case.

BLITZER: And Carrie, you say this case is a little underwhelming right now. Why? CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, because first of all, with respect to the facts that are alleged, there's nothing new in terms of the facts that we have learned through the either the indictment or the accompanying statement of facts. It really all pertains back to the conduct that has been known for many, many years, almost seven years now regarding the payment that was made to Stormy Daniels. And so there's nothing new with respect to that. There is nothing beyond the falsification of records charges.

So, in the days leading up to today, there were, you know, some in the public were questioning whether or not there were other tax charges that might be or other types of financial fraud that maybe would be charged today. And that doesn't seem to be the case. It really is limited to the falsification of the records related to that one payment and the reimbursements to Michael Cohen that we're accompanying that.


BLITZER: At the same time, David Chalian, Trump is clearly facing a new reality right now, 34 very serious felony charges. We're not talking about misdemeanors, they're much more serious felonies.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, he is facing a new reality right now. And obviously, today was a historic day. But to exactly the point you just heard from both of our legal experts here, that will play immediately into the politics of this, that there was nothing new, that there was not a new surprising fact pattern, which means for the last two weeks, the way that we've seen Donald Trump and his allies frame this as a political prosecution, I would very much expect he's going to quadruple down on that tonight when we hear from him in Mar-a-Lago. And there are no additional goods here in these documents that would prevent him from doing so.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's not a crime to pay hush money, it is a misdemeanor, and according to New York state law to fool around with your payroll, et cetera, et cetera. I think what they have to prove is difficult, because you have to prove that this was done in service of his political campaign and not to protect Melania or not to protect his young son, et cetera, et cetera. So what we saw in some of the documents today were conversations they said were captured and audio recordings. Clearly, it seems to me with Michael Cohen and Donald Trump discussing this, which we had CNN known about.

And then, there was another one that said, the defendant directed lawyer A, Michael Cohen, to delay making payment to woman to as long as possible. He instructed his lawyer that if they could delay the payment until after the election, they could avoid paying all together, because at that point, it wouldn't matter if the story became public. So what they're trying to do is say, this was all about the election, because of course, it would matter to his family and his young son if it became public before the election or after the election. So, they're trying to deconstruct that argument and say, that's just not true. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Michael Fanone, that the prosecutors are giving the judge in this particular case, a packet of the threats leveled out in Trump's social media posts, because there's seem to be potentially dangerous. What do you think?

MICHAEL FANONE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, no, I mean, you have a high profile defendant, former president, front runner for the Republican candidacy in 2024, who's signaling for death and destruction, and is also rejecting the idea of peaceful protest, all things that he's done publicly. And we've seen that his followers have a propensity for -- to commit acts of violence. We saw it on January 6, and we've seen it in in the aftermath of January 6, in several incidents with the individuals supporting Trump who attacked federal law enforcement in many cases aren't.

BLITZER: All right, everybody standby, we have a lot more to assess. Don't go too far away. We'll also speak to the former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. He initially opened this investigation to Trump but opted not to bring charges. So what's his reaction to what has unfolded today?



BURNETT: Welcome back to this special edition of The Lead the indictment of Donald Trump, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg justifying why his office brought a criminal case against the former President Donald Trump. Here he is.


ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: 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. 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.


BURNETT: That was the DA Ivan Bragg. And joining me now the former Manhattan DA, the District Attorney Cyrus Vance. He initially opened this investigation into Trump, but did not bring charges. So Cy, there's so much to ask you about because you know, I know you don't want to be a central figure in this. But of course you are and what you did and didn't do and why is so important here.

So when we go through the actual indictment, 34 counts every one of them a felony related to falsifying business records. Right. It's one after the other all that changes, really is the date. Is there anything in this indictment as you go through it that you did not expect to see?

CYRUS VANCE JR., FORMER MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Erin, first of all, thank you for having me on. And it's good to see you. I think the indictment in one sense was as predicted it was a indictment containing counts around felony counts around false business records elevated by the object of the misdemeanor crimes to affect the voting laws, either state or federal.

What I did find different and where I differ from some of your excellent panelists that were just on is I found that the document actually quite detailed. I mean, the -- it is a speaking indictment, and it has quite a bit of detail about the history and laid out the facts underlying then the various counts that are listed. So I thought that the indictment provided more detail than then perhaps others expected.


BURNETT: OK, so then you're referring here to the 12-page statement of facts right, which accompany the actual charges themselves. And in this, you know, we read --

VANCE: I was referring to -- I was referring to the indictment itself.

BURNETT: So the indictment itself. OK, so can you explain there then because the description that we've seen sort of has been that it was bare bones, right, that it just lists the date and that the voucher number of the check and, you know, fall century of business records. So, can you explain what you did find in here that was more detail than you expected?

VANCE: Well, I think at least the indictment, I think I read was, the counts are always fairly bare bones. But it's the preparatory leg -- preparatory language that is used before the counts that out that outlines the scheme that the prosecution is making public, to educate the public, presumably, on the background of the facts that relate them to the substantive counts.

BURNETT: All right. So in in that section, as this goes through, Alvin Bragg lays out those. So what did you find there that was new, or that that surprised you these details here?

VANCE: Well, I'm not really surprised. I think it was an indictment that was not bare bones. I'm just saying in contrast to some of the comments in your prior panelists.


VANCE: I've seen bare bones indictments before and they can be very bare bones. This is not a bare bones indictment.

BURNETT: All right. So let me try to understand maybe a different way if I asked this. Alvin Bragg said he got additional evidence in this case. And he said that in the press conference, so from reading the indictment, and you obviously were very familiar with all the evidence in the case that was available until you left the DA's office. So from what you read in the indictment, are you clear on what the new evidence that Alvin Bragg obtained was? VANCE: No, I can't Erin go through a paragraph line by line and say what was new and what was within our knowledge. First and foremost, I have to be mindful of confidences that go around the process when we were looking at this matter. This was in the Grand Jury context of the things I simply can't relate.

But what I can say, by way of background is we began our investigation in roughly 2017. At the same time, we learned that the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were looking at Mr. Trump as well. And I was asked by the Southern District to stand our efforts down --


VANCE: - because they said they got this in hand. And I had because I believe the Southern District is an excellent office with great prosecutors, I was prepared to defer to them. I would surprise therefore, in 2018, when Michael Cohen pled guilty, that the Southern District never went anywhere with that case, and it stopped.

In the meantime, we had been focusing on an economic crimes investigation, and I can say that because the Mr. Trump sued me and the office attaching our grand jury subpoena in federal court. And so we were on to a -- what I would say is a different economic crimes investigation. And we're then moving forward on a broader investigation.

BURNETT: All right, so when Alvin Bragg was asked the question at a presser -- at the presser and he just was just asked, and it said, the question included the premise that your predecessor declined to charge. Now, in his answer to the question, Bragg did not challenge that premise.

So I just want to give you a chance to clear the record here. You're saying you stood down because the Southern District of New York asked you to. Is that the same thing as saying that, I mean, did you specifically declined to bring charges because you didn't think they were merited or not at the time?

VANCE: I don't think we ever I -- I'm sure district attorney Bragg has new facts that he gathered during his investigation. So really, Erin, I think I've explained that there was a federal investigation, which I deferred to, and by the time that went nowhere, we then had already picked up an economic crimes investigation, which had to take place during COVID. And in furtherance of which we had to go to the supreme court twice, and get a ruling by the Supreme Court --


VANCE: -- in the 2020, that the President and the Trump organization had to turn over all its financial records to us, which ultimately then led to an indictment of the corporation, of the CFO Corporation --


VANCE: -- which ultimately was convicted after trial.

BURNETT: The $1.6 million online for trial --

VANCE: So, there was a lot of work that we did.



BURNETT: But just to be clear, you're saying you think he got new information? So do I read into that, that you didn't have enough and that he must have gotten more?

VANCE: I wouldn't, you know, I wouldn't read Erin into anything too much. We did a very thorough investigation. We obviously had to work within a system of dual prosecutions that were being conducted by two offices. We ultimately spent a great deal of time stamp reestablishing prints. Rules of law that the Supreme Court reiterated in their in their decision --


VANCE: -- and went on to build the financial crimes investigates the Trump Organization which is the alter ego of the President.


BURNETT: One final question to you, Cy, if I may. And this case is it seems interesting to get to a felony, right, is based upon the premise that the President of the United States did this, because he wanted to be elected, right. And he suppressed this information because he wanted to be elected.

We do know as a matter of fact, from not just what Michael Cohen has said, but historical record about even involving some of the individuals in this case where stories were given to magazines and been suppressed squelched when Trump was not a candidate.

So are you confident that this clears the hurdle that his motive was really to do this so that he could get elected when he was doing it prior to being a candidate for election?

VANCE: Well, I don't think, Erin, it's my job to make that judgment call from the outside. That was District Attorney Bragg's job, and I think he's obviously said what he's going to do. But if I can, I'd like to make just two quick points before we go stepping back.

Number one --


VANCE: -- today was a peaceful day. The federal government, the FBI, the NYPD, Secret Service and court officers, notwithstanding fears of a violence, and extreme behavior. It was an orderly proceeding. And that I think, speaks well of Judge Merchan and of New York City, to be able to have this proceeding going forward. I think we should all be very pleased and grateful.

Second, outside of the legal work of what's going on in court, there's obviously politics that are driving opinions across America.


VANCE: This is interestingly a little bit like what happened with Bill Clinton, but on the -- with other parties when he was investigated by Ken Starr for five years. Ultimately, the President -- then-President surrendered his law license in order to resolve the investigation. All the Democrats were outraged that the Republicans were going after Bill Clinton, all the all the Republicans felt that it was absolutely appropriate to look into Bill Clinton's sexual dalliances.

So let's put the politics -- let's -- let the politics be handled by the politicians. And let's just make sure that we keep our eye on having the legal proceedings orderly and supported by all of us.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you very much Cy Vance. I appreciate your time and our special coverage continues right after this.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with more of our special edition of The Lead. Let's get some more analysis with CNN political director, David Chalian. David did Republican senator Mitt Romney who has been very tough very critical of Trump, as we all know, as issued a lengthy statement saying that there was overreach on the part of the district attorney in New York, let me read the first two sentences.

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 criminally -- criminal charges in order to fit the political agenda.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, this is Mitt Romney, sort of showing the Republican Party, how, A, don't rush to judgment, wait to see the indictment, then see the indictment. And you can still be totally opposed to Donald Trump, and put forward an argument that this is not a justified prosecution, that -- that's sort of the playbook that Mitt Romney has put out there.

And obviously, the political impact coming from such a committed political opponent to Donald Trump. I mean, his lead sentence in the statement is the guy is unfit for office. It will allow all Republicans to sort of galvanize against this prosecution and it will fortify the Trump allies to continue to strike away at Alvin Bragg as their political strategy here.

BLITZER: So you think the Romney statement is going to have an impact on his fellow Republicans?

CHALIAN: I mean, I don't think any position is going to be moved for it. I think it just demonstrates how this indictment, this statement of facts has not altered the Republican Party from its fortifying around Donald Trump. Even Mitt Romney is coming out and speaking a bit from the Trump playbook in terms of framing this prosecution as unjustified.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to stay on top of the politics of all of this as well. Very, very dramatic developments indeed. We're going to take another quick break. We'll take you to Pennsylvania when we come back to see what voters are saying about today's arraignment and the long list of charges Trump is facing.



BURNETT: And welcome back with our special coverage of the historic indictment of Donald Trump. You are watching a special edition of The Lead this hour. Donald Trump is now in flight on his way back to Mar- a-Lago having pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts here in New York. Right now I want to go to our Danny Freeman and Delaware County, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia.

And Danny, you're there to get some of the first reactions from voters on the indictment which we now have in hand, it's unsealed and the arrest of Trump today. What are they telling you?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well be honest, Erin, it's been pretty much a mixed bag out here so far. You're right. We're in Media, Pennsylvania, that's in Delaware County. It's one of the all important collar counties in the suburbs of Philly, of course, very important for presidential elections.

And I want to introduce you to two voters we spoke with that really illustrate the challenge that former President Donald Trump is having. The first is Judy Clifton. Now she is a registered Republican. She has supported Trump in the past, but she told me that between January 6, and now this indictment, it's too much scandal for her. She's not going to support him anymore.

But I should say we also spoke with a diehard Trump supporter, listen to what both of these Republicans had to say.


FREEMAN: After this indictment on these charges, do you feel like you could support him, you know, in 2024?


FREEMAN: Why not?

CLIFTON: Because I think he's a fraud. And somebody that's honest, might be impossible, I like Biden.

FREEMAN: President Trump being charged today. Does that change your perspective going into 2024?


FREEMAN: Why not?

ELIA: Not at all. He still has the same values views, as he did. So, I still support that.


FREEMAN: Now again, so this is the problem, right? The diehards for the moment, they're staying true to former President Trump, but it's the folks like Judy, where more scandals just continue to erode that trust and erode that otherwise Republican sport that was there in the past that is fading with each of these scandals.

And I should say, I want to add, Erin, you know, that there are a lot of folks that we spoke with today. Not everyone maybe because it's a Tuesday or a working day, not everyone was glued to the TVs as I know a lot of us were all day today as the whole trip to the courthouse happened but a lot of voters did say that they are interested in what specifically is in that indictment they plan to read it later tonight and basically listen to all the reps that will provide them throughout the night. Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Danny, thank you very much. And of course, Palm Beach you see that live shot. That's where Trump will be making his case later on this evening. As our continuing coverage of the indictment of Donald Trump continues, we're going to take you live there to Mar-a-Lago where Trump will be in just a little bit. We'll be back



BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN is live coverage of the Indictment of Donald Trump. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington and this is a special edition of The Situation Room.

BURNETT: And Wolf, I'm Erin Burnett in New York and just before 1:30 Eastern time this afternoon, the former president was officially taken into the custody of police at The Manhattan criminal court in downtown New York.


Trump now formally facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records pleading not guilty, Wolf, to every single one of them.