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Trump Breaks Silence After Facing Charges, Nothing Done Illegally; Prosecutors Intend For Stormy Daniels To Be Witness In Trump Case; Trump Lands In Florida After Facing 34 Charges In New York; The Indictment Of Trump. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 04, 2023 - 18:00   ET



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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's certainly a watershed moment in American history right now, the first time an ex-president has ever been charged with a crime. Right now, we're awaiting Trump's arrival at his home in Florida. He is scheduled to land just a few moments from now. We expect him to make remarks this evening.

BURNETT: And, Wolf, as we await that, we are covering the indictment from every angle tonight.

Paula Reid is standing by for us at the Manhattan criminal courthouse, where the historic events unfolded. Kristen Holmes is at the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate, where those events are coming up, of course, in just about an hour or two. And let's begin with you, though, Paula, here in New York.

So, going through this indictment and the statement of facts that came with it, Paula, what did we learn new?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting, Erin, is there were too many new details in this indictment. It basically rehashes things that we already know. Now, the story centers on the payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, that $130,000 hush money payment, but it zooms out to also include other payments that were made to suppress unfavorable stories in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. That includes $150,000 payment made to Playboy model Karen McDougal about an alleged affair with the president, as well as $30,000 paid to a doorman who alleged that then candidate had fathered a child out of wedlock.

So, prosecutors are looking at this pattern of efforts to try to suppress unfavorable stories to help, as they alleged, Candidate Trump's electoral prospects, and that, they argue, is what elevates this beyond just falsifying business records to something that impacted the 2016 election. But, Erin, it's still just charged as falsifying business records. And, usually, that is a charge that is part of a larger crime but that's not the way they have constructed this case, and that is somewhat surprising. Now, the district attorney was pressed on why he's bringing these charges now or if he has new evidence. He did suggest that there is new evidence they've uncovered, but that was not revealed in this indictment right now.

BURNETT: Right. And to be clear, as you say, usually, falsifying business documents as part of a broader set of charges, obviously, all 34 of these are that specific charge at the felony level. They say that they're going to be calling for they want to call, at least, Paula, Stormy Daniels as a witness. Now, we've heard plenty from Stormy Daniels, but what do they think she would be able to say specifically to help Bragg's case now?

REID: She could be a really helpful witness. Now, the whole case is not going to hinge on her testimony, but she could help prosecutors lay down the facts about how exactly this hush money payment came to be. Who reached out to AMI, the publisher of The National Enquirer, and why did they reach out in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election? Was she doing this to hurt his chances of being elected? Was she doing this because she felt that her story would be more valuable at that time period? Who reached out to her? How is the money exchange? Did you ever ask how it would be paid back?

She could really be helpful not only for talking about how the payments were constructed, who made them, but also about this timing, this argument prosecutors are trying to make that all of this was done to help him become president of the United States.

BURNETT: All right. Paula, thank you very much, at the Manhattan criminal court.

And I want to go to Kristen Holmes now because she's in Palm Beach, Florida, where the former president will be arriving soon, and we expect to hear him address publicly in a crowded room and to anyone who will listen to his response to this arraignment. So, what are you hearing he will say tonight, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, just to let you know, we have just gotten Donald Trump's first response to this arraignment. He posted on Truth Social. It appears he posted it when they took off for West Palm Beach, but that it just went up. It says, just lifted for Palm Beach, Florida. We will be delivering remarks tonight at Mar-a-Lago at 8:15. The hearing was shocking to many and then in that they had no surprises and, therefore, no case. Virtually, every legal pundit has said there is no case here. There was nothing that was done illegally. And it seems that he is linking to several videos of pundits talking about this case on conservative media. We expect to hear more of that tonight.

Every indication that we have gotten from his team, every source that I have talked to indicates that they want to make this political. They want to make this about 2024. We're hearing them linked Alvin Bragg to Joe Biden, talking about election interference, saying that this is because he is an opponent or will be an opponent, a rival to Joe Biden. We don't have any indication that that is going to stop at this time. And, in fact, while he was in his arraignment, they blasted out a fundraising email in which they had actually manufactured a mug shot, put it onto T-shirts and sent it out to raise money. So, if that gives you any indication of where their minds are on, that's exactly where we think they are.

Now, he is with some of his top political advisers. Of course, as we saw him leaving and entering that courtroom, Jason Miller, Boris Epshteyn, both of them were in the courtroom with him.


They were also on the plane with him now. He's also with his campaign heads, Chris LaCivita, Susie Wiles. And notice how I am not mentioning members of his legal team. That goes to give you some kind of pause as to what exactly this is going to look like. And, Erin, watching the room behind me start to fill up and we are looking at Trump's super fans, talking about Bikers for Trump members that are here, Mar-a-Lago members, Mike Lindell is here. It feels very much like a seated rally at this point, just in terms of the guest list.

And, of course, as we know, when Trump has that kind of energy, he tends to go off on rants. I am told that advisers have asked him, begged him, urged him to stay on message. They don't want him harming his case in any way, but I think it's very clear as of now that this is going to be a very political speech.

BURNETT: He's aggrieved and angry. All right, thank you very much, Kristen live from Mar-a-Lago.

Wolf, obviously, we're going to be seeing which version of Trump we get tonight.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect we'll get the traditional Trump version. That's just my suspicion.

Let's get some analysis right now. Our legal and political experts are here with me right now, and let me start with you, Elliot. Let's talk a little bit about the illegal conspiracy that the prosecutors are now alleging that Trump was engaged in. What stands out to you in this new indictment?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So, the indictment identifies falsification of business records, right, that become a felony. And it's just a misdemeanor to falsify business, right? It becomes a felony if used to conceal or commit another crime.

Now, in the press conference after the indictment was issued, notice it doesn't say this in the indictment, Alvin Bragg, the D.A., walks through a few different crimes he identifies that perhaps a conspiracy to violate election crime or campaign finance caps might be the crime. We don't quite know what that is now. He said at the press conference. So, we shall see how this all plays out.

There was a back and forth with the former district attorney in the last hour of the program. He said that, you know, it's actually quite a detailed document. The document itself is not that detailed. He submitted a statement of facts with that that had some details in it. But there're still some questions. I see Carrie is nodding. I think she agrees with me on this as well. There's still more details that could be filled in here.

BLITZER: How do you judge the strengths and potential weaknesses of this case?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Well, you know, part of what Elliot is describing is that, normally when we're talking about cases, we talk about how prosecutors speak through their indictments, they speak through their charging documents. And what was interesting today was to see that very little information, just the crime at issue was in the indictment, a little bit more of the contextual facts were in the statement of facts, but then it was really the D.A.'s press conference where he talked about this other potential ancillary violation of criminal law, which is still very vague.

And I think that will be one area that presents really an opportunity for the former president's defense attorneys in their motions practice which this -- really, this has such a long way to go now, this case, before it is resolved, and there's going to be a lot of motions filed that can potentially get at some of these issues of what still is unclear about the prosecutor's theory of the case.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, that's one of things that's so interesting. We have such a long way to go. I think we're trying to sort of make predictions about how this is going to play politically for Donald Trump. It looks like the next hearing is going to be like in December, maybe a trial in January, maybe a trial in the spring. That's what Donald Trump's lawyers seem to prefer. So much is going to happen between now and then. Obviously, you know, they're going to file motions to dismiss as well, but I do think there is sort of a lane of the groundwork that a former president can be indicted, right?

There are other cases that we're going to hear, other investigations that are going on around January 6th, around the documents case, as well in Georgia. I think one of the themes that we're going to hear from Republicans and Donald Trump about all of these cases is that somehow all of these cases end up helping Donald Trump, right, and somehow they're all political. But I think, in some ways, we should really take that as spin in some ways and sort of with a grain of salt, because that is what Donald Trump has been saying throughout his time in public, like throughout his presidency, that all of these scrutiny, the impeachments would help him and that it was all sort of a political witch hunt.

And I think, you know, you heard from the voter in Pennsylvania, for instance, this is one of the reasons why voters turned against him, because of all of the scrutiny and all of the sense that he was doing something in different instances that he shouldn't be doing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and you have to wonder how this is going to play in the long-term, given what's coming down the pike here, whether it's going to be an indictment coming out of the Georgia grand jury, what the special counsel, Jack Smith, is going to do. And because this case is first, and we've talked about this, will this affect the public opinion about what's coming down the road or will the public say, look, you know, maybe the Stormy Daniels thing was seven years ago but this other stuff about an insurrection or about trying to fix an election, that's really serious.


Alvin Bragg today in his press conference said this was about democracy because his point was that Donald Trump was the one who effectively was trying to fix an election by not -- by hiding this information from the public, and that's why he said it was effectively, you know, a campaign donation.

WILLIAMS: Just one thing I would add, you know, these infirmities and these questions that we're raising have talked about throughout the program, none of them are fatal to the case, and something lawyers and prosecutors have to do is look at potential weaknesses, and these are just areas that Trump's attorneys might have for attacking something that might be in the indictment.

Sort of an argument in favor of a more vague indictment, which New York law allows you to do, is that every word of prosecutor puts on that page is subject to being challenged or picked apart or being even a basis for dismissing the indictment down the road. So, there's an argument for just putting the minimum that's legally relevant out there, get your case, get it to trial and then see what happens.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, David, that the main point is the prosecutors are making in this indictment is that what Trump was doing was trying to hide damaging information from American voters before the 2016 presidential election, and they're alleging that that was illegal.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. But he calls the prosecution itself an election interference, but actually what is being alleged years that he was trying to interfere with the 2016 election through this hush money payments scheme.

Wolf, can I just ask our legal experts have one quick question? Is there a way to assess how likely a dismissal outright would be by what you see here?

CORDERO: I wouldn't try to predict it yet. I mean, the way that I think about it is, unlike in many of the other cases that we've discussed over the years that the former president has been involved in, where -- for example, on executive privilege, where he makes really just not credible arguments, and he keeps failing in federal court time after time after time, the way that I look at this one, David, is that I think there are credible arguments his defense attorneys can make. So, I'm not willing to predict the outcome of those but I do think that they will have some credible basis upon which to make arguments to the floor.

WILLIAMS: The only one that I think is probably a pretty clear loser is a motion to change the venue of the trial and get it out of Manhattan. They've sort of grumbled a little bit that he can't get a fair trial anywhere in Manhattan. Number one, judges really don't like granting those motions because they presume that jurors can be instructed to follow the law and listen to the facts. And, number two, this judge also has already handled Trump trial in the form -- I believe, it was Allen Weisselberg's trial, the former CFO of the Trump Organization. It can happen here, and it's really hard to get --

BORGER: That's why Trump said he hates me because he handled --

CORDERO: The Trump Organization case.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: Very quickly, if he's convicted of these 34 felony counts, he could wind up going to jail, right?

CORDERO: Yes. So, these are serious charges that have been brought. It's 34 counts of the same federal crime.

BLITZER: These are not misdemeanors counts. These are felony counts.

CORDERO: That's what's significant. And so the potential penalty is jail time anywhere from one to a few years for each count. So, that's why we saw the seriousness and the gravity of I think the expression because he is facing serious charges where potentially, and I think we're very, very long way against the potential conviction, because that means that we've -- you make it through motions practice, you actually get to a trial.

And even though his defense lawyers are saying right now that they're never -- that he's pleading not guilty and there never would be a plea, you never know as we get down farther in the process, whether or not he would end up producing two misdemeanors. Because the conduct that's described, the falsifying of the records without the other ancillary criminal violation are misdemeanors.

BORGER: Can I just say, politically, one thing that's really important here, as you look back at this in some context, is what was going on at that time during the during the political campaign, not only were you close to the you know the end of the political but you had the Access Hollywood tape. And the Access Hollywood tape, according to the statement of facts here, was October 7th 2016. David will probably remember that date just like that. And then October 10th was when they effectively negotiated the deal and said we're going to do these payments. She would be paid $130,000 for the rights, et cetera, et cetera.

So, I think that, you know, you have to kind of think of the frame of mind that the defendant was in at that time, and, you know, that anything that could be revealed, having had that Access Hollywood tape out there, which everyone at that time, myself included, thought it would affect the election, of course, it didn't, he was he was really worried.


Now, how you prove that in a court of law is to have people say, as they apparently do, he told me that maybe wait until after the election to pay the money.

HENDERSON: And that's where David Pecker comes in, right?

BORGER: Exactly.

HENDERSON: Because he's the one who is doing these catch and kill deals, had done them before in 2015 for other reasons. And so he's doing it now where there're different conversations around the Stormy Daniels, one that had to do with the election.

WILLIAMS: Real quick, the complicated thing, though, in that is that it's all hearsay what you're talking about here. Some of those would get in. Some of them may not. It's just going to be --

HENDERSON: Unless there's documentation, right?


BLITZER: And we will find out. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to discuss.

Also just ahead, we're standing by for Donald Trump's arrival at Mar- a-Lago after facing 34 felony counts in New York.

Plus, we're getting new reaction to the Trump charges from his allies up on Capitol Hill.

Stay with us. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our coverage of the arrest and arraignment of Donald Trump on this special edition of The Situation Room, the former president pleading not guilty to 34 felony counts, but his legal troubles don't end there at all.


Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is joining us. He is here in Washington. Evan, this is a historic first but will it be the last?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: All signs, Wolf, are that the Justice Department investigation is accelerating, and they're reaching a point soon where they'll have to make a decision as to whether to bring charges or this is something obviously that the federal prosecutors have often considered, right, which is the idea that will they be the first to bring charges against the former president. Well, the New York district attorney already took care of that. Now, Jack Smith and his team of prosecutors are -- you can tell from some of the activity we've seen in court, are working to try to make a decision on bringing charges and whether to bring charges.

And one sign of that Wolf, as we've seen, is that we've seen witnesses who had gone before and been interviewed by the FBI now being brought before the grand jury. So, it's very likely, Wolf, that at least for the Mar-a-Lago investigation, the investigation into whether the former president was willfully obstructing and willfully keeping national security information, that investigation appears to be in a different timeline from the second investigation at the Justice Department, which is whether the former president has committed a crime in his efforts to remain in office.

So, we expect, Wolf, that well before the New York case is resolved, well before even he is next to appear in court that the Justice Department will have said something on the Mar-a-Lago investigation. That's how quickly things are moving in that case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Potentially, there are three other three other criminal investigations of Trump underway right now. We'll see how that unfolds. Evan Perez, thank you very, very much.

Erin, back to you.

BURNETT: All right, Wolf. And joining us now is Lanny Davis, attorney from Michael Cohen. So, Lanny, you've had a chance to go through the indictment, 12 pages -- 16 pages, sorry, statement of fact, 12 pages. Did you see anything new in there today that you didn't know?

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: No. In fact, it's kind of expected that there would be less than people would want to read and there are two kinds of indictments or even civil complaints. One is very, very long in a lot of narrative. I tend to write those kinds of complaints. But some prosecutors put a bare minimum number of charges and information. So, in this case, they certainly outlined the overall evidence that I think is the structure of the felony charges. But I think we'll just have to wait and see.

I can only tell you, as I said before, Erin, I predicted to you that when this case goes to trial, it is far more detailed and has much more substantiation, documents, emails, timelines, telephone calls and another witness in the form of Mr. Pecker, who was involved in both transactions, the Karen McDougal transaction and the Stormy Daniels one.

So, I think the case, when it gets to a jury, will be a strong case, but it will ultimately be 12 people, not the American people listening to speeches or politicians or even as panelists, 12 people in that room will decide whether Donald Trump is guilty.

BURNETT: All right. Now, you did say, as you said now, but last week when you and I spoke, you were predicting a lot of people would be surprised at the level of evidence to back up this case. Now, I'm sure you still stand by that, it's just we were presented with that today, right? D.A. Bragg today says he did receive new evidence, but he's not telling us what it is. He's saying it's going to come out during the trial.

I mean, Lanny, that trial could be up to a year away. Are you disappointed he didn't include it? Because, yes, it will be a jury, but between now and then, it is the court of public opinion that will influence and every American will become aware of, right? So, he could have put this new evidence out there. Are you disappointed he didn't? DAVIS: No, because I'm wear two hats, far be it from me to preach about the court of public opinion and using television to shape even in a legal matter. And you know my history. So, sure, I believe in that. But I also know that this is about 12 people that whatever anybody says, any pundit or any politician, it's going to boil down to the 12 people. And what I said to you and I predict I will be right and I was amazed over all the hours I spent with the prosecutors with Mr. Cohen is the level of corroboration in documents and in other witnesses that will be presented to the jury in this case.

What is unclear to me and left unsaid is the legal theory that escalates, it appears to be undisputed, fraudulent bookkeeping, is at the misdemeanor level. The escalation to the felony level, we'll just have to wait and let the lawyers come up with it.

BURNETT: Right. That's the -- do they do they prove the election motivation, right? That's a big question, and we didn't get more information on that today.

We did get Judge Merchan warning counsels on both sides about their clients speaking out when he was presented right with Trump's social media postings recently. He's not going to do a gag order now. He said he's not close to it. He said, quote, I'm not going to issue a gag order.


But then, Lanny, he went on to say, quote, I'd encourage the counsels on both sides please speak to your witnesses.

DAVIS: Can I speak to that?

BURNETT: Do you think he was talking about Michael Cohen?

DAVIS: Well, I think he might even be talking about me. So, I'd like to speak to that. I think everybody has to show restraint now in talking to the media, because now it's before a jury. Up to this point, I've been defending Michael Cohen's credibility. He's my client. He's my friend and I believe in his credibility. And I believe that when he stood up on a very important day in front of Chairman Cummings, February 27, 2019, tens of millions of people. He said, I lied, I am ashamed of what the dirty deeds I did for Donald Trump. Now, I'm ready to do this for my country and for my family.

And since then, he has substantiated everything thing he said before congressional committees, the grand jury, no Fifth Amendment, and the documents that we looked at over weeks and weeks with these prosecutors fortified us that they substantiate in detail everything that Michael has ever said.

BURNETT: Right. But you're saying you believe the judge is talking to you as well?

DAVID: Well, I think I have to -- yes, I think I have to be very careful. I respect the jury system. I do not want to say anything prejudicial to Mr. Trump. He has the presumption of innocence. But I know that the detailed corroboration which everyone doesn't appreciate yet will appreciate when this comes to trial, and it will be in front of the jury.

BURNETT: Right. Okay. And, of course, I guess the point is that we just we just don't have it. We were not presented with it today at this point. Thank you very much, Lanny.

And coming up, we'll get reaction to the Trump arrest and arraignment from a Republican who says this is going to help him in the GOP primary. Congressman Byron Donalds is standing by. And we're also keeping an eye on Mar-a-Lago for Trump's imminent arrival. We will be right back.


BLITZER: You're watching a special edition of The Situation Room. Right now, we're getting new reaction up on Capitol Hill to Donald Trump's arrest and arraignment on 34 felony charges in Manhattan.

For more on that, I want to bring in Republican Congressman Byron Donalds of Florida. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

What was your reaction Congressman seeing the former president under arrest, in court today in New York, and learning of these 34 felony counts?

REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): I mean, look, honestly, Wolf, I thought it was a tragedy. I thought it was a joke. Even in this indictment, which a lot of people have had to read now because it's not very long, they don't even cite the actual felony charge. They're saying it had something to do with the 2016 elections and he was trying to subvert the elections in some new crazy scheme. They're citing bookkeeping in the state of New York as the layup into these felony charges, but they actually don't cite the charge.

So, what are you supposed to do with that? I mean, it's clear that Alvin Bragg was on a mission to indict Donald Trump. And so that's how we got to where we are. But you say 34 felonies, but what are we actually talking about? What are the actual charges? The indictment does not speak to it.

BLITZER: The prosecutors argue in this indictment that Trump's goal was to hide damaging information, that's a direct quote, damaging information from American voters just ahead of the 2016 election. Doesn't that concern you?

DONALDS: Time out. At what point is trying to either -- actually, here's a better question for you, Wolf. Hillary Clinton spent a million dollars on affect dossier citing that he was a Russian plant. We all know that to be true. So, it's okay to spend a million dollars of campaign cash to create a phony dossier to secrete through the media to tilt the 2016 elections, but now we're going to say that there are booking regularities about an NDA agreement between him and somebody else, and that's now hiding stuff from the people? I mean, this is a joke. It's ridiculous. This is why this is a political persecution of Donald Trump. BLITZER: These were campaign violations what he was trying to do in paying off $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

DONALDS: Wolf, even the FEC looked at this and the FEC said there's nothing to see here. The Department of Justice looked at this. They said. There's nothing to see here. Last time I checked, Alvin Bragg does not sit on the FEC. He's not somebody who's steeped in election law. He's a local prosecutor in Manhattan, where, by the way, he's actually downgraded of violent felonies in Manhattan. So, the people of Manhattan aren't as safe as they should be in their own streets. That is not even his jurisdiction.

So, he piles that into this indictment, which, frankly, doesn't even really cite what he's talking about, except the 2016 elections, and we're supposed to sit here and take this seriously? No. This is politics, and it's gross politics. This is a type of thing that the American people don't want to see. Look, you can have disagreements between Republicans and Democrats. I have strong opinions of my own. But to say that you're going to shoehorn some phony situation into a felony indictment or 34 felony indictments, that is a stretch, that is a kangaroo court.

BLITZER: Well, that's what the prosecutors are alleging, and we'll see what happens when there is a trial at the end of this year or early next.

The judge today warned both sides, Congressman, against inciting violence after prosecutors argued that Trump made direct threats through a social media post. Does the former president need to speak carefully at Mar-a-Lago tonight?


DONALDS: Look, I think if I were in his shoes, I will be very clear about how this is a political persecution of himself being the leading candidate for the presidency of the United States. I would speak to that. And then the thing that I would also do is make sure people understand that we have to get our country back to law and order and actually following the law, not creating the law just to suit our own interests. That's where he should stay and then talk about his record when he was president of the United States and how that is a far superior record than that of Joe Biden, which everybody basically knows.

BLITZER: How worried are you about these other criminal investigations that are underway right now, whether in Georgia or in Florida?

DONALDS: Look, the one thing I am concerned about is where you have prosecutors now who want to, you know, get their 15 minutes who try to come up with some novel legal theories about trying to raise indictments. I'm very concerned about that. But if you want to speak to the stuff going on in Georgia, the stuff going on in D.C., where they're still trying to blame what happened on January 6th squarely at Donald Trump as if he ordered people into the Capitol, the facts dictate that never happened. He ordered nobody. He organized nothing. Those are the fact patterns. We looked at that in the oversight committee, frankly, before Nancy Pelosi shut down the oversight committee, but we'll move on from that.

I'm not as concerned about what they actually might legally come up with. I'm much more concerned that they're going to do what Alvin Bragg has done in Manhattan. It's atrocious.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Byron Donalds of Florida, thanks very much for joining us.

DONALDS: Sure, anytime.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, Trump's plane arriving in Florida any minute now, he's expected to make extensive remarks tonight to his supporters. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the arrest and arraignment of Donald Trump. We're here on this special edition of The Situation Room.

Take a look at this, live pictures right now of Trump's plane landing in West Palm Beach at West Palm Beach International Airport. There you see Trump's aircraft landing. He is going to be going from the airport to Mar-a-Lago and then he will be speaking there. We will have coverage, obviously, of all of his reaction.

Take a look at some more video right now, getting some new video of Trump supporters lining the streets near the former president's home at Mar-a-Lago. Here we go. You can see people's gathering there. The former president expected to arrive at Mar-a-Lago very, very soon.

I want to go to CNN's Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill for us right now. Manu, this unsealed indictment hasn't quieted the Republican critics, has even brought out some new ones. Tell us what the reaction has been. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. We've heard a lot of the similar reaction that we heard in the aftermath of the leak of this indictment over the last several days, people like Speaker McCarthy, saying that Alvin Bragg will be, quote, held accountable, vowing that he would use the power of their House majority to investigate Alvin Bragg's actions.

There are other Republicans also falling in line, but in a notable reaction from one very prominent Trump critic within the Republican party, Mitt Romney, someone who voted for two Trump impeachment, someone who says that Donald Trump should not be elected president again. He came out and he criticized Alvin Bragg in the aftermath of the unsealing of this indictment.

He said in a statement, 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. He goes on to say, Wolf, the prosecutor's overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public faith in our justice system.

Now, not all Republicans have been vocal. In fact, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has not commented since the news broke on Thursday that Donald Trump has been indicted. And in the aftermath of the actual details coming out, he still has not commented, neither has the number two Senate Republican, John Thune.

Both of them have been silent and both of them view Donald Trump much differently than Kevin McCarthy does. Kevin McCarthy aligns himself with Donald Trump because he credits him for winning the speakership on the 15th ballot. McConnell and Thune are eager to move past the Trump era and are staying away from the details of this endowment right now.

And some Democrats are weighing in, but not many in the top Democratic ranks are embracing this yet. Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, did issue a statement before this was unsealed, saying that this investigation, this case really should be devoid of outside influence. But he has stayed away from weighing in on the mirrors of this case, as has the top Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries up to this point.

And, Wolf, Congress is on recess this week and next week for the Easter holiday. So, that is one reason why there are not many members who are weighing in. Some of the most vocal ones are siding with Donald Trump, but some other ones who might be more critical, staying quiet for now.

BLITZER: Well, for now, keywords. All right, Manu, thanks very much.

Erin, and we're showing our viewers live pictures of Trump's plane landing in West Palm Beach at Palm Beach International Airport. Once he gets off that plane, he and the motorcade will go to Mar-a-Lago, will be speaking there later tonight.

BURNETT: All right. And it's sort of a long day for him, and I guess that's sort of two-hour break on the plane, was that a pause that you know insights or refreshes or calms? We will see, of course, when he gets to Mar-a-Lago.

Now, the arraignment transcript has just come out. So, my understanding here, Ryan Goodman, Karen Friedman Agnifilo are here, attorneys, 32 pages. You both have had a chance to sort of skim through some of it. What has stood out to you so far, Ryan?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: One of the most important parts, I think is actually to see the judge's exact words when he talks about whether or not he would impose a gag order, which would basically prohibit parties, potentially President Trump, from being able to speak about the case on social media and the like.

And he says, I'm not anywhere close to that. I'm not going to issue anything that's even close to a gag order today, but he does say at the same time if he were to ever consider it, as you and I have actually talked about in prior shows, not only is there First Amendment concerns on the other side of the equation, but that it applies quicker, doubly to Mr. Trump.


And that his First Amendment rights would be critically important because he's running for president.


GOODMAN: So that's one piece.

BURNETT: Which is significant, by the way, very thoughtful of him. I mean, this is a judge who, by the way, among other things that Trump has said so far is that this judge hates him, you know, sort of out to get him and the judge's responses, you are afforded double consideration because you're running. I just sort of bend over backwards to try to not impose the gag order.

GOODMAN: Yeah, First Amendment times two.

BURNETT: First Amendment times two.

Karen, what stands to you so far?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So I was looking at the protective order question that was also discussed after the arraignment. I think the arraignment on the charges took place very quickly. It was in the beginning, and we were all wondering, sitting here what's taking them so long.

And what really was started taking shape in there is a request from the prosecutor to put a protective order on the material that soon going to be turned over to the Trump team, and I think what they really want is to --

BURNETT: This would be text, data, emails, whatever. This is your evidence?

AGNIFILO: This is the evidence. This is the grand jury witnesses, the witness statements, the police statements, literally all the evidence but all the every single thing in the trial, the discovery laws require you to turn over your entire file to the defense within 45 days. And so, what the prosecution asked for in this case as a protective order, which is sometimes done, not always done.

And when the request is that Mr. Trump and his team should not be able to use these materials for any reason except to prepare for their defense at trial. That number two, no copies should ever be given out, that you should only be able to look at them in the attorney's office in the presence of an attorney. And number three, you cannot give these materials to a third party or post on social media.

And what was interesting was the prosecutor who asked for this protective order on the record, said it's because of the fact that Mr. Trump has been threatening witnesses and trying to try this case in the court of public opinion, and he said we are -- we are the -- we're working out a way that the defense and the prosecutor will consent to the limits of the protective order, and it looked like they were coming to an agreement.

But then afterwards, Donald Trump's lawyer said, but we just got this indictment and this prosecutor filed a statement of fact. That's not fair for us to not be able to respond.

Also we have Michael Cohen, who has written two books, has a podcast and talks about this case every single day.

BURNETT: Every single -- yeah.

AGNIFILO: You got you've got a former assistant D.A. Mark Pomerantz, who left the office and wrote a book and talked about this case in detail, and he said, and then he's claiming that the indictment was leaked because we knew there was 34 counts and they were felonies. Is it okay for everybody else to leak and put information? And I can't say anything. I can't do anything and I can't talk about what the charges against me.

So I thought that was very interesting.

BURNETT: That's an interesting point.


BURNETT: And honestly, and there's merit in that. I mean, that is fair. We do hear from one side all the time.

AGNIFILO: However, it does seemed really clear to -- it wasn't just Lanny Davis, he said to both the defense and the prosecution, talk to your witnesses, and I think he was largely talking to Michael Cohen. He's got to stop talking because the integrity of --

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You asked Lanny about that. And he sort of said he thought he might have been talking about him and that he would be more careful. He seemed to be -- but what's interesting here is and, you know, remember that if we look at Trump's behavior, for example, in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, we know about that, because Trump leaked it.

Trump is the one, otherwise we would never know. We would not have known about the investigation. We would not have known -- because the FBI certainly, that's their protocol to not discuss it publicly.

So it's interesting to hear that, you know, while they may be talking about Michael Cohen's behavior, Trump's own behavior kind, and there is a pattern of him using the information in the public, not just in this case, but in other cases.

BURNETT: Jonah, I did think that was interesting, as Ryan points out, that a judge who Trump has slammed repeatedly took the calm considered thing of saying not only am I not going to respond, I'm not going to do a gag order. You're running for president, and that's very important. And I'm going to do everything I can to not do a gag order because you should have that right to free speech.

Very considered, and hopefully giving people some sort of confidence in the system.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: People were paying attention, probably have confidence in the system. You remember, I said Donald Trump issued a email today where he's raising money where he fabricated a mug shot of himself, right? So like goes towards his state of mind in which he said while we are living through the darkest hours of American history, I can say that, at least for this moment right now, I'm in great spirit.

This is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King.


There was this thing called World War II. There was the Vietnam War. There was the Iraq War.

I mean, there are lots of things that strike me as more qualified to be called the darkest days of American history. There's a whole slavery thing, right? And -- but this narrative of catastrophization is something that he can monetize at huge levels and he is not going to abide by the goodwill, you know, spirit of the judge.

BURNETT: Right, he had his, you know, his mug shot t shirt ready to go, right? Like them? Sure. You know, they learned from Kamala Harris on that one. Have your T-shirt ready? Be ready to go and they were ready to go.

We're watching people get off the plane. I haven't yet seen a Trump come off that plane, but coming up, we are waiting, of course, hearing from him to deliver a speech of Mar-a-Lago after he pled not guilty to 34 felony counts today.

Our special coverage continues right after this.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're watching a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM: The indictment of Donald Trump.

Judge Juan Merchan, the man overseeing the historic case against the former president is already making a mark on the proceedings.

Our Brian Todd is joining us right now, with a closer look at what's going on.

Brian, Judge Merchan issued a very stern warning to both sides during Trump's initial court appearance earlier today. What can you tell us about that?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, Judge Merchan in court today, acknowledged Donald Trump's right to free speech. But he also warned Donald Trump and the other and the prosecutors not to make any statements or anything that would incite violence or civil unrest.

You'll recall that you know, we can tell you the Judge Merchan is a judge that has not only handled high profile cases before, but also he's hot handled high profile defendants who have been very close to Donald Trump before you're going to recall that Trump recently really railed on Judge Merchan saying on a social media platform that Merchan quote hates me and that he also accused Judge Merchan of railroading his former CFO, the -- of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, into a plea deal.

Now, Weisselberg pleaded guilty last August, a felony tax fraud charges. Judge Merchan was heavily involved in those negotiations. In January, Merchan sentenced Weisselberg to five months in jail and said he wished the plea deal had allowed him to make the sentence longer.

Judge Merchan was also very publicly upset at the trial that Weisselberg's wife got a payment of several thousand dollars for a no show job to qualify for Social Security. Even after all that, though, Weisselberg's own attorney, Nicholas Gravante, emailed CNN, saying the Judge Merchan was, quote, efficient, practical, well-prepared, accessible and a man of his word.

But there is another person who looms large in Trump world who's also on Judge Merchan's docket, and that is former White House strategist Trump's White House strategist Steve Bannon. He's facing charges that he defrauded donors to a nonprofit group. He has pleaded not guilty. Judge Merchan is handling that case as well.

We should note, though, that despite Judge Merchan's record for being tough, he did side with Donald Trump on one very important matter today. Judge Merchan, of course, ruling to keep video cameras out of the courtroom for today's proceedings, Wolf. So, we'll see how Judge Merchan negotiates this case. He's really going to be under the spotlight here. Most legal analysts say he's under a lot of pressure to be exceedingly fair in this case.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, we're showing our viewers some live pictures, and maybe we'll see Donald Trump walking down those stairs from the plane. He's going to be heading over to Mar-a-Lago, his property in Palm Beach, after his historic arrest and arraignment in New York earlier today. We'll go live to Florida to take you behind the scenes of his preparations right after this.