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Russia Arrests American Journalist On Suspicion Of Espionage; D.A. Asking About Second Hush Money Case In Trump Grand Jury Probe; New York Grand Jury Votes To Indict Trump. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the White House is condemning Russia's arrest of an American journalist, calling the spying charges he faces ridiculous. Moscow escalating tensions with Washington in a way we haven't seen since the Cold War.

Also tonight, we have breaking news on the New York grand jury investigating former President Trump. Sources now say the district attorney there has been asking questions about a second hush money case involving Trump and efforts to cover up his alleged affair with a Playboy model.

And as Nashville mourns and prepares to bury six victims, new 911 calls from the school shooting were just released. Stand by for that breaking story. And I'll get reaction from the Nashville mayor, who's joining us this hour.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, another U.S. citizen is in custody in Russia. This time, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal accused of espionage. CNN's Alex Marquardt has details on the arrest and why this particular reporter may have been targeted by Moscow.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This video from Russian media appears to show American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich arriving at a Moscow court today. The Russian security services arrested Gershkovich while he was on a reporting trip for suspicions of espionage, something the White House called absolutely unacceptable.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This espionage charges are ridiculous. The targeting of American citizens by Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest, in the strongest terms.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The court announced that the Moscow based journalist will be held until May 29. Detained in a pretrial center, his lawyer was not allowed to attend the hearing.

I can only guess what position has been taken, his lawyer said. Evan was taken away from here with a decision to hold him in custody.

The Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the espionage accusations and said the paper is "Deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich" and "Seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter." Gershkovich is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, speaking Russian at home with parents who emigrated from the Soviet Union like journalist Julia Ioffe.

JULIA IOFFE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK NEWS: There is a sense in Moscow, especially in the Foreign Ministry and in the Kremlin, that people of this kind of background, like my background, they are particularly sensitive to and they're particularly sensitive to our criticism. And I think that certainly does not help Evan's case.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The Kremlin claims Gershkovich was caught red handed in the city of Yekaterinburg trying to collect state secrets on a military complex.

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry said that what he was doing in Yekaterinburg was not journalism. Gershkovich recently published hard hitting stories on Russia's economy as Vladimir Putin wages war in Ukraine, artillery shortages, and the Wagner mercenary group. He's also appeared on CNN.

EVAN GERSHKOVICH, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think what Vladimir Putin just showed last week is what he's done throughout his 22-year encountering rule of Russia is that he's always ready to escalate.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Many journalists left Russia last year after the Kremlin threatened to imprison reporters for publishing stories contradicting Putin's false narrative about the war.

VENDANT PATEL, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: I want to say clearly and unequivocally in the strongest terms, we condemn the Kremlin's continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices. It is not safe for U.S. citizens to be in the Russian Federation. Any U.S. citizen reciting or traveling in Russia should depart immediately.


MARQUARDT: There is some speculation, Wolf, about whether this arrest is Russia's tit for tat response to the U.S. indictment just a few days ago of an alleged Russian spy who came to live here in the U.S. and then was arrested in Brazil. Other observers see this as part of a bigger Russian campaign to capture or bank, in the words of one expert I spoke with, bank more Americans who they can then use as hostages to trade for people who Russia wants. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Clearly an escalation in the U.S.-Russian relationship right now, and it's not a good one. Alex, Marquardt, thank you very much. Let's get some more on the U.S. response to this new arrest by Russia. Joining us now, our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly.


Phil, as we just heard, the Biden administration is clearly warning Americans to leave Russia after the arrest of this journalist. How is the White House handling this behind the scenes?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, publicly the condemnation has been unequivocal. The rejection of the charges themselves have been swift and similarly strong. But what White officials make clear is, at this point in time, there is simply not a lot that they know.

They don't understand motivations. They don't understand whether this is connected to anything. They don't have any sense whether or not this signals some kind of escalation.

What they do know, however, is their primary goal at this point in time is to try and get consular access to the journalists, making very clear throughout the course of the day that when they discovered this last night, the State Department started to engage with their counterparts in the Foreign Affairs in Moscow, trying to make clear that communication needed to start. And that's critical for a number of different reasons, not the least of which to try and get more information about what exactly happened here.

Now, Wolf, the President was briefed this morning about what happened throughout the course of the day. White House officials again have repeatedly said that they reject what has been the charges that have been laid out, they condemn what has happened. But as you noted, they've also warned other Americans if they have not left the country at this point, as the State Department has suggested now for more than a year, that they need to do so.

Now, they have not extended that warning to journalists, making clear they understand that the jobs that journalists do are critical and important, but more broadly saying American citizens are at risk and need to leave the country. As for how this plays out going forward, there is a process in place, as we've seen in other detentions of Americans in the past where they need to get more information before they can identify him as wrongfully detained or put a more intensive process from the top line in to try and negotiate some type of release here. But I think when you talk to officials, they underscore the fact that they need some kind of information to start that process. One thing they make clear, though, Wolf, is they are intensively engaged at this point. And their primary goal, their overarching goal, is just to make first contact.

BLITZER: Yes, that's so important. Phil Mattingly, thank you very, very much.

Let's dig deeper right now with our national security experts.

And Jim Sciutto, I want to start with you. Does this arrest represent a very serious escalation by Russia?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We should begin with taking Russia's claims here with an enormous amount of skepticism and doubt. Their track record is frankly lousy for manufacturing charges, allegations, or trumping them up, as we saw with Brittney Griner, for instance, and then creating, in effect, leverage hostages. I spoke with Adam Schiff this morning, he described this as a hostage situation, which they then can use as bargaining chips for other exchanges of Russians held here in the U.S.

And by the way, it's a tactic we see not just from Russia, but from other regimes such as China and Iran in the past. It puts those individuals in a very precarious situation. So, a herring one for him and for his family.

Bigger picture, part of a broader deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the U.S. coming the same week that Russia backs off commitments in a nuclear agreement, of course, the ongoing war in Ukraine and that broader deterioration, it just speaks to, Wolf, where we stand in this superpower relationship right now. And it's a harrowing time, not just for the journalists involved here, but for the country as well.

BLITZER: And the U.S. government warning all Americans, if you're there in Russia right now, get out, and get out right away.

David Sanger, what can you tell us about Evan Gershkovich? He's 31 years old. And the challenges of reporting in Russia right now, particularly now with Putin trying to control the narrative on his war in Ukraine.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that has been a problem, Wolf, really, since the war started. You may remember that a few weeks after the war began, there was a new national security law that was passed in Russia that basically made it a crime to call the war in Ukraine an invasion. Even to call it a war was supposed to be the special military operation that Putin had named it.

Most major news organizations, American news organizations, pulled a lot of their reporters or all of them at that time for fear that their own coverage would lead those reporters to be prosecuted. That didn't happen. And you've seen reporters begin to filter back in. I suspect that with this nightmare unfolding, a lot of news organizations are now going to be recalculating the risks that are involved with having reporters there.

You know, there are a lot of echoes to the Cold War here. This is very different than the Cold War, this era, for the reasons that Jim described before. But this sounds a lot like the case of Nick Daniloff, who was a U.S. news reporter who was arrested in 1986 and basically had been handed some documents at the last minute, one of which appeared to be classified and was immediately arrested. It was a complete set up.

[17:10:07] BLITZER: Yes, I remember that as well.

Natasha Bertrand, I know you're covering this in depth for us. Russia seems to be ruling out the prospect of a prisoner swap, at least for now. So what's the next step for the United States?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. What we've heard all day from the State Department and the White House is that they are trying extremely hard at this point to get consular access to this journalist. That is their main priority at this point. They want to essentially make contact with him so that they can figure out what kind of condition he's in, what the arrest was like, what kind of charges he is actually being detained on, because all we have heard so far from the Russians, of course, is that this vague charge of espionage. So getting that access to him is going to be really key.

And then as a next step, the administration will have to determine whether or not he is considered wrongfully detained. And that is a special designation that the State Department makes that once they do, it essentially opens up a whole lot of resources that the administration can then do to kind of make a plan, make a strategic plan to try to get him back. It then would go to the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

Essentially, if they make this determination, then he would be considered a hostage who would be wrongfully detained in Russia. And that will open up a lot of avenues for the administration to pursue here.

But ultimately, I think the Paul Whelan case, of course, he has been detained in Russia for over four years for espionage is really instructive here. Paul Whelan, of course, was detained for over a year before he even had his trial on espionage charges. It was held very much cloaked in secrecy and the whole process was extremely dragged out and extremely secret. So I think that it's likely here that the administration's options are very limited moving forward, but there are some steps that they can take to kind of get the ball rolling here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, let me get back to Jim Sciutto. Jim, just last week, as you know, the U.S. announced these charges against a suspected Russian spy who gathered information here in the United States under a fake name. Is the fear Russia is now targeting and smearing this American journalist from the Wall Street Journal in retaliation?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, the timing is telling here and that tit for tat nature of something like taking a U.S. -- a Russian national here and a U.S. national there also as so many of these phenomena lately has echoes of the Cold War, right? And you see that in other realms too, things like encounters in airspace, right? Russian jets scramble to intercept U.S. jets and the same happens on the other side. It's exactly this kind of escalation in military terms, in diplomatic terms that U.S. officials I speak with, European officials note with caution and alarm that that's the state of this relationship and the trend line on the relationship is going in a bad direction, right? And you have a lot of folks who pay the price. And here we have an American journalist caught in the middle of it right now.

BLITZER: Yes. So sad.

You know, David, I'm curious, what will you be watching for specifically as all of this unfolds?

SANGER: Well, a few things. The first is the State Department was very careful today not to mention the espionage charge, because what they're trying to do is avoid getting this sort of settled in and inconcrete as an espionage charge. Because once it is, then it becomes a question of, you know, returning spy for spy, which goes to your conversation just now with Jim about whether or not this is in response to the arrest of a Russian last week.

The second thing I think you're going to see the State Department try to do is see if they could get it resolved quickly before it gets into the court process. That's what happened in the Daniloff case, they got them out in a number of weeks. But that has not been the recent experience, not with the Brittney Griner case, not with the Paul Whelan case. And that's the big concern right now.

BLITZER: It's a huge concern. All right, guys, thank you very, very much. We'll, of course, stay on top of the story.

There's more breaking news coming up. Manhattan prosecutors are now probing hush money payments that Donald Trump allegedly made to another woman. We'll have details right after the breakup.



BLITZER: Following breaking news right now, sources tell CNN the Manhattan district attorney in the Trump hush money probe is now asking about payments made to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid is working her sources for us.

What are you learning, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've learned that during the investigation into hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels, investigators have also asked about a different hush money scheme involving Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal specifically, they've asked at least one witness about a $150,000 payment made to McDougal ahead of the 2016 election.

Now, this is interesting because the big question is whether prosecutors are looking for a pattern here of what are called catch and kill schemes, where the publisher of the National Enquirer would buy stories and then not publish them. Now, CNN has previously published a recording where you can hear then candidate Trump talking to his then personal attorney, Michael Cohen, about how to carry out this hush money payment with McDougal. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: You never know where that company -- you never know where he's going to be --


COHEN: Correct. So, I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it when it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: Listen, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.


COHEN: No, no, no, no, no, I got. No, no, no.


REID: Now former President Trump had a long history with his friend David Pecker, who was the head of the company that published the National Enquirer of trying to kill, not favorable stories and publish favorable ones. Now, of course, David Pecker was before the grand jury in New York on Monday. It was his second time cooperating with investigators in this investigation. But at this point, we don't know if prosecutors questioned him trying to establish a pattern or exactly whether they asked about this particular hush money scheme as well. We've reached out to former President Trump's attorneys, and they have declined to comment.


BLITZER: All right, Paula, standby. I want to bring in also CNN Defense Attorney Shan Wu and CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers. I want them to join this conversation.

Jennifer, let me start with you. What does it reveal to you that the Manhattan District Attorney's office now appears to be broadening its focus to include yet another hush money scheme?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it could mean a couple of things, Wolf. It could mean that they think that they can charge this scheme the way that they may be looking to charge the Stormy Daniels scheme. I don't know what happened with the Karen McDougal payments in terms of perhaps being on the books and whether they were misrepresented. So they could be looking to expand to do another count of that same charge that we've been talking about. Or they could be exploring that, because if they do charge the misdemeanor that we've been talking about and turn it into a felony by using a campaign finance violation, they will need to prove that there was a benefit to the campaign as opposed to just something to cover up, something that we personally embarrassing.

And the evidence around the catch and kill with Karen McDougal does establish that was done in connection with the election. So that suggests that the Stormy Daniels one was also pursuant to the election. So, it could be one of those two things. We're not quite sure yet which way it's going to go if in fact they're looking to do either of those things with the Karen McDougal piece.

BLITZER: Let me let Shan Wu weigh in. Shan, do you think this is a smart decision on behalf of the New York prosecutors?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely. I mean, if the decision is that they are looking at either bringing in evidence of the McDougal payment as what prosecutors will call other crimes evidence or charging it, which makes it evidentially easier to bring in. That would definitely be a smart move.

As Jennifer was just saying, it may shore up a potential weakness or counter a defense Trump might make that it was for personal reasons, not campaign reasons. And most importantly, when you show a pattern of conduct to a jury, that's very, very damning evidence against the defendant. So, the more that they bring here, the more pairings they may have to change that misdemeanor into a felony, but also the more damning the evidence becomes because it looks like a whole pattern of behavior on Trump's part.

BLITZER: Yes, it looks like it. Paula, David Pecker, who testified before the grand jury earlier this week, certainly has knowledge of both of these payments, right?

REID: Absolutely. And we know his appearance Monday was likely part of an effort by prosecutors to clean up after attorney Robert Costello was requested to testify before the grand jury by defense attorneys. His role was to attack the credibility of Michael Cohen and also undermine Cohen's narrative about how these hush money payments came to be arranged.

Now, Pecker is absolutely a witness who would have intimate knowledge of how these payments came to be, how they were executed. Now, he previously spoke with investigators back in January, and as we knew, they wanted to button up their case before moving on to a possible vote on a possible indictment. It wasn't a big surprise to see Pecker there Monday.

BLITZER: Jennifer, does this help explain why the grand jury there in New York has not yet voted on whether to actually indict the former president?

RODGERS: You know, it's possible, Wolf. But what I keep thinking about with respect to this delay, as we're calling it, is that the only person who ever said the indictment was going to come last week was Donald Trump.

It may be, frankly, all along that the Manhattan D.A. was not quite done with their case and always intended that an indictment would be sought after this break that they're apparently taking in April. So I'm not at all sure that anything has changed. But sure, it could be that, in fact, they are expanding the case or putting in additional evidence along the lines of this Karen McDougal catch and kill. So, if in fact, there is a delay, this could be the reason for the delay. BLITZER: Do you expect, Paula, that the grand jury there may need to hear from additional witnesses as part of this latest line of questioning?

REID: It's certainly possible, Wolf. And one thing about grand juries is it's a very secretive process. Knew the grand jury was meeting today. They weren't expected to hear additional evidence in the Trump case.

But it's also possible that they're done hearing evidence, and prosecutors could potentially want to move forward with a vote on an indictment either today or when they're expected to meet Monday or Wednesday. But after Wednesday, they have a previously scheduled break. Now, some outlets have really leaned in and said, look, nothing is going to happen this month. But we've been a little more cautious in our reporting, saying, look, we expect them to meet today, Monday and Wednesday, and it's unclear whether they'll do anything related to the Trump case.

BLITZER: All right, Paula Reid, Jennifer Rodgers, Shan Wu, guys, thank you very much. Don't go too far away.

An important note to our viewers. I'll be interviewing the former Vice President Mike Pence one-on-one later tonight. We'll cover a wide range of topics, including 2024 and all the Trump investigations. You can see it tonight on CNN primetime 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, we'll hear dramatic new 911 calls from the Nashville School shooting that were just released. Plus, I'll talk with the mayor of Nashville about the investigation as more evidence is being made public.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We have major breaking news, indeed, historic breaking news right now. CNN's Kara Scannell is in New York for us, covering this story. What are you learning, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, three sources tell me and my colleague John Miller that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted former president Donald Trump in connection with the hush money payment scheme. This indictment is under seal according to sources and the exact charges are not yet known at this time, but this investigation has been going on for a long time.

The decision to move and seek, and get an indictment of a former president is the first time that has been done in US history. This could have a significant impact on the presidential campaign.

But as I said, we do not know the exact charges yet. We expect those charges to be made public in the coming days. And at some point in the near future, former President Trump will have to come to this courthouse and be arraigned. Wolf?

BLITZER: The grand jury did meet today, even though they're taking a break next week and for a few weeks thereafter, they did meet today. Presumably, they could have voted on this indictment today, is that right?

SCANNELL: Yes. Wolf, according to my colleagues, we have observed prosecutors going into the room where the grand jury meets. They were meeting today. We were told. It was not scheduled to hear any testimony on the Trump investigation. But they have been working diligently since January hearing witness testimony, and it was up to prosecutors to decide if they were going to move forward indictment and when to ask that grand jury to vote.

It appears they went in and asked them to vote today and that they were in there late this afternoon. This grand jury meets until 5:00 PM. It appears as though this vote came down just in the past couple of minutes within the last hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very dramatic development indeed. First time, as you say, in American history that a former president of the United States has been formally indicted in a criminal investigation.

Let's go to our senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, who's also following these developments. What else are you learning, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm actually texting with one of the former president's attorneys right now. As of several minutes ago, they had not been told by prosecutors about this indictment. But we're talking about conduct that occurred about seven years ago. This has been under investigation for approximately five years.

But in recent months, this investigation has heated up once again. We've seen a parade of high profile witnesses, close associates of the former president going before the grand jury to testify. And there was anticipation that this investigation was finally coming to an end. As Kara and John just reported here's, the grand jury has voted to indict.

Now, the district attorney has been under some pressure. He has been criticized by some for not pursuing this more aggressively. And then, when this investigation heated up again, some people questioned whether he should go ahead with this, arguing that this was not one of the more significant investigations the former president would face.

Clearly today, they moved forward with the grand jury to get an indictment. As it has been explained to us by the DA's office, what will happen next is that is expected to be filed under seal. And then they will have to negotiate a self-surrender from the former president.

Now, we've been told by his legal team that he is expected to fully cooperate. And the last time we spoke to them, it appeared that the former president absolutely wanted to appear in person and fully participate in the process of being fingerprinted, photographed, going before a judge as any other citizen would. The former president appears to believe that this is an advantageous thing for him politically. So it'll be interesting to see what the terms of this self-surrender are.

BLITZER: So he would have to actually show up and be fingerprinted, and go through that entire process like any normal US citizen would have to go through if they were indicted, right?

REID: Exactly. But there are, of course, extraordinary circumstances here because he has Secret Service protection. There are significant security concerns. You can see right there behind Kara. I mean, this is a very crowded area of Downtown Manhattan. That courthouse is a circus on a good day. So there are absolutely security concerns here. But politically, it appears the former president wants to lean into this, wants to appear in person and really make a thing out of this because he believes that politically, this indictment could help him.

BLITZER: It's truly a major development unfolding in New York right now. Let me get Gloria Borger into this. Gloria, what do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think this is historic. I think we've never seen a former president be indicted before. And I think that while the circumstances of this case, as we all know, are a bit tawdry and some, particularly in the legal profession, are saying, look, it's not as important as what might be coming down the pike in terms of the Atlanta grand jury and election interference, and in terms of the documents at Mar-a-Lago.

This, nonetheless, an indictment is something that Donald Trump has evaded for years and years. And it would be the first time. And I think it is something that Donald Trump clearly intends to use to his benefit, at least with his base early on in this election season. But we're going to have to watch this play out before our eyes as he has to be booked and charged. I think that's going to be remarkable for the American public to see.

People are going to have different interpretations of it. He's going to claim he's the victim, et cetera, et cetera. We need to look at the indictment. We need to look at what it says. But it is a moment in history, Wolf.


BLITZER: It certainly is a very, very dramatic and historic moment indeed. Kaitlan Collins has covered Trump for several years now. She's joining us. What else are you learning, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I mean, the President's legal team had been bracing for this, the former President's legal team. They knew that this was likely something that could happen. He himself, of course, has been bracing for it ever since he said that he believed last Tuesday he was going to essentially be arrested. Obviously, it did not happen at that time.

They didn't really have a window into what the timing here was going to look like. They obviously were operating under what we had heard as of yesterday, which was that there was potentially going to be a hiatus for this grand jury. But now, obviously this has happened. And so the question is, what happens next? Because his attorneys have said that he will surrender, that he will fly his plane here to New York to go through the -- fingerprinted and photographed for the next steps of what an indictment looks like. We don't know how soon that will happen. It could take several days.

But they have been planning do a very delicate or intricate detail, I should note, level of what that is going to look like. Talking about the kind of facial expression he has as he's walking into the courthouse, if it is in front of the cameras, as typically is the case here in Manhattan. Because they know that is going to be an image that is broadcast around the world. They know it's going to be something they believe, as Paula was saying, to his political advantage that he can use as he is running this third campaign for president.

But I think we have heard this refrain from some people in recent days that say he actually wants to be indicted. They think it'll be good for him. He does not want to be indicted, certainly not for this case. This is one of the most personally sensitive situations for him. It was ever when he was in the White House, and there was reporting on this on a daily basis on who made these payments and who knew about these payments. Because it involved allegations about an affair and it was something that greatly bothered the First Lady Melania Trump, at the time.

And so, it is a very sensitive case, actually, for Trump. And I think the idea that he wanted to be indicted does not match with any of the reporting that I've had. But it is a historic nature that he is now the first US president, former US president to face criminal charges.

BLITZER: Yes. It's really a dramatic moment indeed. Kristen Holmes, our national correspondent, is also working her stories -- her sources for us. What else are you learning, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I've just heard from a number of members of Trump's inner circle who are all trying to figure out exactly what's going on. As Paula said, they have not yet heard from their attorneys. They have not gotten the information yet in order to proceed, but we are waiting for a statement on that.

And I do want to talk about what Kaitlan just mentioned, which is this intricate detail of what it looks like to bring Donald Trump to the courthouse. They are looking at how exactly this is going to play out. There is a huge security component. There is also an optics component. They are talking about, as Kaitlan said, facial expressions. They're also talking about when is he going to make a statement, who is he going to make that statement to, where is that going to be.

And last week, we reported that in the heat of all of this, that Trump had really run the gamut of emotions, and he had resigned himself to the fact that he was likely to get indicted. However, some of that did shift in recent days. I talked to some people who are close to Trump, who had talked to the former president, who said, because of the fact that the grand jury wasn't meeting because of this reporting, that they were hearing another case, because all that came after Costello's testimony in front of the grand jury. There was some hope there that maybe this meant this wasn't going to happen.

Again, as Kaitlan said, this is not something that the former president wants. And even though we hear spin all the time from Republicans, from the former president himself, who says that this is going to help him politically, which it does appear in some cases it might in a contested primary there, there are still a lot of Trump allies and advisers, people who are close to him, who want him to win the nomination and the presidency in 2024, who don't think that this will help him in the long run, or at least are very concerned about what this is going to do with his political career.

BLITZER: It's clear. Go ahead.

BORGER: Wolf, let me just add that I've just heard that not only was the president not informed, as you guys were reporting, but also Michael Cohen's team was not informed of this in advance. And so, I think everyone's been kind of kept in the dark on both sides of this.

BLITZER: A very dramatic moment indeed. Michael Cohen, the former fixture and lawyer for Trump who has now been cooperating. Paula Reid, I know you're getting more information as well. What else are you learning?

REID: Yes. Forgive me as I keep looking down at my phone, connecting with sources. But to Gloria's point, the former president's legal team has now been informed of this indictment. And we're previously told by the Manhattan District Attorney's office that the way this would play out would be the grand jury would vote on an indictment, it would be filed under seal, and then they would notify defense attorneys that there had been an indictment, but not necessarily the charges. They told me about ten days ago that they really wanted to treat this as they would any other case.

But of course, one of the biggest questions, Wolf, right now is what exactly are the charges here? There's been a lot of speculation about what exactly the case would look like, would it be a misdemeanor, would it be a felony, would it be a series of charges? That's what we're trying to figure out right now.


And it'll be interesting to know, I'm asking his attorneys, if they were informed of the specific charges, because that was not the plan that prosecutors had at least as of several days ago. And the next step will be this process of negotiating a self-surrender. But unlike ordinary citizens, this requires New York law enforcement to participate, to make sure that they can secure wherever they intend to do this.

Now, while the former president says he wants to go through the process like anyone else, kind of make a show of it's not clear that logistically and in terms of safety that will be possible. They may have to make some special arrangements here, certainly exigent circumstances when you have the former leader of the free world walking through a facility like this. BLITZER: Important points indeed. Maggie Haberman is joining us right now. Maggie, you've covered Trump for years as well. You know this man. You know how he feels. Give us more information. I know you're getting more information as well.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And this caught Mar-a- Lago and caught Trump advisers very much by surprise. They had been believing the idea that the grand jury was out for a month, which was widely reported. It was not entirely clear whether that was going to be the case. As it turns out, it was not, based on our reporting. They are in something of shock.

I think they will move past that fairly quickly. I think you will see Trump get very aggressive about Bragg. We don't know exactly what the charges are yet, so that adds an element of uncertainty to it.

But this is not a moment Donald Trump wanted. It's a moment that he's been avoiding for many, many, many decades, is being indicted criminally. It may help him politically, Wolf. There are reasons to believe this case in particular could with his base, but nobody wants an indictment, and Donald Trump is not an exception and now this sets in motion a series of actions.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right, Maggie. No one wants to be criminally charged with an indictment. Now, the former President of the United States is about to be criminally charged with an indictment.

Norm Eisen, you're our legal analyst. Walk us through what Trump should now expect.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, Trump will now need to receive the indictment, and he will need to decide if he is going to show up and plead, as almost every defendant does, or if he's going to fight it. You've heard the reporting that he will show up.

But, Wolf, what he should expect is the treatment that any defendant gets when they're accused of a serious crime. And all indications here are that this is no mere salacious hush money account. This is allegations of keeping false books and records in order to conceal a campaign finance contribution. These payments were done, in part at least, to aid the campaign.

If that is how it develops, that's a felony in New York, Wolf, and it's a serious matter given the closeness of that 2016 election, a serious democracy matter. So he should expect to be treated accordingly.

BLITZER: He'll be treated like any American citizen if he's formally criminally charged with an indictment. Maggie Haberman, let me get your thoughts. I know you got to run soon, but tell me what else Trump will be doing as we anticipate these charges will be presented to him very, very soon.

HABERMAN: Sure. Well, if they're still digesting the news down at Mar- a-Lago, they really were caught very much by surprise by the fact of this happening. I can't stress that enough. Now will come the delicate arrangements around a surrender, which Trump's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, said he is going to do willingly. We have heard that from other people around him as well with Trump you obviously never know.

Surrender in any form is not something Donald Trump likes to do, I think, let alone this one. But that is where we are going to go with this next, and that will, I suspect, happen in the coming days. And I think Trump will try to use the weekend to sway public opinion as much as possible.

That's his go to move, Wolf. It has always been his go to move, is to try to shape public opinion and use that to force events. He was trying it with what was essentially an intimidation campaign against Alvin Bragg in the last two weeks. It clearly did not work.

BLITZER: Certainly did not work. This indictment about to be formally presented to the former President of the United States. And you're in New York, Maggie, I take it security has been beefed up dramatically over these past several days.

HABERMAN: Well, security had been beefed up and then it seemed as if it had receded a bit. There were some reports a little bit earlier today that there might have been some increase happening. I certainly expect, if it has not happened already. It will in the coming days, because nobody knows how this is going to play out.

I will note that Trump previously called on his supporters to protest. "Take our nation back' was the quote that he put on Truth Social. Very few people showed up to protest because very few people wanted to do anything to jeopardize themselves, especially after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.


That could change with the actuality of an indictment. That's what a lot of this is dependent on, because Trump's supporters have heard so many times for the last six years that he was in trouble and then he wasn't. I think that this just didn't feel like a reality, and we'll see if now it does.

BLITZER: You've covered Trump for years and, Maggie, you know him well. How much does this bruise his ego, especially unfolding in his backyard of Manhattan?

HABERMAN: I think two things, Wolf. I think there's no question that for somebody who made his bones in this city, his image was built brick by brick of news stories in this city. He considered Robert Morgenthal one of Alvin Bragg's predecessors, a personal friend. He was very clear about that with me in an interview that I did with him for a book I wrote about him. I think this has a very significant effect.

I also think that, you know, he was very, very horrified, for lack of a better word, watching Allen Weisselberg, his former chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, taken away by officers when he surrendered, when he was indicted in 2021. And Allen Weisselberg is about Trump's age, I think a little bit younger. Trump is not looking forward to this. I think there is a real world effect here, and then there is the internal effect.


COLLINS: Yes. Wolf, can I just add to that? That moment with Allen Weisselberg is something that Trump has brought up repeatedly in private, noting the fact that it was someone that he had known and worked with for such a long time, was part of his organization for such a long time. They had this storied history together.

And to watch what happened to him, I think really shook Trump. I mean, he often brought it up, still brings it up to this day, not just publicly on Truth Social, but at dinners, at private dinners with friends and private conversations, it's often talking about his own investigation. So it is a moment that actually shook him. And I do think that is something that he has been considering and thinking about in recent weeks, as this has become a very reality for him, that this is also something that could likely tap into him, that this arrest, this indictment, is something that was in his future.

And they were bracing for it last week. They kind of had been under this impression down at Mar-a-Lago that it could happen any moment. They were making the preparations for what that would look like. It seemed to hit a lull. And Trump has this idea sometimes that if he goes and speaks, or if he speaks publicly about something that he can bend things toward his will. I think you saw that at his rally in Waco, Texas as he spent a large chunk of time talking about these investigations and talking about how he believes he's been treated unfairly.

He even briefly entertained the idea of going before the grand jury, something that no attorney would recommend for their client because he does have this idea that he can shape people's opinions and change their views on things. Obviously, that has not happened here. And there are big questions about what this case actually looks like going forward. It's not a slam dunk, as you've heard from many legal experts. The idea that this is actually happening, I think, is something that they had tried to push off for as long as possible.

BLITZER: Yes. They tried and tried, and tried but they clearly now have failed. This criminal indictment is about to be presented to Trump, and the legal process will move forward. Very, very serious developments as well.

Shan Wu, you're a former prosecutor. Walk us through what Trump should now expect.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, also expect that his lawyers are going to have to arrange for him to do a self-surrender. And this question of whether he does a big publicity stunt with a perp walk, that's something that they'll have to work out. I don't think that's going to be completely in his control. It's going to between the DA's, Secret Service, New York Police Department.

I just want to say what Kaitlan was pointing out about him being so affected by Weisselberg. I just find it interesting he didn't seem to be so moved or pained by Michael Cohen actually going to jail for this very crime. And it's Cohen now. It's going to be a central witness against him. And he's going to have to be faced with the question of how does he prepare for this reality with his legal team?

I mean, will they even consider a guilty plea if something is offered? We don't really know how much leverage the DA has on him. He's going to learn that when they get a copy of the indictment. The movement we've been hearing about, the possible second charge with McDougal, even what we've heard about possible pressure on Weisselberg.

We don't know if that's already been charged, and even if it hasn't, of course, there's still the possibility of a superseding indictment. So now that this first step has been taken, it's a lot of pressure that's just going to keep on rolling down towards them.

BLITZER: Indeed, Shan, it's just the first step, criminal indictment of Trump. But the charges, we don't specifically know. We haven't been briefed on that yet, but I assume we will be getting that information fairly soon. But then the prosecutors in Manhattan, the District Attorney, Shan, they have to prove the case. And by all account, that's not necessarily going to be all that simple, is it?


WU: Well, I think the factual part of proving it is relatively simple. I mean, they've got the documents to show it. They've got Michael Cohen to corroborate that and explain how it happened. They have Pecker, possibly, and they also may have Stormy Daniels.

I think what you're alluding to, Wolf, is the question of how persuasive can all that be. And so, when you have somebody like a Michael Cohen who has some baggage, she has a conviction, always they are attacked. He's been quite consistent, although rather verbose, he's been quite consistent. There's also an inherent bias towards someone like Stormy Daniels. I mean, she's female, she's in the adult film industry. And so, the prosecutors will be worried about overcoming that bias too.

But it's not a factually difficult case to put forth but there are some credibility humps they have to get over. And I would also expect that Trump's team will try to come up with just an avalanche of pretrial type motions, trying to knock down some of the legal theories from a legal standpoint, once we know what they are.

BLITZER: I assume, Shan, correct me if I'm wrong, the district attorney and the other prosecutors in Manhattan right now, they must believe they have a slam dunk case because you don't formally charge, criminally charge a former president of the United States unless you're 100% convinced you've got the evidence to win.

WU: Absolutely. I think they are 100% convinced that they can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm sure they wouldn't agree it's a slam dunk case. Nothing ever is when you have to go before a jury. But I'm quite positive that they think they have a very strong case in terms of evidence. BLITZER: Let me get David Chalian, our political director, into this

conversation. David, what do you think? How is this going to play out politically? He's now running for election. He wants to be the next president of the United States again. How is this going to play out?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, the real answer to that is nobody knows because we've never been in this circumstance before. But we've seen how the Trump team has been preparing this to try and feed into this political cycle, to use this case as a rallying cry for the base, to start injecting the notion that this should be seen as election interference, that a prosecutor would actually charge or indict him for crimes in this matter.

Now, obviously, it's not election interference, but my point is that while we do not know how voters will respond to this, we have seen time and again Trump able to portray himself a victim for his core supporters, and use that as a moment for them to come out in their most vociferous support for him. And that's what he has been hoping to do. It's what we saw him down in Waco. Kristen Holmes was down there covering that. It's what we've seen him do on his social media for the last several weeks, as they've been anticipating this announcement.

So the Trump's team is to actually employ this as a political tactic while also very much dealing with something, as Kaitlan and Maggie were noting, that nobody on earth would want to have to be dealing with.

BLITZER: Absolutely. Kristen Holmes, you've been doing excellent reporting on all of this. Were they totally surprised, the Trump legal team and the Trump aides close to him, that this criminal indictment was coming forward tonight?

HOLMES: Yes. I talked to a number of sources close to Trump who say that they were blindsided by the fact that this happened. Tonight, they were following the same news reports that many others were, that the grand jury was not meeting on this topic, that they were then going to take a break, and they thought that there was going to be at least a month long period in which they would not really have to worry about this.

They have been on pins and needles for the last two weeks as they tried to figure out how exactly to react to this. As David mentioned, they have taken a very offensive approach in terms of going after Bragg, going after the charges, calling it a witch hunt, riling up his base.

But they were not expecting this to happen tonight. Now they are getting everything together, trying to figure out exactly what this means and what this looks like.

As we noted when we reported this, Paula said that Trump's lawyer had not even been informed yet that this had happened, meaning, of course, his team down in Mar-a-Lago had not been informed either. So now the big question is, how do they prepare for the next steps of this? What does that look like? What does bringing him in front of a courthouse look like? And as all of our amazing reporters have said, this is a very complicated situation because there is a huge security component. Even if Trump wants to stop and talk to reporters outside of the courthouse, is that even possible for a man, a former president of the United States of America who has a Secret Service detail in New York City? So these are all things that they are going to have to take into consideration as they plan their response to this indictment, something that they were not expecting to happen today.


BLITZER: Go ahead.

BORGER: My question here really is sort of how is Donald Trump's team and Donald Trump himself going to turn what is a personal grievance into a grievance that his supporters can relate to, aside from being the victim here? I think we heard of that in Donald Trump's speech over the weekend, which is, if they can do this to me, they can do this to you.

BLITZER: Trump and his supporters will really try to turn this whole thing around. We just got a statement, guys, and I want to read it for our viewers. A statement from Michael Cohn, former President Trump's former lawyer and fixture, let me read it to our viewers. And this is a direct quote.

For the first time in our country's history, a president, current or former, of the United States has been indicted. I take no pride in issuing this statement and wish to also remind everyone of the presumption of innocence as provided by the Due Process Clause. However, this is Michael Cohen, more of a statement. I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law, not even a former president. He adds this, today's indictment is not the end of this chapter but rather just the beginning. Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself. The two things I wish to say at this time is that accountability matters. And I stand by my testimony and the evidence I have provided to the district attorney in New York. That's from Michael Cohen, trump's former lawyer and fixture, who himself went to jail in connection with all of this.

And, Gloria, let me get your reaction.

BORGEN: Well, I think that's not unexpected from Michael Cohen. I want to add that his attorney, Lanny Davis, just issued a statement as well, saying that Cohen made the brave decision to speak truth to power and accept the consequences, and he has done so ever since. I'm proud to be his lawyer and his friend.

And so, you know, this has been a long journey for Michael Cohen. He did go to jail. As an attorney, he's talking here about presumption of innocence, which Michael Cohen does not like Donald Trump in any way, shape or form. So I think he's trying to say, look, he's got to go through what I went through. He's got to go to a trial. He's got to be convicted or not convicted. And I think for Michael Cohen, this is a certain amount of vindication, I would have to say. Again, we don't know what the indictment is. We don't know what it says. And, of course, Donald Trump has been denying this affair with Stormy Daniels, so we'll have to see what his response is and how he makes it somehow larger than himself.

BLITZER: I want to get Kaitlan Collins reaction as well. Go ahead, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: I just want to note, as we are waiting to see what the actual charges are, what Trump does next, you know, does he give a speech when he comes here to New York, as they had been throwing around, tossing around this idea. His expected attacks on Alvin Bragg, which we know they will say this is politically motivated, we're already hearing it from Republicans responding to this.

To hear that statement that you just read from Michael Cohen, and to see where things are now, given how close Trump and Michael Cohen used to be, is just remarkable. I was covering the White House, Trump's first year in office, and we would run into Michael Cohen on the White House grounds. He had just had lunch with Melania Trump, he had told us.

And to see him go from that moment of how close he was to where he was in the residence of the White House, to now here he is, of course, after his testimony on Capitol Hill, after his own plea, after we've seen all of that, is just remarkable in and of itself. To see someone who is so close to Trump that, yes, he was his attorney, Trump doesn't like the idea that he's referred to as his former fixer, but that is essentially what he did day in and day out for Trump. Not always with a lot of thanks from Trump, but it was a remarkably close relationship.

And so, to see that it has transformed from that to where he is now commenting on this indictment vote from a grand jury here in Manhattan, is just remarkable in and of itself. Of course, so many questions about how this plays into Trump's campaign. We don't know that it'll be helpful to him. A lot of Republicans do think it is going to be something that is helpful to him, that he's able to celebrate, basically to a degree. Alan Dershowitz, who is very close to Trump, is speculating right now that he could use his mug shot potentially for campaign purposes. That all remains to be seen.

But just being in this moment and to see how Michael Cohen played such a key role in this, given how close he used to be to the Trump family, is remarkable in and of itself and worth highlighting.

BORGER: It's almost Shakespearean, right, because he would do anything and told me many times he would do anything for Donald Trump. And sort of key to the limits of their relationship as you go back in history was recent history, was when Donald Trump didn't bring him to the White House. And that was a big. And that was a big clue that all was not well. BLITZER: Yes. The fact that Allen Weisselberg is now involved as well.

He was the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization for so many years. Every time I went up there, before he became president, I would see Allen Weisselberg walking around. Everybody, stand by.