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Sources: Trump Will Go To N.Y. Monday ahead Of Tuesday Arraignment; Sources: Trump Facing 30 Plus Counts Related To Business Fraud; Source: Secret Service To Check Magnetometers At Manhattan Courthouse Ahead Of Trump Arrival; Trump Slams Indictment As A Politically Motivated "With Hunt"; Former V.P. Pence To CNN: Indictment Of Trump Is An "Outrage"; Many GOP Lawmakers Rallying Behind Trump After Indictment; Rep. Jason Crow, (D-CO), Is Interviewed About Trump's Indictment. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, urgent courthouse preparations are underway right now for the unprecedented arraignment of former President Donald Trump. We're learning more about how and when Trump will face the historic criminal charges returned by a New York grand jury. And as the NYPD sends more officers into the streets of New York, the U.S. Secret Service is playing an active role in planning for Trump's court appearance. This as Trump is holed up right now at Mar-a-Lago in Florida rallying his supporters and lashing out at the prosecutor.

And we're following breaking news on the tornado danger right now in the Midwest and parts of the south as twisters are spotted in Arkansas and Illinois. Millions are under a rare high risk storm. We'll alert right now.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we start with the breaking news. A very dangerous tornado outbreak is tearing across the Midwest and south right now, with millions and millions of Americans under a rare high risk storm alert. Let's check in with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, give us the latest.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, about an hour ago, we had a tornado that rolled through Little Rock. We do know that there is damage there. We do know that the tornado was on the ground for quite a long time. It did move across the northwest part of the city.

And this tornado is likely either still on the ground or still making some damage with hail. Farther to the north, a completely separate situation going on here. Hail and also rotating storms not that far from Chicago and more to the west into Iowa. A ton more Iowa a tornado very close to you, don't know whether it hit the town or not or just to the north and northeast of the town, but it's still on the ground right now. The tornado was still on the ground at this hour.

A rural area when you get away from a tumbler but a tumbler is not kind of a rural community. There are quite a few people that live there.

We have tornado watches all the way from Texas all the way to Chicago. Chicago, you could get severe weather tonight and snow tomorrow. That's how volatile this entire system is.

In the red, this is the floor from here, this is the four out of five. But these pink areas here you mentioned it, five out of five. This is kind of a precursor to a tornado watch. It gives meteorologists a chance a couple of days in advance to find out where the high risk areas are. And we only get these maybe two or three times a year. We haven't had one since 2021.

And big tornadoes are possible in this will be called hatched area could be EF two or threes on the ground. I wouldn't be afraid to bet that what moved through Little Rock was either a two or three. And the storms are still firing at this hour. Although this looks a little slow because I've zoomed out the picture around Little Rock. These storms, Wolf, are moving nearly 60 miles per hour.

And there's very little time once you get the warning for you to get to a place of safety. So keep that in mind. When you hear it, when you hear the warning go off, it's time to go, time for you pets, people and property, they need to be protected today because this is a volatile day and it's just getting going. It's only 4:00 in the central part of the U.S. So, we have a ways to go.

BLITZER: We certainly do, Chad. Don't go too far away. We're going to continue to monitor this breaking news, pretty serious situation unfolding.

But right now I want to get to the indictment of the former President Donald Trump. Planning for his court appearance is in high gear tonight. The arraignment of the former president promises to be unlike anything ever seen in this country. CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is just outside the courthouse in New York where we'll all unfold next week.

Walk us through, Paula, what to expect.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We expect that next Tuesday will former President Trump will make his initial appearance in this courthouse right behind me and he will go through a variation of the standard process, that includes fingerprinting, a mugshot and an initial appearance before a judge. Tuesday is also the day when the charges that have been filed against him will finally be revealed.

Look, this courthouse on an average day is extremely busy. So right now we know they are considering pausing all the other hearings that are scheduled for Tuesday to accommodate the former president.

I'm sure a lot of people are wondering how much of this will they be able to see. At this point we expect they will be able to see him on camera walking into the courtroom, but it's unclear if there will be cameras inside the courtroom. That is up to the judge. And this is a judge who historically has denied requests even for high profile cases.


And we've also learned that after this hearing, where the former president's legal team says they will fully cooperate, then they will begin what they described as a fight. One of Trump's lawyers spoke earlier today, Joe Tacopina, let's hear how he describes how he's going to approach this case.


JOE TACOPINA, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: President Trump will not take a plea deal in this case, it's not going to happen. There's no crime. I don't know if it's going to make the trial because we have substantial legal challenges that we have to do to front before we get to that point.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC ANCHOR: Long road ahead. Joe Tacopina, thank you for your time this morning. Good to see you.


REID: I was talking with Joe throughout the day, and look, their goal is to kill this case before it ever gets to trial.

BLITZER: Paula, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our legal and law enforcement analyst to continue this discussion.

And Elie Honig, I'll start with you. Can you walk us through how this will play out when Donald Trump is arraigned on Tuesday?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, even though the scene that we'll see next week will be unprecedented, in some ways what will actually happen in the courtroom is quite routine. It's the same kind of proceeding that happens hundreds of times a day in that courthouse. So after Donald Trump is fingerprinted and after his photograph is taken, as Paula said, he'll be presented in front of a judge. The judge, will at that point, unseal the indictment. That's when we in the public will get to see it. He will advise Donald Trump, these are the charges against you, the 30 plus charges.

Ask him how do you plead? Donald Trump will surely plead not guilty. And then the judge will consider ministerial issues like bail. Donald Trump clearly is going to be released on his own recognizance, meaning he's free to go, he just has to come back for his next court date. And then we will be into the motions phase that we just heard Donald Trump's lawyers talking about.

So this happens every day all day in this courthouse. And that's what will happen Tuesday.

BLITZER: Let me go to John Miller. John, you've been doing excellent reporting on all of this. I know you learned that Trump is facing 30 plus counts related to business fraud. What more can you tell us about that?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I think what you're seeing is the overarching charge is going to be falsification of business records. Where the 30 plus counts come from is, you know, the payments were made in multiple checks. So each check will be a count of falsified business records because the purpose is stated as one thing when it's supposed to be another. Each check came with an invoice, which, you know, sought payment for that, each one of those will be a different count. But I wouldn't read too much into the number of counts in that it doesn't affect either the sentencing or the seriousness of the overall charge, which is going to be this business records thing.

And, you know, there is the possibility of outside of the counts of the individual acts, you know, an overarching charge that this was done for the purposes of another crime, which could involve conspiracy. And that is in the part of this story that we haven't seen because it's sealed in the indictment.

BLITZER: Well, we will find out more as this -- we get closer to Tuesday.

Norm Eisen, does the sheer number of currents the former president is reported to be facing right now reveal anything to you?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does, Wolf. Charging these fraudulent business records is the bread and butter of D.A.s across the state of New York and in particular of the Manhattan D.A. So, what it suggests to me is that they are treating this case, as they would treat any case where you have a set of financial frauds. This is not disparate treatment for a former president, contrary to some who say it's political.

When you falsely book hush money payments, as legal fees, particularly if it's done to cover up another crime, and they're very serious campaign finance issues here, you are going to get charged in New York. Contrary to those who say it's novel, it's been this exact pattern has been charged again and again, false records to cover up campaign finance misconduct, we have to see the indictment, but it feels to me like they are doing what we're supposed to do in America, treating no one as being above the law.

BLITZER: And Paula, what do you expect to see from Trump's defense team in the coming days? Will there be pretrial motions, for example?

REID: We're not expecting any at this point. There was a question about whether they would make a motion to try to unseal this indictment earlier than Tuesday. But they told me that there's no real mechanism for them to do that, and that they don't intend to make -- being able to see this indictment a condition of surrender. Again, this is not, as Norm said, this is not unusual, because it's the former president. This is all pretty standard operating procedure.

BLITZER: Norm, let me get back to you. Michael Cohen certainly appears to be a central figure in this case, the former president's former lawyer and fixer. There are those legitimate questions about his credibility. Why do prosecutors feel so confident in Cohen as a witness?


EISEN: Well, Wolf, we investigated these hush money issues when I was doing the first impeachment because it may very well be that these payments had an effect on the 2016 election. It was such a close election just 70,000 votes across three states. So I met with Michael Cohen. I cross examined him.

I met with him a second time. I cross examined him again for hours. Since that time, I've discussed it with him many times, he has never wavered in his story. That's why I think prosecutors count on him. He is a complicated witness, but he's also corroborated by others. There's David Pecker, for example, who we know was just in the grand jury. And then there's a mountain of checks, documents, e-mails, texts, a tape of a conversation between Cohen and Trump.

If it were Cohen alone, you'd have questions. But Cohen plus never changing his story, plus all that other evidence makes him a strong witness that prosecutors can count on.

BLITZER: Let me bring Elie into this conversation. Elie, how are defense lawyers likely though, to attack Cohen's credibility?

HONIG: Wolf, there are real risks with calling Michael Cohen as a witness. I've gotten to know Michael Cohen, I respect the turnaround that he's made in his life. But we need to be clear about what's going to happen when he takes the stand. There is no avoiding the fact that Michael Cohen has been convicted of perjury. He's been convicted of financial fraud and tax fraud, having nothing to do with Donald Trump, by the way on his own, he did that.

There's no questioning the fact that Michael Cohen despises Donald Trump. Michael Cohen will not be a straight down the middle, impartial witness. He will be painted rightly, as very biased against Donald Trump. Also, Michael Cohen has said publicly to the media and to the federal government that there was nothing illegal about these hush money payments, that they were not designed to interfere with the election. This was when he was working for Trump. He's now going to have to take that back and say it was a lie.

And finally, Wolf, let's remember the United States Department of Justice after Michael Cohen's so called turnaround rejected him as a cooperating witness because they did not find him fully credible. So, I think his testimony is going to be crucial here. It is possible a jury credits in looking at the corroboration that Norm mentioned. He's -- but he's going to be a very risky witness.

BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by. Just ahead, we're going to have much more on the Trump indictment, including a closer look at the security preparations for his surrender next week in New York City.

And will stay on top of the tornado outbreak threatening millions of Americans right now. We just heard from the governor of Arkansas, who confirmed what he called significant damage already in the state.



BLITZER: More now on former President Trump's truly historic indictment and the unprecedented security preparations now underway as he prepares to surrender to authorities in New York City. Our Senior Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is live just outside the courthouse in Manhattan right now.

Shimon, tell our viewers what you're learning.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Wolf, certainly unprecedented security here at the courthouse. We're already seeing signs of that.

These are the court officers that are assigned to this courthouse, there are surrounding different parts of this building. And this is just up the street here from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office where we expect to see Donald Trump, the former president surrendering. It will be just up this street here, over here at one Hogan place at the entrance of the district attorney's office where we think we expect him to surrender. He will go into those doors, and then at that point, he will be under arrest and in the custody of the Manhattan DAs office and their detectives and investigators. And then he will go inside the building and then he will be taken over to the courthouse.

Significant is that we are already seeing barricades all across this building. There will be 24 hour security here, up 24 hours until the former president here appears. And that will continue. We also expect that the floor, the floor that the president is going to appear on, the 15th floor, that floor has been closed off to the public as they continue to secure this building. But certainly we expect to see more officers here, more court officers in the coming days as the city, as officials here prepare for this appearance, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of security, indeed. All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.

I want to bring in our Legal and Security experts for more analysis right now. And, John Miller, take us a little bit additionally, behind the scenes, what's going on in these meetings between the NYPD, the court officers, the U.S. Secret Service and others, a lot of folks, a lot of agencies involved.

MILLER: So, Wolf, today, they met together. And they did a step by step planning process. The route that they're choosing to take to the courthouse, what they need to do to secure different parts of that route, the route that they're going to take there and then the door that they're going to enter in, which elevator they're going to take up to the room where he's going to be booked in, and then the pathway they're going to follow to the courtroom, which is mostly private hallways and special elevators so that they can move safely through the building, avoiding most of the crowds.

As Paula reported, in the late afternoon or in the early afternoon, they're going to start to kind of bleed out the courthouse by shutting down other court proceedings early so that they can basically have a containment. Donald Trump is basically going to appear in a hallway that goes between a doorway in that courthouse for a very few seconds, go in, the arraignment will be quick. And then they have planned the route back.

Here's the wild card, which is they've got his in they've got his out and they've got their time schedule. That will be brief to, obviously his secret service detail it was a part of these meetings, but also to his attorneys and then they're going to decide is he going to leave the courthouse and hold a press conference later uptown? Is he going to do one outside the courthouse? That's still up in the air. But right now their plan is to bring him in, bring him out and take them, either to the airport or back to Trump Tower.


BLITZER: I'm really happy that Bill Bratton is joining us right now as well.

Commissioner, you served as the NYPD Commissioner, every member of the police department, and you know this well, some 35,000 police officers are reporting for duty in uniform now. How is the department preparing for these unprecedented next few days?

WILLIAM BRATTON, FORMER NYPD COMMISSIONER: Well, the only thing that's unprecedented about this event is the continuing indictment and arrest of a former president of United States. As far as these types of large scale events, the NYPD does this every day, dozens of times every day. So, this is well within the capacity and capabilities of the NYPD to handle. They are working very hard in collaboration with fusion centers around the country.

As John Miller has already reported, collaborating with certainly Secret Service, corner offices, they are in lower Manhattan. But there's an awful lot going on behind the scenes in terms of monitoring social media. What they are not -- what they are not concerned particularly with is what they know, what they are concerned with is what they don't know, the potential lone, Wolf, or in the dark, deep web that they might not be accessing, other things underway there that may be of concern.


BRATTON: In terms of the demonstrations, NYPD does a phenomenal job estimating size of crowds, pop up crowds, planned crowds. If this thing was going to be held anywhere in America, it's good that it's being held in New York because the NYPD has probably the most capabilities of any police department in the country to handle the unexpected. BLITZER: And you do -- you guys at the NYPD do an amazing job every year during the United Nations General Assembly when delegations are coming in from all over the world and security is enormous. I've covered those events for many, many years.

Elie, you spent years working in the plaza where this courthouse is located. Can you give us a sense of just how heavily secured this part of New York City is?

HONIG: Wolf, this is one of the most secure few acres you will find anywhere on the planet. If you stand in the middle of that plaza, you will be surrounded by one police plaza where Commissioner Bratton used to have his headquarters, which is the headquarters of the entire NYPD, by federal and state prisons, by federal and state prosecutors offices, by heavily fortified courthouses, by 26 federal plaza, which is the home base of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. I always felt safe there. I always felt secure there.

And the other thing is anybody who's thinking about going down there and causing trouble or committing any crime ought to take a lesson from the now over 1000 people who have been prosecuted for January 6. Hundreds and hundreds of those people are in prison right now for what they did. Part of the reason for those prosecutions is to send a deterrent message, don't even try it. And I hope people take that to heart.

BLITZER: And Commissioner Bratton, we're already seeing increasingly heated rhetoric, as you well know, from the former president and his supporters all across the country. How is that fueling concerns about security risks, potential security risks in New York?

BRATTON: Well, mirroring the events of January 6, where the rhetoric about the president and some of his supporters really got that crowd inflamed and encouraged to attack the Capitol, rhetoric here is going to be very important. I've already understand that a number of members of Congress, they're going to be on recess next week, they have nothing else to do. So some of them are planning to come up to New York and make fools of themselves and but their rhetoric has the potential to gin up their followers.

I'm reminded of the Jack Welch was alive and well in Paris fair play in the song, Send in the Clouds. Well, you're going to see a number of clouds coming out from Washington to basically try to get in front of your cameras next week to stir up that rhetoric. I would hope most Americans would understand exactly what it is it is rhetoric, and to basically pay no attention to it.

BLITZER: And potentially dangerous rhetoric, indeed.

All right, Commissioner Bratton, thank you very much. John Miller, Paula Reid, Elie Honig, guys, don't go too far away. We're staying on top of all of these developments.

Up next, the outrage from many congressional Republicans right now to Donald Trump's indictment, some calling it outrageous and an abuse of power. We'll get a live report from Capitol Hill as lawmakers are scrambling to come to Trump's defense.

Plus, we'll have the latest a major tornadoes system wreaking havoc across the Midwest and the South right now. Stay with us. We'll update you. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're tracking extremely dangerous weather threatening millions of Americans right now. Look at this video that's just coming in. Tornadoes already confirmed in Arkansas, Iowa and Illinois as severe storms rip across the United States. Let's check in again with our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's over at the CNN weather center.

Give us the latest, Chad.

MYERS: A large area of severe weather today, Wolf, Iowa, Illinois all the way down to Texas. Let's start up here to the north where we have tornadoes on the ground right now. Three separate tornadoes on the ground in Iowa as I speak. Also, we have hail coming down some as large as tennis balls reported by the public so far.

Farther down to the south into parts of Arkansas had a tornado roll through the northwestern suburbs of Little Rock, significant damage in those suburbs. And then across the river, across I40 and then on up toward, yes, the airport where the planes were actually sitting on the runway.

Here's your Little Rock radar right now moving to the east there, eventually even toward Memphis. To the north, we have significant weather moving towards Chicago. Severe weather here, Wolf, tomorrow, it'll be snowing in Chicago. That's because the cold air is wrapping in behind it.

Iowa City, you don't have a tornado warning for you yet, but one county to the southwest you do. And that tornado warning has a tornado on the ground. Iowa City, I want you preparing to move to your safe place right now. It may take you a little bit longer, but look at all of these storms, they are all rotating and they all have tornadoes on the ground right now. All three of those cells from Chicago to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, even almost to rolling fork where we had the damage just a week ago.

Now tomorrow, we actually get some severe weather into the northeast across the big cities here, a slight risk, not the risk we have today. I'm going to watch here, get out of the way of this time clock. See here, 7:00 tonight where the storms will be, pick out your city or where your loved ones are, where your parents or uncles are. But now I'm going to move you ahead, hour by hour by hour and see how that progresses across the Ohio Valley. This is a widespread long event.

Some of these tornadoes may be on the ground for 10s or more miles. And then by tomorrow afternoon, as we talked about, it does get through the Northeast. There will be some severe weather with likely trees down, power lines down in big cities across the Northeast. Not like we have today, this is the big weather out there today, this is little weather, but you have millions more people being involved, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, don't go too far away. We're staying on top of the weather. Obviously a very, very important story that we're watching.

Other news we're following, key Republican leaders right now are lining up to defend Donald Trump after his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury. The sign of the truly powerful grasp the former president still has on his Republican party. CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us live from Capitol Hill right now.

Melanie, the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other leaders are slamming this indictment. Tell our viewers what they're saying.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, Republicans are really racing to defend former president Donald Trump particularly in the House where he still has an enormous amount of influence. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, called the indictment an unprecedented abuse of power. He also said House Republicans are going to use their majority to hold Alvin Bragg accountable. We know several committees are already trying to take steps to investigate the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

Jim Jordan, one of those committee chairmen called this indictment outrageous. Elise Stefanik said it was an example of election interference. She's a member of GOP leadership. And she's also, I'm told, one of several allies who Donald Trump called last night in the wake of this indictment news.

And then there's Marjorie Taylor Greene, she's also a Trump ally, she's someone who's close to GOP leadership, she tweeted that she is actually going to go to New York City on Tuesday to protest this indictment. She also called it an "unconstitutional witch hunt."

But Wolf, we should mention that Republicans are making these claims without knowing the full scope of the charges or what evidence there is, none of us know this. In fact, Manu Raju press Congressman Barry Moore earlier today whether Republicans are jumping the gun but he pushed back and said this is something that they just believe is a political witch hunt. Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, Melanie House Republican leader is clearly coming to Trump's defense, big time right now. But it's a very different story in the U.S. Senate, right?

ZANONA: Yes, it's really been a tale of two chambers, because there has been some notable silence from GOP leaders in the Senate. Both Mitch McConnell and John Thune, the number one and number two Senate Republicans respectively have yet to weigh in. I mean, it is recess, but they have not put out any statements or tweets. We did hear from John Cornyn, a member of GOP leadership, he did attack the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, but it was pretty tepid compared to the responses we've seen from House Republicans and it really shows that there are still lingering divisions in the GOP over Trump. Mitch McConnell, for example, has made clear he wants the party to move on from Trump. But Kevin McCarthy credited his winning up the speakership to Donald Trump, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill watching all of this. Thank you very much.

We're going to get some more analysis right now with our political correspondents and experts.


BLITZER: Kristen Holmes, let me start with you. Trump is railing against the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg on truth social. His allies are flooding the zone on television and radio. You're down there near Mar-a-Lago right now, what are you hearing about the Trump team's strategy?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's really is the strategy, they are creating their own narrative, and sources tell me that this is part of it, painting this as a political witch saying that this is because Alvin Bragg is a Democrat, linking him to Joe Biden. And it's not just Trump and his team, they have really expanded this. As you just heard Melanie talking about he's been reaching out to his allies including on Capitol Hill getting them to shore up support and get out there and defend him.


And the really interesting part of all of this is that beyond his allies, we're actually also looking at some of his potential rivals in the Republican Party coming to his defense. Look at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, he gave that response last week saying, almost kind of brushing it off, bringing up the fact that the hush money payment to a porn star, completely different response that we saw this time around, blaming this on a weaponization of the legal system. This is the narrative that the Trump -- that Trump and his team want to put out there. And this is something we've really seen, not just in the case of this indictment, but for several different issues in the past several years, we hear his allies say, this could happen to Trump, it could happen to anyone, if this could happen Trump, it could happen to you.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jeff, because so many House Republicans and even potential rivals to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, they're rushing to his defense right now. I want you to listen, I wanted our viewers to listen to what the former Vice President Mike Pence told me last night.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage. When you have an attorney general in New York and a Manhattan D.A. that targeted one particular American in their campaigns, I think that offends the notion of the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe in fairness, who believe in equal treatment before the law.


BLITZER: As you know, the former vice president has been critical of Trump and several issues in recent weeks. But he's supporting him right now on this, as are so many other Republicans. What does that tell you about the grip that Trump still has on the Republican Party?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's a very firm grip. There's no question about it. But I think if you read into some of these statements in the words that the former Vice President was making.

Yes, they are coming out in opposition to this indictment. Yes, they are coming out in opposition to what the district attorney has done. They're not necessarily supporting the former president in terms of his actions, what led them to this. But look, the road to a Republican nomination for anyone, it goes right through the base of Trump supporters. So they would be absolutely at odds with that if they were to come out against him at this point.

The bigger questions, we saw one person today, former Arkansas Governor Hutchinson, and he came out and said he believes the former president should drop out of the presidential race. That's obviously not going to happen. And we're not going to see anyone else follow suit with that. But in the coming days and weeks, this race has essentially been frozen into place. So we'll have to watch and see if anyone else sort of follows Governor Hutchinson's line.

But for now, these candidates know where the base of the party is. And it's, you know, they actually believe what they're saying as well that this is a politicized indictment. So that's where the party is.

BLITZER: Chris Christie has been very critical of Trump.

ZELENY: He has, but not on this necessarily. We've not heard him come out today. Of course, he had the opportunity and has not yet done that. But again, they're not necessarily defending the former president's candidacy, they're coming out against this indictment.

BLITZER: Interesting, very interesting.

Scott Jennings, the NYPD, as you heard, is ramping up security right now. They're clearly concerned about potential violence along the lines of what we saw January 6, which is why so many people find these two tweets from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham so concerning. Let me read them to you right now. Here they are.

Here's the first one. "How can President Trump avoid prosecution in New York? On the way to the DHS office on Tuesday, Trump should smash some windows, rob a few shops and punch a cop. He would be released immediately."

And here's another one. Republicans -- well, let me just point out, Republicans claim to be in favor of law and order. But what do you think about that? SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what Graham is reflecting is something that's boiling under the surface of the Republican Party even before this indictment. And that is a deep mistrust that Republican voters have for big city prosecutors. Before all this, Trump stuff came along, there was a belief that in New York and other large cities that prosecutors were ignoring violent criminals, ignoring drugs and ignoring murderers in favor of a politicized agenda. And now, this Trump thing sort of explodes that from boiling under the surface right to the top of where the Republican base is. So if you listen to Lindsey Graham on this or you saw him on Fox News, you can see that they are perceiving that.

And part of being a successful Republican politician these days is being able to reflect the emotional state of the base, and that's it right there.

BLITZER: All right guys, stick around. We're going to continue to stay on top of all of these developments.

We'll also get reaction to the unprecedented indictment of Donald Trump from a key Democratic lawmaker who served as an impeachment manager during the first Trump impeachment trial.

Plus, a rare high risk alert has been issued for parts of the Midwest and mid-south right now as millions of Americans are in the path of a very dangerous tornado.



BLITZER: Former President Donald Trump faces criminal charges related to business fraud in New York. House Republican leaders are coming to his defense as Trump rails against the prosecution, calling it a political witch hunt. Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. He served as an impeachment manager during Trump's first impeachment trial.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. I want to start by getting your reaction to some of what we're hearing from congressional Republicans about this criminal indictment against Trump. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calls it an unprecedented abuse of power. Other leading House Republicans are echoing Trump in slamming it as a political prosecution. How do you respond to those criticisms?


REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, Wolf, first off nobody has actually seen the indictment. We know that one exists, it hasn't been sealed yet, grand jury proceedings are some of the most secretive, closed proceedings in the criminal justice system. We expect that that indictment might be unsealed next week. That's number one.

Number two, politicians don't indict people. Grand juries indict people. So when we all get those jury notices in the mail, we show up for jury duty, a certain number of us are pulled away to serve on grand juries just like everybody else. So there's nothing special about it. It's the same jury pool, you go when you serve on a grand jury, you listen to the evidence, and then you decide whether or not as a regular person whether or not to pass an indictment based on that evidence.

So, we haven't seen that what that indictment is. So people that are saying as political, in and of themselves are actually being political, because we don't have the evidence either way to know what exactly the allegations of the indictment counts are at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. I'm curious, Congressman, how do you see this unprecedented historic indictment of a former president impacting our already polarized countries?

CROW: Well, we certainly are polarized and I don't take this lightly. This isn't anything to celebrate, nor is it anything to vilify. This is our system, we have to allow this process to play out. It is a further example of the fact that no man or woman is above or below the law, a former President Trump is entitled to due process, he's entitled equal protection. He is presumed innocent and has the opportunity to make his case to respond to the allegations into the indictment when we see that, that's the way our process works.

But let's take a step back. You know, those folks who are saying that a former president shouldn't be indicted, let's just actually think about what these people are saying. What they're saying is, if you hold the highest office in the land, that you should be immune from prosecution and indictment.

Can we just imagine how dangerous that would be to our system of democracy if you become president, anybody becomes president, and they're forever immune and just can't be indicted for illegal activity? That is not our system, nor should it be. That alone would set an incredibly dangerous precedent for our nation.

BLITZER: As you know, Republicans, many of them are calling this indictment political. And they're pointing to the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg's boasts during his own campaign for that office. And one campaign for him, he said, and I'm quoting now, "I have investigated Trump and his children and held them accountable for their misconduct with the Trump Foundation. I know how to follow the facts and hold people in power accountable," end quote. Do Republicans have a point here?

CROW: Now, let's see the facts, let's see the indictment, right? Nobody can actually say that right now because we haven't seen the indictment, we haven't seen the underlying facts. So they're jumping to conclusions, because that's what they want to do. They want to defend President Trump regardless of the facts, regardless of the process. So let's let this process play out.

BLITZER: Yes, the grand jury, the 23 members of the grand jury majority, at least 12 needed to vote in favor of this indictment, and they did and these are average Americans. All right, Democratic congressman, Jason Crow of Colorado, thank you very much for joining us. Coming up, live to Moscow for an update on the American journalist detained by Russia. Also ahead, severe weather, very severe, including tornadoes, tearing right now across the Midwest, and Southern United States. We'll check in with the CNN weather center after a break.



BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details about the arrest of an American journalist in Russia. Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us live in Moscow. He's got details.

Matthew, President Biden is calling on Russia to release Evan Gershkovich immediately. What more is the Kremlin saying about his arrest and where he's being held?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're not seeing any sign tonight that Evan Gershkovich is going to be arrested immediately despite what President Biden had to say. In fact, the Kremlin have doubled down on this idea that he was caught red handed, engaging in espionage and something other Russian officials have talked about as well. The foreign ministry spokesperson saying that whatever he was doing was nothing to do with journalism. It's almost like Russian officials are already sort of talking about his guilt before his trial has already begun -- has even begun.

In terms of where he's being held, that's a sort of notorious prison in the southeast of Moscow called Lefortovo. He appeared in court there within the past 24 hours, of course, where he was arraigned until the 29th of May.

The U.S. officials say they're trying to get consular access to Evan Gershkovich, and the foreign ministry for their part to say that that access will eventually be given. But according to different diplomats, the U.S. diplomats we've been speaking to here in Moscow, they haven't managed to get access to Mr. Gershkovich as yet, but obviously that that is expected to happen very soon.

BLITZER: And so, Matthew Chance in Moscow for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, the Trump indictment posing an unprecedented security challenge for officials in New York and elsewhere in the United States. The Secret Service involved clearly. I get analysis from the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.



BLITZER: Happening now, new specifics on the timing and the very tight security surrounding Donald J. Trump's appearance in criminal court New York City. And the nation, for that matter, bracing for the historic arraignment of the newly indicted former president of the United States. Trump supporters of any big name Republicans are rallying behind him tonight as Trump seizes on his indictment to raise campaign cash. Standby for new reaction to the 2024 presidential race being thrown into uncharted territory right now.

And we're staying on top of the breaking news on severe weather tracking, a very dangerous tornado outbreak. A state of emergency was just declared in Arkansas. We'll have the newest forecast for millions of Americans at risk right now.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A tornado outbreak ripping across the Midwest and southern United States right now. The Arkansas governor declaring a state of emergency just moments ago.

Let's go straight to our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's over at the CNN weather center for us.

Chad, this is an especially dangerous situation for millions and millions of Americans. Give us the latest yes.

MYERS: Yes. Big cities in the way.