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Judge Orders Trump To Pay Nearly $355 Million On New York Civil Fraud Trial; U.S Blames Putin For Reported Death Of Kremlin Critic Navalny; Hearing Wraps On Bid To Remove DA Willis From Trump Case In Georgia; House Republicans Seek To Downplay FBI Informant Charges That Undermine Biden Impeachment Inquiry; Navalny Is Latest In Long Line Of Putin Critics To Wind Up Dead. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 16, 2024 - 18:00   ET



LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are fewer resources available for working people, small businesses, and families. And everyday Americans cannot lie to a bank about how much money they have in order to get a mortgage to buy a home or a loan to keep their business afloat or to send their child to college. And if they did, our government would throw the book at them.

I want to thank the entire incredible and hardworking team in my office that tried this case, because the scale and the scope of Donald Trump's fraud is staggering, and so too is his ego and his belief that the rules do not apply to him.

Today, we are holding Donald Trump accountable. We are holding him accountable for lying, cheating, and a lack of contrition and for flouting the rules that all of us must play by. Because there cannot be different rules for different people in this country and former presidents are no exception. This decision is a massive victory for every American who believes in that simple but fundamental pillar of our democracy that the rule of law applies to all of us equally, fairly, and justly.

Thank you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: New York Attorney General Letitia James reacting to the ruling against former President Donald Trump in his New York civil fraud case. The former president ordered to pay nearly $355 million.

I'm Brianna Keeler in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And at any moment, we do expect to hear from the former president, Donald Trump, himself. We have our legal and political team standing by as we are covering this breaking story. First, let's go to CNN's Kara Scannell, who is in New York for us.

Kara, this ruling against Trump and his top deputies could devastate his business empire.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this is a significant blow to Donald Trump, this judge finding that he was liable for fraud, that he had falsified business records, that he issued false financial statements, and finding that he should pay $355 million plus interest.

In addition, the judge also found that his sons, who run the Trump Organization on a day-to-day basis, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., also finding them liable, ordering them each to pay $4 million. So, a significant blow just in terms of the company, but also to their wallet.

Now, the judge did step back from an earlier ruling where he said that he was going to cancel the business certificates of the Trump Organization. No one really understood exactly what that would play out and look like, but they knew it was potentially devastating. Judge walking the back saying he was going to have the monitor continue in place, and then also add an independent compliance consultant. He said that would make the canceling of those certificates unnecessary, but obviously a significant ruling here.

And the judge really focusing in on Trump's lack of admitting any wrongdoing, either during the trial or to any of the issues that the Trump Organization has faced over the years. He wrote, Judge Arthur Engoron, in the scathing opinion, they are accused only of inflating asset values to make more money. The documents prove this over and over again. This is a venal sin, not a mortal sin. Defendants did not commit murder or arson. They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not Bernard Madoff, yet defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways. Instead, they adopt a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil posture that the evidence belies.

And you'll remember Donald Trump, Eric Trump, and Don Jr. all took the stand and testified in this case, the judge rejecting their testimony and rejecting the testimony of the expert witnesses they put on in this case. Significant though ruling against the Trump Organization and it's going to significantly shake up how they do business and how Donald Trump will come up the money to pay this bill. Brianna?

KEILAR: And, Kara, we've also learned that Trump will have to pay tens of millions of dollars in interest.

SCANNELL: Right, that is in addition to the nearly $355 million. The way that we've calculated the math, this could be another $100 million in interest, but this amount will increase every day until it's paid. So, we could see that number continue to grow until this debt is satisfied.

Donald Trump's team, though, is expected to appeal. The question will be whether this accrual goes on hold while they do that, or if this money is going to continue to tick higher as this litigation continues.



KEILAR: What are his lawyers saying about the ruling, Kara, and about this appeal process? SCANNELL: Right. So, Trump's lawyers have vowed to appeal. They said they were going to appeal while this trial was underway.

Now, Trump's Attorney Alina Habba issuing a statement saying, but the court blatantly refused to follow a binding appellate division decision, ignored and twisted the evidence and opposed a draconian and unconstitutional fine and a corporate death penalty on President Trump, his family and the extraordinary global business empire he developed over a lifetime of hard work and achievement. Hard to imagine a more unfair process and hard to believe this is happening in America.

Now, Trump also issued his own statement, calling this ruling a sham. And as you heard, the attorney general taking a victory lap, saying this was a tremendous victory.

KEILAR: Yes, she certainly did. Kara Scannell, thank you so much, if you could stand by for us.

Let's bring in our legal experts and our Trump campaign correspondent as well.

Karen Friedman Agnifilo, to you. This ruling is a major blow to Donald Trump personally and to his businesses. What's your reaction?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is a very, very significant verdict in addition to being almost a half a billion dollars when you factor in the interest that he's going to have to pay. Also the --

KEILAR: Karen, my apologies, we'll go to former President Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: -- state judge just ruled, and he's crooked as you can get. And a lot of people expected something like this, but not for the amount. But this is a very dishonest man. This is a man that's been overturned already on this case four times.

But a crooked New York State judge just ruled that I have to pay a fine of $355 million for having built a perfect company, great cash, great buildings, great everything. It affects New York. It's mostly talking about New York, where we have a totally corrupt attorney general.

She campaigned on the fact that I will get Trump. I will get Trump. Everybody has seen it, Letitia James. They've all seen it. Well, we'll be appealing.

But more important than that, this is Russia, this is China, this is the same game, all comes out of the DOJ, it all comes out of Biden. It's a witch hunt against his political opponent, the likes of which our country has never seen before. You see it in third world countries, banana republics, but you don't see it here.

So, I just want to say this. You build a great company. There was no fraud. The banks all got their money, 100 percent. They love Trump. They testified that Trump is great, great customer, one of our best customers. They testified beautifully. And the judge knows that. He's just a corrupt person. And we knew that from the beginning. We knew it right from the beginning because he wouldn't give it to the commercial division. This judge thought Mar-a-Lago is worth $18 million, that it's worth anywhere from 50 to 100 times that amount. So, we realized that.

He ruled against me before he even got the case. He ruled against me. He said, I was guilty. He didn't know what I was guilty of before he even got the case.

And Letitia James, that's another case all together. She's a horribly corrupt attorney general, and it's all having to do with election interference. There were no victims because the banks made a lot of money. They made $100 million.

And, by the way, I paid approximately $300 million in taxes as the migrants come in and they take over New York. I paid over this period of years over $300 million in taxes, and they want me out. Well, let's see if we can get them out. These are radical left Democrats. They're lunatics. And it's election interfering.

So, I just want to thank you for being here. We will appeal will be successful, I think, because, frankly, if we're not successful, New York State is gone. People are moving out of New York State. And because of this, they're going to move out at a much faster rate.

They used a statute. It's a consumer fraud statute that's never been used for a thing like this before. They used it on me because I'm running for president. I'm beating Biden by a lot. We're beating not only the Republicans, we're beating Biden by a lot. The poll came out today. We're up 20 points on Biden. If I weren't running, none of this stuff would have ever happened. None of these lawsuits would have ever happened. Nothing would -- I would have had a nice life. But I enjoy this life for a different reason. We're going to make America great again.

These are corrupt people. These are people that shouldn't be allowed to do the things they do. And they're using this as weaponization against a political opponent who's up a lot in the polls, and it always will be because I'm competing with a man who can't put two sentences together, who doesn't know what he's doing. And we're heading into a third world war because of this guy. We have to win this election. They're doing everything possible to step in a way, but we're not going to stand for it.

So, thank you very much. We will get back to work. It's a ridiculous worth. This is a fine of $355 million for doing a perfect job, for having paid back alone with no defaults, with no problems.


The banks were totally -- you know, at the trial they testified. We had an expert witness from the Stern School at NYU that made a statement. And I was very honored by a statement. He's one of the most respected people anywhere in the country for doing this kind of thing, expert wisdom. He said, this is one of the greatest financial statements I have ever witnessed before. And he talked about even the detail.

So, my numbers actually were extremely conservative. They saw this. So, what the judge did is he brought down certain values like Mar-a- Lago, made it ridiculous. But the expert, after having all of this, testified it's one of the best financial statements he's ever seen, and I was honored by that.

But I also knew we have a corrupt judge. He's not a respected man. And, again, I said before, he's been overturned on this case by the appellate division four times already. It's a record. Nobody has ever been overturned on one case four times.

And I think very importantly, and I think, ultimately, the most important, we've employed tens of thousands of people in New York, and we've paid taxes like few other people have ever paid in New York, and they don't care about that. It's a state that's going bust. It's a state that's going bust because everybody's leaving. And it's all headed up by Biden who's destroying our country.

So, this is Russia. This is China. This is what you've been reading about all your lives. And it's happening right here in our country.

Thank you very much. We will stop it. We will make America great again. You have my word. Thank you very much.

KEILAR: And that is the lack of remorse that Judge Arthur Engoron referred to as near pathological in his ruling that came out today. We heard Trump say a number of things there that we do need to fact check. He said this is Biden directed. It's not. He said that Judge Engoron was overturned four times on the case. He's misrepresenting what happened there. He said this is a corrupt A.G. We should also point out this is an A.G. that had scathing reports, two of them on sexual harassment and COVID numbers, of the previous governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, that ultimately preceded his ouster there. And he said that this consumer fraud measure was never used before. That's also not true. He said he did a perfect job. And there was an expert witness testifying to that. That was a witness that his defense paid for, just to be clear.

Let's bring in Daniel Dale, our CNN fact checker, to go through these things. It's a lot to fact check there, Daniel. What can you tell us?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: There's a lot, and you did some of my job. So, thank you for that.

But I think it's worth delving a bit further into this repeated claim that all this comes out of Biden and the DOJ and it's Biden-directed election interference. New York Attorney General James filed the lawsuit that led to this judgment in 2019. So, that is before Joe Biden even became president.

And then, let's see, in the -- so she -- sorry, she began the investigation in 2019 before Biden and she filed the lawsuit that led to this judgment in 2022. That was before Donald Trump even launched his campaign for the 2024 election. So, not only is there no evidence, Brianna, the timeline makes no sense, whatsoever.

Now, he repeatedly accused Judge Engoron of being corrupt and crooked, a serious charge against a judge, zero basis for that, whatsoever. Rather, he is a judge who came to a conclusion that Trump didn't like.

Trump also claimed that Engoron ruled against him, he said, before even getting the case, didn't even know what he was ruling on. Now, it is true that Engoron found Trump liable for fraud before the trial began, which was a surprise to some people, but it wasn't before he got the case.

Rather, he had received numerous written filings from both sides and came out with a detailed judgment about why he didn't have to wait for a trial to find Trump liable for fraud. So, claim after claim, Brianna, just completely baseless.

KEILAR: Yes, and as you outlined the timeline there as well. Daniel, if you can stand by, we're going to come back to you as well. I want to bring our legal team. And Kristen Holmes, who is covering the Trump campaign back with us.

Kristen, I think you're probably not surprised by what you saw there. Certainly, the former president is very upset by this ruling.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. I was talking to people close to him who said he was very upset. The family is very upset. Obviously, this affects Eric and Don Jr., his two sons as well. And they were going back and forth on whether or not he was actually going to give these public remarks.

You could tell by his tone of voice by what he was saying that he is upset. It's not just about him claiming this is election interference, something that he has done routinely, not just in this case, but in all of the legal cases that he faces. He has sought to link them together, to say that they are related to President Joe Biden, to paint this as a way for Democrats to keep him from the White House.


And I will tell you, Brianna, it does work with some of his supporters. They do believe that this is somehow all linked. But just to be very clear, obviously this was a civil trial in New York having nothing to do with Joe Biden at all or the Department of Justice.

But the other part I want to point out of what he said was him talking on and on about the company he built in New York. This issue is deeply personal for Donald Trump. It's not only just the brand that he built up for the last several decades. It's also his sense of identity. He campaigned on this. He campaigned on the idea that he was a successful businessman, and if he could do it for himself, he could do it for other people in America back in 2016, and he still says that today. And it's part of what his supporters like about him that brought him to the White House in the first place.

This is essentially kind of smacking that down, saying that much of it was fraudulent, that now he has to pay millions of dollars because he was lying about how good of a businessman he was, about how many assets he had, about how much he was worth. And that is deeply personal to Donald Trump. It is also personal that this involves his family, his sons, and the ruling mentioned Ivanka Trump, his daughter, as well.

KEILAR: Yes. And, Jennifer Rodgers, to you, the former president alleging here that this is a novel ruling. What do you say to that?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's not a novel ruling, Brianna, in terms of the statute used. I will say there are a number of legal issues here on materiality and other issues that I think an appellate court will take a hard look at. It's an exhaustive opinion that Judge Engoron issued here, more than 90 pages. He goes through, all of the witnesses, all of the causes of action, all of the defenses that they raised. So, it's really a comprehensive judgment here, and the appellate court will have some things to take a look at. But the notion that no business in New York has ever been subject to this, no person has ever been subject to this is just not true.

KEILAR: And, Jennifer, you expect that as this goes through the appeals process, this judgment will take a haircut?

RODGERS: I think it might, certainly. It's just such a huge judgment. And, you know, when the expert witnesses were testifying about the differences in valuation, there's just not a lot of certainty. There the judge actually commented on that when he was talking about materiality. He actually quoted the famous Justice Potter statement from the Supreme Court on obscenity, saying kind of -- it's you know it when you see it. So, materiality is kind of you know it when you see it, even if you can't pinpoint an amount of difference in valuation that is material or not.

So, I think that with some of that wiggle room there in the numbers, you may see the appellate court finding some places where they cut down the judgment award.

KEILAR: Rebecca, the numbers here are staggering, nonetheless, here. How much does Trump have to come up with when we're talking about money? And how does he come up with that much?

REBECCA ROIPHE, FORMER PROSECUTOR, NEW YORK DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Well, I mean, you know, he's going to apply for a bond in order to be able to forestall having to pay this, I would assume, and so then it would wait for that appellate process to go forward, and that can take a number of months, a year, up to a year-and-a-half, I would say.

So, in order to come up with the money, he might, I think, have to sell some of his properties. I don't know if he has enough liquid cash in order to cover it, you know, and I think as the others were saying, this is just a significant sum of money.

And one of the other really important aspects of the ruling is that monitor. It's important because, first of all, that is one thing. The other things might be stayed, the other rulings might be stayed pending appeal, but that monitor is there right now and will remain there, and the second monitor, making sure that the compliance is in order, will also be there, and that's a blow not only to his pocketbook, but also to his sense of control and ability to control his company.

KEILAR: Yes, and an internal watchdog at his expense.

And I do want to go back now to Kara Scannell. This fine, not the only fine we should recall that he has to pay right now.

SCANNELL: Yes. I mean, he just got dealt another big judgment by a jury who heard the testimony in E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit. The jury awarded her $83.3 million, and that was the second judgment that he faced last year. A jury awarded her $5 million. So, all told, between those judgments, the judgment today, and the interest, Trump is on the hook for more than $540 million. That's a significant amount of money.

Now, he did testify in a deposition last year as part of the attorney general's lawsuit that he had an excess of $400 million in cash. So, he has some cash on hand to cover that debt, and he obviously owns a lot of real estate so he could take out a loan on those properties and access money in other ways. But it is still a significant amount that he will have to come up with in order to post a bond and begin the appeals process.


So, that is going to be a near-term decision for the Trump Organization to try to get together within the next 30 days in order to move this process forward, but another big number on top of a series of big numbers that we've been seeing. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, it's a lot of money.

Karen, we should remember the origin story that Daniel Dale pointed out that year, 2019, the origin story of this case is Michael Cohen testifying before Congress that Donald Trump would change the valuation of his assets to serve himself higher in some cases, lower in other cases.

And Trump repeatedly attacked the credibility of Michael Cohen, who was one of the state's star witnesses in this case. He was pled guilty to lying to Congress, by the way, but the judge had a very different reaction. Michael Cohen, the judge wrote, told the truth. The court found his testimony credible based on the relaxed manner in which he testified, the general plausibility of his statements, and, most importantly, the way his testimony was corroborated by other trial evidence.

I wonder what you think of that, but also the fact that Michael Cohen is going to factor large in another case, which is the criminal hush money case in New York that begins next month. And if he's seen credible here by the judge in this case, do you think that he'll be found credible by a jury in that case?

AGNIFILO: Well, I think it's important to remember that the Manhattan D.A.'s Office has experience with having witnesses who have checkered histories and backgrounds, et cetera, and they're going to want to corroborate every single thing Michael Cohen has to say.

And the jury is going to evaluate his credibility themselves. They're going to see how his demeanor is, whether he's truthful, and that's the whole purpose of a jury system. And don't forget, in that case, the jury selection is actually picked by Donald Trump himself and the prosecutor.

So, he's going to be judged by jurors that he picks. And those are going to be jurors who will evaluate all the evidence and potentially find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, if they do find it to be credible.

KEILAR: Kristen, this ruling, obviously, we see it when we see Trump and we hear him there. It impacts him personally. It impacts him financially. What about politically, though? Is there any reason to think this could damage his campaign?

HOLMES: Right now, I would say no. I mean, what we've seen time and time again when it comes to these legal entanglements with Donald Trump in these various cases is that it only boosts his popularity and his fundraising. We have seen no indication that Republicans have turned away from him. And, in fact, he seems to be likely to be the Republican nominee.

Now, the one thing about these various legal cases, and it's not just this one, but it is the several different trials that he's facing coming up, is that there are a lot of questions about what that means in a general election. What does that mean for independents, people who aren't necessarily going to back Donald Trump no matter what? He's trying to court different voters, and instead, he has all of these different legal issues looming over his head.

The other part of this is fundraising. Just a reminder, Donald Trump has paid a majority of his legal bills out of a leadership PAC. That is a specific PAC. He spent more than $50 million on legal fees last year.

Now, talking to campaign finance experts, they say that he could dip into that PAC to pay some of these bills, but that would be kind of hard since they ended the year after spending $50 million with just $5 million in the bank, coming nowhere close to what he owes in these various legal cases.

KEILAR: Yes, that is a very good point.

Let's bring in Daniel Dale back to the conversation to fact check something that Trump said, which is that what happened here is like what happens in China and Russia.

DALE: Yes, it's almost too ludicrous to fact check, but I think we need to call this kind of nonsense out. Look, former President Trump got to mount a vigorous, expensive defense. He got a public trial. He still has the right to appeal and appeal again. He is not only impugning the integrity of the judge, but he's standing there on camera, on national television, and baselessly maligning the president of the United States and other authorities, like the attorney general. None of this stuff happens in these countries that he is invoking. This is the United States of America. It is not like Russia. It is not like China.

And I think especially on a day like today, you know, we're covering the Navalny news, like did Alexey Navalny get anything like this civil trial that Donald Trump had? No. So, this is just abject nonsense and we need to challenge it.

KEILAR: And, Rebecca, the judge here declining to do the ultimate, right, which is dissolve the Trump Organization or permanently prevent Trump from doing business in New York, which the A.G. had asked for here, so not going that far. Why do you think he made that decision?

ROIPHE: I think he was listening to pushback and from the appellate division.


While it's true that the appeals court did not reverse him four times, that's inaccurate. The appeals court did make some rulings indicating its skepticism about that particular consequence for this conduct.

And so I think he was listening to that and put in place a different consequence that is serious as well, and will also protect those assets, but is not as extreme, certainly.

KEILAR: Thank you all so much. Obviously a lot happening this evening, and we appreciate you making sense of it with us.

So, just ahead, the final round of testimony in the high-stakes hearing that threatens to derail the Trump election subversion case in Georgia, why District Attorney Fani Willis is apparently feeling confident about beating this effort to kick her off the case.

And demands for answers about the reported death of jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, President Biden making it clear he holds Vladimir Putin responsible.


KEILAR: Tonight, U.S. and western leaders are expressing outrage over the reported death of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and they are placing blame directly on Vladimir Putin.



JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Make no mistake, make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny's death.

And as people across Russia and around the world are mourning Navalny today because he was so many things that Putin was not. He was brave. He was principled. He was dedicated to building a Russia where the rule of law existed.

He knew it was a cause worth fighting for and obviously even dying for.


KEILAR: CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is joining us now, along with CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt, reporting from the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

Clarissa, what do we know and what questions remain tonight about Navalny's death?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of questions remain. What we know from Russian state media and Russia's penitentiary service is that he went out for a walk, reportedly that he collapsed unconscious, that the ambulance arrived. Medics reportedly tried to revive him for more than half-an-hour and that he was pronounced dead on the scene.

What we also know, of course, is that he's been held in a couple of different penal colonies over the last few years. He has been held in very difficult and even dangerous situations. His lawyers have talked about the severe health issues that he was facing as a result of the circumstances that he was being held in.

But just yesterday, Brianna, he appeared via video link in the court, and he did appear to be in good health. He was gaunt but he was making jokes, which is very typical of Alexey Navalny. He had a great sense of humor.

And so there are real question marks as to what exactly happened today. What exactly killed Alexey Navalny, although, as you heard President Biden saying, many feel that no matter what killed him specifically, the responsibility lies with the Russian state.

KEILAR: And, Alex, how are world leaders responding to this news?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as the news tore through the conference of world leaders, there was quick and widespread condemnation. One of the first and most important leaders to say something was Vice President Harris, who essentially opened the conference. She noted off the top of her remarks that Navalny's wife, Yulia, was in the crowd. And Harris said that Putin is indeed responsible.

And then the conference announced that there would be a surprise guest. And Yulia Navalnaya took the stage. She spoke very passionately, very stoically, very powerfully, calling on everyone to come together to defeat this evil, to defeat this horrible regime. Here's a little bit more of what she had to say.


YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S WIFE: I want them to know that they will be punished for what they have done with our country, with my family and with my husband. They will be brought to justice, and this day will come soon.


MARQUARDT: Navalnaya met later in the day with both the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, as well as Harris. They offered their condolences. And then we did hear from President Biden speaking at the White House. He noted the sanctions that had been put on Russia. He said that the administration is looking at what more they can do.

Brianna, Putin was already looming large over this conference now even more so with the death of his most high-profile, most vocal critic. Brianna?

KEILAR: And, Clarissa, you interviewed Navalny in 2020, just after he survived being poisoned. You did an amazing investigation where you actually tracked Russian specialists who had trailed him ahead of time and were suspected in the poisoning. He told you then Navalny did, about Putin's role. Let's listen to some of that.


ALEXEY NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: I understand how our system worked in Russia. I understand that Putin hates me. And I understand that these people who are sitting in the Kremlin, they are ready to kill.

WARD: Is it your contention that Vladimir Putin must have been aware of this?

NAVALNY: Of course, 100 percent. It could have not been happened without direct order of Putin because it's a big scale.


KEILAR: He knew, Clarissa, how Putin operated. He talked even about anticipating perhaps being killed when he returned. Why did he ultimately decide to go back?

WARD: Well, there're two main things I would say there, Brianna. Number one, Alexey Navalny was consummately an optimist. He understood the risks, absolutely, but he chose to believe in a more positive future for Russia. He chose to believe that everything was going to be okay.

And, number two, he understood implicitly that to sit in Europe as a dissident in exile would render him largely irrelevant to the Russian population.


His belief and his understanding from the very core of his gut was that his mission was to represent the Russian people and to lead them in a fight towards a better future with greater freedom. And he was willing to become a martyr for this cause. I think those around him still feel utterly shocked by this even though, logically, it is not entirely surprising given that the state had already tried to kill him with Novichok, given the fact that they have killed so many who have dared to speak out against President Vladimir Putin. But Navalny understood and he said, I would never give Putin such a gift as to stay outside of Russia, Brianna.

KEILAR: And I mean, Alex, this does elevate Navalny. He does, to so many, become a martyr here. How does this influence the conversations that are happening in the U.S. right now about the threat that Putin poses and what the U.S. needs to do?

MARQUARDT: Well, Brianna, I think it will reinvigorate the conversation about the importance of NATO, the importance of U.S. in the NATO alliance, following those comments about Putin, that Putin could do whatever the hell he wants, according to Trump, in terms of possibly invading a NATO country.

And it will also serve as a reminder as to why the U.S. supports Ukraine in their war against Russia, now that we have Congress fiercely debating this supplemental aid package, $60 billion of aid for Ukraine. Certainly, it will give food for thought to Republicans, who, so far, are holding back on that aid for Ukraine. Brianna?

KEILAR: Clarissa Ward and Alex Marquardt, thank you to both of you this evening.

I want to bring in Russia expert Dmitri Alperovitch now. He is also there in Munich. Dmitri, how big of a loss is this and what will Navalny's legacy be?

DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, RUSSIA AND GEOPOLITICS EXPERT: Well, Navalny was one of the few people in Russia who had the potential to challenge Putin. Now, we shouldn't overstate his popularity because it was in low single digits but, of course, in part because he was getting very negative press to the extent he was getting any press on Russian television.

But he was one of the few who was willing to stay in Russia, come back, as Clarissa Ward said, had great risk to himself, and challenged Putin directly in Russia. Many of the other opposition figures have fled, to escape and try to save their lives, and there's really no one left on the Russian opposition landscape that has his level of popularity, his level of name recognition that could have been a competitor to Putin.

KEILAR: So, why was Putin then so threatened by Navalny? And what do you make of the timing here?

ALPEROVITCH: Well, he was threatened by Navalny because he saw Navalny as the one person, the one force in Russia that could actually, potentially destabilize his rule. And remember that Navalny came to prominence in 2011 when Putin came back for the third term and had largely believed to have been rigged elections to get elected for the third term and there were massive protests in Moscow, the largest of the Putin era, that Navalny was a key participant in. And that was the time when Putin started to notice him, started to pay attention to him and eventually deciding that this is a person that wants to remove him from power and has become a threat and obviously decided to kill him first through poisoning attempts and then by eventually effectively signing his death warrant once Navalny returned and locked him up in prison that eventually killed him.

KEILAR: And there's another election coming up where Vladimir Putin has effectively cleared the field of any meaningful opposition. What does Navalny's death mean for the opposition inside of Russia and what are you watching for here in the coming days? ALPEROVITCH: Well, unfortunately, what this death reflects is that

Putin believes that he can do this with impunity. And, unfortunately, he may be right, that the reality is that he's eliminated all opposition within Russia. Not only is the result of the election not endowed, but he is shooting for a very high percentage of the turnout and a high percentage of the vote for him, probably in the high 60s, if not 70 percent, to show the world that he's still in charge, that the Russians are still choosing him. Even if he has to rig that election to some extent, he probably could win it outright, but at a much lower number. So, he may resort to rigging to show a much higher vote percentage for him than would have actually been the case.

KEILAR: Dmitri, how do you see this, his death, influencing U.S. perceptions of Russia and Putin as Trump and some in the GOP and Tucker Carlson are cozying up to Russia even more here just in recent days even?

ALPEROVITCH: Well, I'd like to think that things would change, but the reality is that the attitude source Putin are pretty hardened and the people that have believed him to be a monster and have believed that he had attempted to assassinate people and actually had assassinated people, including with polonium, a nuclear radioactive chemical in London and, of course, with Novichok, a chemical agent in Salisbury in the U.K.


He attempted to do same to Navalny. The people that know that, this just reinforces that this is a person who is effectively a monster and has no compulsion about killing people in the most awful way and others that think that he's a strong leader and like him, I'm not sure their minds will be changed by this either.

KEILAR: Dimitri Alperovitch, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.


KEILAR: Coming up, how Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis feels about her fight to stay on the Trump case after testimony wraps in the hearing that included her defiant appearance on the stand.


[18:45:21] KEILAR: In Georgia tonight, the testimony is over and the judge now faces a decision on whether to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from prosecuting Donald Trump.

CNN's Nick Valencia reports on day two so of the tumultuous hearing.


REPORTER: Can you tell us why you were late today?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terence Bradley was supposed to be a star witness for defense attorneys trying to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the Donald Trump election interference case.

But on Friday, Wade's former law partner and divorce attorney couldn't provide details lets just show Willis and Nathan Wade were lying about the extent of the romantic relationship.

TERRENCE BRADLEY, NATHAN WADE'S FORMER LAW PARTNER & DIVORCE ATTORNEY: I have no personal knowledge of when it actually happened. I was not there I do not have any personal knowledge.

VALENCIA: Attorney-client privilege, a major hurdle for the defense, especially after Judge Scott McAfee ruled Bradley could not be asked about what privileged conversations he had with Wade about his relationship.

ASHLEIGH MERCHANT, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR MIKE ROMAN: I want to talk about privilege, I'm happy to ask him the substance of the question.

VALENCIA: Yet, one defense attorney managed to introduce a text exchange with Bradley in 2023 about the Wade-Willis romance.

BRADLEY: So what I have is a text message from you saying, oh, my god, Nathan took Fani on a trip to Napa and pay for with his firm.

MERCHANT: OK, continue reading.

BRADLEY: And you said easy that dome.

VALENCIA: Also testifying Friday, Fani Willis's father, backing up her heated testimony from Thursday when she said she always keeps cash on hand.

FLOYD WILLIS, FANI WILLIS' FATHER: I've always kept cash. You know, and I've told my daughter, you keep six months worth of cash, always.

VALENCIA: On both days, money was center stage because defense attorneys are trying to prove that Willis somehow benefited financially from a relationship with Wade through gifts and vacations that weighed paid for with money he earned on the case.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We went out multiple times. That probably went to the level of more than $100. But if were doing tit for tat like that, I probably paid for as many meals as he paid for. And so, I did not receive any gifts from him.

VALENCIA: And Willis and Wade both maintain the relationship began only after Wade took the job of special prosecutor. Willis' father testified he didn't know about the relationship until the rest of the world found out and only met him region certainly.

F. WILLIS: I did not meet Nathan Wade until 2023.

VALENCIA: In a surprise turn, Willis did not take the stand again on Friday, her team believing they had enough to beat back efforts to this qualify her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The state has no further questions for Ms. Willis.


VALENCIA (on camera): The judge in this case has signaled that he's going to continue these hearings sometime in the next week, after they do eventually wrap, he's going to allow defense attorneys and the state to write replies and written legal briefs, which means that we can know the conclusion of this could be weeks away.

I did speak to a defense attorney who was involved in the last two days. They said that they feel very, very good about how the last two days went. The big question though, Brianna, is, were they able to prove that Fani Willis financially benefited from this personal relationship with Nathan Wade, which is the threshold to get her disqualified -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Nick, if Willis were to be disqualified, what would happen next? And what impact could that have on the timeline for the Trump election interference case in Georgia?

VALENCIA: Well, look, it goes to the prosecuting attorneys council. It's a nine member board and that decision won't be swift on selecting a special prosecutor. Fani Willis was disqualified from investigating an unindicted coconspirator months ago and they're still not been a special prosecutor attached to that case.

As far as the effect on this case, it's already led to a delay. Before these allegations surface, the D.A. was on track for an August trial date. But for now, that has all been put on hold -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Nick Valencia live for us from Atlanta, thank you.

Here in Washington, President Biden is calling on Republicans to drop their efforts to impeach him now that a key source for their inquiry has been indicted. The former FBI informant charged with lying about the involvement of Mr. Biden and his son, hunter, with the Ukrainian energy company.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is lying and should be dropped and it's just been -- has been outrageous effort from the beginning.


KEILAR: CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona has more now on the state of the Biden impeachment probe.

Mel, Republicans have been touting this now discredited information as their top reason for an impeachment inquiry. And yet they really don't seem very deterred by this revelation.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah, Republicans are really downplaying this revelation that this FBI informant has now been charged with fabricating these allegations, these bribery allegations about the president and his son, Hunter.


James Comer, he's the House chairman of the Oversight Committee, he said his work is quote, not reliant on this informant and that they have a mountain of other evidence and meanwhile, a spokesman for Jim Jordan, he's the House Judiciary chairman said that nothing has changed in terms of what their inquiry is going to do.

But, Brianna, that is a very different tune than what Republicans have been saying, so I've been saying really for almost a year now, remember, they thought four months to publicize this FBI document that contain these now discredited claims from that FBI informant and really was at least one of the reasons why they decided to open an impeachment inquiry into the President Biden last year.

Just take a listen to how Republicans have previously described this witness.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: How real of a bribery scand -- Joe Biden bribery scandal allegation is this?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Well, every day, this bribery scandal becomes more credible.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We already know the president took bribes from Burisma.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible, confidential human source, according to U.S. Attorney Scott Brady.


ZANONA: Now this all comes as House Republicans had already been struggling to convince many of their members to support impeachment. That case likely only going to be a tougher sell now, and meanwhile, you have Democrats now formally calling on House Republicans to officially end their impeachment inquiry into Biden.

But as of right now, Brianna, no signs of that happening.

KEILAR: All right. Melanie Zanona, live for us on the Hill.

Coming up, the reported death of Alexey Navalny is highlighting the dangers of challenging or criticizing Vladimir Putin in Russia. It's just the latest in a disturbing pattern going back years.



KEILAR: Alexey Navalny is the latest in a long line of Vladimir Putin's critics to meet an early death. Some of them under mysterious or even violent circumstances.

Brian Todd is following this story.

So, Brian, what does Navalny's reported death mean for any remaining Putin opposition still in Russia?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, one analyst says this is horrifying news for any opposition figures in Russia, whether they're in jail or not. Alexey Navalny now joins a list of rivals who become famous for their courage in opposing Vladimir Putin and for the consequences they suffered.


TODD (voice-over): The reported death of one of Vladimir Putin's biggest adversaries, whether it's ever actually traced to the former KGB colonel or not, analysts say, certainly fits a very haunting pattern.

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL AT U.N.: There's not a lot of Russian opposition left anymore, all right, again, people are either in exile, dead, in prison.

TODD: Alexey Navalny now apparently joins an unsettling list of those who've challenged Vladimir Putin and paid the price.

BILL BROWDER, PUTIN CRITIC ON RUSSIA'S WANTED LIST: In order for Putin to have been the leader for 23 years, he's had to be the -- seemed to be the meanest guy in the prison yard, the one who would cause damage, to anybody who even looked at him the wrong way.

TODD: Financier Bill Browder was a client of Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney who exposed corruption in Putin's government was arrested and died in prison in 2009.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the billionaire head of the Wagner paramilitary group, died last year in mysterious plane crash after leading a short- lived rebellion against the Kremlin.

Imprisoned Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza says he's been poisoned at least twice and sent into a coma.

Boris Nemtsov, once one of Russia's most outspoken opposition leaders, was gunned down on a bridge at the foot of the Kremlin in 2015.

Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist, was a vocal critic of Putin's regime and the wars in Chechnya. She was shot and killed in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.

Then there were the former Russian spies who Putin saw as threats.

Vladimir Putin has a particular beef with people he calls traitors, and he has gone after them in various parts of the world, including in London, in the case of a former FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, as well as the attack on a former Soviet double agent, Sergei Skripal and the southern English city of Salisbury in 2018.

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter for were poisoned and nearly killed in Britain with the powerful nerve agent Novichok, an attack which British investigators tied to Putin.

In 2006, former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko, who'd been digging up information potentially tying Putin to organized crime, was killed in London when someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into his tea.

ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, "DEATH OF A DISSIDENT": The British investigators found beyond reasonable doubt on evidence that two agents of the Russian security services poisoned Mr. Litvinenko.

TODD: Putin's regime has denied involvement in all of these cases. But at the same time --

MENDELSON: He absolutely doesn't care about his international reputation. In some ways, he's interested in a reputation that is of violence.


TODD (on camera): Now could Vladimir Putin now have a bigger target on his back? One analyst says its possible that someone in Putin's inner circle could turn on him, but the analysts also says he's woven people into that circle who simply benefit too much by being there and would harm them significantly to take them out -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yeah, it's also very notable and we noticed this Brian from the Skripal and the Litvinenko cases, it's not only opposition figures who were inside of Russia who are in danger here.

TODD: That is right, Brianna. You mentioned those two cases that were in our piece, the Skripals, and Litvinenko in Britain. But, look, opponents of Putin had been attacked in the United States. They've been attacked in Asia and elsewhere. He has an immense reach. It doesn't ever seem to really trace back to him personally though.

KEILAR: And as one of your experts noted, he absolutely doesn't care. He's operating with this impunity and it doesn't seem that there's really a way to stop him.

TODD: Not right now. It does not seem that now he is wanted for war crimes and other things in certain parts of the world, and by certain international bodies. But he has always smart and savvy enough to never travel to those places. He knows exactly how to evade capture or evade accountability here, and even knows very, very well, Brianna, how to kind of erase any even slight of fingerprints and any traces of this that lead back to him personally.

KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you so much for putting that piece together for us.

I'm Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.