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Trump's Historic Criminal Trial Now Under Way; Israel Vows To Exact A Price After Iran Attack; House Republican Leaders Plan To Move On Four Separate Foreign Aid Bills, Unclear Whether Right Wing Will Accept It; Israeli Official: War Cabinet Determined To Respond To Iran Attack. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 15, 2024 - 18:00   ET



NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: However, the military says that the battalion commander understood very well what the rules of engagements were and that there is no evidence to the contrary, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, also on the TikTok, all of it under Jake Tapper, you can file a show on X at The Lead CNN. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you could listen to the show whence you get your podcasts, all two hours just sitting out they're like a big ripe peach.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we're following two major breaking stories tonight. First, the breaking news out of Manhattan, Donald Trump's unprecedented hush money case begins. It's the first time a former U.S. president has ever stood trial on criminal charges.

Jury selection now underway as the judge, defense attorneys, and the prosecutors narrow down a massive list of potential jurors to find the 12 New Yorkers who will consider Trump's fate.

Also tonight, the Middle East on edge after Israel vows to exact a price for an Iranian attack. One Israeli official tells CNN the war cabinet is determined to act, but it's still unclear where, when, and how the IDF might retaliate.

The White House, meanwhile, urging calm in the region, as President Biden turns his focus to diplomacy and de-escalation.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

We begin our coverage tonight in New York where Donald Trump's historic criminal trial is finally underway. The court adjourned for the day just a short time ago after getting started on the first order of business, jury selection.

CNN's Kara Scannell has more on all of today's developments.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an assault on America. Nothing like this has ever happened before. There's never been anything like it.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After weeks of delays and last-ditch legal maneuvering, jury selection now underway in the historic and unprecedented hush money case against Donald Trump.

Following a series of rulings clarifying the evidence allowed in the case, 96 potential jurors passed through magnetometers to enter the courtroom with Trump. They were sworn in and questioning began.

A few minutes later, at least 50 prospective jurors were excused because they told the judge they could not be fair and impartial. Of those who remained three questioned by the judge listed the New York Times and CNN as their sources of news.

None said they had read any books by Michael Cohen or Trump, and none of them said they worked or volunteered for any pro-Trump or anti- Trump groups. Nine members of the jury pool were questioned and not dismissed by the time court adjourned for the day.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, says the former president attempted to cover up payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election, trying to stop her from speaking out about the alleged affair with Trump.

Judge Juan Merchan started the day by denying a motion from Trump's lawyers to recuse himself. As attorneys debated, Judge Juan Merchan said he would not allow the infamous Access Hollywood tape to be shown or video of Trump deposition in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit that found him liable for defamation.

Karen McDougal, a model who says she had an affair in 2006 and was paid $150,000 to keep quiet about it, will be allowed to testify. Attorneys also argued about how much the jury can be told about Michael Cohen's crimes.

MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I did it at the direction of, in concert with and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump.

SCANNELL: The credibility of Trump's former fixer who admitted he orchestrated a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels will be one of the most fought over elements of this case.

Prosecutors also asked the judge to find Trump for social media posts attacking witnesses involved in the case saying he violated a gag order. The judge scheduled a hearing for next week to settle that matter.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks. It may be the only case against Trump to face a jury before the 2024 election. The presumptive Republican nominee complaining about the judge as he walked out of the courtroom.

TRUMP: The judge, of course, is not going to allow us. He's a very conflicted judge, and he's not going to allow us to go to -- he won't allow me to leave here for a half a day, go to D.C., and go before in the United States Supreme Court because he thinks he's superior.


SCANNELL (on camera): Trump's lawyers asked the judge to excuse him from court next Thursday so he could attend oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, where Trump lawyers will argue that the former president has presidential immunity from the January 6 case in Washington, D.C.


The judge denied that requesting, that Trump is a criminal defendant and he is required to be here. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. Kara Scannell in New York for us, thank you.

Let's get some analysis from our legal and political experts, and, Elliot Williams, let me start with you. More than half of these potential jurors were excused today. What does that say to you?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Okay. So, jurors can't serve if they can't pledge to be fair and impartial. Now, there's a big caveat to that. A judge can actually rehabilitate them and say, look, if I instruct you as to what the facts and the law are, could you serve on this jury?

The judge seems to have chosen not to do that here for a big reason. I think he knows it's going to take a very hard time to pick a jury here. And if you can weed out as many people as possible, people who raise their hands and start from the position of saying that they can't be fair are a good folks to see him off the top.

So, I think that's what the judge did just trying to thin the herd because jury selection here is going to be a beast.

BLITZER: It certainly could take days. And what does it say to you, Andrew McCabe, that this suggests that this whole jury selection process could turn out to be rather difficult?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Oh, I think it absolutely will be difficult. And I think that the judge's action today is an implied acknowledgement of the fact that he understands that that jury population probably leans against Trump.

And so today's cattle call approach to dismissing 50 jurors at once is kind of an acknowledgement of that he doesn't want to spend his time, as Elliot laid out, trying to rehabilitate and really drill down on each one of those 50 people. He's going to let them go en masse to try to boil down to that group of folks who are more impartial and who can pledge to do the sort of fair analysis that he requires during the process of the trial.

BLITZER: And Jamie Gangel is with us too. Is there any reason to think Trump can't get a fair trial in Manhattan?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think there is. Look, there have been very high-profile, celebrated trials where well-known defendants got off. O.J. Simpson comes to mind. And I am old enough one of the first trials I covered was John Hinckley, who, in 1981, attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. He almost killed him, shot three other people. John Hinckley in 1982 was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Everybody knew about the case. The shooting actually happened on camera.

I do think, to Andy's point, this jury pool in Manhattan, they did not vote for Donald Trump, by and large. That said, Trump's lawyers are looking for one thing, one juror to hang this group.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's all it takes, right? And so to Elliot's point, though, getting rid of these folks who volunteer to say, I'm not going to be impartial, I'm not going to be able to do that, it really robs Trump and his team of this immediate -- when I say, robs, they're going to still make this point. I'm not suggesting the former presidents could all of a sudden say this is a totally fair trial, but I think it robs them substantively of this point that whatever gets seated is somehow skewed against them. Because at the outset, the judge is completely just excusing all the people that they themselves say, I can't do this in any kind of impartial way.

MCCABE: And the Trump team would very much like to have the individual explanations of why these people feel like they can't possibly be fair, because that would all be very helpful to them. In the event he receives a final verdict of conviction, that would be very important data to use in an appeal challenging the choice of venue.

Essentially, he filed a motion wanting to move the trial to some place where he'd have a more favorable jury. That was, of course, denied, and that could become a grounds for appeal.

BLITZER: Walk us through, Elliot, a little bit of the mechanics of jury selection. So, this is such a critically important part of this case.

WILLIAMS: And people don't understand it. We all go to jury duty, but people don't sort of know the behind the scenes. Judges are seeing, number one, who can be fair and impartial in the eyes of the law, and then both sides are allowed to get rid of some jurors they simply don't want. These are people who aren't legally excluded. These are the people who could still be fair and could still follow the law and don't have a major conflict, but one side or the other just doesn't like.

Now, the questions aren't as straightforward as you think, Wolf. A lot of times, even things like what's your education, what zip code do you live in, what magazines do you read, are little ways of teasing out, number one, how might this person work in a group, how -- is this person a leader? Is this person going to buck tradition or leadership or anything like that? And in a case like this, where politics is a little bit of a proxy, even education is something valuable because of the fact that, you know, I think the prosecutors here might want more highly educated traditionally voters.

Trump folks may want to see more sort of Joe Six-pack.

CHAILAN: I mean, education is the defining fault line in American politics today.

WILLIAMS: I've been polite about it, but, yes, it is.


And I think in the pop psychology of jury selection, those are the kinds of things that prosecutors and defense attorneys are trying to tease out to see, you know, if they can divine how a particular juror might vote one way or another.

BLITZER: So, Jamie, what other challenges will both sides face in picking jurors?

GANGEL: So, look, these lawyers have a lot of experience. They have a sense of what they're looking for. Judge Merchan has this very extensive questionnaire, as Elliot pointed out.

But lawyers will tell you, there you go, Elliot, you can get fooled. You can think someone is sympathetic and they're not, or a juror who might lean one way or the other gets persuaded by the other jurors.

At the end of the day, they do run out of strikes. And that will be the penalty.

WILLIAMS: And I should have clarified that. Both of the sides have a finite number of what are called peremptory challenges or strikes of jurors. So, they've got to be selective in playing that game of chess, ten each side. You're playing a game of chess trying to get in the other side's head to figure things out.

But, look, we've all been burned by a juror who was nodding and smiling along with what we were saying at jury selection or who, on paper, whether it's education class, politics, victim of a crime, conduct or whatever else, simply voted a way that we weren't anticipating.

MCCABE: It's art, not science. You go with your gut. You try to make these very meaningful decisions based on very superficial information, very limited information. But at the end of the day, a jury will be impaneled. And I share Jamie's confidence that we'll have a fair one.

BLITZER: It's interesting, the related development. The judge next week will hear arguments on whether or not Trump has already violated the gag order that had been imposed.

MCCABE: Had to do it, absolutely had to do it. Those tweets over the weekend are pretty clearly far beyond the parameters of what's been permitted under the gag order and to not address the prosecutor's demand that he'd be sanctioned for that conduct over the weekend, would have sent a clear signal to Trump that the gag order is useless, it's not going to be enforced, and would have made the whole thing meaningful.

BLITZER: It's interesting, David. The Biden campaign announced that President Biden will remain quiet. He won't comment on this ongoing trial now.

CHALIAN: For now, we'll see if that holds. They didn't today, and the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, was asked at the briefing today, and she just danced around this issue clearly.

What they don't want to do, what they're hyper-aware of when you talk to folks inside Biden World is, they don't want to feed into this already false claim, quite frankly, from Donald Trump, that this is all politics and this is Team Biden exacting a persecution in the form of a prosecution against him, and they want to make sure they stay away from doing anything that gives him any kind of rope on that matter. And so you'll see right now quiet.

The contrast will be on display, though. I mean, Joe Biden will be in Scranton, Pennsylvania, tomorrow talking about the economy and Donald Trump will be sitting in a courtroom for jury selection.

BLITZER: Yes, that's quite a different way of campaigning.

All right, guys, everybody stand by. We have a lot more coming up.

Just ahead, we're getting more on this historic trial of Donald Trump, including a closer look at just who's expected to take the witness stand.

But, first, Israel vowing to hit back against Iran after that unprecedented drone and missile attack. A live report from Tel Aviv is coming up. And we'll also speak with a key U.S. senator.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Right now, we're keeping a very close eye on the extremely tense situation in the Middle East, Israel Vowing to respond to Saturday's Iranian drone and missile attack as the U.S. tries to keep the conflict from spiraling out of control.

Let's check in with our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's joining us live from Tel Aviv right now.

Clarissa, how is Israel weighing its next steps?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, Wolf, we had the fourth session of the war cabinets since Saturday night's attack. That meeting went on for something like three hours. And there was no announcement at the end of it as to what Israel's leadership has decided in terms of a response to Iran, but there are definitely, I would say, Wolf, growing rumblings that response is likely to be sooner rather than later.

The question becomes what will it look like? Will Israel heed the caution that is being urged by many of its allies, including the U.S. to try not to escalate? Will it heed you know the forceful cries from some elements of the government here, particularly part of that right- wing coalition that Netanyahu has, who are calling for a forceful attack to re-establish a deterrent? Will it be a direct tit-for-tat, hitting some kind of a military installation? Would it possibly be an asymmetric attack focusing on one of Iran's numerous proxies in the region? Could it be a cyber attack?

These are all the various options that have been considered and now the region really just bracing itself, waiting and watching to see what will happen. And, of course, real concerns from some quarters that this could potentially escalate the situation further.

BLITZER: And how does all this tension between Israel and Iran right now impact Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza?

WARD: Well, I think it depends on the perspective you're looking at it from, Wolf. Some will say that this has been a lifeline to Netanyahu because it's really deflected tension away from Gaza, away from the withering criticism that Israel has faced about its handling of Gaza. Israel is still adamant that it is going to proceed ahead with that incursion into Rafah, where some 1 million Palestinians are currently hunkered down.


Unclear as to how this will affect the timeline, whether the focus on Iran detracts from the focus of Gaza, but there is certainly domestic pressure from here in Israel for some kind of a win or what would be viewed as a when in Israel on that front, particularly with those hostage ceasefire talks just completely stalled, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, sad, completely stalled, indeed. Clarissa Ward in Tel Aviv for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. CNN has learned that House Republican leaders will try to pass four separate foreign aid bills to provide assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. But it's unclear whether conservative hardliners in the House will accept that.

Joining me now, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, he's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

What's your reaction to this latest plan by the House of Republican leadership to pass four separate bills, decoupling aid to Israel from Ukraine aid, that may potentially bundle these before sending them to the Senate, but is that something you could support decupling all these bills?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, I haven't read any of the details of these four different proposals, so I certainly can't comment on how they would fare in the Seante, whether I'd vote for them. But it's a disturbing development.

The speaker of House has a bill in front of him right now that is passed to Senate with 70 votes, a huge bipartisan majority. It funds Ukraine, it funds Israel, it funds important humanitarian relief, and it helps Taiwan defend itself.

That bill is supported by the majority of his members, and he is still continuing to refuse to call it up for a vote. That could be on the president's desk tomorrow if Speaker Johnson just called for a vote.

So, every two days, he seems to have a new plan as to how he is going to avoid doing the right thing, just taking a voting, letting his members decide on what they feel about the Senate proposal that funds Ukraine.

This new plan, I don't know how it will fare in the House. I don't know it how will fair in Senate. What I know is that it inevitably just delays getting funding to both Israel and Ukraine. Both of those countries need that help desperately right now.

BLITZER: As you know, Israel, at this time, is still deliberating its response to that Iranian attack over the weekend.

When you look at how successfully Israel and its partners defended against all those missiles that were coming in, how little damage Iran actually did on the ground in Israel, would a direct counterstrike from Israel on Iran, do you think that would go too far?

MURPHY: Well, first of all, this attack from Iran is unacceptable, and I am glad that Israel was able to shoot down all these incoming missiles and drones. But there's a lot of skill involved in that, but probably some luck as well. We could easily be dealing with dozens, if not hundreds, of dead Israelis today.

Israel has a decision to make. I think everyone knows by now that the United States is counseling Israel to engage in a strategy moving forward that doesn't escalate this conflict any further. It certainly appears that the way in which Iran conducted this strike was telegraphing the fact that it does not want to be engaged in a deeper, bloodier, long-term conflict. And right now, with our ships being shot at in the Red Sea, with Gaza still on fire, with unrest in Jordan, this is the absolute wrong time for there to be an additional new broader conflict in the region.

BLITZER: The White House says this decision is now up to Israel. Listen to this. Listen.


JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: This is an Israeli decision to make, whether and how they'll respond. We're going to leave it squarely with them.

We are not involved in their decision-making process about a potential response.


BLITZER: So, Senator, what should the U.S. role be, and what advice should the Israelis be receiving from the United States, considering their risk to U.S. troops throughout the Middle East region if this conflict were to spiral?

MURPHY: Well, Israel is a sovereign nation, and this was undoubtedly a vicious attack on their territory and on the people. So, Israel has a right to determine for themselves how they respond.

I think the president has been right, to say that this is Israel's decision. The United State is not going to participate in this attack. And I think it's important for us to signal to Israel that the way in which they respond needs to be and should be calculated so as not to get Israel or the United States more deeply involved in a direct confrontation with Iran right now.

That is not good for Israeli security. It is good not for U.S. security. Our focus right needs be on getting those hostages out of Gaza, bringing the war in Gaza to a close. There's already been enough damage done to Israel's national security and to the U.S. national security.


We don't need another wider dangerous conflict with Iran.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Murphy, thanks so much for joining us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up we'll have more on the first criminal trial of a former president of the United States with a closer look at the key players in the case of the people of the state of New York versus Donald J. Trump.


BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial now underway, a historic first for a former U.S. president.

CNN's Brian Todd takes a closer look at some of the key players in the case.


TRUMP: This is an outrage that this case was brought.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Other than the protagonist himself who's on trial, there are some critical players who will determine the former president's fate in this case, starting with the man presiding over it.

Juan Merchan, the Colombian-born New York Supreme Court judge, who's in his early 60s, has already stood firm against Donald Trump's moves to delay and throw out this case, and expanded a gag order after Trump's personal attacks against Merchan and his family.

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He will have a very commanding presence in the courtroom in a very quiet and understated way, but he has no problem being strong if he needs to be.

TODD: Sparring before Judge Merchan will be a prosecution team led by Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, who will go against Trump's lead defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, and his team, who get praise from legal analysts for their track record.

AGNIFILO: Unlike some of Trump's prior representation in some of his other cases that I wouldn't put in the same caliber or the same quality of lawyering, Trump has got excellent lawyers here.

TODD: But it's the witnesses who will likely bring the most sizzle, possibly the most critical one, Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer.

Cohen is central because he made the hush money payments to Daniels and was reimbursed by the Trump organization.

COHEN: And he had told me that he had spoken to a couple of friends and it's $130,000, it's not a lot of money, and we should just do it. So, go ahead and do it.

TODD: Trump denies the charges of falsifying records of the payment. One analyst says the pressure on the prosecution to establish Cohen's credibility will be enormous.

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER PROSECUTOR, MANHATTAN D.A.'S OFFICE: If he fails and he looks like this is an agenda and he's a scorned individual and we know that he's admitted lying and we know that he's a criminal conviction, that is not going to be favorable in any way, shape or form to the prosecution.

TODD: There's Stormy Daniels, the adult film star whose alleged sexual encounter with Trump was the reason for the hush money payment. Her testimony on the affair, which Donald Trump has denied, will be pivotal in this trial, as will her accounts of the payments.

David Pecker, former chairman of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, will be asked about his efforts to bury media stories about the affairs.

But a witness who could provide the most dramatic testimony, Hope Hicks, Trump's former communications adviser, who helped the campaign deal with the Stormy Daniels fallout.

AGNIFILO: Anyone who is in Trump's inner circle, and who can provide that context and that perspective, I think, is someone that the jury will be listening very closely and intently to what they have to say. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We should point out that Karen Agnifilo, who provided analysis for our piece, works for a firm that represents Michael Cohen. But Agnifilo does not have any contact with Cohen, does not work on any case relating to him, and we did not have her speak about Cohen for our story. Wolf?

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

Let's bring in our political and legal experts for some serious analysis right now. Elliot, let me start with you again. Which of these high-profile witnesses, who will be called upon to testify, stands out to you?

WILLIAMS: Of course, Michael Cohen only and so far as credibility being a central issue at trial. A witness is only as good as whether jurors choose to believe that witness. And there might be questions seen about Michael Cohen's credibility, his former ties with former President Trump and so on.

Now, there are other witnesses who can corroborate some of the statements that Michael Cohen makes about the order of the payments and what they serve to do and so on, it's really just a question of what the jury believes, and do they trust the people that are put in front of them. So, I'll be really be watching carefully --

BLITZER: Apparently, there's a lot of documentation to back up what he what he says.

At the same time, as you know, Andrew, and you're the former FBI deputy director, Michael Cohen, yes, he's a key witness, but he has perjured himself and he actually went to jail as a result of that. So, what is the prosecution attempting to achieve by calling on him?

MCCABE: Every witness brings a certain amount of baggage to their role at the trial, and Cohen certainly has a lot most significantly that perjury conviction. However, prosecutors build cases every day across the country on the backs of witnesses who are troubled, who have been in -- who have criminal convictions, who have lied, have committed acts of violence, and they're able to rehabilitate those witnesses on the stand with things like documentation. It's not just going to be that Michael Cohen says I paid Stormy Daniels this amount, they're going to actually show him the check with Donald Trump's signature on it that includes that payment. So, there is a way to get beyond even significant baggage that Cohen presents.

GANGEL: And, Wolf, can I just add to that, and, you know, Andy and Elliot can address this, but Michael Cohen has already served prison time. He is not getting any benefit out of doing this. This is not a deal that's going to lessen the sentence. He's already. Had we've also been told by his former lawyer, Lanny Davis, that there are emails, text messages, other things, that this is a case that will be, let's say, won or lost on paper not just on Michael Cohen's.

One other thing, we don't know what Hope Hicks is going to say. [18:35:02]

In every case, there are potential surprises. There are several people who are going be called who, like Hope Hicks, were in the inner circle, who heard things, saw things that may very well support what Michael Cohen says.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

WILLIAMS: No, I absolutely do agree that, and more to the point, he repeatedly says, I lied and did what I did at the direction of the defendant, Mr. Trump.

Now, there may be questions about whether he can get that statement in the court because he's expressing an opinion and maybe the defense might try to strike it, but he says, no, look, yes, I have a lying perjury conviction and I didn't because the guy that's on trial right now. That could be very compelling evidence in a statement if he is allowed to make it.

BLITZER: As you know, David, David Chalian, this case is often seen as the least potentially important of four criminal charges -- not charges -- four criminal cases that Trump is going to have to deal with in the coming months.

We had a recent poll, we saw a recently poll that showed a majority of voters, look at this, 58 percent say they see this case as very or somewhat serious, including the majority of independent voters. Break that down for us.

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, nearly six in ten Americans see it as somewhat. And I never really have understood, over the course of the last year, how we sort of why we rank these trials. They don't happen that way, right?

I mean, it may be that some people see a January 6th trial as a more serious matter, but that doesn't take away from the fact, as we're seeing today, this process is going to play out on its own in a courtroom in Manhattan for these charges in this case that he is on and a jury will decide his guilt or innocence on that.

And so I do think we should treat this as that, a standalone case here, not in comparison to the others. And, clearly, Americans, and as you noted, also a majority of independents, think this is a serious matters.

BLITZER: Because the classified documents case down in Mar-a-Lago in Florida, that's a very serious case.

CHALIAN: Of course, yes.

BLITZER: All these cases are pretty serious. How do you think it's going to play politically?

GANGEL: Well, Donald Trump will be campaigning from the courthouse steps. We know that. He will playing the victim, which, I think, works for his base. I think, again, to the point of we don't know everything that's going come out in this case, there may be testimony that is damaging to him.

He may also get off, and that is -- you know, that will have its own political ramification.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens on that front.

You know, it's significant, tomorrow morning the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear oral arguments on a federal obstruction law that was used to prosecute Trump and others involved in the January 6th insurrection. Set the scene seat for us. Walk us through in what we should anticipate.

WILLIAMS: Sure. So, it is a white collar offense people may have heard of Sarbanes-Oxley many years ago that put in this crime of obstructing an official proceeding, obstructly influencing or corruptly obstruct or influencing an officially proceeding of Congress.

Now, the question is, was that intended just to apply to people like accountants and white collar criminals who behaved in a self-serving or a corrupt manner, or can it, based on what the language of the statute says, be applied to the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th? They were also obstructing an officials proceeding.

So, the Supreme Court is going to be looking at, number one, what did Congress mean when it passed this law, and, two, what is the history of these prosecutions for obstruction of official proceeding actually mean?

BLITZER: And the decision of the Supreme Court could directly impact Trump obviously as well.

All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, an inside look at how this unprecedented trial will play out. A former New York judge is standing by live. We'll discuss.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news we're following, Donald Trump's first criminal trial is officially underway in New York City with jury selection beginning this afternoon.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, the former U.S. district court judge, Shira Scheindlin. Judge Scheindlin, thank you very much for joining us.

You know these players. Take us inside this case from the perspective of a judge. How is Judge Merchan approaching this jury selection process?

SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: Well, jury selection is a difficult phase of a trial, particularly when it's so high profile. That's why he's used a written questionnaire with so many probing questions. That helps to move the voir dire, that is the questioning of the jurors along, because you can read those answers.

But in this court, the lawyers are allowed to question each juror individually and really try to tease out the biases that they may have. So, it's not going to be a fast process.

BLITZER: Are the challenges of ceding an impartial jury, Judge, greater in this case? Can Trump actually wind up getting a fair trial?

SCHEINDLIN: I believe he can get a fair trial, but it's not an easy job to read out those who are biased against him. As even he has pointed out, this is Manhattan. This is a district that won 75 percent for Biden in the election. So, he has a right to really question each juror carefully and be sure that the people who are eventually seated really can be fair and impartial.

Look, this is so high-profile that there's almost nobody who hasn't heard about it. Certainly, there's nobody who doesn't know this is the former president. It's not going to be an easy thing for them to listen to the evidence and decide the case, as we always tell jurors, solely on what you hear in the courtroom. That's the instruction judges give.

BLITZER: That's what they try to do. That's absolutely right.

The judge will hear arguments on a related matter on whether Trump actually violated the gag order in this case. How significant is this, Judge, and what are you expecting?

SCHEINDLIN: Well, this is tricky too. In the gag order, he is not allowed to sort of make comments about the prosecutors or the judge's family or the witnesses or the jurors.


SCHEINDLIN: And he's always going way up to the line, if not over, and he can't seem to stop it himself. So he made comments of course, about Michael Cohen and about Stormy Daniels. I forget her real name, but he certainly went on social media yesterday and made a lot of comments calling them liars and trash and all kinds of things.


SCHEINDLIN: The prosecution has asked already for contempt order and yet they've asked him to start imposing fines of $3,000, which isn't much of a deterrent for him. But it can ratchet up from there. It could be daily fines and increase the exponentially and eventually he may have to consider if you won't stop, I can incarcerate for violating a court order.

So we'll see what the tug of war between the judge and Mr. Trump is with respect to that gag order.

BLITZER: Yeah. We'll see if Trump actually does shut up. Trump has railed against this prosecution from the very start. From your perspective, Judge, would a defendant not named Donald Trump have faced these charges in this case?

SCHEINDLIN: Yes. I think -- I think someone else would. Now, I know his argument that this is unprecedented and a witch-hunt and it's just done to get him. I don't buy that. There are a lot of prosecutor prosecutions for making false business records.

But what makes this a felony and not a misdemeanor is that if you file these false business records in furtherance of another crime then it can be a felony. And that's what's unusual here. The other crimes that underlie it are election fraud. And we have to see if that can hold up as an underlying crime, both federal and state election fraud or election interference. And the third crime is tax fraud. So there are three underlying crimes.

Now, they don't have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Not at all. The three has to just find that the intent of the filing, the false business records or making the false business records was to further the underlying crimes and then it becomes a felony.

So, you know, it is unusual, but I think other people have many people have been prosecuted for the misdemeanor filing false business records. The question here is the underlying crimes and that's -- that's a bit of a first impression case. The election interference and the election fraud charges. That's new -- that's new.

BLITZER: Excellent explanation of why these are felony charges and not simply misdemeanor charges.

Judge Scheindlin, thank you very much for your expertise. Thanks very much for joining us and thanks for all your service. We appreciate it very much.

SCHEINDLIN: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, Iran now warning it wont show restraint should Israel respond after that Iranian drone and missile attack against Israel.

Our Anderson Cooper is now back in Israel. He'll join us live. That's coming up next.



BLITZER: Let's get back to the latest developments in the Middle East where Israel is weighing military options after Saturday's barrage of Iranian missiles and drones.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is standing by for his live in Tel Aviv. He's got an update for us.

Anderson, glad you're back there in Israel right now reporting on what's going on, what do we know so far about Israel's potential response? ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, the IDF chief of staff said today

that there will be a respond to that. There's no question about that. The question is exactly what is the nature of that response is going to be.

The Israeli war cabinet for several hours today, they've had a number of meetings since this attack. Obviously, we're told the times it was has been very tense, discussed questions inside -- inside that counsel. We don't know if a decision has been made, nor do we know what exactly the nature of response will be. Obviously, there's a number of factors involved both the nature of the response, whether it be diplomatic or military, which would be more are likely, and also that the timing of it, is it something that needs to happen quickly?

There's some thought that the quicker the better as far as Israel may see it, because they want to still try to maintain the international support. They've gotten in the longer they wait to respond, that any kind of support or sympathy for Israel may diminish in terms of a response. So there's a lot still, we don't know and obviously we are watching very closely what happens here on the ground, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, we also just learned that Hamas has actually offered a counterproposal in the ceasefire negotiations.

COOPER: What are we learning?

BLITZER: Yeah. This comes from Israeli source close to negotiations telling CNN's Jeremy Diamond that there has really been what can only be described as a setback in these negotiations. What has been on the table and has been being discussed for months was a release of some 40 Israeli hostages being held by Hamas and other groups inside Gaza in exchange for what would be a six-week ceasefire and the release of Palestinian prisoners in jails. That now seems according to this source, talking to Jeremy Diamond that number has been cut in half by Hamas from to about 20 prisoners.

They also want to -- excuse me, 20 hostages. They also want the number of Palestinian prisoners being held. They want a higher number of those released, and a higher percentage of those who have life sentences released. So that would be a big setback in the negotiation in the negotiations for the release of the hostages.

And a lot now depends on whether there's going to be a ground operation in Rafah, which was expected to take place this week. But right now, there's no sign of exactly when that may occur. Wolf.


BLITZER: Anderson Cooper in Tel Aviv for us, stay safe over there, Anderson. Thank you very much.

Anderson, of course, will be back for his show, "AC360" in a little bit more than an hour or so from now, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: A New Mexico judges just sentenced the armor for the film "Rust" to 18 months in prison, the maximum possible punishment. Hannah Gutierrez Reed was responsible for firearm safety on the movie set where cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed by a prop gun held by the actor Alec Baldwin.

Baldwin has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the shooting. He is expected to stand trial in July and has pleaded not guilty.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow morning, 11:00 Eastern on "CNN NEWSROOM". And then, of course, 6:00 p.m. Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Until then, that thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.