CNN Surprisingly Skeptical On Charging Trump In Stormy Daniels Hush-money Case

March 10th, 2023 9:56 PM

Elie Honig Don Lemon Kaitlan Collins John Avlon CNN This Morning 3-10-23 You might have expected CNN This Morning to gleefully welcome the prospect of Donald Trump being indicted in connection with the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. 

But no! Reacting to the news that Trump has been invited to testify before the Manhattan grand jury—interpreted as a sign that an indictment was likely imminent, today's show reacted with stunning skepticism to the prospect.

Hosting the segment, Kaitlan Collins teed up CNN legal correspondent Paula Reid to pour cold water on the situation. Noting that the prosecution would hinge on the testimony of Michael Cohen, a convicted felon and admitted liar, Collins dubiously asked Reid: "to be realistic, is this a strong case?"

Reid ran with Collins' implication, saying that the case is "certainly not as strong" as other possible cases against Trump. She downplayed the matter as "a paperwork crime that relies on a novel legal theory." Reid painted Cohen as someone so "fixated" on Trump that even his close associates have told her it would be better for the case not to be brought and for Cohen to "move on with his life."

And—perhaps revealing the real reason behind CNN's opposition to an indictment in this case—Reid suggested that an acquittal could undermine prosecutions in other, stronger cases, by buttressing Trump's claim that he has been the victim of a witch hunt.

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig sustained the skepticism. He observed that the crime of which Trump would be accused would likely be a misdemeanor, akin to a shoplifting charge, or at most, the lowest level of felony, that "very well could result in no prison time."

Honig could see that John Avlon was bursting with impatience to enter the discussion to argue in favor of indicting Trump. But Honig preemptively warned Avlon: "I'm telling you—these are facts."

When Avlon did get his chance, he argued in favor of the indictment on the principle of equal justice under the law. He also pushed back against Honig's shoplifting analogy. Saying "this is not in the same universe as shoplifting," Avlon claimed, "this is a payoff that was used as hush money that could have swung the outcome of an election."

You might have imagined that Don Lemon would have been on Team Avlon, pushing hard for Trump's indictment. But he played a minor and subdued role in the discussion. You get the impression that Lemon remains abashed after his suspension and sensitivity training for claiming that Nikki Haley was "not in her prime." But how long will Lemon be able to contain his liberal impulses -- and the desire to assert his dominance over his co-hosts? 

CNN This Morning's surprising skepticism over the possible charging of Donald Trump by the Manhattan DA in connection with a hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels was sponsored in part by Johnson & Johnson, maker of Listerine and Neutrogena.

Here's the transcript, click "expand" to read:

CNN This Morning
6:04 am ET

KAITLAN COLLINS: This is a big development, of course, Paula. But I also think it's important to keep it in perspective here.


COLLINS: Because it is kind of this complicated theory here. A lot of it hinges on Michael Cohen. As we all know, has gone to prison. He is a convicted felon. He has admitted to lying. So, I mean, the question, to be realistic is, is this a strong case?

REID: It's the question, Kaitlan. Because this is certainly not as strong as other possible cases, both at the state and federal level that could be brought against the former president. I mean, let's take a look. We're talking about conduct that occurred seven years ago. 

At its core, this is really a paperwork crime that relies on a novel legal theory. And like you said, at the center of the case is Michael Cohen. He is a convicted liar. Who for years, especially since Trump turned on him, has publicly appeared pretty fixated on the former president and on the idea of him being charged. 

I mean, even some of Cohen's close associates have told me they really think it would be best if this case is not brought and if Cohen just kind of moved on with his life. But there are also questions about, well, why would a prosecutor bring a case like this if it's not strong, if it's such a long shot? 

Well, the district attorney, he is facing a lot of political pressure here. But political pressure should not be a basis to bring charges, right? Because the former president, he dismisses every investigation that he faces as politically motivated. So if you bring a case like this, this indictment against a former president, and you're not successful, that really could undermine the legitimacy of all these other cases that we've seen that are much stronger, have a much more diverse array of witnesses, a lot more evidence.

COLLINS: Yeah: big challenge for prosecutors. Paula Reid, thank you.

. . . 

ELIE HONIG: If there is an indictment of the president, it will be a first. It will be historic. It will be monumental. But we also need to keep the perspective here. This will be a state charge
brought by a local, elected, county district attorney. This is not the feds. This is not the Justice Department. The laws that they will be charging here, the New York State laws, are either going to be a misdemeanor. And just for comparison, shoplifting under $1,000 in new York State is a misdemeanor. No one's going to jail for a misdemeanor, or potentially, the lowest level of felony, Class E, A through E. 

I'm telling you the reality, John. I see you getting ready. But I'm telling you: these are facts. We are looking at a case that is going to be, best case scenario, the lowest level felony. Very well could result in no prison time.

JOHN AVLON: Which is insane. And here's why. First of all, this is it hasn't occurred yet, that already sent somebody to jail, Michael Cohen. Who was lying on Trump's behalf and had a history of doing so.

One of the core principles of this country is equal justice under law. The reason this hasn't been brought is that for four years, Trump has been shielded by the OLC [The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel] opinion that he couldn't be charged as president. And this is a payoff that was used as hush money that could have swung the outcome of an election. This is not shoplifting. This is not in the same universe as shoplifting. There was an impulse to hide this because it could have impacted the outcome of an American election. So all those reasons are why it matters.