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CNN: Trump Lawyers Meet with Prosecutors Today in Last Chance to Convince Them Not to Pursue Charges; Barr on Trump's Election Fraud Claims: "It Was All Bullshit;" At Least 9 Dead, 152 Still Missing Amid Search for Survivors; Families, Crews Hoping For Miracle as Rescue Window Narrows; NPR: Official Told Residents Building Was Safe Despite Warning; Engineer Raised Concerns About Condo Years Before Disaster; Inspectors Looking at Nearby Buildings After Sudden Collapse; Supreme Court Gives Victory To Transgender Student on Bathroom Use. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired June 28, 2021 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Today, lawyers for the Trump organization are expected to meet with prosecutors in the Manhattan D.A.'s office. Apparently they're trying to convince a district attorney not to pursue criminal charges against the company.

Our Kara Scannell with the news, she joins me now. OK. So let's talk about what these -- what possible charges these are related to. And also, Kara, I'm just interested does that ever work? I mean going to someone and saying, please don't do this?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this will be the second meeting in five days. They met on Thursday. This meeting now is expected to take place today. And this is kind of a last-ditch effort to try to convince prosecutors not to bring charges against the company.

This is something that is common when a company is under investigation but prosecutors, it appears, are pretty ready to bring this case. Our reporting is that they could announce charges unless something happens today as soon as this week.

Now, the issue here is that they're investigating the company and the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, for failing to pay taxes on certain benefits that were provided to executives, including Weisselberg.

Those include, you know, rent-free apartment, company cars and for the case of Weisselberg, even potentially school tuition paid for his grandchildren. Now at the meeting on Thursday on the 24th, the former president,

Donald Trump, told me that they met with prosecutors; they presented their side of the story. You know a lot of these cases are usually handled in a civil manner where there are penalties and fines on taxes that weren't paid but not criminal charges.

Now he said if they do charge the company that would be outrageous and unprecedented. He also said that if the company is charged they will enter a plea of not guilty in the case and ask the judge to dismiss the indictment.

So a lot at stake today in today's meeting. But it is a high bar, Poppy, in order to convince prosecutors that this case they've been working on for months is not worth bringing.

HARLOW: But then if they did -- if this happens, if there are charges, they plead not guilty if they don't get if waived by the judges, (INAUDIBLE) where we go to trial unless a plea -- unless a plea was reached, right?

SCANNELL: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the process here, if the company is charged and if Allen Weisselberg is charged, then the next step is, you know, would it go to trial? Would there be a plea? And in the case of companies, they usually do reach some kind of agreement, which is then, you know, an indictment against the company, potential conviction, and then usually there are penalties and fines associated with that, too, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Kara, thank you for the reporting. Let's get into it a little bit more. Our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with me. Usually cases like this are -- are civil. Not always. Lay out what you see happening here.

And I'm just very interested in if like does it ever work to go to the D.A. and prosecutors and say please don't do this? Back off?


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It -- it works rarely. But it is customary to allow defense lawyers to meet before an indictment is filed and point out to prosecutor's reasons why the case should not be brought.

You know, in a high-profile situation like this, I think it's extremely unlikely that it would work. But the fact that these meetings take place is not at all unusual. What's unusual about this case is that, first of all, it's a corporate prosecution, apparently.

And corporate criminal prosecutions take place rarely because criminal law is not really designed very well to deal with corporations. Criminal law is about deterring and punishing individuals.

And when there is a corporate case, all that can happen really is that there can be a fine. So it is almost like a civil case. The other thing that's unusual about this case is it just seems like its pretty small potato stuff. I mean the -- the idea that you're going to build a criminal case

around, you know, not paying taxes on a company car or other sorts of benefits, the Trump lawyers, I think, have a point. If that's the whole case, that that is usually handled civilly. So we'll have to see whether there something more to this case than just an ordinary civil dispute.

HARLOW: So Jeff, where would that point get them then with the judge?

TOOBIN: Well, again, it would depend a lot on the kind of evidence that's presented. How much money is involved, how intentional the violation was, whether this was a knowing violation of the law, or simply a good faith mistake about how to account for taxable income.

I -- you know that -- that depends on the evidence that would come out. But you know it is worth remembering that, you know, when people talk about the Trump investigation, they have been talking about money laundering. They've been talking about tax fraud. They've been talking about, you know, foreign involvement somehow in the Trump case.

If all it comes down to is this sort of minor -- what really does seem like minor stuff, I think that's -- that's worth calling attention to.

HARLOW: Yes, great point. OK. Let's switch gears, if we could. So Jonathan Carl has what sounds like a fascinating new book coming out in the fall. And he interviewed Bill Barr, the former attorney general for it. And I want to read an excerpt of that from Barr as it pertains to Trump's repeated claims of election fraud.

Quote, my attitude was it's put up or shut up time. If there was evidence of fraud I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was there was nothing there, it was all BS. We realized from the beginning it was just BS.

Now, he could have said that to Wolf Blitzer in the important interview that Wolf did with him. And there's so many more times when you could say it. But at least he's saying it and that matters. What's your read?

TOOBIN: Well, it is -- it is a peculiar situation with Barr now because, you know, as our colleague, Elie Honig, is about to point out in a book that comes out shortly, Barr enabled many of the lawless activities during the Trump administration.

For him to -- but it is also true that this case and all those fraud allegations were BS. And it is, I suppose to Barr's credit that he recognized it was BS and refused to put the Justice Department behind any of these charges.

So it does look like he is doing some late in the day reputation laundering for himself. But better late than never and, you know, it is true that these cases were BS. And it is true that the Justice Department never -- never got behind him. So, a small measure of credit to him for that.

HARLOW: But there are so many people who believe the big lie because it continues and continues and continues.

TOOBIN: That is for sure.

HARLOW: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.


HARLOW: We're going to have much more from the tragedy in Surfside, Florida, ahead. We'll get to a quick break. We'll be right back.



HARLOW: Well, for a fifth straight day, search and rescue continues as they sift carefully through the debris of the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida. Nine people are confirmed dead this morning. Still 152 loved ones missing. Now there say centralized system to alert the families. You see it right here. People can register for any alerts right at

Let me bring in Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz whose district, of course, includes surfside.

Congresswoman, there are no words to adequately describe our condolences for what your entire community is going through right now. You have talked about it in the terms of the gut of this community was ripped out in an instant and a lot of your time has been with the families waiting for answers. Can you tell us what they are asking you for this morning?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Well, they're asking everyone who will listen for answers. And thank you, Poppy. And thank you for CNN's coverage of this. It's so important to have people on the ground because being close to this tragedy, an unprecedented tragedy helps us make sure that we can really put not only a spotlight on what happened but all the way through what will be a very long process, get to the bottom of how this happened.

But right now we're focused on those families, focused on making sure our search and rescue team are able to get through and do their incredible work, which thankfully the families had a chance to see what they were doing up close yesterday.


And what they had wanted was to get close to, obviously, for so many of the religious community especially, to be able to closer to the pile and be able to pray and feel closer to the process.

HARLOW: Of course, because in the Jewish faith, you are not supposed -- I was speaking with one of my Jewish colleagues this morning, who was telling me you're not supposed to leave a body alone.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, that's right. HARLOW: And so many of those customs, burying the dead right after

their death if there are -- you know for many families they're struggling with not even being able to do any of that.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes. It is a very close, familial process. A body -- you know a body's side is not left. There's actually someone who sits with a deceased person all night until -- until burial.

In addition to that, obviously, you know to the degree that they're finding separated remains that we make sure that they're preserved so that they can be buried together. There's so much sensitivity that's necessary here, Poppy. So much humanity.

You know, often these disasters are a very bureaucratic, antiseptic process. And you know I'm really so pleased to see all the work, local, state and federal officials working together to make sure that we can thread humanity through this very bureaucratic antiseptic process.

HARLOW: That's a really important way to put it, to thread humanity through, when there are so few answers. I do, if you'll allow me, I want to ask you some -- some questions, though, about what may -- what we may learn, given that 2018 report that this consultant came in and did a full analysis of the building and raised just alarming concerns about columns and beams and walls with sizeable spalls in them, said that many of previous garage concrete repairs were not adequate and were failing.

Talked about the waterproofing at the pool deck failing and causing major structural damage. The report did not say the building was at risk of collapse but did say these things need to be fixed in a timely manner. It's been three years. They weren't fixed. Did you know anything about that report before this week?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. No, of course not. And, you know, yes, there will be a time for that. I think it's important right now, particularly because the search and rescue teams are still there. And they're saying there's still hope. Until they tell us there isn't, making sure we focus on first things first and potentially rescue individuals who might have survived is key.

But also, to be careful, Poppy, because a lot of this information is very choppy. There's not good regulation and oversight with condominium association law, chapter 718 and Florida statues. I served in the legislature for 12 years, dealt a lot, as you might imagine, with those condo laws.

And so that's going to need to be carefully reviewed because there's a lot of layperson involvement in the oversight of the repairs, the renovations, and then at the federal level I'm meeting in a little while with the national NIST, our forensic and structural engineering teams who are going to review whether they'll open an investigation. And so I'm going to hear from them and be briefed about their process.

HARLOW: And you're on oversight and clearly you think there is -- there's more that could be done potentially on a federal level here in terms of legislation requirements. Before you go, there is obvious concern about the sister building, and that is Champlain Towers North that was built -- built according to The New York Times by the same develop with the same design just a year later.


HARLOW: Do you believe the residents living in that building right now are safe? Should they be there?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So the mayor of Surfside, Mayor Charles Burkett, they've sent their team to take a look at the building and basically left it up to the residents there. They've assured them there isn't an immediate, urgent need for them to evacuate and leaving it up to them.

So I'm confident that there's a comfort level that people can make their own choice. But I'll tell you, you know, we have A1A (ph) dotted all the way up the coastline with buildings that date back to the '60s, '70s and '80s and we're going to need to make sure there's a comprehensive review.

The federal NIST, that's what they're going to be doing. They're going to take a very deep dive into this, to see whether or not -- the way they decide to open a full investigation is determined by, in part, whether or not we would be making needed changes that would affect condos like this, or construction practices. And building codes all over the nation.

And so this does have national implications and the review that they're going -- that they're doing right now is critical.

HARLOW: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you for your time this morning.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: And we are all standing in solidarity with you and hoping for answers for these families.


HARLOW: Thank you.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We're going to be here with them every step of the way, Poppy. Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Of course. All right. We do have breaking news from Supreme Court, right after the break.



HARLOW: Breaking news from the Supreme Court just in. They have issued a decision to leave in place a lower court ruling that allowed a transgender student to use the bathroom that corresponded to that student's gender identity. Jessica Schneider joins us from Washington anymore (ph). It's significant that they're not taking up this challenge to that decision.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The Supreme Court saying we're not going to hear this case. Instead we'll leave the lower court decision in place; it was a fourth circuit decision that ruled in favor of this transgender student, Gavin Grimm out of Virginia.


This case actually began in 2015; it's been winding its way through the courts. This is actually the second time that the Supreme Court has considered this. Gavin Grimm transitioned to a boy and he wanted to use the boys' bathroom but local school board policy said that you had to use the bathroom of the gender that you were assigned at birth.

Well, Gavin Grimm challenged that. He actually brought it all the way to the Supreme Court a few years ago. The Supreme Court looked to Obama era guidance that said that this was a violation of Title 9, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex.

They sent it back down to the lower courts and then it's been working its way through the lower courts. The fourth circuit here saying that, yes, in fact, the school board did violate Title 9. They referred to a decision that came down last term that was written by the conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch saying that Title 9 did comply to transgender people, discrimination on the basis of sex, federal employment law.

This case, Poppy, is interesting because the Supreme Court deciding not to take this case but two of the conservative justices, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito, they would have taken this case.

They would have wanted to hear this but these justices saying they will not hear it and it will remain in place. A victory for this transgender student in Virginia. Poppy.

HARLOW: Two important decisions this term on, I think about the cheerleader case too, just on the things brought by minors. It's just interesting to watch.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, victories for them.

HARLOW: Thank you very much. We will take you back to Surfside, Florida, right after this.