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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Second Day Of Testimony, Pecker Explains How He Worked With Cohen To Squash Unflattering Stories, "Help The Campaign"; Transcripts Of Second Day Of Testimony In Trump Trial Released; Awaiting Judge's Decision On Whether Trump Violated Gag Order; Trump In New Interview: "Michael Cohen Is A Convicted Liar And He's Got No Credibility Whatsoever". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 23, 2024 - 20:00   ET





JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it should be noted that Sen. Marco Rubio was another one of those who was seen as a Trump rival. He was another one of those targeted by the Enquirer back in 2016. He was actually asked about that today. He basically blew it off, saying that isn't that the same publication that said Elvis was alive.


CARROLL: It shows you where some of them stand in this day and age.

BURNETT: All right.


BURNETT: Jason Carroll, thank you very much.

And thanks so much to all of you. Anderson starts now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CNN's special primetime coverage of the Trump hush money trial, the first ever criminal trial of a former president.

There's a lot to bring you from a truncated but busy day six that saw the judge warn a defense attorney he's losing credibility. Also, testimony from David Pecker, the former tabloid publisher who became the Trump campaign's eyes and ears.

And tonight, new reporting and discussions underway about what to do if the former president is actually jailed for contempt. Quite a day. A lot to get to.

Judge Merchan's warning came as Trump attorney Todd Blanche tried to answer prosecution evidence during a contempt hearing with the jury not present. The judge saying, "You're losing all credibility with the court," but making no decision on the matter. Then testimony continued from David Pecker, who took jurors deeper into the world of catch and kill, detailing how his National Enquirer sought out stories that might damage the Trump campaign in order to catch them and then bury them.

Afterwards, the cameras rolling, viewers watching, the former president spoke out about not being allowed, he believes, to speak out.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a gag order, which to me is totally unconstitutional. I'm not allowed to talk, but people are allowed to talk about me. So they can talk about me. They can say whatever they want. They can lie, but I'm not allowed to say anything. I just have to sit back and - look at why a conflicted judge has ordered me to have a gag order. I don't think anybody's ever seen anything like this.


COOPER: Well, nor has anyone seen what might happen if he's jailed for violating that order, which, to be fair, does not yet appear to be on the table, seems unlikely. That said, there's breaking news and discussions underway on how that might work, and we'll bring that to you in our special coverage tonight.

Joining us is criminal defense attorney Arthur Aidala, best-selling author and former federal prosecutor; Jeffrey Toobin; CNN anchors Kaitlan Collins and Abby Phillip; CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig; and CNN's Kara Scannell, who watched the proceedings today from inside the courtroom.

Kara, let's start with you. What was it like?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Donald Trump was there at the defense table again, this time sitting across from his longtime friend David Pecker, who was getting into the actual heart of this testimony. Because the day before, he was kind of setting the table to explain to the jury what the National Enquirer was and what they did, and today, it was really bringing them into this alleged conspiracy, this August 2015 meeting where Donald Trump, David Pecker, Michael Cohen all hatched this catch-and-kill scheme and made the decision that they were going to bury some stories, promote negative stories, made-up stories about some rivals, all to help Donald Trump's campaign and David Pecker really underscored that today.

And then, of course, getting into some of these two of the three catch-and-kill deals, both the one involving the doorman, one involving Karen McDougal. And all throughout the time, David Pecker was very composed, I think a credible witness. He was being specific in his testimony and he was addressing the jury for most of the time.

At the time, Donald Trump was variously, intently watching David Pecker and then otherwise looking, appearing to either be staring off or looking at this monitor in front of him, which actually gives a feedback. It's the video feedback that plays in the overflow courtroom, and so he's kind of watching himself watch the trial, so to speak.

COOPER: That's kind of surreal. I mean, it's interesting the - David Pecker made the point several times today that they were - he was doing this to benefit the campaign. He wasn't - he didn't say he was doing it to benefit, to protect Donald Trump's family. It was to benefit the campaign.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's the theory. That's the prosecution theory and that's what they're really trying to establish, that this was not about helping Donald Trump preserve his marriage. This was a conspiracy to get Donald Trump elected president.

The question is and I think it was a coherent theory about all the ways that Pecker was going to help Donald Trump. Where's the crime? That's the question. Is a magazine editor helping someone get elected president? That's what magazines do in this country. The expenditure of money is allegedly the crime, but you can be sure that on cross- examination, Pecker is going to be talked to - they're going to say, you're just supporting the candidate you wanted. That's what magazines do, right?

COOPER: Kaitlan, how do you think he did on this one?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm not sure that's what all magazines do, maybe some of them.

TOOBIN: Well, not in that way, perhaps. Yes.

COLLINS: I think some people would like to have a word.


But I think as watching all of this play out, it's fascinating to see David Pecker sitting there and testifying in this way, and they're laying the groundwork to get to something bigger, obviously, with all of this and with his relationship with Trump.

But he met Trump and visited Mar-a-Lago, met him in the '80s, worked through them in the '90s, worked with him when "The Apprentice" became a show. Trump would send him Apprentice ratings, and they would publish them in the National Enquirer. And David Pecker was kind of saying there was this mutually beneficial relationship between the two of them, this two-way street. And then, he was helping promote Trump.

And then when it got closer to the election, he was helping bury negative stories. He said ...

COOPER: Which he had never - he talked about he had never done that before.

COLLINS: He had never paid anyone for a story related to Donald Trump until it was the doorman who was shopping around an untrue story about Trump fathering a child out of wedlock. But still, they were worried about it. And mainly, he kept making the point, I only wanted to keep it out of the press, and so did Michael Cohen, until after the election.

And so that was the key point that they really got David Pecker to make today, which was saying things were different as we got closer to the 2016 election.

COOPER: Arthur, what did you think of Pecker?

ARTHUR AIDALA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, he got to just back up before he even takes the stand. The prosecutor opens - opening statement, this is a conspiracy. And who's in the conspiracy? Donald Trump, Pecker and Cohen. Now, there is no conspiracy charge.

They could have easily charge some form of a conspiracy if they could have figured that out. But one of the reasons why I don't think they try to even charge a conspiracy is you have three people in a conspiracy, two of them are going to be witnesses and one's a defendant, why? Usually, it's one cooperator and two defendants, not the other way around.

Additionally, Anderson, he got immunity. Not a cooperation agreement, immunity. Which goes to Jeffrey's point, I think, like, there is really no - we haven't spoken about a crime yet. There is no crime at this point. Everything he's talking about, there's nothing in the penal that say this catch-and-kill theory is criminal.

So, that's - obviously, in summation, the defense is going to focus on who this guy is and what he's all about. But here's what they have to get out in cross-examination. Isn't it true, Mr. Pecker, that at one point, Mr. Trump said - in addition to the campaign, Melania doesn't need to hear about this, that's all they need. And he was like, yes, he was concerned about Melania. He was concerned about Barron.

Because it's got to be that the expenditure is a hundred percent for him to become president of the United States.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm sorry, that's wrong. That's just not the law. It does not have to be 100 percent - actually Jeffrey is agreeing with me, it does not have to be 100 percent campaign-related. There's campaign motivation ...

COOPER: You're saying it could be both ...


COOPER: ... I wanted to protect the campaign, but also I was worried about my wife.

HONIG: Yes. It has - the campaign has to be a substantial factor. It does not have to be 100 percent. Nobody would ever be able to prove that. Now, look, my view of David Pecker today is he was a rock-solid start for the prosecutors. You're not going to win your case with the first witness. It's a mistake to try to do that. I agree that if the case ended right now, we'd have no crime made out.

COOPER: So he's sort of setting the table.

HONIG: Exactly. And what I think he did that was really interesting is he took the jurors inside this seedy, unseemly world of catch and kill and what happens behind the scenes at the National Enquirer. He painted a very vivid picture, even just following along with the updates as we were doing real-time. It was riveting.

And he explained how this world works. He explained who the key players are. He explained what the relationships are that Michael Cohen is sort of Donald Trump's lieutenant and Dylan Howard was his lieutenant. He explained the chains of communication.

So you're not going to win it all with one shot right off the bat, but I think it's a good start. And by the way, prosecutors should not be high-fiving in the beginning, middle or end of direct. It's all about cross because then you're going to have a good defense lawyer like Arthur Aidala trying to tear you down and they will score points on it.

AIDALA: I got to ask you this question, because here's the problem with this whole case, we don't exactly know what that secondary crime is, right? So you and I are talking about the election law. We're not talking about whether he falsified - I think it's an open and shut case that he put something in his books that wasn't accurate.

But if he put down - I bought this suit to be - to run for my presidential campaign, but he was going to wear it also to a wedding, he can't write that off. It's not a campaign expense. It's got to be - campaign expenses are, this is my campaign headquarters. I'm paying rent for it and I'm only running my campaign out of it.

He can't say, I'm running my campaign out of it and I'm doing some real estate out of it ...

COOPER: Right, but it's ...

AIDALA: ... then that's not a campaign expense.

COOPER: But if they were having this meeting, this now infamous meeting with Michael Cohen, and Pecker and Trump in 2015 and the whole purpose of the meeting was, what can I do to help your campaign? Isn't that setting up the framework for what this deal was?

SCANNELL: David Pecker gets them to intent and that's the secondary part of the crime. Trump is charged with falsifying business records, but with the intent to conceal or commit another crime. And prosecutors were talking about this in court today with the jury out of the courtroom.


This - that's what they're trying to prove with David Pecker, that the intent was to violate New York state campaign finance laws, which is just to promote a candidate. It's more artful than that, but that's the essence of it. COOPER: If you're spending money to influence a campaign, there are

laws that regulate how that money can be spent. Is that what you're saying? I mean, that's the core.

HONIG: Yes. How much you can give, first of all, way less than $130,000 and that you have to report it. And I think it's worthwhile to step back and just reflect on what exactly the charges are here. And I think Arthur's doing an effective job showing where some of the questions are going to be raised.

But the core charges here, you have to start with falsifying business records. And so this goes to what we were just talking about. They paid this money to Stormy Daniels to hush her for the election. And the allegations, they falsified the payments. They tried to make it look like an attorney's legal fees, a retainer. And the argument is there's the falsification. And you have to tie that to Donald Trump, which is not going to be easy.

And then the sort of back half of it is you have to show that the motivation was political. Not a hundred percent, but that a substantial portion of the motivation was political.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: And this is where I think that the nature of David Pecker's relationship with Donald Trump changing in 2015 is going to be critical information for the jury. They were friends for a very long time. They were in this seedy New York world. Donald Trump was, as someone put it, a friend of Pecker's. They had that close relationship.

But it wasn't until 2015 that suddenly David Pecker was talking to Michael Cohen every single day almost trying to give them advice about where the story - the bad stories are. Their - the nature of the relationship changed when Trump started running for president, which suggests that the motivation was the election. That was right there.

COLLINS: And what we learned today that was also different than what I had remembered being characterized at the time when there was a lot of reporting in the Wall Street Journal and whatnot when we were covering the White House was it was written that August 2015 meeting that Pecker had gone and said, what can I do to help your campaign?

But what we testified to today was that Trump sought this meeting with him, that Michael Cohen set it up. And then when they went to the meeting, they asked how David Pecker could help with the campaign, that it was the reversal that they were asking him how he could help, not him asking them.

TOOBIN: There's a history here which makes the prosecution's case, I think, even a little bit stronger. I mean, the relationship between Pecker and Trump was one of hero worship, period. I mean, Pecker revered Trump.

I wrote about Pecker in 2017 in The New Yorker.

COLLINS: But for all of us was (INAUDIBLE) ...

TOOBIN: Right. Well, before that.

COOPER: Which I re-read the other day and it's fasting ...

COLLINS: So did I.


TOOBIN: Yes, it was a trip down memory lane.

But one of the odd facts that I always remember from that story is that and you mentioned it briefly, he actually published a vanity magazine ...

COLLINS: Trump Style.

TOOBIN: ... called Trump Style, which when you checked into a Trump hotel, it would be there with The Gideon's bible that you got a free copy. But it was so over the top in its praise of Trump and his style and his wealth and his glamour and that was how Pecker saw Trump.

But in 2015 he took that hero worship and turned it to the campaign. And it makes sense and it's ...

PHILLIP: It was mutually beneficial, too ...

TOOBIN: Right.

PHILLIP: ... because Pecker talks about they surveyed the audience of the National Enquirer about a Trump run and it was overwhelmingly positive. Trump was a fixture in that magazine but the viewership wanted to hear about Trump too in a positive way perhaps not (INAUDIBLE) ...

TOOBIN: I went ...

COOPER: In The New Yorker you cite an example, I don't know if you were listening in on the call, of a new - of a call in the - among National Enquirer editors about stories there, it was a story pitch meeting, and that's how the piece opens up. They're pitching a story about, I think, Melania Trump not holding down Trump's hand or something and David Pecker says on the call, well, I didn't see that. And then they try to pitch the story again which was a negative story about Trump and Pecker again says I didn't see that and they get this sense move on.

TOOBIN: Right. Well, and I went to editorial meetings of the National Enquirer where they decided what was on the cover every week and Pecker was very active in this.

COOPER: It was all about the cover (INAUDIBLE) ...

TOOBIN: All about the cover and they had lists of who sold and who didn't. Jennifer Aniston sold, Jennifer Lopez didn't sell, I don't know why, but that's true. They also had words that sold or didn't sell on the cover. Tragic last days always sold. Also, the last days to ... COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) to live, I believe.

TOOBIN: Well ...

COLLINS: So as the Hillary Clinton one while Trump was the healthiest man ever elected.

TOOBIN: That's right. But Trump sold. That was the thing that in addition to - I mean, and this may come out in cross-examination that in addition to the fact that Pecker wanted to help Trump, that during the campaign, 2015, 2016, Trump was good for the Enquirer. That's what you're suggesting, Abby, in the sense that it was mutually beneficial.


Because when they put him on the cover, it's sold.

SCANNELL: And David Pecker said that today. He said we needed it at the time.


COOPER: Coming up next, a look at the trial transcript that we just got, some of the key and detailed moments from inside the courtroom and more what David Pecker said about the catch and kill scheme designed to protect the man he said was known as the most eligible bachelor.

Also, what Karen McDougal, one of the women whose story he caught and killed, told me about the deal she took.


COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) news now, we have the full transcript from the trial today. And even though virtually nothing happens in court without a team of reporters posting it online, almost in real time, even the fastest reporter can't capture the scope and the sweep and the full context that the complete record does.

CNN's John Berman has been going through it, including more of David Pecker's testimony in the catch-and-kill scheme at the heart of the case. Some of it deals with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, whose story of her alleged relationship with Trump was caught and killed by David Pecker.

Before we bring you details of the transcript, I just want to play for you what Karen McDougal told me in her only television interview about why she decided to tell her story.



KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY MODEL: I feel like the contract is illegal. I feel like I wasn't presented correctly. I was lied to. And everybody involved in this deal. I want the rights back, and I want to share my truth because everyone else is talking about my truth, which - I need to share my story.

COOPER: Do you have any regrets about the relationship that you say you had with him?

MCDOUGAL: Back then?


MCDOUGAL: The only regret I have about the relationship that I had with Donald was the fact that he was married.


COOPER: And John Berman join me now.

So John, you've been digging deeper into the transcript. What stands out?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: First of all, this is the transcript of just today, so you can see how much paper comes out here. And the part where they talk about Karen McDougal was at the very end of today's hearing. The prosecution saved the Karen McDougal part.

And in here, David Pecker recounts being pulled out of a meeting from a phone call by Donald Trump to ask about the various whispers that have been going on about Karen McDougal. We don't have graphics of this, but let me read this to you.

Pecker says in the testimony, "He mentioned to me, he said, 'I spoke to Michael,'" Michael Cohen. "He said, 'he told me about, uh, uh, that time.' He told me about that. He said, 'He told me about Karen.' He said to me, 'What do you think?"

This is Pecker saying that Trump asked him, what do you think about Karen McDougal. Pecker goes on to say, I believe you should buy it. I believe you, Trump, should buy the Karen McDougal story. Trump said to me, "Look, everything he says, I don't buy stories." And he said that anytime you do anything like this, it always gets out. Pecker says, "I still believe we should take the story off the market." Trump says, "Let me think about it and I'll have Michael Cohen call you in a few days."

And this we do have a graphic of. Later in the testimony, Pecker talks about how he was speaking to Michael Cohen. This is Josh Steinglass, the prosecutor, "How would you describe Michael Cohen's tone during those calls about Karen McDougal?" Pecker says, "Michael was very agitated. It looked like he was getting a lot of pressure to get the answer, like, right away." Steinglass asks, "What makes you say that?" Pecker says, "He kept on calling; and each time he called, he seemed more anxious." "Steinglass says, "Did you understand - did you understand as to where that pressure to find out more was coming from?" Pecker says, "Well, you know, I assumed he had a conversation with Mr. Trump.

AIDALA: Objection.

BERMAN: And Mr. Trump was asking Michael Cohen, 'Did we hear anything yet?'"

COOPER: You would object there?

AIDALA: Objection, you can't assume. As soon as you hear the word assume, objection. Look, he was jumping up before I was. I mean, a witness can't testify.


AIDALA: I assume this or I assume that, that's not - those aren't facts, so objection, right? I apologize for just screaming.

COOPER: No. I mean ...

AIDALA: It's just my instinct. But I do find the transcript fascinating and I'm dying to read it. And actually, a friend of mine, Jim Walden (ph), who's a brilliant attorney, he's the one who filed the motion asking for the daily transcript to be released. The people who aren't too happy about it are the court reporters who get paid daily copy to do this.

But again, these aren't crimes. Like, nothing that you just spoke about is a crime. Michael Cohen being anxious is not a crime. It just means it's something that they're interested in.

And, Abby, when you talk about their relationship changing in 2015, we now know that when you declare yourself for public office, whether it's city council person or president of the United States, they come out. They're coming to get you, which is now why we don't get good people running for office anymore, because they go back to high school and see what you did back then.

So I'm not surprised that once Trump goes from being a TV star and a real estate magnate to being president of the United States, all these people come out. And, yes, it's a mutually beneficial society, and they're there to help each other.

PHILLIP: The - to me the anxiety of Michael Cohen was - spoke to the pressure ...

COOPER: From Trump.

PHILLIP: ... assumed from Trump. So, I mean, that's the only reason that that matters. But the other thing I would just note, I mean, the Karen McDougal story is not over. This is just beginning of what we will learn about this Karen McDougal story.

And when you look at the charging documents here for Trump, there are some hints about where this goes next. David Pecker ends up paying her, but at some point, he decides to not get reimbursed from Trump World and I'm curious as to why that happened. So this is the opening salvo, but there's more to come.

HONIG: Yes. So, again, you're not going to find the crime A to Z found in any one paragraph of testimony. Prosecutors have to build a case here. And I think two things jump out at me from that transcript. One, this is a full nine alarm fire in Trump World and in the National

Enquirer in Pecker's environment. They are - I mean, they're pulling each other out of meetings. They're borderline panicking.

The other thing is it establishes a really important chain of communication, because this is one of the rare instances - there's a few - where David Pecker has direct contact with Donald Trump. Most of it's with Michael Cohen.

And the weakness that Arthur just pointed out is, well, how do you know that Michael Cohen was truly acting on Donald Trump's behalf? You can't assume. You're right. And you're - maybe Michael Cohen was just a free agent. I mean, Michael Cohen's not super reliable, but the chain here is David Pecker makes contact with Donald Trump, who essentially hands him off to Michael Cohen and says Cohen's going to handle this. You two go and do your thing.

BERMAN: I'll have Michael Cohen call you back in a few days.

HONIG: Exactly.


COOPER: One of the things, though, that David Pecker said today, and correct me if I'm wrong on the stand, was that according to him, Trump was very detail-oriented and actually paid attention to a lot, of the mundane details of this transaction. He's not saying that he was aware that the line item was a legal fee, but he's indicating Trump was very much involved in this.

And what you just read, John, also backs that up, that, according to Cohen, and what Cohen will probably testify, is that Donald Trump is breathing down his neck very closely following the Karen McDougal situation.

COLLINS: Well, also, he talked about how he would sit with Trump in Trump Tower on the 26th floor, and Trump's assistant, at the time, would come in and bring him invoices and checks, which I thought was a really notable moment.

BERMAN: I have that. I can read that.

COOPER: Sure, go ahead.

COLLINS: And Donald Trump would sign it.

BERMAN: I can read that. This is from page 1,002 of the transcript, signing checks. Steinglass, Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, asks, "Did you have occasion over the years to observe Mr. Trump's business practices?" Pecker responds, "Yes." Josh Steinglass asks, "In what context?" Pecker responds, "I was - I had a meeting with Mr. Trump in his office, and when I was there, his assistant," Rona (ph), "brought in a batch of invoices and checks to sign, and I observed Mr. Trump, and I noticed that he reviewed the invoice and looked at the check, and then he would - he was signing them." TOOBIN: That tells you a couple of things. First of all, it's very

important that the prosecution establish that Donald Trump signed - knew what the corporate records were. That's what this whole case is about. The other thing it tells you is that David Pecker is not on team Trump. He didn't have to give that kind of testimony.


TOOBIN: That was - he was burying Donald Trump with that. Why ...

AIDALA: But why, Jeffrey? Why? I agree with you, but why?

TOOBIN: I'll tell you exact ...


TOOBIN: ... I'll tell you one good reason, because 2000 ...

COOPER: Because where the shark moves on, there were more fishes all alone.

AIDALA: Well, okay, I agree with you. But he could also be - they could have figured out a way to charge him.

TOOBIN: But wait a second - David Pecker ...

COLLINS: Look, I feel like we're putting the horse before the cart. I mean, this is witness number one. He hasn't even been cross-examined yet. There is still a lot of road left to go here, and I think what they're pushing, though, is that Trump paid very close attention to what we all know, his finances. He doesn't part easily with his money.

I was looking - Karen McDougal wrote a lot down about her relationship with Trump when they were having this alleged affair, which Trump denies. But she wrote down that Trump was so careful with his money, and he was so worried about creating a paper trail of their relationship that she would book her travel when they would meet places and Trump would reimburse her.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, let's just step back for a second. If a guy - a married guy is having an affair, and having sex, allegedly, with a porn star, and it's starting to unravel, he's going to pay very close attention, I would imagine, to every detail of how this is being hushed up. I mean, is this not just - this is not something you would - I don't care if he's the top executive of whatever. You would think, this is actually something I would actually want to know all the details of.

TOOBIN: And that's why ...

COOPER: Like is this - he wanted to know - he wanted - he says, at one point, to Michael Cohen, this has to be paid in cash, doesn't he? I mean, at one point, he's talking about this needing to be done in cash.

HONIG: That's on a tape that Michael - that we're going to hear soon in this trial. Michael Cohen secretly recorded Donald Trump. A shady move, by the way. I asked - I had four defense lawyers in the green room with me today. I said, have you ever even thought about doing this?

COOPER: I'm just saying, if you've done something that threatens your marriage, are you going to leave it up to Michael Cohen ...

HONIG: Well, but that tape ...

COOPER: ... to handle every detail without checking, like, being an overlord on him?

HONIG: That's what a common-sense, rational person would do, but the tape that we're talking about here that Michael Cohen makes of Donald Trump actually suggests Donald Trump is like, just get it done. He's not in the weeds. In fact, at one point, Michael Cohen says, no, no, no, no, no. I got it. Allen and I are going to handle. You don't worry about it. We're going to pay him. You don't worry about the how.

And the how is the crime. So when that tape comes up, that's going to be a problem for the prosecutors.

PHILLIP: Well, I also think that part of the thing about Trump paying attention to details is more to what Caitlin was saying, which is the amount of money, even for a very rich person like Donald Trump, he didn't really want to part ways with $150,000 for Karen McDougal, $130,000 for Stormy. He did not want to part ways with that money. He tried to get ...

COLLINS: He still hesitates to pay his attorneys.

PHILLIP: ... he tried to get out of it once the election was over. So it's really about the dollars here that was concerning to him.

COOPER: When we come back, a decision still looming for Trump on whether he violated the judge's gag order multiple times. The hearing earlier did not go well for the Trump attorney, with the judge warning Trump's lawyer at one point that he was losing all credibility. More on that ahead.



COOPER: Before the testimony from David Pecker today, there was that tense hearing on whether the former president violated the gag order he's under. A prosecutor cited 10 separate incidents they say were violations since that order was issued last month by the judge. We're still waiting on the judge's decision, but the hearing did not go well for the defense.

Judge Merchan repeatedly showing frustration with defense attorney Todd Blanche for failing, he said, to offer any facts in his defense of his client's social media posts and reposts about two likely witnesses and jurors. Judge Merchan saying at one point, "Mr. Blanche, you are losing all credibility." Here are some of the posts that prosecutors flagged as violations. This one on April 10th from Trump on Truth Social, writing, "Look what was just found with the fake news. Will the fake news report it?" It was above a photo of a 2018 statement from Stormy Daniels denying her relationship with Trump.

Another three days later, trashing Michael Cohen, the witness, asking, quote, "Has disgraced attorney and felon Michael Cohen been prosecuted for lying?" And four days after that, a repost of a Fox host slamming prospective jurors allegedly undercover Liberal -- alleging, I should say, undercover Liberal Activists are quote, "lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury."

The prosecution also brought up this remark from the former president outside the courtroom just yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When are they going to look at all the lies that Cohen did in the last trial? He got caught lying in the last trial. So he got caught lying, pure lying. And when are they going to look at that?



COOPER: Prosecutors say that, too, was another violation. They'd be filing another order to show cause today. And just tonight, Trump blasted Cohen again in an interview with a local station in Philadelphia, calling him a liar with no credibility. Prosecutors are seeking the maximum $1,000 fine for each violation.

Back with our panel, also joining us is Olivia Nuzzi, Washington Correspondent for New York Magazine and former Pennsylvania Federal Judge John E. Jones. Judge Jones, let me start with you. What do you make of the judges rebuking Trump's attorney like that?

JOHN E. JONES III, FORMER CHIEF JUDGE, U.S. MUDDLE DISTRICT COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I'll tell you what, Anderson. I've been in this situation and under relentless questioning from a judge, sometimes an attorney is just out of ammo, and I think that's exactly what happened today with Todd Blanche.

And, you know, he can't retreat. He's got a difficult client. I -- there's no question in my mind that former President Trump violated the gag order at least in part. Sometimes an attorney will look at you when you're the presiding judge and, you know, his eyes kind of convey, look, Judge, I got nothing. I mean, I've used all the ammo that I have. Your attorney panelists will identify with that.

COOPER: You've gotten that signal from an attorney every now and then?

JONES: Yes, well, you know, they will and it's sort of a beseeching look. Sometimes I go to sidebar and said, look, I know judge you want me to answer that question. I've given you all that I have at this point. So it was like the charge of the light brigade.

He had to just keep going at that point until finally Merchan got frustrated and made that comment about his credibility. I do have some empathy for him because, frankly, you know, a lot of that was indefensible and I don't think he had an explanation that he could render for it in good conscience.

COOPER: Judge, the Secret Service and other law enforcement are preparing for the very long shot possibility, I should say, that Trump might be incarcerated for violating the gag order. It's highly unlikely it would ever get to that point, isn't it?

JONES: He's not going to incarcerate him. I don't think under any circumstances. You know, he could make a statement and assess a financial penalty on some of the violations. I think the problem is, I said yesterday is that he's going to have to tighten this order up.

Because there are instances where there is a collision between, you know, the former president's First Amendment rights and what's happening here. And there's another point that I would make here. I don't follow Michael Cohen on social media.

But, you know, if I were the judge, I might call the prosecution aside and say, look, you know, I know he's not your client, but he's your witness. Tell him to stop, you know, posting because in a sense, you know, he's inciting the former president. That's not a justification for violating the gag order.

But, you know, fair is fair, and I think you have to manage this thing as it moves forward as the presiding judge. I think that's one option. He could also drop a gag order on everybody, I suppose.

COOPER: Elie, do you think any other defendant would have been thrown in jail?

HONIG: That's pretty drastic. I mean, let's understand, first of all, it's very rare to have a gag order in place in any case. This type of defiance though is something I've never seen before to have somebody -- I think the judge is clearly going to find most or all of these now 11 alleged violations to have been met.

The big question I have is, what's the judge going to do the next step? Because there will be a next chapter. I'm sure this will not be the end of Donald Trump violating this gag order --

COLLINS: He was talking about Michael Cohen on the way --

HONIG: Right.

COLLINS: -- to this gag order hearing this morning.

HONIG: He's violate --

COLLINS: That's when he recorded the interview with the local Philadelphia station. Trump did that this morning and then got in the motorcade and drove to the courthouse and had this contentious hearing where he was seated in the room.

TOOBIN: The judge has an option. Please, Olivia.

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: His argument is not that he's not violating the gag order. His argument is primarily that he shouldn't be under a gag order, right? So he's not trying to say, this is not what I'm doing. He's trying to say, I'm the president, it doesn't matter.

COOPER: Olivia, you were in the courtroom yesterday. Generally speaking, what is the dynamic like between the judge and the Trump legal team?

NUZZI: It's very interesting. You can see that he's just getting totally exhausted by dealing with them. And the other day, they had kind of a smackdown moment where the judge said at a certain point, I'm paraphrasing, but at a certain point, you are just going to have to accept my decisions and accept that this is my courtroom, basically. And it seemed like it reached another another moment of blows today where the judge is just losing patience.

AIDALA: Well, let me say that, in my opinion, that means the defense is doing -- they're doing their job. When the judge is like, oh, there's too many motions, there's too many motions. Anderson, in the last case, I was involved in where the judge said there was too many motions.

There was a conviction and guess what? The appellate court reversed on those too many motions and threw the case out. It wasn't even a reversal. It was, they threw it out altogether.


But on the flip side, and I agree with the federal judges with us, there are some things that a client does that are indefensible and you kind of -- you have to walk that line. I mean, you never want a trial judge on the second day of testimony to say, counselor, you're losing credibility.

COOPER: That's not a good idea.

AIDALA: You cannot lose credibility with a judge or a jury. Once it happens, you're done.

COOPER: Let me -- Judge Jones, go ahead.

JONES: There's another point. And again, I think the attorneys in the panel will identify with this. There's nothing more maddening for a lawyer, and I don't care whether it's a prosecutor or a defense attorney, to have somebody sitting next to you buzzing in your ear and banging your shoulder and poking you and passing notes to you when you're trying to concentrate.

In this case, you know, Todd Blanche is trying to concentrate on incoming fire from the judge. And he's got the former president of the United States buzzing in his ear about what's happening. This is a miserable position, you know, for an attorney to be in. And it's just really rough, you know, to get through it.

This was not a good day, you know, for Todd Blanche. You know, I hope he gets a good night's sleep because this is tough. I mean, this is the kind of client who has, you know, lawyers waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I mean, this is a very, very difficult situation.

COOPER: This is why lawyers have Ativan prescriptions.

TOOBIN: Yes. Todd Blanche doesn't have a judge problem. He has a client problem. I mean, this, the, the issue here is he has multiple audiences. He's trying to win the case in front of the jury, but he's got to please Donald Trump and a lot of what he said.

I thought of this in opening statements as well, where he was talking about calling him President Trump and, you know, talking about, you know, enormous deference to his client. That is not necessarily a way to win this case, but it is a way to keep your client happy, and that's going to be a challenge for Blanche throughout this whole endeavor.

COOPER: Arthur, I mean, Trump says that these alleged violations were political speech. Even if they were, doesn't a judge's gag order supersede that?

AIDALA: Yes. I mean, they do, but it just goes down to, should there be a gag order to begin with? And again, with our colleague who's the judge said, you know, Michael Cohen is kind of, you know, baiting him. I think that's going to work to the defense and he'll be cross examined on all these most recent tweets and all of that stuff.

But, you know, it is -- look, I was in that position with the Harvey Weinstein trial. You know, we had a gag order on us and every day after court, we can't leave and we can't say a word. And there's Gloria Allred having these huge press conferences beating the heck out of us, glorifying the witnesses.

The jurors are walking past her as she's saying these wonderful things about these witnesses and we didn't say a word. But I think what you said, I've never seen someone violate a gag order the way Donald Trump, I mean, we were very careful. And to Mr. Weinstein, like he didn't even think about violating the gag order --

COLLINS: I'm sure Trump is going to love being compared to Harvey Weinstein.

AIDALA: Well --

NUZZI: Yes. I'm not sure, that's the --

AIDALA: You never know.

COOPER: I want to play the soundbite that I mentioned, the intro of Trump again attacking Michael Cohen. It's from an interview he did today with our affiliate WPBI.


TRUMP: Michael Cohn is a convicted liar, and he's got no credibility whatsoever. He was a lawyer, and you rely on your lawyers.


COOPER: So yes. OK, that seems like a pretty clear.

HONIG: Pretty straightforward.

COOPER: Pretty straightforward.


PHILLIP: I mean, the places where it's not so straightforward is the retweets and the amplifications, perhaps, of his opinion, maybe, but maybe not threats or violence. I mean, I think what the judge mentioned, maybe there is room here to put a little bit more of a barrier around what exactly is in this gag order because right now a lot of things could qualify.

And it almost seems like Trump is pushing the boundaries of what it all could be just to kind of get under the skin of the court and to prove that he is not subject to this gag order. Perhaps, a more specific gag order that it really does limit Trump and the threats that he can make against witnesses and people who are part of this proceedings might tamp down on Trump's sort of defiance instinct, which really kicks in in moments like this.

COLLINS: What the judge is so worried about and made clear when he was expanding the gag order is this affecting the judicial proceedings and throwing off the entire case. And we've already had two jurors who are concerned about the media attention this case is getting and the scrutiny that they are getting after -- as the prosecutors are pointing out today.

Some hosts on other networks were being really detailed about the details of who these jurors were, what they did, where they live. And so it is a real concern about juror safety as well, and Trump is now commenting on the jury.

COOPER: Judge, and then we have to go.

JONES: I, you know, I think from the judge's standpoint, I would just say, you know, I talked about from Todd Blanche's standpoint, this is a really rough situation for Judge Merchan. I mean, he has to be super clinical in doing this and be really careful how he deals with the -- whatever his order is going to be in the sanctions case.


JONES: And tough stuff for the judge too.

COOPER: Yes. More special coverage coming up after a quick break. We're going to talk to a former prosecutor who investigated Donald Trump in a different case. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COOPER: In Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial, the prosecution and defense both talked about this case as an effort to influence an election. They disagree, however, on whether or not a crime was committed. In opening statements, prosecutors argued that Trump is guilty of a planned, coordinated, long running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.

The defense countered in their opening statement, saying, "I have a spoiler alert. There's nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It's called democracy."

Joining us, the co-authors of "The Trump Indictments," Andrew Weissmann, who was a lead prosecutor in the Mueller investigation, and NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray.

So Andrew, you hear Trump's attorneys say there's nothing illegal about trying to influence an election. It's called democracy. If a person or a company spends money to benefit a campaign, doesn't that money have to be disclosed and reported? Isn't that the core of this?


ANDREW WEISSMANN, CO-AUTHOR, "THE TRUMP INDICTMENTS": Yes, I mean, you know, literally what Todd Blanche said is true that influencing election. If that is the only thing that was proved, that's not a crime, but it sort of hides the ball, which is how are you doing it?

If you are a corporation and you're spending money when you're prohibited from doing that, that's a crime. If you are spending more than the maximum of what you can contribute, that's a crime. So, you know, it was one of those things that reads like a good bumper sticker, but I think that's one of the reasons I think that the state tried to get a very smart jury because, you know, with a smart jury and a long trial, you basically can break that all down to explain why those sort of slogans don't work here.

COOPER: So Melissa, what is the underlying crime?

MELISSA MURRAY, CO-AUTHOR, "THE TRUMP INDICTMENTS": So it's a New York election law that basically says it is a crime, a misdemeanor crime for an individual to prevent or promote the election of another individual. And so here, the allegation is that by capturing these stories for Donald Trump, preventing them from being disclosed, paying off these individuals, all of this is basically favorable treatment for Donald Trump.

In addition to the fact that David Pecker also testified today that he was planting favorable stories and also running disfavorable stories, unfavorable stories for Donald Trump's opponents. So that's a big contribution and that's the way the prosecution is framing this. This was a big up for Donald Trump's campaign and it essentially constituted election fraud. COOPER: And so, in your opinion, when Donald Trump comes out and says, well look, you know, I was paying a lawyer and we said legal fees, what's wrong with that? What's the answer to that?

MURRAY: So in this case, it's not just legal fees -- which professor would you like?

COOPER: Sorry, go ahead, Melissa. I think in this case, it's not simply that he's paying Michael Cohen. It's that Michael Cohen is being -- is reimbursing. They're paying these payments to Stormy Daniels. There's the work that David Pecker is doing and bringing and coordinating all of this together and that's sort of the misdemeanor part.

There's also the tax fraud issue that is also been pointed to. Hasn't been brought up in David Pecker's testimony. I think it will come out later on Thursday. But the idea that Donald Trump had to gross up Michael Cohen in order to make him whole for the payments, because he's actually reimbursing him for what was being classified as payments for legal services, even though there had been no legal services rendered.

So that's the difficulty here. And I think what the prosecution is trying to show, and there's a lot of discussion of Donald Trump's hands and all of this, is that he's very much a micromanager. He is taking really close looks at what the money is, where the money is going, to whom it is going.

And this is just David Pecker and Michael Cohen doing his bidding, but he is the mastermind, essentially the puppet master, and they are simply the puppets.

COOPER: Jeff, the prosecutor questioning David Pecker noted today in court that one of the election statutes the case is based on does have a conspiracy provision. What does that say to you about the way that the prosecution is trying to frame this?

TOOBIN: Well, I think there's a technical reason for that, which is under the hearsay laws, if there is a conspiracy, even if a conspiracy isn't charged, the statements of other people can be used against the defendant.

Like, for example, if you believe that Michael Cohen is a member of this conspiracy and Weisenfeld (ph), the accountant is a member of the conspiracy, their statements can be introduced even though they are technically hearsay because there is a conspiracy charge. That's very important, especially when we get into the money stuff where Wiesenfeld will not be a witness probably.

It looks like he's not going to testify, but his documents and his handwriting will be introduced. And because there's a conspiracy, that will be admissible against Donald Trump.

COOPER: Andrew, I mean, is it a weakness of the case that, I mean, if there was a conspiracy, why aren't they charging conspiracy? WEISSMANN: Well, you know, this is one of the weaknesses because of the timing of the charge. So the statute of limitations, the time period in which you had to bring a case, that had passed with respect to the misdemeanors. So that's why we're all talking about, well, what makes it a felony and it has to be in furtherance of, or it has to be concealing some other crime.

And so we look to the election laws or as Melissa just talked about, tax laws, because those misdemeanor charges can no longer be brought because the statute has run. But there's a longer statute with respect to felony counts. And that's why what you have here is sort of the product of the federal government having sort of sat on its hands for quite some time before this case was brought to Manhattan and then finally indicted.

TOOBIN: Can I ask Melissa a question about something she said earlier? Because I was a little -- I was -- it jumped out at me. I understand Melissa about how, you know, paying witnesses can be seen as part of a conspiracy.


But you seem to say, and correct me if I'm wrong, that advocacy on Trump's behalf, like the magazine supporting Trump's candidacy, that could be seen as part of a conspiracy. Isn't there a First Amendment problem with that, because magazines do support candidates all the time?

MURRAY: I think there's something -- I think I've said something different, Jeffrey. The point that David Pecker was making on the stand today and what the prosecution elicited was that Donald Trump was coordinating with David Pecker for this favorable treatment.

I think in most campaigns, you don't see that. It may be the case that a newspaper or a media outlet will endorse a particular candidate. But I don't think we've ever seen a situation where a particular candidate goes to the outlet and negotiates with them for favorable treatment of his campaign and unfavorable treatment of his opponent. So that's unusual.

And the way the prosecution has framed it, this is essentially a stop to the Trump campaign as though it were a contribution in kind. And I think that's a theory of the case, whether or not the jurors by this as a contribution, I think is a different story. But that seems to be where the prosecution is taking that.

This is a coordinated effort. It is unusual and extraordinary. And it essentially amounts to the kinds of influence peddling that we typically don't see between the media and a campaign.

TOOBIN: But the money is the core of it, isn't it? I mean, the fact that --

MURRAY: The core of it, yes.

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, that seems to me, you know, the strongest ground that the prosecution is on in that part of the case.

MURRAY: I think a big part of this, too, is that it's the details. I'm like, it's they're painting a picture of a coordinated effort between Donald Trump, David Pecker and Michael Cohen. And, yes, some of this is about the payments to the individual to the fact that Donald Trump is coordinating with David Pecker over and over and over again, that he is going to Trump Tower, that he's inviting David Pecker to the opening of his campaign, the launch of his campaign.

All of this is to show that they are deeply imbricated with one another. This isn't a one off. He is in Donald Trump's pocket. And I think that's the point that the prosecution wants to make, because it makes it much easier than to make the point that he is now working with Michael Cohen to catch these stories, to kill these stories and to advance Donald Trump's electoral prospects.

COOPER: Melissa Murray, Andrew Weissmann, thank you so much.

Everyone else, a lot more ground to cover. We're going to through -- go more on the trial transcript. We'll be back with some details we haven't heard yet. We'll be right back.