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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Judge Finds Trump In Contempt For Violating Gag Order; Fined $9,000; Former Attorney For Stormy Daniels And Karen McDougal Takes The Stand At Trump's Historic Hush Money Criminal Trial; Situation Tense At New York's Columbia University; Hundreds Of NYPD Strategic Response Officers Outside Columbia. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 30, 2024 - 20:00   ET



ERIC CORTELLESSA, NATIONAL POLITICS REPOTER, TIME: Well, Trump essentially said that he was joking, that he was kidding around, that he was playing with the audience. Trump often is able to assume this role of almost stand-up comedian when he's in front of an audience, when he's at his rallies, it's part of his relationship with his supporters. He entertains them as well as speaks to them.

But when I said, well, sir, don't you realize that this kind of talk of dictatorship strikes many Americans as contrary to our most fundamental democratic principles.


CORTELLESSA: He said, no. In fact, he said, I think a lot of people like it.

BURNETT: All right. Eric, thank you. And thanks to all of you. It's time for AC360.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining our special primetime coverage of the Trump hush money criminal trial.

Day nine saw something remarkable: A former president held in contempt of court and threatened with jail time. And the lawyer who represented two of the women who alleged affairs with Trump testifying about the deals he made to buy their silence.

The contempt ruling made history and made the man you see there a convicted criminal. Judge Juan Merchan finding he violated the gag order he's under nine times. Quoting from his ruling, "This Court rejects Defendant's arguments and finds that the People have established the elements of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Criminal contempt, no sitting or former president has ever been found guilty of any crime before big or small until today. THE SOURCE's Kaitlan Collins was in the courtroom. In a moment, we'll talk with her about what she saw. Judge Juan Merchan fined the former president the maximum a thousand dollars for each count and warned him that further violations could land him in jail. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This gag order is not only unique, it's totally unconstitutional. You have a judge who's totally conflicted, totally, absolutely conflicted that he's rushing this case through. I'm supposed to be in Georgia. I'm supposed to be in New Hampshire. I'm supposed to be in Ohio and lots of other places and they have me sitting here for a Biden trial. It's a Biden trial.


COOPER: In fact, it's not. And there's no evidence that it is. The judge set Thursday for a hearing on four other alleged gag order violations. And testimony will continue Thursday from former Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels attorney, Keith Davidson, who was on the stand today as well. And as we talked about what he said on the stand today, we're also monitoring late developments at Columbia University where protesters are occupying one of the buildings and hundreds of New York police officers, members of the department's strategic response team, have just arrived outside campus.

So we're going to continue to watch that closely and we'll bring you any updates. But the trial is where we turn now.

With us tonight, New York's criminal defense attorney Arthur Aidala, bestselling author and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin, former defense attorney and former Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, CNN's Senior Legal Analyst, Elie Honig and CNN's Kara Scannell, who is also in the court.

So, Kaitlan and Kara, let me start with you. What were your impressions, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I mean, Kara knows this place like in the back of her hand. This is my first time inside the courtroom since the trial has started today. The first thing that stood out to me was who came inside the room with Trump, because I was told last week he was very sensitive to reporting that none of his allies were really there, that largely, with the exception of his defense team, he was kind of alone inside this courtroom.

COOPER: None of his family had been there until today.

COLLINS: None of his family had been there until today. Eric Trump was there today. But it wasn't just Eric Trump that was in the room. It was a slew of political aides and allies as well. We saw Trump's campaign manager, a campaign advisor. We also saw the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, the one that was facing impeachment a few months ago, that Trump publicly supported was in there. David McIntosh from the conservative Club for Growth was also in there.

And so it was just a notable moment to see Trump surrounded by this front row of his aides, given that you had not really seen a ton of that. Some of his political advisors and other attorneys had been in there, but you hadn't seen that level of support. And clearly he was trying to change that kind of narrative that had emerged last week, that he was largely alone in the room.

And Eric Trump was seated next to Susie Wiles. That's the Trump campaign manager who was in the room. They were paying very close attention as the evidence was being presented, as the text messages with Keith Davidson, the witness today, was on the screen. I was watching them and they were watching and reading along very closely with the rest of us in the courtroom.

COOPER: Kara, what stood out to you?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, those barrage of text messages were really telling between Keith Davidson and Dylan Howard of the National Enquirer, as they were - there were fits and starts, them trying to get these deals together. But also the impact on the campaign was something that we saw contemporaneously. These were the text messages they sent at the time. It was something they were actively concerned about, which is part of the prosecution's theory.

But I also thought it was so interesting. We're already getting a sense of who Michael Cohen is by the adjectives and descriptions that several witnesses have used when talking about their interactions with Michael Cohen.

COOPER: They're not exactly complimentary adjectives.

SCANNELL: They are not. I mean, I wrote down a few. Jerk, a-hole, aggressive, barrage of insults and insinuations.


And Keith Davidson said, the moral of the story is no one wanted to talk to Cohen. So it's already giving the jury a sense of who this guy is. He comes in on the stand. They won't be surprised by his personality in case he does get defensive during some of this questioning. But I just think it was really interesting that you're getting the sense of who he is before you've even seen him.

COLLINS: And Keith Davidson is a really compelling witness. This was his first time on the stand today. For people who don't recognize his name, he was the attorney who negotiated these deals for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. He no longer represents them. I think his ...

COOPER: Yes. Karen McDougal was unhappy with her representation.

COLLINS: Well, I mean, he said today that he took 45 percent of her six-figure cut that she got, so I don't know if that's ...

COOPER: She said that everybody involved in the deal lied.

COLLINS: Karen McDougal was also very upset with it and was upset when he later was putting pictures of her on his website to say that she was a former client. But that notwithstanding, I mean, it's a seedy world. And he was very blunt about it in text messages that he had sent. He was the one who sent the text message that said what have we done the night of the election, because he clearly thought that what they had done had benefited Trump.

But he's a compelling witness in the sense that he makes jokes with the jurors at times. He was making fun - making very clear how he felt about Michael Cohen at times, comparing him to a squirrel, even at one point.

COOPER: I read an account that you gave, just notes, that he was making eye contact with the jury, like Keith Davidson would actually address the jury.

COLLINS: Yes. So when prosecutors would ask him a question, he - sometimes would look directly at the prosecutor, but often I would notice as Karen and I were both sitting in there, he would look directly at the juries. He was kind of telling a story. It wasn't just a yes or no answer. He was very genuine-seeming as he was providing this testimony. And he would sometimes get asked a question what did this person mean to you when they said that Trump is really, tight with money or something like that.

And he would kind of pause and Trump is sitting there pursing his lips, and then he would say that Trump is very frugal. He also drew a through line between Trump and Michael Cohen and said he very much believed that Trump was behind these negotiations.

COOPER: And Elie, just in my experience, prosecutors do encourage a witness to talk to the jury, if they can.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So it's a really interesting tactical point. I never actually told a witness where to look. Because the last thing you wanted them to do is get cross-examined on. He told you everything, including where to look. But there's really two ways this happens.

Some jurors don't want to break that fourth wall and so if, let's say, Toobin's cross-examining me, they're only looking at the lawyer back and forth. Others are looking right into the jury box and sort of communicating. And I obviously like the latter if the person is credible and personable. And based on Kaitlan and Kara's account, it sounds like Keith Davidson was.

Now, if it's a really dangerous, scary, violent guy, then I don't want him looking in the jury box if he's my cooperating witness, because you don't want them freaked out. But it sounds to me, from your account, Kaitlan, like Davidson made a reasonable, legitimate connection with the jury, which you're happy with as a prosecutor.

COOPER: Mayor, as a former defense attorney, would you encourage witnesses to - I mean, if you have a witness coming up like Michael Cohen who is abrasive and has been thuggish in the past in his behavior when he was working for Trump and clearly has lied, is it good that these prosecution witnesses are sort of giving advance warning that he's not that pleasant and all these things so that the jury isn't necessarily surprised that that's already built in?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, (D) FORMER BALTIMORE MAYOR: Michael Cohen knows who he is. I don't think he's surprised at all about any of the a-hole, jerk, squirrel, he owns it. And I think it's important for the jury to have a sense of who is coming on. There were not - the prosecution is not trying to make Michael Cohen something that he is not. He - they are showing the jury, this is who he is - but these are the facts.

So you might think he's an a-hole, squirrel, whatever, but he's telling the truth. And we have receipts.

COOPER: Arthur, I mean, as an attorney, what it - does it take some of the sting out of, like, if a juror doesn't like Michael Cohen when he starts testify, if they've already been kind of forewarned, you may not like this guy, does that help?

ARTHUR AIDALA, NEW YORK CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You start from the beginning. I mean, when I was in ADA, I had, like, literally crackheads from Brooklyn. They were - but they were my main witnesses and you would voir dire the jury and say, my main witness is someone who's going to tell you that they've been arrested five times, that the night in question they had a crack pipe in their pocket. But who do you think was going to be in the crack den when that guy at the defense table shot the deceased? So yes, I'm telling you right now.

And Anderson, those of us who are old enough to remember John Gotti in that trial, who put him in prison? "Sammy the Bull" Gravano. He killed 19 people. So I mean, it's a hurdle, the Michael Cohen thing, but it's a hurdle that's gotten over.

COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) large hurdle.

AIDALA: Yes, but they got over it.

COOPER: The "Sammy the Bull" hurdle.

AIDALA: He was convicted.

HONIG: To be clear, he conspired 19 times. He didn't shoot everyone. I mean, let's be fair to "Sammy the Bull."

AIDALA: That he admitted to.

HONIG: Right.

AIDALA: That he admitted to. He knows what he really did.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But the thing with Michael Cohen, the question that the prosecution is certainly going to ask the jury is, yes, he was an a-hole. Yes, he was obnoxious. Yes, he was a squirrel, whatever that means.

AIDALA: Thank you. I don't know about that means.


TOOBIN: Who was he doing it for? For whose benefit? Why was he so energetic?

COOPER: Right. And by the way, who employed him for years and years and wanted him to be like that?

TOOBIN: Exactly. So I think many of us here, I know Elie has, I had my own dealings with Michael Cohen when he worked for Trump and he screamed at me in a similar way. But it was very clear to me that it was because he was advocating for Donald Trump. And that's going to be the argument to this jury.

AIDALA: Yes, but advocating, and you're right, he was advocating. But you - I say things of clients, but the client (INAUDIBLE) tell me to say, the client doesn't even know I'm saying, I'm advocating. And I would think one of the defenses here is going to be like, hey, Michael Cohen was a lone wolf. Michael Cohen, he had such a vested interest himself in making Donald Trump the president, because probably in Michael Cohen's mind, he thought he was going to be the attorney general of the United States of America or be on the Supreme Court of the United States or become a billionaire himself.

So I think the defense has to embrace Michael Cohen's abrasiveness, embrace his lone Wolf attitude and say, Trump didn't tell him to do this. He was doing this on his own.

COOPER: But ...

COLLINS: But Keith Davidson did not testify that today. Keith Davidson testified that Michael Cohen made clear in every chance he got that he was working for Donald Trump and that he was doing things on his behalf.

AIDALA: But of course, that's his strength.

COLLINS: I'm not done yet and he also ...

AIDALA: That's what "Sammy the Bull's" saying, hey, the boss told me to do this.

COOPER: Let her ...

COLLINS: I'm not done yet. He also testified that Michael Cohen, it was very clear, was acting on Trump's behalf, that Michael Cohen would not be able to act with his own authority, that he was acting on Donald Trump's authority that was given to him.

COOPER: Yes. Let me - Jeff, I want to read part of the gag order ruling where the judge addresses Trump's claim that reposts of his comments or retweets are not violations, which is an argument Trump has made ad infinitum for years now.

The judge said, "It is counterintuitive indeed absurd, to read the Expanded Order to not prescribe statements that Defendant intentionally selected and published to maximize exposure. This is not to say that a repost will always be deemed a statement of the reposter, as context is directly relevant. However, here, under the unique facts and circumstances of this case, the only credible finding is that the repost constitutes statements of the Defendant."

You think this ruling is significant and also what occurred today is historic.

TOOBIN: I think it is historic and I think we need to pause and recognize what a big deal this is. Not just in this trial, but in the in the broad scope of American history. Donald Trump today is a convicted criminal. This is not a civil judgment. This is not a slip - slap on the wrist. This is a finding of criminal contempt that had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and that's what the judge did.

Will the voters care, beats the hell out of me. But this is something that I think is worth recognizing that has never come close to happening before in American history.

COOPER: Elie, do you see it that way?

HONIG: Yes, I think it's a fair point by Jeff. I think we had a very powerful ruling by the judge. I mean, we're waiting on this thing and the judge came through with, I think, exactly what he needed to do to reassert control of that courtroom.

I mean, Trump had run wild with this, violated nine times. There's going to be a hearing on Thursday. I'm sure there will be four more violations. There's four more at issue. I'm sure the judge will find three or four of them. The judge had to get control and he's run a very good trial so far. He's run an efficient trial. He's keeping things moving within the courtroom itself. It's quite orderly.

But Trump was going nuts on the outside and he was flagrantly violating this gag order. The judge put his foot down. And let's see what happens from here on out, because now the judge has said, if you do it again, I reserve the right. If necessary, he says, if necessary, big if, I will imprison you.

But let's see, because Trump hasn't violated this thing in five or so days, so new record, I guess.

SCANNELL: But just to ...

COOPER: Yes, go ahead.

SCANNELL: ... to the - to give a sense of how this judge runs this courtroom, he spoke and he said, I found Trump had violated the gag order nine times within the first 10 minutes, said, handed down the order, and then it was back to business, bring the jury in. So until you read the order, you didn't see the strength of the language in there. He just did it very matter of factly off the top and then brought the witnesses in and kept the jury and the case on track.

COOPER: We're going to have more of this in a moment. We're going to take a quick break. A closer look next also at the trial transcript, including more on the testimony of Keith Davidson about Michael Cohen and his recollection back in 2018 of his first encounter with him.

Also tonight, tension growing at Columbia University. There's a video we've just gotten of what it looks like right now on campus outside Hamilton Hall, which is the building that has been occupied by protesters.

Protesters seem to have formed a barricade of sorts with themselves, with hundreds of NYPD officers just steps away, poised, it seems, to take action. We will be covering all of it in the hours ahead. We'll be right back.



COOPER: Looking at New York's Morningside Heights neighborhood and Columbia University, hundreds of New York police officers have gathered on Broadway outside the university, just steps away from Hamilton Hall, which is the building that protesters occupied late last night and continue to hold on to. We're going to continue to monitor the situation, break in with any new developments as they come in.

Back to the trial, going through Attorney Keith Davidson's testimony, as we've been discussing already, it's not hard to feel the looming presence of Michael Cohen or anticipate how his testimony and demeanor may land with the jury. They got a pretty good sense of it today.

But it was out there already back in 2018 with CNN's Sara Sidner talked to Davidson about his dealings with Cohen. He told Sara then that his first contact with Michael Cohen was in 2011, when Stormy Daniels asked Davidson to demand a website remove the story of her alleged affair with Donald Trump and Davidson called Cohen.



KEITH DAVIDSON: Well, I think it was a lot of chest-pounding to the best of my recollection. It was a lot of how dare you and we'll chase you to the ends of the earth, and this is not a true story, and we're going to come and get you. And we said, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on, hold your horses, and that's not at all the reason for our calling. And we said that Ms. Daniels does not want this story up and we're going to do our best to take it down.


COOPER: Joining us now with more of what Keith Davidson said on the stand today, CNN's John Berman who has the transcript that gets released late in the day.

So Davidson recounted that 2011 phone call on the stand today.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. He said much the same thing on the stand that he said to my morning partner, Sara Sidner right there. He recounted being called initially by Gina Rodriguez, who was Stormy Daniels' publicist. And Keith Davidson said, "Gina called me up to tell me that 'some jerk called me and was very, very aggressive and threatened to sue me, and I am - I - would you like, Keith, to call this jerk back?'" The prosecutor asks, "I hate to ask it this way, but who was that jerk?" Davidson responds, "It was Michael Cohen."

And then a little bit later, Davidson testifies, "I called. I was transferred to Michael Cohen. I introduced myself. And before I could barely get my name out, I was just met with like a hustle barrage of insults and insinuations and allegations. That went on for quite a while."

Steinglass, the prosecutor asks, "What was the gist of what he was accusing you of?" Davidson says, "I don't think he was accusing us of anything. He was just screaming." And Jeffrey, I know you've reported on Kaitlan, I know you probably had a relation with Michael Cohen way back when. I mean, I covered Trump way back to 2012, and this is how Michael Cohen would interact with you when he spoke to you. It was generally screaming.

COLLINS: Well, and Trump's attorney, I should note, was grinning at points when he was - when Keith Davidson was testifying that. I never saw Trump himself laughing, but even Trump's team was laughing. I mean, everyone who knows Michael Cohen knows how Michael Cohen is. And as he was saying that, when he - they had to say, you know, I hate to ask you a silly question, but who is that jerk and he made clear he was talking about Michael Cohen. It did kind of prompt a round of laughter in the courtroom.

COOPER: By the way, that's the prosecution who's going to be calling him as their main witness, so - which is ...

HONIG: Well - I mean, the jerk and angry and aggressive stuff that that's not good, but what's even a bigger problem for the prosecution is that this same witness said - that later he was talking to Michael Cohen and said, "I don't believe a word really that you say."

I mean, if he's mean or a jerk, fine, who cares? But if the prosecution's own witnesses are saying, I don't believe a word this guy was saying to me. David Pecker earlier said he's prone to exaggeration. The banker who started off today said he basically lied to me about every aspect of this transaction. He was going around his wife's back, didn't tell me it was political.

So the defense on closing, you guys - I mean ...

AIDALA: So, yes, I mean ...

HONIG: Stephanie and Arthur, you would have a field day with this.

AIDALA: ... what you do, just the logistics of it as a criminal defense attorney, I'm old school. I'm not very digital. I'm very analog. So when these things are happening, I have a file that says Cohen on it, right? And all of these little lines, I'm just (INAUDIBLE) or I'll find the transcript that night and I just put it in, put it in, put it in, put it in. And then whatever it is, a couple of days - a week before Cohen's up there, you just start - trying to lock Michael Cohen.

The way the prosecutor is laying this foundation in your cross- examination, you have to lay the foundation. And you did speak to Steinglass, and you did speak to this one. You did speak to that one. And then you can stick it up his nose in summation and just say, folks, we're going to go piece by piece. All of the prosecutor's witnesses. This isn't me, Mr. Aidala, telling you their witness is a liar. This is their witnesses telling you their witness is a liar.

COOPER: But Mayor, the prosecution is clearly trying to get ahead of this, of his credibility issues, by trying to get as much corroborating evidence in as possible and that's why you have these documents that are not the most exciting things to look - hear about on the stand, but they actually back up some of the things Cohen is saying.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: A lot of this has been boring, but it is laying the foundation brick by brick. And that foundation seems to be very, very strong because they know at the top is going to be a very shaky witness. They can say he's a jerk. They can say he's a a-hole. They can say he's aggressive. He was Trump's bulldog and he was acting just in the way that Trump wants his current attorneys to act in very aggressive ways.

So they are building this foundation, I think, very well to be able to support what Michael Cohen is going to say.

TOOBIN: The classic prosecutor line in response to the attacks on a cooperator like this are, the - he's supposedly a liar. How can the prosecution ask you to rely on a witness like this? And the prosecutor says, we didn't choose Michael Cohen to be the witness. Donald Trump chose him to be the witness because he's the one who chose to do all these transactions with him.

And, obviously, that doesn't work all the time. But there are lots of people in prison on the testimony of people who are a lot worse than Michael Cohen.

COOPER: It's also interesting because, I mean, if I'm a juror sitting on this and just seeing the cavalcade of the AMI people, the Pecker, the Michael Cohen, all these people, the amount of sort of just sleazy underbelly ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a Mount Rushmore (INAUDIBLE) ...

COOPER: Yes. But that is the milieu that Donald Trump has been living in her - his entire life, basically, it seems like. These are the people he's fraternizing with in many - both sexually and socially.


COOPER: Allegedly, yes.

BERMAN: Look. And yes, and there's so much cross pollination every which way with all of these witnesses in all the various stories. Even Keith Davidson was asked about the Access Hollywood tape, for instance. It was very interesting because the prosecution use Keith Davidson to point out that there was a shift when the Access Hollywood tape came out.


Steinglass, the prosecutor, asks, "What impact, if any, did the release of the Access Hollywood tape have on interest in the Stormy Daniels story, so far as you were aware?" Davidson says, "So far as I'm aware, it had tremendous influence." Steinglass asked, "Can you explain that a little bit to the jury, please?" Davidson says, "Before - yes, before Access Hollywood, there was very little, if any, interest from what I understand." And Gina, " Gina Rodriguez, "was trying to sell the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump story. It wasn't until Access Hollywood that interest sort of reached a crescendo."

COOPER: Does it matter, do you think, for jurors that the former president, and I don't know if it's - it probably hasn't been admitted yet into evidence, but I assume prosecutors will at some point somehow, that the former president denies even knowing these two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. And you've already had David Pecker saying multiple times that Trump would repeatedly ask how's our girl, Karen, and even show that black and white photo of them walking in the White House, and according to David Pecker, at the time that photo was taken, Trump is asking her, how's Karen doing, and David Pecker's answering. I mean, does that - if he lied about that, as a juror, would that impact the way they see the former president?

HONIG: For sure. This is important prosecutor evidence.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: And it was entered into the evidence today.

HONIG: Exactly. The reason they had that C-SPAN witness and the court reporter was because they're starting to show - prosecutors are starting to show the jury videotapes of Donald Trump saying, I don't know these people, who are these people. And that's powerful for prosecutors because we don't know if Donald Trump's going to take the stand. I'm still on no, firmly no.

But you still want the jurors to hear his voice, especially when he's lying. Now, it's not the ultimate end issue, but you want the jurors hearing him lying about what he knows about these people, because you say, why would he lie about this? If he had nothing to hide, why would he lie about this? So it's important evidence.

AIDALA: And it's the worst when you're a criminal defense attorney (INAUDIBLE) ...


AIDALA: ... because you can't cross-examine it.

HONIG: Right.

AIDALA: It's your guy. It's a tape or a film or video, it's real. And you're like, wow. So in one situation where I was confronted with this, and it was really horrible evidence, in summation, I just took every single word and broke it down and try to play thesaurus with it and try to change the definition of what the person was actually saying.

But Anderson, it is - when you're - I mean, there are times when you're a defense attorney, you just sit there like, oh, geez.


AIDALA: Like, how am I - what am I going to do here? What am I - especially when your client goes out of the courtroom and berates the judge and then you've got to go in and you're the lawyer the next day who's got to deal with them.

COOPER: Do you want to say something?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Oh, I was just going to say that the - we're showing that Trump is a liar, liar, liar, pants on fire. And one of the old sayings is, everybody can't be lying.

COOPER: At a certain point, yes.


COOPER: You can take it for what it's worth.

More ahead on the history made in court today.

Coming up next, though, the latest from Columbia University, where the school's emergency management team just sent out a text to students telling them to "shelter in place." We'll have live reports ahead.



COOPER: Moments ago, CNN learned that Columbia University's emergency management team has texted students to shelter in place. This, as a heavy police presence, has been building just outside the university gates the past several hours, after New York's mayor told protesters who took over a school building, quote, "this must end now."

A short time ago, CNN reporters saw the arrival in New York Police Department's Strategic Response Unit outside Columbia's campus on Broadway, where the whole area has been shut down. Several reports now, starting with our Miguel Marquez.

Miguel, explain where you are and what you're seeing.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're at 114th and Broadway, sort of just down from the main gates of Columbia. I want to show you what's happening here. That's a massive number of police officers who are now moving in with the helmets, with the bats as well. And they are lining up on the East side of Broadway nearest the university.

What's the mayor and NYPD has said all day is that they needed permission from Columbia to do this. Clearly, they have worked out a plan and they are waiting for that permission. And our Mark Morales tells us that NYPD says or Columbia says that they -- we'll be sending that permission, that letter for them to move in on both the encampments in the main lawn of Columbia and into Hamilton Hall where protesters broke into overnight and have been hanging banners throughout the day.

One of them said, intifada, which the White House itself released a statement saying that that's is not a peaceful thing to do and said it was anti-Semitic and terrible rhetoric for them to do. Here at 114, I do want to show you, Ken, if you could just come around this way. There is a small number of protesters here who have been chanting at police who are -- who have shut off 114.

But the main brunt of police, the police officers in front of us are keeping this road shut. But the main brunt of police officers, who have the helmets and their bats and flexi cups are on Broadway. Now, the closest way into where the encampment is just down 114.

There are gates there that they would be able to get through. The bookstore for Columbia -- Ken, if you could just turn up Broadway here, that's 115th right up there. The bookstore is just up there. There's another way into the campus there. That's a direct access to where the encampment is. And we expect that we will see police moving in in several of these areas.

We were up at 116th and Broadway, which is the main entrance to Columbia earlier. And that entrance, it's completely shut down. There was a large number of protesters there earlier. They marched up Broadway. It's not clear where they're marching to.

Other protesters have stayed on the Amsterdam side, on the other side of campus. There's another big main gate there. Protesters are there, but that's nearest to where the building they took over is. But it looks like all of the activity and where police will go through is in here.


If I'm looking over here, it does look like police are bringing in even more barricades for hours and hours today. They've been bringing in these barricades to shut down Broadway. Broadway is shut down, both north and south. It's an extraordinary move by police to shut down this major intersection.

So they clearly have been working on this plan for some time. It's just a matter of having that legal OK to do it. And it sounds like that is coming very -- students who are on the campus. The only people who can be on the campus are essential workers or students.

Students say there's nothing happening on campus right now. It's very tense, but they are waiting like everybody else. Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, stay right there. We'll come back to you. CNN Reporter Julia Vargas Jones is on the other side of the gates on campus outside Hamilton Hall that is currently being occupied. Julia, explain what the scene is there like right now and show us around.

JULIA VARGAS JONES, CNN PRODUCER: Sure, Anderson. We are right outside Hamilton Hall. I'm going to step away so you can have a better sense off the scene. This is the building that protesters have been occupying for almost 20 hours now. There's a human chain that's been formed by other supporters of these students and protesters that are inside of Hamilton Hall.

Their aim is to not let police get to protesters that are inside the barricade. You can see this pulley system, Anderson. They're putting things in the -- water that's been going up and down all day. I've been here since about 6:00 in the morning and I could only get in because I am a student at the time students were allowed on campus at this point only if you live on campus or you're an essential worker, like you said, can actually be here or enter.

There's very few people on campus, and the feeling, as I spoke to students, spoke to three undergraduate students, one of them Jewish, about the feeling of being caught in between what is bound to be a standoff. This, all around here, all of these are dorms. People live here. Students live here.

They're just -- you can see people are just watching from their windows, waiting to see what happens. One of them said, you know, we are waiting to see the New York Police Department come in and arrest our -- potentially some of our classmates.

Obviously, we don't know who is inside the building. We know that there was a lot of violence that happened to get into it, but some of them, we're hearing, are students, are affiliated with Columbia. And the big question is, what will the university do?

COOPER: So, let me ask you, Julia, so it looks like --

VARGAS JONES: It seems like --

COOPER: It looks like there's about, maybe, I don't know, 50 students, or people, I don't know if they're all students, some of them are masked and hiding their identities, standing outside this door. Do you have any idea how many people are actually inside the building, barricaded inside?

VARGAS JONES: Yes, Anderson, it's been really difficult to get information from the protesters because they won't talk to the media. So what I have heard and trying to speak to them is a few dozen, perhaps a couple dozen protesters inside.

You can see them up there. You can see them up on the balcony. That some of the folks that stormed the building yesterday at about 12:30. Yesterday, by the way, there was also a human chain that was formed by other supporters to try and keep them in there all day. They're having people coming in and out and chanting and trying to prevent anyone else from getting in. COOPER: Let me also ask you, Mayor Adams and police officials said late today that they believe outside actors have co-opted or been involved with the protests there on campus. I know some like experienced protest organizers have been seen on campus. There's videos of that.

What, if anything, have you seen or heard people say about that? Again, some of these people are masked, so it's very hard to identify who they actually are.

VARGAS JONES: Yes, Anderson. I mean, you're touching on the point hearings (ph). People don't want us to know their identity. There's no, you know, usually we're going to interview someone. I ask them their first and last name. None of that is being shared with us.

And, you know, I'm a student. I am a member of the Columbia community, even I am not trusted by some of the organizers here. So it's really difficult to get that kind of information on all we have is what we see. So we have been trying to be here as much as possible to see and witness.

And I have been here all day, but this is all we can see. I don't know who the agitators are that I know that have been reports of that. I -- we don't know also because all of these people are inside. They've been coming out. They're thanking the food and the support, and that's it. That's all of the window that we have.


And then we see the mood from other students is basically just -- they feel caught in the middle. They feel like the administration has committed some mistakes in escalating the situation by allowing New York Police Department to come in and arrest more than 100 students about two weeks ago, when the situation was not so dire.

And at the same time, they think that this is an escalation on the part of the protesters for a student that's just trying to go to class. This is finals week. We're a couple weeks away from graduation. I'm supposed to graduate. We have no idea what is going to happen.

It is obviously a huge disruption, and it also changes the mood on campus. It's not really just the logistics. It's pitting people, it's dividing people and pitting people against each other, Anderson.

COOPER: There have been reports on some college campuses of professors, people teaching classes, suggesting classes be on scene of protests in order to show solidarity with protesters. Have you heard of that at Columbia at all? And I'm wondering how that kind of thing is received. Like, to what degree are faculty involved in encouraging this?

VARGAS JONES: There have been members of faculty and staff that were, for example, in the human chain that was formed around Hamilton Hall last night. Yes, I didn't see that. I wasn't here, but those are the reports that I heard from speaking to students that were here. And there are classes being held off campus. So all classes will move to a virtual zoom is what Columbia has been doing. But some professors have wanted to have students meet because it is a time of heightened tensions and it makes sense that people want to be together to also kind of figure it out and process all of this.

Like I said, people are being pitted against each other. People are backing each other into corners. So, facilitating that dialogue might be important for the community to eventually become to heal, which seems so far from the possibility right now, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Julia, I mean, I went to college in the 80s, there were, you know, a lot of anti-apartheid protests and encampments on the campus where I went to school at Yale. But it didn't pit students against each other. There weren't, you know, I'm sure there was a lot of disagreements, but there wasn't this kind of animosity and these incidents of, you know, hostility between -- and shouting matches between students. That's got to be really distressing.

VARGAS JONES: It is. And we saw right at the beginning of the protest, we saw, you know, Israel flags and U.S. flags being flown right next to Palestinian flags and people in keffiyehs, in the traditional Palestinian scarf. It's difficult to observe that.

And just to think, how do you move forward? How can you actually come to a solution here? And standing outside of Hamilton Hall, I don't know what is going to happen. How say these students are removed tonight by NYPD. What happens to the sentiment of all the other supporters?

Of course, I'm sure that many people will be relieved to not have these sanctions on campus. But how do we go back to normal? And I think that that's a question that the university isn't really addressing yet. It doesn't seem like there's a plan, and now I'm speaking to you as a student.

I haven't heard a plan of how do we move forward from this. I mean, for me, I graduate all of -- along with the other 15,000 people that are supposed to graduate in a couple weeks which, by the way, the commencement structure is already being set up in the lawn right across from here.

Clearly, that's what's on the mind of the university. I don't know what happens to the people that have four more years at Columbia.

COOPER: Julia Vargas Jones, thank you. Stay with us if you can. Please stay there. And if you could keep that camera live, if you're able to, on the people behind you, that would be great.

Charles Ramsey, a former police commissioner in Philadelphia and police chief in Washington, D.C., joins us now. Commissioner, I mean, just from a policing standpoint, does the order to shelter in place from the university to students signal to you that something may happen imminently? CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely, it does. I mean, you're trying to keep as many students away from that location as possible. I mean, this action is overdue in my opinion. The university has been very slow in responding to what's going on.

There's no longer a peaceful protest, forced their way into the building. They've done damage inside that building. It's time for this to stop. And NYPD will be making entry once they get permission from the university. And, obviously, there'll be some confrontation in there.

People in there had been already warned and told to leave. They refused to leave.


I imagine they barricaded doors and so forth. But the police will have to get them out of there as well as dismantle the encampment.

COOPER: As we've said, CNN is reporting hundreds of officers from the NYPD's strategic response team are outside Columbia's campus tonight. I know you're seeing the -- I believe you're seeing the images that we are seeing on the left hand side of the screen of police officers.

They have a, you know, riot helmets on -- looks like they probably have -- I'm not sure what else they would have on them. What kind of a response unit is that? Do you know?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, most large departments have something very similar to that. In D.C., we call a CDU, civil disturbance units. These are officers that are specially trained for crowd control and events. So that they're all over the city. They brought them in. You can't just strip anyone district because you still have 911 calls to answer.

So there's a plan on how many people to bring in from the various districts and divisions they have throughout New York City. They're going to have a significant presence there to take care of this. In fact, you always try to have an overwhelming presence. It really does keep down the possibility of people getting injured.

Now, the officers have their full gear on because they're going to get hit with projectiles. There's absolutely no question in my mind about that. This is not going to be easy and it's not going to look very pretty, but they're going to get it done. They'll use whatever force they have to use, but it'll be proportional, but it will not look good, but they will get it done.

And this should have been done a couple of days ago, at least a couple of days ago. Universities been behind the curve on this from the beginning.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, just from a, you know, tactical concern, the fact that you have people inside that building who have been there all day and people outside passing them things. I mean, we've just seen a bucket with, you know, whatever going -- being on a rope going up to them. And the reporter on scene was saying that that's been going on all day.

If somebody inside wanted to have projectiles they could throw at law enforcement as they approach, they seem to have had time to have stuff brought in. If that is what they have, you know, we have no -- I mean, we don't know what their intentions are.

There's a law enforcement source, an official -- and a law enforcement official tells CNN that they believe at least half of the demonstrators are not affiliated with the university. Would that surprise you? I mean, how -- and would that change the calculus for a potential law enforcement response?

RAMSEY: It does not surprise me at all. In fact, I'd be surprised if the majority were students. Once they get in there, the people who are not students need to be arrested, charged with trespassing, damage to property. And any students that are part of that, in my opinion, should be expelled from the university.

You have to make a strong statement. I mean, this is not unlike January 6, where they -- you just bum rush your way into a building, just forcibly take it over. You can't do that. That is not part of the protest that I have seen over the years and the fact that I have benefited from in my career.

If it had not been for the civil rights protests of the 50s and 60s, I never would have served as police commissioner in Philly or Washington, D.C. I don't -- I appreciate protests, but lawful protests, not what you're seeing here. This is not lawful. It's got to stop. They got to take the action and they will take it tonight.

COOPER: It is interesting, Chief Ramsey. I mean, I was looking up at sort of the history of protests in Columbia and, you know, in the 60s against the war in Vietnam, you did have buildings being occupied and in some cases even school officials being held or not allowed to leave those buildings that were being occupied by students.

Negotiations would take place. I think that was the last time that police were actually called onto the campus by the university, I think in '68, to respond to some of that.

RAMSEY: Well, you know, I started my policing career in Chicago in 1968, late 1968, became a sworn (ph) member in '71. So I was part of the group that had to deal with a lot of the Vietnam War protests, which got pretty violent at times. And so, I've seen it, and I've seen how these things can spin out of control.

And this is a perfect example of something that is really spun out of control. It started off as a peaceful protest. Obviously, there were issues, anti-Semitism and things like that that should not be taking place. But it was relatively peaceful, but it didn't take long before you get outside agitators that attach themselves to legitimate protesters, I'll call that are just there because they do believe in a particular cause.

The other folks are there to cause problems. And that's what you have right here. And so you're going to see it when they finally get the word to go in and they will go in and they will clear that building, they will clear that encampment. But it's going to take all night probably to really get it done.


COOPER: Chief Ramsey, hold on for us. I want to bring in also, as we continue to look at these images, the split screen of the hall that's occupied. You see other demonstrators outside forming a line. And then, obviously, you see the the growing police gathering outside.

I want to bring in Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former Baltimore mayor, who's sitting here with us. Mayor, as you are watching this, I'm sure you have dealt -- you've certainly dealt with a lot of demonstrations in Baltimore and even, I'm sure, the occupation of buildings. What do you see? What are the things that jump out at you?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: It's a little triggering because you see what I know is happening. When you have these instances, the -- you know, what the main thing is no longer the main thing. Like what the moral test that people are fighting for is being taken over by outside protesters that I think we're making a mockery of what many of the students are standing up for.

A lot of this is pro-Palestine, but also anti-war. That people are very upset about the amount of loss of life. But when you take over the building, you lose that. You're losing the moral high ground. I have to ask myself, when is that worked when you destroy property and take over the building like that?

So I think, you know, these outside protesters are co-opting what could have been a useful, productive conversation about Columbia's participation in Israel. And I think a lot of that is lost because of the way that this has really gone off track.

COOPER: We're going to continue to monitor the situation around Columbia University. Bring you any developments as they happen. It seems like something may be happening soon. We're obviously going to bring to you live.

We're going to also return to today's trial and more of the contest of wills between Judge Merchan and the former president who faces the possibility of jail if he continues to violate the judge's gag order. We'll be right back.


COOPER: So as we continue to monitor developments at Columbia University, we're also bringing special continuing coverage of Trump's hush money trial. The first criminally charged U.S. president, now, also the first to be held in criminal contempt for multiple violations of the gag order. Nine to be exact out of 10 online posts in question.

Judge Juan Merchan making that ruling this morning after taking a week to mull it over. Trump's punishment for attacking expected trial witnesses and others. 1,000 for each violation, the maximum, that's $9,000 in total. For now, there's another hearing scheduled Thursday for four more additional alleged violations. Meantime, the former president has responded online posting, "This judge has taken away my constitutional right to free speech. I'm the only presidential candidate in history to be gagged."

He's only right on the ladder, but that's a result of his own actions. And if he keeps breaking the judge's rules, it could get worse. Quoting the judge now, "Defendant is hereby warned that the court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary, it will impose their incarceratory punishment."

I want to go to Miguel Marquez. It looks like the police may be moving in at Columbia. Let's go back. Miguel, what are you seeing?


COOPER: And Miguel, if you can hear us?

MARQUEZ: I can hear you. I can hear you.

COOPER: Go ahead.

MARQUEZ: Can you hear me?

COOPER: Yes, I got you now.

MARQUEZ: So on Broadway, police have just moved us over to another location. On Broadway, you can see a large number of police, but they've just brought in many, many dozens more. You can see actually they're coming back toward us now.

Dozens and dozens of police officers with the riot helmets, with their batons and with the flexi cuffs moving down 114 toward Broadway. Now they just moved down this way.


The closest you can get to where the encampment is, if you would come over here, Ken, is just down here, all the way down 114 on sort of the middle of the block between Amsterdam and Broadway. That's the closest you can get. That seems to be where police are setting up in the largest numbers.

It seems that police here can -- actually come over here, this is actually interesting. So police are both on the streets. They're also on the sidewalk because a lot of this is student housing in here and students have come out to see what's happening on this side.

There was a small knot of protesters on 114 on that side. It's a very chaotic situation, but it does sound like Columbia, which clearly had had it with the protesters once they didn't leave after the deadline yesterday at 2:00 p.m., and then took over a Hamilton Hall. They've been working with NYPD today clearly to sort this out.

We expect that at any moment, they will have the legal authority from Columbia University in the form of a letter asking NYPD to come in and asking media -- police to come in and clear the protesters. This is interesting.

So this is a building across the street from Columbia and police are now making entry into that building. It's not clear what's happening. Officer, do you know what's happening here? Why are they going in that building?


MARQUEZ: So it sounds like this may have been a situation where students came out of a dorm, mixed it up with police and then police are now moving into that building to try to keep those crowds from hassling them. This was filled -- just a few minutes ago, this was filled, this 114th Street here, was filled with students and it is -- police have now moved everybody out back into their dorms and off the streets here.

So clearly, they are -- it's one more step they are taking to lock down this entire area before they move into Columbia University proper to clear both the encampment --


MARQUEZ: -- and Hamilton Hall.

COOPER: And Miguel, hold -- well, let us know if anything develops. I just quickly want to go to our Shimon Prokupecz, who is nearby your location, but just a different vantage point. Shimon, tell us where you are, what you're seeing?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, we're on Broadway, Anderson. We're actually in an area where it's completely frozen, but we've been able to stay here because of a business here. We've been on their property because the police several times have asked us to move. So we're able to stay here.

What's going on here is you have a group of protesters that have gathered here on 113th and Broadway. Police have been making several announcements for them to disperse, to leave, and so far they have not moved in to make any arrests.

What's significant here, Anderson, is if you look at the shot that we have up here now, those are the search teams. They were some of the first officers to respond here. I would expect them to be some of the first officers inside the encampment.

They are lining up. They were here earlier lining up. They left to go deal with something else and they have since come back. They have been discussing the strategy, the planning here. Their chief telling them, when you go inside, put your visors down because we expect to get things thrown at us.

COOPER: Hey, Miguel --

PROKUPECZ: What you're also seeing, some of these other -- COOPER: Let me just quickly ask you, we're seeing on the right hand

side of our scheme. We're seeing your shot on the left hand side and the right hand side, we're also seeing one of the Columbia gates with protesters sort of on top of it looking in. Are those -- do you know where that is? And is that near you? And are those protesters who are not able to get onto campus because they're not students?

PROKUPECZ: I don't know, Anderson.


PROKUPECZ: I don't know if that's for me, but I don't know where that is.

COOPER: OK. Sorry, but --


COOPER: -- continue with what you're saying. I don't know where that is. Yes. So, the officers that are gathered here, it appears that they're here more to sort of protect the perimeter, because we're seeing people arrive here, protesters in the area. There are barricades everywhere, and officers just keep continuing to arrive.

I mean, this is such a massive response. And now you're seeing here more surge. They're moving in, Anderson, now. We're seeing the surge officers here move forward. The other officers are now moving forward. We could see them moving. We're trying to get through some of these vehicles here that are blocking us with the police, appear to be moving.

We're trying to get a sense of exactly where they're moving to. It's not entirely clear.

COOPER: So, Shimon, can you tell us what street you're on?

PROKUPECZ: So I'm now on 114 and Broadway.


PROKUPECZ: and it seems the officers here -- we're trying to not get thrown out of here on this.


PROKUPECZ: And so that's why I'm sort of trying to --

COOPER: All right. So let me just tell you -- our viewers, Shimon, that the gate we're seeing on the -- Shimon, on the left hand side of your screen is at 114th and Broadway. What you're seeing on the right hand side of your screen, that's another entrance to Columbia gate.