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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Lawyers Work To Undercut Cohen's Credibility; Cross Examination Of Michael Cohen To Continue Monday; Biden Blocks Release Of Special Counsel Interview Recordings. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Welcome back to our special coverage. Court has just ended. Jurors are about to have a long weekend to think back on Michael Cohen's cross examination and one potentially pivotal moment when the defense attorney Todd Blanche got Cohen to admit he didn't fully remember a key phone call that directly tied Donald Trump to a hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels.

Michael Cohen is going to be back on the stand Monday morning when cross-examination continues. And the prosecution certainly has its work cut out for them.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Court has just ramped up for the day in Donald Trump's hush money cover-up trial. It is a day you should remember because if -- if Donald Trump, the former president is acquitted, the history books may well point to Michael Cohen's testimony today as the biggest reason.

Cohen's cross-examination will resume next week, we're told after he endured hours of brutal questioning on the stand today, Trump's defense attorney Todd Blanche laid out Cohen's past lies under oath, and then introduced evidence claiming that Cohen has also lied in this trial under oath.

Cohen previously testified on Tuesday, I believe, about a key October 2016 phone call he says he had with Donald Trump about the hush money reimbursement. But Todd Blanche today revealed text messages and a call log from that day that threatened to destroy Cohen's credibility about that testimony from two days ago. The defense suggested that Cohen's October 2016 phone call was not about the Stormy Daniels deal at all. We'll tell you more about that in a second.

Sources also tells CNN that as we've been reporting, all day, the defense may, in fact, call Michael Cohen's former attorney, Robert Costello, as a witness. This after Costello testified to House lawmakers yesterday about his former clients saying, quote, virtually every statement of Cohen has made about him on the stand during this trial has been a a lie. Let's begin with CNN's Paula Reid, who's outside the court.

Paula, walk us through what the defense and Michael Cohen said today in the courts specifically about this October 24, 2016 phone call.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, Trump's attorney Todd Blanche successfully undercut several key pieces of Michael Cohen's testimony for prosecutors. The most significant one though, was this all you just mentioned. This is a call on October 24, 2016 where Michael Cohen reached out to Keith Schiller, Trump's body man. Now, when he was on the stand, prosecutors asked Cohen, why did you need to speak with Mr. Trump at that point on the evening of October 24th? And he says it was to discuss the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it. And prosecutors asked, and did you have an understanding about whether during that conversation that you were moving forward to fund the deal? And Cohen said yes.

And, Jake, the reason this was so significant for prosecutors is because it's showing the jury that Michael Cohen is establishing that Trump was looped in on this alleged conspiracy to con -- to conceal this hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. But then when it was the defense's turn today, they too wanted to talk about this call and they introduced new evidence that suggests that at the same time Michael Cohen testified that he was having this call about Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen had actually texted Keith Schiller about prank phone calls that he was getting from a 14-year-old. And then several minutes later, Schiller asked Cohen to call him and then Cohen right in the same minute called Schiller and they had a 90-second phone call.

So, of course, the defense is asking, are you sure that that call was about Stormy Daniels and not about this teen prankster. And today Cohen testified that in fact, part of the call was about the 14-year- old, but I know that Keith was with Trump at the time and there was potentially more than this in that call.

Blanche said that was a lie? You did not talk to President Trump. You talk to Keith Schiller. You can admit it. Cohen says, no, sir. I don't know that is accurate.

So here documents, receipts appearing to undercut whether Cohen actually spoke with Trump about Stormy Daniels at this specific time. And when he was pressed repeatedly by Blanche, Cohen started to sort of lean back on that, I don't exactly recall.

Now the other thing that Blanche was able to highlight, Jake, is the fact that this is the first time that Cohen and all these years he's been talking about this case, has ever mentioned this call. So, in the minds of the jury, this is something that could instill some serious doubt in Michael Cohen's credibility about this instance.

TAPPER: And, Paula, what do we know about the defense, Donald Trump's legal team potentially calling a witness, Rob Costello, Cohen's former lawyer?

REID: Yeah. Well, up until yesterday, I was repeatedly told that Rob Costello would not be called by the defense. [16:05:04]

That was surprising, Jake, because of course, Costello was the only witness that Trump's defense team called when this case was before a grand jury. Trump was, of course, ultimately indicted. But yesterday, Bob Costello, a long time Trump aligned attorney who for quite some time represented Rudy Giuliani, and for a brief time represented Michael Cohen, he testified up on Capitol Hill really trying to just shred Michael Cohen's credibility most importantly, saying that when he represented Michael Cohen, Cohen repeatedly told him that he had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Trump.

Now, he also outlines several other lies that he says Cohen has said publicly and on the stand. But we were told that there has some who subsequently been outreach to Costello since that appearance, there have been ongoing conversations about possibly calling him, but at this point, Jake, it's not clear that he will be called as of now. All we know that the defense is going to do for their case is put on at least one expert witness briefly.

And again, it's unclear if their client will testify, but there is a possible so ability they might call Costello if they feel that they need to further undermine Michael Cohen's credibility.

TAPPER: All right, very interesting. Paula Reid, stick around.

Let's discuss with our panel and let me start with and control room. I'm starting with number eight here, Robert Costello, Bob Costello, who offered, according to Michael Cohen, back channel community occasion to Trump, using Rudy Giuliani as a middleman.

Cohen is saying that Costello's emails and outreach were part of a pressure campaign to make sure that he stayed loyal to Trump. But yesterday, Costello testified before the Republican led House committee on the weaponization of the federal government and what he said yesterday may provide some insights into what he may say. If Donald Trump's defense team does call him as a witness, which Paula Reid is suggesting might happen.

So, let's run a little bit of what Robert Costello, what Bob Costello told the committee yesterday under oath.


ROBERT COSTELLO, PARTNER, DAVIDOFF HUTCHER & CITRON: What he tries to do is he picks out, cherry picks, shirt and emails or text messages and tries to make them look like something else. The story he told yesterday was that Rudy Giuliani and I wish somehow conspiring to try and keep him quiet to try and keep him from flipping. That's the term we use in the trade for cooperating. That's ridiculous.


TAPPER: And, presumably, Bob Costello also has emails and texts to back this up.

Mr. Brennan, let me start with you. If you were representing Trump, would you call Costello as a witness?



BRENNAN: The testimony he just gave. Apparently, if I understood it right, this was just in the last 24 hours, he went in --

TAPPER: That was yesterday. That was yesterday.

BRENNAN: -- in front of a panel and said, almost everything Cohen said under oath in the current trial about me is a lie.

I mean, I think Mr. Blanche has done a fabulous job at showing empirical data of his lies. This is lying to this jury. Forget the federal judge he lied to, the IRS, the bankruptcy court, Congress. He's lying to this particular jury.

It reminds me, Jake, of that old "Saturday Night Live" character Tommy Flanagan.

TAPPER: Oh, yeah.

BRENNAN: Jon Lovitz said he was the president of the pathologic liars anonymous association, or was he?


BRENNAN: This guy is absolute, once in a career fodder for cross- examination and Mr. Blanche has him.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, Sara, this phone call from October 2016, again, this is -- this is a new lie, at least a new accused or alleged lie as it were, in which Cohen two days ago. And this is testimony, as Paula says, he has never given before, said this was the phone call where Trump said -- where I told Trump the deal with Stormy Daniels was done, but then they have all this other evidence suggesting that at least some of that phone call was about a 14-year-old doing prank calls on him when he talked to Trump's body guy, who then, according to Cohen, handed Trump the phone.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it wasn't a particularly long call, which of course works against --

TAPPER: Ninety-six seconds.

MURRAY: Right, right, works against Michael Cohen in this. The fact that all of the corroborating evidence around the call has to do with something totally different, which is Michael Cohen getting these prank calls or harassing calls from a teenager. Obviously, that does not work in Michael Cohen's favor. And the fact that they've already sort of set out this backdrop of Michael Cohen has a liar. Michael Cohen is someone that the jury who is watching this testimony shouldn't trust you. You shouldn't trust him because he's lied before when he's been under oath and you shouldn't trust him now because oh, look, we've caught him in this again alleged lie. And I do think you know, from our reporters in the courtroom, Kara Scannell and others, this does seem like it was the most damning moment so far for Michael Cohen.

TAPPER: What do you think, Shan?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it was a good cross exam moment, but the mere fact that you scream at the witness doesn't mean that you've won the point on cross-examination, and a lot of people mistake that as the dramatic moment, meaning that has some substance to it.


It doesn't. I mean, this is something that could be quite easily addressed on redirect.

From a jury standpoint, one thing to remember too, is the extent you see Cohen leaning back in the chair or thinking to himself? Not really sure, that's actually not the hallmark of a pathological liar. Pathological liar doesn't reconsider the accuracy. They just like totally lean into it.

That may actually have the opposite effect on the jury. They may think he's actually thinking carefully. He is trying to be accurate.

BRENNAN: Shan, are you saying that the jury might -- I don't know what's going to happen -- the jury might take years and years and years of documented lies, he lies, he lies, he lies about the lies he told, he lies some more and because he leaned back in his chair and Blanche yelled at them, they may say, oh, we're going to wipe that away. I don't think so. Really don't.

WU: No, not -- not because Blanche yelled at him, but this whole characterization of Cohen as being like the worst witness ever, it's just silly, Bill.

BRENNAN: Well, the worst liar ever, Shan.

WU: Fine, worst liar, that's even sillier. I mean, there's so many more people in court --

BRENNAN: Give me one.

WU: How about an enforcer from the mob whose killed.

BRENNAN: Well, let's -- let's use that.

WU: Yeah, sure.

BRENNAN: Sammy Gravano.

WU: I wasn't in that case.

BRENNAN: I wasn't, but you know it like I know it. He killed 19 people.

WU: Right.

BRENNAN: But he wasn't a liar, like what he brought to the table was I'm an enforcer, I'm a multi-murderer. This guy is a lying liar who just lies about everything he says and credibility is the currency of a jury trial. And people don't like to be conned. I think he could lean back in his chair, he can sit straight in his chair, Blanche can whisper, Blanche can yell, but those lies can't be denied.

TAPPER: Michael, let me ask you, one of the -- one of the things -- one of the things -- one of the other witnesses that they might call that the defense is talking about calling as possibly an election law expert and just some of the -- this is what they're talking about right now in court.

Emil Bove is Trump's attorney and he's talked -- he was talking about discussing potential testimony of a campaign finance expert. Bove has focused on potential testimony, but the general definitions and terms related directly to this case, such as a campaign contribution.

What does that mean? Bove says he wants to tell the judge what they're thinking of the testimony, so it doesn't overlap with any potential instruction that the judge will give to the jury when it comes to federal election law, Michael Colangelo, that's what the prosecution is -- then starts speaking and he says, Mr. Smith, who is the potential so campaign finance expert, campaign election law expert says, Mr. Smiths may not testify about the interpretation and application of federal campaign finance laws.

Explain to us what this debate is about. Why they want to bring an election law expert?

MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Sure. And you should understand all of this. It was really litigated months ago by the prosecution and defense. There were a series Fraser pre-taught trial motions that were filed specifically about can we bring this expert in and what can this expert testify about.

Generally, an expert is bringing admissible information if he's giving information that isn't commonly known and understood and you can give a better understanding to it. Clearly, finance law, expert an election law expert would be really helpful to the jury here for that very purpose to explain to them what some of these terms mean technically, and then an application to the whole case.

The thing is though that once you get the witness on the stand, you never know where he's going to go and the prosecution from what we're seeing now is very concerned that the witness, once he gets on because he's been allowed to heavily restricted though that once he gets on, you know, the barn doors is going to be open and everything is going to come rushing out that the defense wants in.

So, it's going to be a lot of work for Judge Merchan --


VAN DER VEEN: -- once this expert goes on making sure that the rules that he decided a while ago actually be you followed.

TAPPER: All right. Panel stick around. We are watching to see if the back-and-forth in court right now will have a significant impact on this case.

Plus, two voices who used to be in Trump's orbit will join me next. We're back in a moment.



TAPPER: We're back with our coverage of Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial, day two of Michael Cohen's cross-examination just wrapped up. More to come on Monday just to give you an update of what's going on inside the courtroom. They are going to continue to cross-examine Michael Cohen, the defense has said. They think they will do so more on Monday, but they should be over by Monday.

And then the prosecution says they will have redirect. Other questions from the prosecution for Michael Cohen to try to clean up whatever the problems exist now because of his testimony, his cross-examination testimony. They said that will take about an hour. Right now, there are deciding how much longer the case is going to go.

The judge said they should -- they should be prepared, the prosecution and the defense to give summations on Tuesday. Blanche says no decision has been made on Trump testifying.

That's the defense attorney Merchan. Judge Merchan says, if they wrap up evidence on Monday, they will do the charge, the conference on Tuesday and Blanche says the defense could still call rebuttal witnesses if they want to. But if they do, they won't be long.

Anyway, lots going on, court is adjourned for the week. Unlike we can see Donald Trump looking at presumably some information, possibly quotes. He's going to read. He likes to read from piles of quotes.

And as soon as he comes out and starts talking, we'll bring that to you live, but until he does, do that.

Let's bring in criminal defense attorney and former contestant on "The Apprentice", Stacy Schneider, as former, as well as former Trump White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Let me apologize to you, two ladies, right now ahead of time for my rude interruption when it comes.

Stacy, Trump attorney Todd Blanche finished the day pressing Cohen on the 2018 statement, Cohen's lawyer sent to the Federal Election Commission in response to a common cause complaint about $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels.


It said, neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was involved in the transaction. Where do you think Blanche is going to go with that part of the cross-examination when they pick it back up on Monday?

STACY SCHNEIDER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I thought this for a little while now and I still believe it, especially after what happened today during cross-examination of Michael Cohen where they created I think a reasonable doubt as to whether that 2016 phone call happened where Michael Cohen said he reported that the Stormy Daniels payment was all taken care of. Now, there is some doubt about whether that exists.

So I think what the defense may have tried to do in their closing statement is argue that Michael Cohen went rogue on this one. He made the payment to Stormy Daniels on his own, distance Trump from it completely, and that this was Michael Cohen trying to get credit again, there's been a lot of testimony from the other witnesses who knew Michael Cohen and he's always looking for credit from Donald Trump. And even testimony from Michael Cohen that he wanted to be the boss's good graces. He would report everything to him immediately. He always wanted his credit.

So as far as, you know, that statement you referenced, they -- the Trump team --

TAPPER: Stacey, I got injured to interrupt you, and I apologize, Mr. Trump's coming out right now, and here is, let's listen in.


I think there's a very interesting day. It's a fascinating today that it shows what a scam this whole thing is, and I think this seems to be the way almost everybody, even CNN and MSDNC, they have folks here throughout the trial.

Elie Honig, this is a statement he just made, would not have even charged this case. This case shouldn't have been charged. Maybe it shouldn't have been started against me.

Nicholas Chambers, a lawyer at Newsmax, there's no law against securing a non-disclosure agreement. There's none. Everybody has it, every company has it, out of concern for your marriage or protecting your family or any other reason. They're common, not this (INAUDIBLE) NDAs.

The Manhattan show trial against President Trump is a gross abuse of power. It's a disgusting spectacle, he says, and it should clarify to all of us and that's true.

Jonathan Turley, FOX News. The judge has failed to protect rights of defendants in requiring clarity. Trump did not violate federal election law at all. I didn't -- I didn't violate any law. It's a scam.

Bragg cannot prosecute federal election law. It's not a very serious fiction. DOJ declined to bring the action. As you know, DOJ looked at this a

long time ago. This case, it was going to be brought which it shouldn't ever been brought, should've been brought seven or eight years ago? They didn't do that because they wanted to bring it right in the middle of the election and especially since we're leading in every poll.

It's a weird situation with judge has allowed prosecutors to refer to election violations. And as you know, the federal elections look at it and they didn't bring anything, and it's under their jurisdiction. It was from Jonathan Turley.

Andrew McCarthy, NDAs are legal and common. Yet, Bragg alleges Trump's was illegal. I have the only illegal NDA.

It seems that Trump's crime by blue state lights was winning the election. That was my crime. I won an elections that I wasn't supposed to win against Hillary Clinton and that's not a crime, either Republicans in New York, it's not a crime.

Bragg wants to prosecute Trump for federal campaign finance crimes, something he has no jurisdiction. This is from Andrew McCarthy, highly respected. He's got no jurisdiction to do and that the feds who do have jurisdiction decided not to do it, not to charge. They decided not to do it, and, look, at this and decided not to do it.

This is Bragg who, by the way, didn't want to do it himself and then when I started running, when I announced that I was running, all of a sudden, it became a hot item. This is a political persecution.

Human Events editorial board, this case is a joke. Ashton Kutcher is going to pop and left tell us that we'd been punked. I think know what that means. The series of glorified legal pranks has seriously called into question the impartiality of the American justice system, justice is blind, unlike this case, justice is not dumb, would appreciate it if they do the right thing.


We would very much appreciate it if they do the right thing.

Sean Hannity, Fox News, how did they come to this legal theory shows there's a problem with our legal system. We're supposed to believe in equal justice under the law and this is not happening in America

Michael Goodwin of "The New York Post", highly respected: Media obsession about these partisan show trial of defendant Donald Trump is obscuring a far more significant truth about him. Candidate Trump has opened up his biggest lead in the presidential campaign. Polls of battleground states alone was such evidence and such other evidence as the enormous turnout of over 100,000 people in New Jersey rally this weekend, this last weekend, and dispirited concessions by Joe Biden supporters signal that we've reached a turning point in the battle for the White House.

It's all a big disgrace. It's all -- it's all political. Jason Cohen, "The Daily Caller" respected, voters told MSNBC the cases

have increased their support for Trump. They went out to the motors and they say, we like Trump a lot better now because they see what's happening with this horrible witch hunt. He said, I've talked to many people who falsely identified as a Democrat.

A certain voter I won't use the name, but said they have changed their political persuasion, independent and are now looking for all right to voting very forward to voting for Donald Trump. These are people that were Democrats and they looked into voting for Donald Trump.

Trump's support with Black men has surged in all seven battleground states by large, large numbers.

CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny said Monday that swing-state voters tell him, they're disgusted and tired of what's going on here with the Trump trial.

Charles Compton, "New York Post", had this case gone to an elected New York state supreme court judge, elected is the word, chances are he or she would have dismissed this baseless political persecution or prosecution against Trump. However, acting Supreme Court justices like Juan Merchan are political appointees subject to political manipulation. It's true.

While Trump is charged with fraud, it's Bragg and his political handlers who are the ones that are committing it.

Andrew and Katie Cherkasky, these are high level lawyers, very, very prominent. New York case against Donald Trump is drawing to a close, but one critical aspect seems to be missing. Where's the crime? These are two very powerful, very good lawyers, highly respected.

Mike Davis, highly respected. This is blatant lawfare and election interference by the radical Democrats, including President Biden himself. Oh, Biden is in charge, and the ones with the -- ones circling that beautiful Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

Democrats do not have a case against President Trump. This is a witch. This is a prosecution without a case.

This is all political. This is done to damage your political opponent like a third world country would do.

Jeremy Hunt, Fox News, this is about one man Alvin Bragg who puts his politicization over the rule of law, and the judicial system. New York has got to do something about what's happening because you're looking Judge Engoron, you look at Judge Kaplan, what they've done, it's disgraceful. Everyone's laughing at the New York system and companies are leaving, people are leaving.

But major companies with tremendous taxpayer dollars and employees of millions of people, literally, people are leaving. They're taking their companies. They're all watching this case, and they're watching Engoron, too. And they're watching Kaplan. Tom Fitton, the Biden Democratic Party sham and the sham trial and other abuses of Trump, our international scandal that harms American really does it -- really harms America. So, Tom Fitton, our country's reputation is a shining city on the Hill. It starts now by political persecution of Trump.

Now, the whole world sees our system is no better than theirs.


We're a banana republic. It's very sad.

We have story after story about how this trial is one that should have -- as they say, never been charged, should have never been brought. And again, if it was going to be brought, it should have been brought years ago. You know, they tried to rush to get it done before the election, so that they can harm me, so that they can hurt their political opponent.

They're rushing -- all this rush. There's no rush. These trials take forever. But this one, they're rushing it. We're here in the morning, and we leave in the evening. Now, the judge wants to extend the time periods, so we can get this thing done fast before the election.

It's terrible. Nobody's ever seen anything like, and that includes the other cases, too, including the civil cases, they all come out indirectly, directly. They come out of the White House and the DOJ. I want to say just one thing. I've seen some very bad news come out on inflation, on the economy, on the EV mandate, electric vehicle mandate, and how crazy it is going to destroy our country. It's so crazy.

But I saw something today that's maybe worse than anything. President of Xi of China, I know him well. President Putin of Russia, I know him well. They're right now together working on plans where they combine, where they get together and do damage because that's ultimately what they're thinking about, doing damage.

And you take a look at what President Xi said today. He fully expects to take Taiwan. He made that statement today, that's a big statement. And I'm sitting here in an ice box. I'm sitting here listening to a case that even people from CNN and MSDNC say should never have been brought. I've been sitting here for almost four weeks and we still have a long way to go.

And I just want to thank all the lawyers involved because they've been really working hard, and I'm spending a lot of time and I'm spending a lot of money, which is what they want. They're welcomed to spend my time and my money and I'm willing to do it because ultimately we have to fight for the Constitution. Thank you very much.

TAPPER: All right. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, the defendant in this case, speaking for about 11 minutes talking about the trial mainly and talking about his feelings of the injustice of it, quoting quite a bit quite a number of individuals who have criticized the trial, including accurately, some who had been on CNN, saying that if they -- it was me asking prosecutors that they would bring this case and a couple of them earlier today said they would not have brought this case for a number of reasons, including the credibility issues of the prime witness, Michael Cohen.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's fact-checking what we just heard from Mr. Trump -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. He flew through some of his greatest hits, you know, the claim that the economy is failing in this is about Russia and China. They did say have a joint statement today about their growing relationship between them, but not exactly what he was saying there.

He said he was leading and every poll he's not leading in every poll. And some of the polls he is leading in his leading by the margin of error. He always claims he has a great big lead and all of that.

But when he started citing all these people and calling this a scam trial, which he does over and over and over again, most of those he cited -- Sean Hannity, Jonathan Turley, Daily Caller -- these are people who have lined up on the right supporting him from the right. And even when he cited, for example, our colleague Jeff Zeleny, it is true that Jeff said he has heard from voters out there who are disgusted and tired of this whole affair. You can find those voters anywhere.

What is not nearly as clear is how many voters are disgusted and tired of it, because they think Donald Trump shouldn't be charged. And how many maybe disgusted entirety of it because they're disgusted entirely with Donald Trump.

Bottom line is last month, when we polled people at CNN here with the SSRS, 60 percent of the people approved of the indictment of Donald Trump on this matter. Now, if that gets changed, if that somehow has shifted in the amount of time, we will also find that out.

But the bottom line is, even though a lot of people think politics was involved, a lot of people don't. So as usual, he's cherry picking a lot of things here, Jake, to support his case and ignoring things that may suggest it's not quite the way he presents it.

TAPPER: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Let's bring back Stacy Schneider and Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Alyssa, our reporters inside the courtroom note that Trump is has been paying very close attention to Michael Cohen's testimony today, shifting his body around, leaning and intently from time to time, looking at the evidence being presented by his own attorney, Mr. Trump's own attorney.


This is different from how he has been engaged visibly as it were in previous days with previous witnesses.

What do you make of that?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he knows -- he knows Michael Cohen well. He knows Michael Cohen, knows where bodies are buried and certainly has a lot of damning information against him related to this matter and certainly others. I think it's fair to suggest.

But today was probably the best day for the defense. The prosecution is going to have a chance to redirect and to get this back on course. But there was that sort of jaw on the floor or moment of learning about this 90-second phone call that Michael Cohen has spoken about may have been about something fundamentally different than what he suggested.

I don't think this is wrapped up yet. I think a jury who's heard from all these witnesses has a lot to take in and decide where they go with this. But Donald Trump, what we just saw from him, is what you're going to hear from him. Certainly if this is a hung jury or he's acquitted, it was a sham, it was a witch hunt.

Joe Biden was behind it, the Democrats were, of course -- of course, lies there, but he is going to use this as jet fuel for his campaign. And I think that it would work if he is not in fact convicted.

TAPPER: And, Stacy, sources tell CNN that Trump's team might call Bob Costello, Michael Cohen's former attorney to the stand, if they in fact intend to and decide to give rebuttal witnesses in their defense. What's your reaction to that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I'm not surprised because the defense apparently called him as a witness in the grand jury, and it is very, very unusual for a defendant to call any witnesses in the grand jury. Apparently, he was the only witness that the defense called. I understand that to be the case.

You don't want to call witnesses in the grand jury because whatever that testimony is gets locked in and a grand jury proceeding is a probable cause vote. There's more than 20 jurors in the grand jury. They vote on whether there's probable cause to bring a crime.

So it was interesting, I -- there's a tie back with Trump's statement just now to the press switch was exceptionally long, which to me shows that he thinks he had an excellent day in court because the better he does, the longer he speaks.

But he is relishing in the fact that he can use the opportunity after court to clean up his image of what went on inside. And again, it's a repeat. We've heard it all before, although today it really went out there about how this is a political witch-hunt and the trials moving so quickly.

I can tell you I've tried cases in that court in Manhattan court for more than 20 years. They all go quickly. This is New York City. Everything is on an expedited basis. The judges all move the cases along quickly. When you walk in that courthouse, there's not one discussion about

anything political going on there, like even his statement. This is Alvin Bragg. It's a political mechanism for Alvin Bragg to promote himself.

Alvin Bragg didn't indict Donald Trump. He brought an indictment before a grand jury and those people decided, based on what they heard in that secret hearing, that there was enough evidenced to hands -- hands up an indictment.

So all these statements keep going on and on. The only statement Trump is right about is that he called the courtroom and ice box and it is freezing in there. That building is so old and I would just tell him bring a sweater if you're going to be in trial every day in that room.

TAPPER: And, Alyssa, and control room, I'm going to question three here now.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche rattled off a list of people that Michael Cohen has blamed for his wrongdoing. A lot of this is in the context of the fact that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to tax fraud. And then in a different courtroom, he said before different judge. He said he was not guilty. He only pleaded guilty for other reasons that he lied under oath when he pleaded guilty, he did it just to spare his wife from being charged and so, there are issues about his credibility there.

And then when asked about it, he tried to -- tried to explain -- well, it was this persons fault and that persons fault. So, here is how Todd Blanche went at him.

Blanche: You blame a lot of people over the years for conduct that you were convicted of. Cohen: I blame people, yes.

Blanche: You blame your accountant? Cohen: Correct.

Blanche At times, you blame the bank? Cohen: Correct.

Blanche: You blame federal prosecutors? Cohen: Yes, sir.

Blanche added judges and Donald Trump to which Cohen also responded yes.

How do you think this landed with the jury, Alyssa?

GRIFFIN: I'm not sure it landed. Well, listen, Michael Cohen had some very human moment when they talked about his exchanges earlier with his daughter when he did kind of fess up to his past lies and owned it. He -- the best thing that he should have done I think has started the day doing was owning that he is a known liar. He's previously perjured himself.

But I think that is attitude shifted as the defense got more aggressive throughout the day. Again, where -- I'm hearing this through transcripts. So how it actually played in a courtroom for jury could be very different, but he pretty much confirmed for the defense what's been building for weeks on end, which is he's a known liar who points the finger at other people.


And I couldn't help thinking of that line that Hope Hicks had in her testimony about he was always fixing things because he was the one who broke them. That's what it really felt like that he's somebody who -- there were problems that he would kind of create but then he'd go in and try to fix them.

So it's going to be hard to shake a reputation that's been built for him over these weeks but well see what he's able to do in the days ahead.

TAPPER: All right. Alyssa and Stacy, thanks to both of you. I appreciate it.

Let's get the panel here at the table to weigh in.

Sara, let's talk about some of the many phone conversations that Cohen recorded. How that's coming up in this case. Hold on though, I'm going -- I'm going to take a little break, a little teaser for.

Keep it here. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Much to unpack from Michael Cohen's cross-examination on the stand today in Donald Trump's hush money cover-up trial. The difference working hard to undercut Cohen's credibility, bringing up his lies under oath, even questioning the accuracy of his testimony in this current trial before this current jury.

Our panel is back.

Sara, let me go to you.

So, Cohen's testified that his previous lies under oath were all in an attempt to protect Donald Trump.


But then the defense turned to Cohen's tax evasion case, which, of course, had nothing to do with Trump. Trump attorney Todd Blanche asked Cohen if its true he lied to a federal judge, quote, that because the stakes affected you personally, as Cohen has previously testified. Cohen says, yes, that's true.

Soon after that, Blanche asked Cohen, does the outcome of this trial affect you personally? Cohen says yes.

So I guess the question is, what Blanche is trying to introduce is, are you lying now because this affects you personally as well?

MURRAY: Yeah. I mean, I think that that is going to be a question for the jury. There are a lot of credibility issues around Michael Cohen. I think that Trump's team has done a good job of putting those on display this week. And this is just one of them.

I also think the animosity that we've seen from Michael Cohen directed towards Donald Trump has got to be something that the jury is pondering. Do you have a reason to be telling the truth, right now or is this about being vindictive? Is this about revenge? Is this about trying to stand up for yourself?

TAPPER: So you've been -- you've been skeptical of the effectiveness of this trial. Let me just ask you, if you were advising the prosecutor right now, okay. But how would you salvage this case given what has happened to Michael Cohen on the stand today?

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP PAYROLL CORP. ATTORNEY: Grab the lifeboats. Maybe grab a misdemeanor if you can. This thing is imploding.

And it's interesting, Jake, there's a great parallel that develop today. This case is going week to turn on was the --

TAPPER: That phone call on October.

BRENNAN: Was the motive here, President Trump trying to save his marriage or save his campaign. And now we have Mr. Cohen, who told this journey under oath, I called about Stormy Daniels. Now he's trying to hurt a 14-year-old child. So it's a really interesting in parallel.

What kind of think goes after a 14-year-old kid? I'll get the Secret Service. You ever hear call block? I mean, we hate mail all the time. Just block 'em. I mean, this guy is a crumb.

TAPPER: And what do you think?

VAN DER VEEN: Well, I think, you know, today's the afternoon, particularly proves the point he can never tell a lie the same way twice, but you're always tell the truth the same way every time. And I think Cohen got caught bad on the stand at the end of it, and I think, you know, there's a lot of daylight there for not guilty.

TAPPER: Shan, what do you think?

WU: The case is not imploding. Those advising the prosecutors, I'd say rehabilitate him on a couple of points, including the phone call, and they need to refresh his recollection to make sure that you can clear that up.


Thanks to all you, really appreciate it.

Let's bring in Trump attorney and Republican candidate for Missouri attorney general Will Scharf.

To be clear, Will is not representing Mr. Trump in the hush money trial. Will, so sources tell CNN Trump's team might call Michael Cohen's

former attorney, Bob Costello, to testify. Bob Costello has said some pretty scaling things about Michael Cohen and his credibility.

Would you call Costello to testify or would you just as soon as the prosecution rests, would you say defense risks rest to they didn't prove their case? Let's get this over with? What would you do?

WILL SCHARF (R), MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think certainly looking at all the testimony and evidence that's come into this trial, so far, I think this is an open and shut case for a directed verdict. I think the prosecution hasn't come close to meeting their evidentiary burden on crucial elements of the charge defenses and for that that reason, I don't think we should even get to the defenses case because I think any fair judge would enter a directed verdict here.

That having been said the teams going to make a decision over the next couple of days who to call, what to ask them about and how to proceed in terms of structuring a defense case if it comes to that, and I'm waiting to see what they do like everybody else.

TAPPER: I know. But what would you do? Would you call Bob Costello?

SCHARF: I'll tell you, I think his testimony in front of -- in front of that congressional committee yesterday was damning. When you look at his public statements, when you look at everything he said about his relationship with Cohen, about the things that Cohen has said about his relationship with Trump, it seems to fundamentally undermine the narrative that Michael Cohen has sought to establish over the course of his testimony in court.

So I think he would be a compelling witness. I think there are plenty of other people who could similarly undercut aspects of the prosecutions case here.

TAPPER: Who else? Who else might you call? Keith Schiller. I mean, Keith Schiller could theoretically say about that October 24, 2016, phone call I assume the Todd Blanche has talked to him, but and assuming that what Todd Blanche presented is with Keith Schiller would say, he would say, yeah, Michael Cohen called me, complained about some 14-year-old that was prank calling him, and then that was the end of that.

I didn't give the phone to Mr. Trump. He didn't talk about he didn't talk to Mr. Trump. Presumably that's what Todd Blanche is suggesting. What would you call Schiller?

SCHARF: Yeah, I think cross-examination is sometimes a little bit like dentistry. You pick and pick and pick, and then when you find a hole, you drill.


I think that's what we saw Todd do with that -- with that phone call on cross-examining Michael Cohen earlier today. I don't know who I would call, but I think that the prosecution's case

is so weak here, that a directed verdict is certainly warranted. I think the jury could decide it without a defense case at all.

TAPPER: I have a dental appointment next week and I wish you hadn't put that in my head.

You're graded Todd Blanche first day of cross-examination of Michael Cohen an "A". If you gave that an "A", I can't imagine the grade you would give him today.

Was there any specific moment that you thought was the most effective for him?

SCHARF: Well, I like to go back and read the transcripts at the end of every day. So far, I've just seen tweets coming out of the courthouse and the media coverage. But it seems like with respect to that October 2016 phone call, he caught Michael Cohen and an abject lie.

That's going to seriously undermine the credibility of any witness in front of the jury, seriously calls into question basically, everything else that he said in front of the jury in this case. So, I think that was a very interesting moment and one that I'm sure well hear a lot more about.

TAPPER: All right. Much appreciate it. Thanks so much for coming in and talking to us today. Trump attorney and Republican candidate for Missouri attorney general, Will Scharf -- always good to have you on.

Continuing with our law and justice lead today, President Biden asserted executive privilege to stop the U.S. Justice Department from handing over the audio of his conversations with special counsel Robert Hur. Robert Hur who was the special counsel investigating President Biden's classified documents case.

That's a move that Speaker Johnson criticized.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: President Biden is apparently afraid for the citizens of this country and everyone to hear those tapes. They obviously confirm what the special counsel has found and would likely cause, I suppose in his estimation, such alarm with the American people that the president is using all of his power to suppress their release.


TAPPER: In a letter to House Republicans, the White House counsel defended the decision to assert executive privilege to not allow this audio to be released. He made some stark accusations reading, quote, you're likely goal -- this is to House Republicans, to chop them up distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes.

We should note that CNN has also sued for access to that audio. We're believers in transparency here at CNN. CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, the House Judiciary Committee just voted to advance contempt proceedings against Attorney General Merrick Garland for this move.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. And it was the first committee to do that. The second committee will be the House Oversight Committee. It actually delayed its proceedings until 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

So several members of the panel could travel up to New York to our -- to attack the prosecution against Donald Trump in the criminal hush money case. And in fact, in the House Judiciary Committee meeting earlier today when they voted along party lines to advance this measure, two of those members, Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs, didn't even show up because they were up in New York arguing against this prosecution of the former president.

But nevertheless, this moved forward and the debate has broken down along party lines Republicans saying this audio is essential. They said it's important for the American public they here how Joe Biden reacted in this closed-door interview with the special counsel, over his classified documents, how we handle those classified documents, and Democrats say this is all for political purposes.

That debate broke out between the House Republicans as well as Senate Republicans and Democrats as well. Listen.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): But this idea that the special counsel can interview the president of the United States, use that excerpt from that in his report and then our president can then claim executive privilege to prevent the complete report from being released, strikes me as an abuse of power and just bizarre exercise and control.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Donald Trump's prosecutor said that Joe Biden did nothing wrong, release the transcripts. That also showed that the prosecutor said he had a photographic memory. So there's no end that will satisfy Republicans. You know, their impeachment inquiry is dead. Their key witnesses in jail for lying to the FBI.

And so, this is really a lot -- it's not oversight, it's overkill.


RAJU: -- if you wanted to follow up.

And I went on and I asked Eric Swalwell about why not just show some transparency. We want to be better for the president to just be opened about this, releases this audiotape. He said that there's no end in his view about House Republicans would eventually proceed. They said they will not be satisfied with the audio tape. They would ask for everything from the presence dental records to everything else under the sun. So that's the Democratic position. The question, too, is how does the

House Democratic leader view the idea of moving ahead with contempt proceedings for Joe Biden. He said that there's an uncertain -- for Merrick Garland. He said that is unserious move about exerting executive privilege.


However, Hakeem Jeffries indicated that he has no position yet on this issue. He said that he wants to study this further before taking a position on the president asserting executive privilege. Of course, Democrats sharply criticized present then Trump, when he time and again use executive privilege to stymie Democratic investigations when they were in the House majority.

There's still also no indication, Jake, about the timing of a floor vote for contempt proceedings against Merrick Garland, the speaker of the House, has not fully indicated exactly when they will come to the floor. And in this narrow Republican Jordan, he would have to keep all of his members in line, not lose a single Republican vote depending on the timing of their vote, ensure that there are no absences as well.

So a lot to consider as a speaker decides how to move ahead here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Much more discussion on this big story ahead. Plus, Donald Trump just moments ago defending themselves outside the courtroom. Will he do the same on the witness stand?

The debate over whether or not he will testify, that's next.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.