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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Soon: Prosecution Resumes Closing Argument; Now: Prosecution Making Closing Argument; Prosecutor Calls Handwritten Notes "The Smoking Guns ... Damning". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 28, 2024 - 17:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. We begin this hour in Manhattan as jurors have begun listening -- have been listening, rather, to closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money cover up trial. Right now, they're taking a 20 minutes break. The prosecution still not finished with their presentation.

Earlier, the defense laid out almost three hour closing argument, slamming the key witness, Michael Cohen, as the, quote, "MVP of liars." Jurors have agreed to stay late today to get these closing arguments done. CNN's Paula Reid is outside the Manhattan courthouse for us.

Paula, walk us through what's been happening in court. The prosecution apparently, you know, almost halfway done in their long closing argument.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. The judge just revealed that we could have at least three more hours to go, that the story might be here until seven or 08:00 tonight. But for the past two hours, prosecutors have been focused on this alleged conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election. Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. But this case has been charged as a felony because prosecutors alleged this was all part of a conspiracy to help Trump win the White House in 2016.

Now this is part of how they elevate this. The prosecutors hate it when people refer to this as a, quote, "hush money case," instead telling the jurors that this was about election fraud and an effort to subvert democracy. And so far, Jake, they've been pretty linear. They've gone through this chronologically over the past two hours, going step by step, starting with that 2015 meeting with David Pecker about how the National Enquirer was going to help Trump, suppress negative stories, amplify ones that could help him. David Pecker promised to be Trump's eyes and ears.

They start there and then Joshua Steinglass has gone day by day through 2015 and 2016, hitting all the relevant evidence and reintroducing it to the jury. It's quite a bit for them to take it all in, even joke with them at one point, quote, "I hope you're getting all of this." Now, as I said, they still have several more hours to go. But our colleagues inside the court, they report that the jury continues to be very attentive to this. And that's really a credit to this jury.

Anytime I've been inside, I've observed the same thing. They are clearly taking this historic task that they have at hand very seriously, and their attention span has not waned, even though they have sat there almost an entire day of rehashing this case. I also want to note someone else who's in the courtroom today, that is the district attorney Alvin Bragg. He has only made a few brief appearances throughout this trial, but his presence today really underscores how significant these closings are for this critical case. Of course, it's significant for the defendant, but also for the man who brought this case.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much.

Let's bring in former Trump White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Alyssa, when I talked to you, I don't remember if it was a week ago or two weeks ago, but it was at a point that you said that if you were on the jury based on the information you had, you didn't think that the prosecution had proven its case. Do you feel any differently now?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the prosecution has done an incredible job so far today, kind of consolidating both the campaign finance side of things, you know, the influence on the election, but also the falsifying of documents. I could definitely see how a jury will get there and convict. But the most interesting moment to me today was when the defense alluded to sentencing, when they brought up putting him in jail, which, of course, they were reprimanded for. That's what I think is going to stick in jury's minds. You know, they're not robots.

They're people. They're humans. They know what happens even if the rules are that they don't, you know, broach into sentencing. And I think it'll be interesting to see if that impacts their decision. Like what a weighty decision to potentially be the jury -- the first jury to put a former president behind bars.

TAPPER: In general, how do you think Trump feels about today and Todd Blanche's closing arguments, his defense attorney?

GRIFFIN: Listen, Todd Blanche is probably the best attorney he's had in all of these plethora of cases we've seen. But Donald Trump does seem like he's pretty rattled over just not knowing what direction this might come down. We've seen him, you know, at the end of last week, giving lengthy remarks outside the courtroom. He's flanked by his members of his family, the most you've seen to date. I think he's worried, you know, a conviction that has major political implications and of course, the legal ones.

[17:05:12] But even an acquittal, I think he's -- I think we need to get ready and buckle up to hear weeks and weeks of him saying it was a witch hunt, it was the Biden, you know, government that was pushing this. And whether he's exonerated or not, he's probably going to lean into grievance regardless of what the outcome of this is.

TAPPER: And yes, he was posting on Truth Social last night, first of all, saying that, you know, why is the government allowed to make the final argument. And I guess despite, you know, all the episodes of "Law and Order," we've collectively watched, that is actually -- the prosecution is normally the one that ends the closing arguments. That was news to me, but that's how it works. And also going after the judge and Joe Biden, George Soros, his name was mentioned, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, he tends not to do that if he's feeling good. I think people like you have said before.

GRIFFIN: Well, right, Jake, his Memorial Day statement, if you could call it that on Truth Social, was hardly that of somebody, you know, kicking back, having a beer, enjoying the holiday with family. That was a man who's rattled, who's angry, who, you know, hours deep into the night, going after who he sees as his adversaries. I think he's concerned about this. I think that just the lack of control over the situation, the lack of control out over the outcome is something he's never been good with. He's somebody who has just general control issues and wants to be able to have a say in how things are going to turn out.

So, his campaign is already thinking about how they're going to message either outcome here. But a conviction or -- well, a conviction is going to be something that I think is incredibly challenging with swing voters. He needs to be ready for that.

TAPPER: And I've spent the day surrounded by attorneys with 100 IQ points on me, each one of them. So my perspective of this case is very affected by how these lawyers, these brilliant minds to my left and right, are seeing this. As somebody who is a communications expert, who knows how to reach regular folk, how do you think this case is being received by people who, let's say, might be swing voters?

GRIFFIN: I think that we'd be surprised how much of the public is tuning in day to day but I do think that they're paying attention to the recaps and the major stories that come out of each day. You know, just anecdotally, I was away at this Memorial Day weekend and people were talking about it. They know that there's likely going to be, you know, a decision soon, hopefully this week. And I think that a conviction, because it will have that asterisk of felon next to him, does matter with swing voters, even though this isn't the case voters care the most about, that would be January 6 or the depart -- the documents case in Florida. It's still, there's something to a lot of voters that's so unsettling about the idea of someone being president who's also a convicted felon.

TAPPER: Well, but you and I have spoken about this also. The idea that of all the cases that have been brought against Donald Trump, this is the one we're definitely going to get a verdict in, whereas we're probably not going to get one in the classified documents case or the Georgia, I don't know what's going on with the Georgia case in terms of alleged election interference, plus the Jack Smith January 6 case. It seems right now on today's facts that we're not going to get a case -- and none of those are going to go to trial, at least before the election.

GRIFFIN: Well, and that's remarkable. I mean, I think the dynamics of this race would be fundamentally different if January 6, for example, were being tried this summer and we are having to relitigate Donald Trump trying to steal an election, trying to overturn the democratic process. But that's not the reality we live in. This is likely the only case we're going to see before voters go to the booth and see a conclusion on. I think it has an impact. It's nowhere near, if were talking about those actions in that dark day, how that would change the turnout of this election.

TAPPER: Are you surprised by what you've heard from your former colleagues in the White House? Hope Hicks testified, others testified, people that you knew well. There was a back and forth, I guess, Hope Hicks and this other woman whose name is escaping me right now, I apologize, Marga (ph) or whatever, she -- that they disagreed on how much Donald Trump was rattled by the access Hollywood tape. And with Hope saying that it was a crisis and the other woman saying that he was fine and nobody thought it. They thought it was bad, but just like another one of many bad days.

GRIFFIN: Yes. And that was between Madeleine Westerhout and Hope Hicks.

TAPPER: That's it. Thank you.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Hope Hicks would have known better candidly, she was the one intimately advising him on public relations and communications around that time of the campaign. And that's when there was a very skeletal staff like the core people around Trump were only a handful and she was one of the most important who he listened to. So she'd have far better insight, I think, into how he felt than Madeleine, who was somebody who I think is a credible person but she just wasn't as intimately involved in that process and in that time of that campaign. She was really a little bit later in the White House.


TAPPER: All right, Alyssa Farrah Griffin, always good to see you. Thanks so much.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Prosecution is about to resume its closing argument. We're following every development minute by minute. We're going to bring everyone to you live. Plus, while Trump was sitting in a New York courtroom, he scored a win in one of his other criminal cases. We'll have the new details on that ahead.


TAPPER: Look, moments ago from inside the Manhattan courthouse. Donald Trump after taking a brief break, walking back into court while we wait for closing arguments to resume in the hush money cover up trial. Trump's legal team scored a big win in a different case, this is the classified documents case down in Florida, where Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, rejected special counsel Jack Smith's request for a gag order against Donald Trump in the case. Prosecutors had asked for the gag order after Trump repeatedly and quite misleadingly criticized the FBI for having a policy in place around the use of deadly force during the raid at Mar-a-Lago, Trump claims his life could have been in danger because of the policy.


We should note the policy is standard protocol for FBI searches. The same policy was used in the searches of President Biden's homes and offices. CNN's Evan Perez joins us now.

Evan, also, correct me if I'm wrong, but Donald Trump was purposefully not there when they did the, quote unquote, "raid of Mar-a-Lago, right? So, why is Judge Cannon saying she denied the request? I know prosecutors and people at the Justice Department are pretty upset. They think that Trump and his allies are making a false claim that he was going to be assassinated and they worry about the violence that might come as a result.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly, Jake. I mean, the problem the prosecutors are really highlighting is the idea that because of the rhetoric from the former president and some of the even wilder rhetoric from some of his Republican allies, that there could be danger for some of the law enforcement people, some of whom are going to be witnesses in this case if this case ever goes to trial. And that's obviously a big if. But in this case, Judge Aileen Cannon made a very quick ruling, which has not been the case for her. She tends to weigh things a lot longer.

But in this case, the federal government, the prosecutors for Jack Smith, the special counsel, had asked for this gag order on the former president on Friday night. Late Friday night, they made this filing. And just today, the judge has quickly rejected that. And what she cited was not following the rules. Essentially, the prosecutors didn't follow the rules of how you approach a filing like this in the southern district of Florida.

And she called this a wholly lacking in substance and professional courtesy type of filing. She said that there wasn't enough consultation done with the Trump team ahead of making this filing. And so we don't know whether prosecutors will take another crack at this. But one of the interesting parts of this, Jake, is that prosecutors were asking for the probation office for this to essentially be something that would hinge on the former president's release as part of this case. So potentially, this would have made this -- the probationary office would have been the one making the call on whether Donald Trump is violating the gag order.

And of course, Aileen Cannon, Judge Cannon here summarily rejected this, saying that this is not the way it's done in the southern district of Florida. We, of course, the prosecutors could always come back and ask for a hearing. And we'll see whether they take that step, Jake.

TAPPER: When is the next court hearing in this case?

PEREZ: We have a number of hearings set in the next couple of weeks in -- later in June. There's, as she has pointed out, there are about eight different proceedings that have been pending before her for weeks and weeks and months. Some of them are to dismiss the charges for various technical reasons. And so, we expect that we're going to be back down in South Florida in the next few weeks, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

At any moment, the prosecution is set to resume its closing argument in the Trump hush money cover up trial. Our legal experts have said the case is either won or lost in closing arguments. So how do they think Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, is doing? That's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our coverage of the closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money trial. Court has just resumed after a short break. But during that short break, the defendant, former President Donald Trump, took the opportunity to hop onto his social media website, Truth Social, with his take on the prosecution's presentation. And it says, in all caps, "BORING." That's at 05:11 p.m. And then at 5:11, also all caps, "FILIBUSTER." Let's bring in our panel.

The truth of the matter is, I don't know that all of you disagree with that. This is a long -- these are long closing arguments, both the defense and the prosecution. Does it affect a jury's take on a case in any way? A long or short summation?

BRANDI HARDEN, CRIMINCAL DEFENSE LAWYER: I think a long summation does just what you think. It just bores people. I mean, at the end of the day, everybody in a trial is just a human, right? Nobody wants to hear anybody talk for that long. Quite honestly, that's why they don't make movies four and five hours, because it's all just too long.

So I do agree that, you know, you can say too much. And I think filibuster is probably right. I don't think in a situation like this where you have the president on trial, you may not see it on jurors faces, and it may be very different when it's the president, you may not get bored in the same way that you would normally be bored, because this is the decision of a lifetime. But again, four hours is too long.

TAPPER: What do you think?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I totally agree, four hours is too long. And look, the jury's attentive now, I'll be interested if they are equally attentive at 08:00 after they've been subjected to five hours of all of this. I think the prosecutors really need to kind of just sit, figure out what the key themes are and present their case. One thing I thought they did do very effectively this afternoon is really start to build the larger framing device and explain to the jury, number one, what the actual election fraud consisted of, because I don't think that's something that was readily apparent --

TAPPER: Right.

DUPREE: -- just in the course of the test one.

TAPPER: Agreed.

DUPREE: It was also important because what it did, I think, was communicate to the jurors why this is important, why they should care about this. Because I think a lot of jurors might be hearing this and saying, are we really sitting in judgment on a former president potentially sending him to jail for what could be a bookkeeping error? And I think the prosecutors did a good job in explaining to the jury why this was more than a bookkeeping error, why this potentially affected the outcome of the 2016 election, and why the jury should really care about this, and why a conviction was important. That's something that didn't come out during the testimony, and we started to hear about that today.


TAPPER: So in his closing arguments, Karen, Trump's defense attorney, Todd Blanche, brought up Stormy Daniels multiple times. Again, this is the defense attorney, "This case is about documents. It's a paper case. This case is not about an encounter with Stormy Daniels 18 years ago. An encounter that President Trump has unequivocally and repeatedly denied occurred." And later, Todd Blanche said, "Ms. Daniels has denied that there was ever any sex with President Trump in 2018 and earlier, but the government wants you to believe those statements were coerced."

Now, so Blanche is saying it himself, that the case is not about the sexual encounter, alleged sexual encounter, but it is believable that the sexual encounter happened, whether or not one believes it is a subjective manner, but it is not out of the realm of possibility for a multimillionaire to have an encounter with a woman in that industry at a golf retreat, I guess theoretically. Does the defense risk credibility by saying Donald Trump says this never happened?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's two things. Number one, why did they spend so much time on something that doesn't matter to the trial? I don't understand why they cross examined Stormy Daniels for as long as they did, why they went into the salacious details. And I'm talking about the defense. It doesn't matter if they actually had a sexual experience together or not.

It's irrelevant. The point is it was that they paid her -- they paid her off so that she wouldn't say that they did, right? So, I'll never quite understand that tactic. And then to bring it up and spend all this time on summation this morning, I don't understand that either. I'd love to hear from the people who have more experience as defense attorneys than I do. TAPPER: Well, let's do you and then you.


GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTTION: I think the defense blew it. Number one, when they said an opening that it didn't happen. Number two, when they had all those cross examination questions of Stormy Daniels. If I had been a defense attorney, I'm a morning mortar quarterback. I don't throw interceptions.

After her direct testimony, I would have stood up, said, Your Honor, we have no questions. And what I would have done in closing is say you have been brought into this courtroom for slime salaciousness. Remember when I said no cross examination? The reason I said that members of the jury, is Stormy Daniels is irrelevant. What happened is irrelevant.

We don't know what happened. But they had a moment where they could have said that in closing, but they over promised an opening by saying it didn't happen.

TAPPER: That's interesting, Tim, because --


ROSSI: Right?

TAPPER: -- they did say, the defense did say the only reason Stormy Daniels testified was to embarrass the defendant.

PARLATORE: Yes, I agree. And I think that -- I agree with this, to go through a detailed cross examination of her makes no sense. The concept that, you know, whether it happened or not, yes, sure. For purposes, the client's, you know, state of mind say to the jury that he denies it, but then quickly followed up with saying, but it doesn't matter whether it happened or not. What we're here to talk about is, you know, that she was going to tell something that was embarrassing and she was demanding money to prevent that from happening.

If you go to the New York statute on extortion, it actually says in the language of the statute whether true or not. So it doesn't matter whether this encounter happened or not. If she's demanding money to keep silent about it, that's an extortion. So there you have that little defense point that you can use without having to get into the details of whether it's true or not. By bringing it up the way that they did on opening statements, he opened the door and allowed them to get into far more detail on the direct examination of Stormy Daniels than they ever would have if he just said it doesn't matter.

AGNIFILO: And potentially loses credibility with the jury --


AGNIFILO: -- if the jury believes Stormy Daniels --

PARLATORE: Right. AGNIFILO: -- and thinks that the encounter did occur.

HARDEN: And I think the best thing that any lawyer could have done would be to stand up and say, no cross. But it's one of the most difficult things to do. It's just hard.

ROSSI: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Especially when you have a client like Donald Trump.

HARDEN: Right. That's right. That's right. Exactly right.

TAPPER: And this is not meant as a criticism, but he wants his people to fight for him. Certainly he wants his attorney to fight for him.

ROSSI: Well, I would figuratively bring him to the woodshed because I say, listen, I'm the general in this courtroom, no cross is your best option. But here's the thing --

TAPPER: And then you might hear you're fired.

ROSSI: That's true. But there's nobody within 50,000 miles of this courtroom --


ROSSI: -- that doesn't believe that Donald Trump had something to do with Stormy and something to do with Karen McDougall. You're arguing a fact that the jury's going to believe it anyway.

TAPPER: Right. Because it's not -- and it's -- and as everybody has said, whether or not there was an encounter in that room is not material because there's no crime being alleged in Nevada in what happened there. And in fact, even paying her is not necessarily a crime.

HARDEN: That's right.

TAPPER: Hush money is perfectly legal.

HARDEN: The whole trial, they talked about it. They talked about how they pay. They pay for all kinds of stories, true or not true. So it's clearly not a thing that seems problematic when you're paying a witness. And I just think to go into the salacious details was a mistake. It's just -- it's really what we called in law school, a red herring.



HARDEN: You have somebody here, you think, oh, my gosh, this cross examination is going to really hit some points. And then you go into it and it just doesn't make a lot of sense.

TAPPER: Just to bring everybody up to speed as to what's going on right now. Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, is moving on to payments and cover up. He has a PowerPoint presentation, always very popular with a group of jurors who are there against their will. Who doesn't like a good PowerPoint? Steinglass says after the election, Cohen went around complaining that he still hadn't been repaid for the $130,000 he fronted to Daniel. Stineglass showed the jury more testimony from David Packer, the tabloid king, who said in December 2016, Cohen complained him about it, quote, I understood he was complaining that it has not been repaid. A portion of the transcript said Steinglass is now showing jurors something, what is this, the bank statement from Cohen that he brought into Allen Weisselberg. Right on the bank statement, Weisselberg and Cohen calculated all the money that was owed to Cohen, Steinglass said.

PARLATORE: I hate using PowerPoint on closing. I always get in fights with co-counsel because I refuse to use it. The best defense is a simple one.


PARLATORE: You maintain your credibility by conceding the points that don't matter. And in that way you can focus the jury on the points that do. And if Todd Blanche had simply, you know, shortened it significantly and said, hey, all this stuff doesn't matter, catch and kill doesn't matter. All that matters is the annotations on the checks, the drop down menu of legal fees. And by the way, Mr. Steinglass is probably going to bore you to tears for hours trying to prove things that we're not really contesting. And he's doing that to distract you from the main point, which is this legal fee drop down menu. That's the way that you win these cases. You try to simplify it as much as possible and concede the points that don't matter.

TAPPER: So the law firm of Parlatore, Agnifilo, Rossi, Dupree and Hardin, you're hired. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Donald Trump just used social media to announce how he feels about the prosecution's closing argument. He said, boring all caps. But how is Trump world feeling as the trial enters its final lap? A former Trump White House official joins us next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our continuing coverage of closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money trial. Judge Juan Merchan says closing arguments could go as late as 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. Eastern this evening as we watch for updates from the prosecution's presentation. And right now, he is referring to these documents, these handwritten letters by Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO of the Trump Organization, and his right hand man, Mr. McConney, he's referring to these as the smoking guns of the case. They are the smoking guns. He said, they completely blow out of the water. The defense claim that the payments are for legal services rendered. I'm almost speechless that they're trying to make this argument. This is the handwritten notes of these two gentlemen, Weisselberg and McConney. Let's bring in Hogan Gidley, former White House deputy press secretary during the Trump administration. Hogan, good to see you.

So moments ago, during a short break, Mr. Trump posted on truth, social, boring, and also filibuster. It's all caps. That's why I'm saying it that like that. You know him well. How do you think he feels about how closing arguments are going?

HOGAN GIDLEY, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, fact check true on both of those, boring, of course, and a filibuster. Look, a long, long, long closing argument here. But here's the funny part, this entire thing is kind of like the Nancy Pelosi school of prosecution. You have to convict the guy before you find out what he's charged with. We're on the last day of these proceedings, halfway through the closing arguments, and we're just now finding out what Donald Trump is charged with. I mean, anybody else in the defense chair behind the defense desk in this country, you would want to know what you're charged with because you have to mount a defense to argue against those charges. I mean, we can talk about whether they're baseless or not, but the fact is he didn't find out until today. And on top of that, when you do find out, there are federal crimes they're alleging here, which means the jurisdiction doesn't even work for a state court.

TAPPER: OK. So you're talking about the fact that the business falsification accusations are a misdemeanor and the reason that they're bumped up to a felony has to do with them being in the service of another crime, federal election crimes. But I thought we knew that the whole time. I thought were aware that it's just this election interference theory of the case. But let me ask you another question, because we only have a little time. Trump attorney Todd Blanche today closed calling jurors, Michael Cohen is the gloat instead of the goat. The goat is the greatest of all time. Gloat is the greatest liar of all time. What do you make of how Trump's defense has handled the case regarding the main witness, Michael Cohen?

GIDLEY: Well, it's pretty obvious that the prosecution rested its entire case on the testimony of Michael Cohen. Someone who's been disbarred, someone who's been convicted, who's gone to jail for lying, amongst other things. And in fact, on the stand, we found out that Michael Cohen admitted to stealing $60,000 from, which, of course, is a worse crime than what Donald Trump is alleged to have done.

So it is a great job the defense has done, poking holes not just in Michael Cohen and his past, where he is admitted to lying, but in the present, where they caught him lying on the stand as well. The jury made up of, you know, obviously, a lot of folks, two of which are actual attorneys, have -- that they have to see that as a real problem in the case. And the prosecution, I think, really stepped into it. They had to put Cohen on the stand. They kind of brought this whole thing to a head with this star witness, and he just crumbled. The defense in their final arguments, their closing arguments pointed to this.


Their job was to say, the guy is a liar. He lied to you before. He's lying to you now. And that the whole case, if it's resting on this one man, is a serious problem.

TAPPER: So what do you think are the political ramifications of a guilty verdict? And I have no idea what the verdict is going to be. Let me just say, I'm not suggesting that there is going to be a guilty verdict. It could be an acquittal. It could be a hung jury. It could be a guilty verdict. And I have also no idea what the ramifications would be of any of them. But what do you think?

GIDLEY: Well, look, I think the election really comes down to the issues that the American people care about. They don't really care about this case right now, though the verdict, that could change some minds here or there, no question about it. But at the end of the day, what we're talking about is, can you afford gas and can you afford groceries? Is crime better or is it worse under Joe Biden? How's the southern border doing rushing drugs into our communities, human trafficking, child smuggling, the world breaking out into chaos with wars erupting. Those are the things that we're going to be debating between now and the election.

Now, what the American people think about that, of course. And in the landscape of this whole trial is significant. Now, what is the media going to do after this? No offense, Jake, but you talked about Aileen Cannon earlier, and you called her a Trump appointee, which is absolutely correct. But you didn't characterize Judge Juan Merchan as a Biden donor, for example. So I expect the media to come out full guns ablazing on Donald Trump, regardless of how this looks.

TAPPER: I think he gave, like, $35 to buy a t shirt for his daughter or something like that. But look, I mean --

GIDLEY: Correct.


GIDLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: OK. In any case, my point, I don't think Judge Juan Merchan's alleged bias has gone unremarked upon --

GIDLEY: Correct.

TAPPER: -- by --

GIDLEY: Nor should it.

TAPPER: -- by the likes of you or Mr. Trump or any like. So it's certainly already out there. I was just merely noting that Judge Aileen Cannon --

GIDLEY: Correct.

TAPPER: -- was appointed by Trump.

GIDLEY: Which is also correct. But the fact is, these things are obviously won and lost in the Court of Public Opinion so often. And when it comes closer and closer to November, what is this trial going to mean whether it's a conviction or whether it's an acquittal, whether it's a hung jury, what does that matter to the real American out there facing tough times? That's really the debate. The Democrats are going to point to Donald Trump as an agent of chaos and crime. Republicans are going to say, Joe Biden is the one who's a criminal. Watch his son and other things with China and Russia and Ukraine, et cetera. But also, he's failed you, the American people, with his policies that have really been kicking you in the teeth now for the better part of four years.

TAPPER: Well, and that's actually the point I wanted to make on the Judge Merchan alleged bias. Do you think that the political arguments about Judge Merchan have been so aggressive and forceful by the Trump team, political team and allies and such, that a guilty verdict would almost be a wash because it is a New York case, because it is a judge who has given $35 to Democrats or whatever, like, and has a daughter who makes money through Democratic political consulting, et cetera, all that stuff. Do you think it's now baked in? That's really what I'm driving here.

GIDLEY: I think so, because so many of us have actually parroted what the reality is. And you hit a couple of those notations, not to mention the fact the legal experts are going kind of parse apart. All the times the objections were made by the defense and the Trump team and how it was slapped down by the judge. You can see how some of the deck has been stacked against Donald Trump. The jury, of course, largely from, are all from Manhattan, 90 percent of which voted for Joe Biden. We know that, too. So the cake is baked on the biases here. The American people, though, fundamentally, they like and want fairness. If they perceive this to be unfair, it's going to blow up in the Democrats face. And now you have Joe Biden saying he's going to comment on this trial from the White House, not to mention the fact he went out today and had like a campaign rally with Robert De Niro kind of brushing Trump back and trying to go after Trump. He has made this political, a massive misstep by the Biden campaign and the Biden White House. It reeks of unfairness. The American people reject that in all forms.

TAPPER: Hogan Gidley, thanks so much. Appreciate your being here.

GIDLEY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: So right now, first of all, just on the Robert De Niro reference, because you might not know what he was talking about, Robert De Niro and some of the officers who were attacked on January 6th at the Capitol appeared. And I think they did so officially through the Biden campaign outside the courthouse earlier today and were shouted down by some Trump fans who went pretty much the way you'd expect it would have. Right now, the prosecution is walking through the documents at the very heart of the Trump hush money cover up case. We're bringing you every single update from inside the courtroom during these consequential closing arguments. We'll be right back.


[17:49:03] TAPPER: Prosecutor Josh Steinglass right now continues his closing argument in Donald Trump's hush money cover up trial. He's walking through the documents at the very heart of this case. After all, it is not a case about an alleged sexual encounter. It is a case about allegedly falsified financial documents. Steinglass saying moments ago, quote, these documents are so damning, you almost have to laugh at the way, Mr. Blanche, Trump's defense attorney, tries to explain to you that this wasn't fraud, unquote. CNN's Paula Reid is outside the courthouse. And Paula, these are documents the jurors have seen before. Steinglass is really trying to hammer home a point here by calling them smoking guns.

REID: That's exactly right. He's been going for several hours now. Our colleagues report that the jurors are still very alert, watching him intently. His first order of business when he got up was to try to rehabilitate the credibility of Michael Cohen, spent about an hour on that. And spent about two hours on the alleged conspiracy to help Trump win the White House by suppressing negative stories, but now he's getting into the actual charges at the heart of this case. The allegation that Trump helped facilitate the falsification of 34 different business records.


Now, everything that's coming out in this closing argument is something the jury has seen before. And Steinglass, over several hours, is going methodically, Jake, each important day, each important document, reintroducing this to the jury. But these documents are really critical, not just these documents themselves, but also tying Trump back to these documents. Because what Todd Blanche did this morning, first up, when he was up for his closing argument, he tried to distance his client, the defendant, from the falsification of these business records.

They insisted first and foremost that they weren't false, that Michael Cohen was submitting invoices for legal work and he was the president's personal lawyer. That's how they tried to undercut the charges at the heart of this case. So here it's Steinglass' job to reintroduce the jury to these individual documents and then represent the key evidence that they have that links the defendant to these documents. This is probably going to be the most critical part of his closing argument.

And likely what's going to take him through 7:00 or 8:00 tonight. So hats off to the jury for retaining their concentration and their focus throughout this very long day.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, a lightning round with our panel of legal experts on strategy on this huge day of closing arguments, which side do they think has done a better job? We'll ask them next.


[17:55:55] TAPPER: And we're back with our coverage of closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money trial. The jury has now been hearing from the prosecutor, Josh Steinglass, for nearly three hours. Let's bring in our panel. And let us keep in mind the importance of concise closing arguments as I come to you and ask in four minutes for five of you to tell me what you think is the most important thing that happened today.

HARDEN: There are holes in this case. Reasonable doubt has been shown. The government has failed to meet its burden. And ultimately this should be an acquittal.

TAPPER: Really? You think it's an out now acquittal?


TAPPER: Interesting.

DUPREE: I think there's a very good chance of a hung jury. I think the defense has done a great job of raising various types of reasonable doubt. I think the prosecutors were on the right track to bring this case together to finally frame the case in the way it should have been framed from day one as an election fraud case. But my only concern is that we still have two more hours to go. I do think the jury is going to be bored by the end. And the fact that the PowerPoint doesn't even get rolled out until hour three is a red flag.

TAPPER: Steinglass, by the way, inside the courtroom to the jury saying that if jurors still have any doubt, quote, the defendant has himself repeatedly admitted that the payments were reimbursements. Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, still going the energizer bunny of closing arguments. Sorry, that's a dated reference. Karen, your thoughts about the trial today, the case today, closing arguments.

AGNIFILO: I think Josh Steinglass is doing an excellent job at reminding the jury really what's at stake here and what's important here, talking about how Michael Cohen is the perfect tour guide through the evidence, showing that everything he said that was important is corroborated and really focusing on what he called the smoking gun evidence, that road map to how he's going to be paid back in Weisselberg and Cohen's handwriting, I think it was exhibits 35 and 36. That's really the key testimony. And I think he's doing a good job at hammering that in.

ROSSI: If there is a conviction, I think there's a 75 percent chance of a conviction on a felony. The worst decision the defense made was calling Costello last. Number one, you didn't have to call anybody. And you called one witness essentially. He was a total dud, a disaster. And he corroborated what Michael Cohen said. That could be a fatal flaw if there is a conviction.

TAPPER: All right. We're actually doing very well. So you don't -- we have a little bit of time here for you, Tim, so don't take it all. We can do another whip around. But your thoughts?

PARLATORE: So you asked specifically the most important thing that happened today.


PARLATORE: And I would say the court officers union agreeing to, you know, to get overtime and to stay open late so that we can get it all done in one day.

TAPPER: Yes. And that's --

PARLATORE: I think that's the most important thing.

TAPPER: That is important. And do you think that there is a chance, even though you think it should be a vote for an acquittal, they have not reached the burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. Do you think there's still a chance, though, that there will be a vote for conviction? I mean, it's a jury, right? Anything could happen.

HARDEN: I do. And let me just explain. I do think that there's a chance of a hung jury here. But my defense attorney mindset is that if there's reasonable doubt in the case, the law requires you to render a verdict of not guilty. So that's where my mindset comes from. It is an out and out. I mean, it's the law. If you have reasonable doubt, you must be found not guilty. Now, again, there are 34 charges. And by the way, that's a really good number. But I mean, 34 charges, that's a lot for the jury to take in. So maybe, yes, there's a chance of a hung jury here as well.

TAPPER: Is there a chance that they could find him guilty of 34 misdemeanors but not go with the felony?

DUPREE: Well, it's tough, complex issues with the statute of limitations and things like that. I do tend to think this is go big or go home. I think this is convict on the felony or acquit or hung jury. Those are the options.

TAPPER: Good. Karen?

AGNIFILO: Or it could be a mixed verdict. There could be convictions on some counts, acquittals on some, and hung on some. You just don't know what it's going to be. And they're not all equal, right? He didn't sign some of the checks, for example. I could see the jury saying, OK, well, he didn't sign those checks. That's a doubt.

TAPPER: Interesting. Like Eric and Don Junior signed those checks, so we can't hold him responsible.

AGNIFILO: Exactly. That could be something that they do. So I think you're going to see kind of -- juries are very thoughtful and they will take each charge one by one by one. And they're not going to just go all at once. So I think you might see a mixed verdict.

TAPPER: You guys are great. Thank you so much for sticking by me all two hours of this.

[18:00:06] The prosecution's closing arguments of Donald Trump's hush money cover up trial continues now into their third hour. Judge Juan Merchan, a Republican appointee, I should note, says he wants them finished by the end of the day and has indicated the jury could stay until 7:00 or 8:00 tonight. Complete trial coverage continues right now with my friend Wolf Blitzer. He's next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow.