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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Trump Violates Gag Order Again By Attacking Michael Cohen; Trump Trial Focuses On Gag Order And David Pecker Testimony; Judge Blasts Trump's Lawyer Over Gag Order Says Losing Credibility; CNN's Post Analysis On Day Six Of The Hush Money Trial Of Former U.S. President Donald Trump. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 23, 2024 - 22:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Donald Trump essentially dares a judge to fine him or send him straight to jail. This is a special edition of NewsNight, the Trump Hush Money Trial. Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: I'm Kaitlan Collins. We are here in New York.

And today, you saw a tabloid king who was all too willing to do Donald Trump's bidding, giving an unvarnished view of the former president of the United States. I'm talking about David Pecker, the former National Enquirer boss, who outlined in carefully choreographed testimony today how he boosted Donald Trump and his tabloids, how his entire apparatus blasted Trump's rivals with blatantly bogus stories, and how he struck an off-the-books pact with Trump to bury stories to bolster his 2016 election chances by bamboozling American voters.

The former Trump friend has spent two-plus hours on the stand today as the former president was there glaring, as you can see here in this court sketch, from across the room and what marks a no doubt about it, betrayal for the politician who most prizes loyalty.

And new tonight, Donald Trump is again testing the limits of what he can say and how far he can push the judge who is presiding over this trial before he is actually punished.

Now, in a new interview, Trump is it is committing what looks like and sounds like a pretty clear-cut violation of that gag order that restricts what he can say about some of the main characters in this case, the witnesses, such as former fixer Michael Cohen. And here's what he told that CNN-affiliate WPVI just a short time ago.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Michael Cohen is a convicted liar and he's got no credibility, whatsoever. He was a lawyer and you rely on your lawyers.


PHILLIP: We've got a whole big panel here with us today, but first let's bring in CNN Anchor John Berman, who has been poring over these transcripts all day. John, there you are.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm over here now.

PHILLIP: You've switched over. So, John, which -- just tell us, what is catching your eye today at this hour?

BERMAN: All right. So, you're talking about the gag order hearing. First of all, I mean, all my papers are messed up now. There's a lot of papers and transcripts from the hearings today, more than 50 pages of transcripts from the gag order hearing. None of those pages are particularly good for Donald Trump or his lawyer, Todd Blanche. He got very contentious between the judge, Juan Merchan and Todd Blanche.

Let me just read you a little bit of this. Blanche, the attorney says, this gag order, we are trying to comply with it. And there is no doubt that we are here about ten different purported violations. President Trump is being very careful to comply with Your Honor's rules. And the judge cuts in, you, Mr. Blanche, you are losing all credibility. I have to tell you that right now, you are losing all credibility with the court. Goes on a little bit later with Blanche saying, to the extent that Your Honor views the post about Mr. Cohen and the system is being too close to the line, tell President Trump, tell me, and we will make sure it's not violated. Help me, help you, in other words, he's saying.

The judge says, as far as the whole distinction between reposts, you have stated it's ambiguous. You stated you didn't know. But, again, I hate to come back to this, but you're not offering me anything to support your argument. Blanche, the attorney says, but Your Honor, the judge says, I was not done. Never a good thing. You are not giving me anything to hang my hat on to say, yes, you're right. The reposts, that was unambiguous.

COLLINS: Unambiguous, as is the rest of our panel who is here with us. We've got Brian Stelter, who is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, Robert Ray, who was a former counsel to President Trump, a lot of questions for him during the first impeachment, Stacy Schneider, Manhattan criminal defense attorney, and Temidayo Aganga-Williams, who is a former senior investigative counsel for the January 6th committee.

And, Tim, given what you just heard from Berman there, you know, talking about how this day started for Trump's legal team and what this looked like, what does that spell -- we'll talk about what it means for the gag order, but what does it mean when that's the relationship between the judge and the lead defense counsel on, really, Day 2 of this.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, as a litigator, that really just made me cringe. I mean, I think I cannot imagine a more problematic way for a judge to perceive you so early in a trial. To have your credibility questioned by a judge, that's about as low as you can go as a lawyer in a courtroom. So, I think it was a really bad day.

I think why it matters that it sets the tone going forward. There's going to be a lot more skirmishes in front of this judge. Clearly, we're going to learn more and decide more about the gag order. There's going to be other evidentiary rulings. This judge, you want him to like you if you're the defense lawyer here. I think to have him say he doesn't believe you, that you weren't credible on Day 2 effectively, that's a really, really bad sign. Because going forward, when you make that argument, when it's a close call, he's going against you and going for the people.

PHILLIP: So, can I pose the question to you that I sort of asked at the end of the last hour, which is, what is the impact really on this trial, Robert, of Trump repeatedly violating the gag order? I understand it's about protecting the witnesses, it's about protecting the jurors, but on the actual trial itself, what's the impact, if any?


ROBERT RAY, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I mean, my first reaction is that's really a sideshow. The jury is, of course, not a prize of any of this and likely will be kept in the dark about any resolution with regard to the gag order unless somebody's doing what they're not supposed to be doing, which is following media stories in the press while the trial is ongoing. So, I think the effect is zero.

As far as Todd Blanche is concerned, I mean, maybe I've gotten into more trouble than some of my colleagues than I should have. But, I mean, as a defense lawyer, I'm more than happy for the judge to be taking me on as opposed to my client.

And, look, Todd Blanche is not going to be easily intimidated. I think he's going to try to encourage his client to follow the letter in the spirit of the gag order. But, look, the fact of the matter is this is what everybody warned about, including me, which is a trial in the middle of a campaign cycle. And there is inevitably going to be collision between the terms of a gag order that prevents the former president of the United States, who was the leading presidential candidate, from being able to respond with regard to information that is potentially politically damaging.

If Michael Cohen is free to go out there and speak, it's a little odd to be trying to put a muzzle around the defendant on trial, partly understandable because you're trying to protect witnesses, but this is an unusual case.

And you've got perhaps the government's lead witness out there in public and frankly should be, I think, admonished by the prosecution to just stop what you're doing until you're done testifying a trial. Then you want to have at it, want to talk all you want, go right ahead. But to muzzle Donald Trump when you've got other witnesses or at least one other witness out there speaking -- what? Well --

COLLINS: Is he muzzled?

RAY: I mean, that's under threat --

COLLINS: He can't attack witnesses. And he can't talk about the jurors and he can't go through the (INAUDIBLE). RAY: But what difference does that make?

COLLINS: A big one.

RAY: It doesn't make -- look, the safety of the witnesses or paramount, but the president, who is a candidate for office, has got to be able to respond with regard to matters that involve the campaign.

And, you know, if this becomes what everybody was concerned about, what I was concerned about was essentially a sideshow for people to explore how to do damage to Donald Trump in the political process. That is not something that he is going to tolerate. And he will tolerate contempt and not allow that line to be crossed.

The judge -- I understand the judge can do what it is the judge thinks is right. But Donald Trump is a presidential candidate, has to do what he thinks is right. And there's going to be a collision. And if it's pressed and this thing goes beyond like a thousand dollars fine or whatever with regard to each violation and the judge decides to take him on and try to put him in custody, I can tell you that that will bring this trial to a halt.

PHILLIP: Well, that's probably why that's not happening.

RAY: Because there will be an immediate appeal. The jury will be held in advance and it will stop.

PHILLIP: I do wonder if you think that there's any validity to the idea that maybe what the judge also might have to do is say to a Michael Cohen or say to prosecutors, you got to get your witness under control. He cannot be out there talking about this case and creating the spectacle on the side.

STACY SCHNEIDER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE TRIAL ATTORNEY: The problem is the defendant himself doesn't have that type of gag order. The gag order is to protect the witnesses in the case from vitriol from Donald Trump, but a typical trial might have a gag order where no one is allowed to talk about the case because the judge doesn't want people trying their case out in the court of public opinion. They want it to stay inside the courtroom. We don't have that kind of situation.

But to say that this case is political and preventing Donald Trump from exercising his First Amendment right, this is a business fraud allegation, pure and simple. It's about allegedly falsifying business records and things that went on that Trump is alleged to have run an expense of paying somebody's silence through his business records and doing it falsely. I don't see the political connection until we get into the campaign influencing, which is the second part of this complicated felony charge.

COLLINS: Also, Donald Trump spoke to the cameras on multiple occasions today. He did an interview on his way to his gag order violation hearing today criticizing Michael Cohen, calling him a criminal, and saying all these other things. So, at this moment, he is certainly not muzzled. But, Brian, I wonder when you're looking at this and after that got out of the way, David Pecker took the stand and resumed the stand. This is this tabloid king. And it was just remarkable to see him sitting there, not this far from Trump, but going into detail about when he met Trump and he was so impressed by him, but obviously we've seen how dramatically that relationship has been reshaped.

BRIAN STELTER, AUTHOR: Totally, admitting to a scheme to help get Trump elected. You know, look, I covered the Enquirer and Pecker back in the mid-20-teens, back when this was history. But, you know, this was eight years ago when these tabloid covers were coming out promoting Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.

I was covering this pretty extensively, but I learned a lot today.


There's a lot that we didn't know at the time that's been exposed under oath. Pecker has never given an interview about these secrets. So, now, for the first time, these have come out. And, you know, whether you call it a conspiracy, the way the prosecutors do, it was clearly an alliance that went much deeper than was evident to readers or viewers or anybody at the time.

So, from a from a media standpoint, we learned a lot about how this worked and how Trump was using one of the most sleazy brands out there, the National Enquirer, to launder his attacks against his opponents.

Now, of course, he's much less subtle. He just does it in front of the cameras. But even at those pressers you've been describing, they're not really pressers, he's not taking questions most of the time, at those moments where he's speaking in front of the cameras, he's not saying much. He's repeating the same talking points. He's reading the same tweets from his friends. He seems to be in a very narrowed echo chamber without much new to say anything.

PHILLIP: Or you could argue that this is just the art of repetition.

STELTER: That's a great point, yes.

PHILLIP: Which Donald Trump knows very well. He understands that if he just reads the same thing over and over again, we're still going to take it live.

STELTER: Touche.

BERMAN: You know, Brian was talking about how David Pecker admitted to his scheme to help Donald Trump get elected explicitly testifies to the scheme and where he was when it was hatched in this testimony. We heard really for the first time today, he talks about this August 15th -- August 2015 meeting where Michael Cohen calls him and says, hey, come to Trump Tower, meet with Donald Trump.

And then this is the exchange here. The attorney, the prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked, can you describe for the jury what happened at that meeting, please? Pecker testifies at that meeting, Donald Trump and Michael, they asked me what I can do in what my magazines could do to help the campaign.

So, thinking about it, as I did previously, I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents. I said, I would be your eyes and ears because I know the Trump Organization had a very small staff.

And then I said that anything I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen, as I did over the last several years, I would notify Michael Cohen and then he would be able to have them kill in another magazine or have them not to be published or somebody would have to purchase them.

Steinglass, the prosecutor asks, purchase the negative stories about Mr. Trump so they would not get published, you mean? And Pecker says that they would not get published, yes.

COLLINS: I mean, and, Brian, and what they basically laid out with those questions and answers from David Pecker and the questions from the prosecutors was, the National Enquirer would get a tip. It was on Donald Trump. David Pecker would be alerted. He'd call Michael Cohen and ask Michael Cohen what to do. And Michael Cohen, according to David Pecker, and we'll hear the cross-examine and what Michael Cohen has to say about this, but he would say, well, let me call the boss and see what he wants to do with the Karen McDougal story, with other stories. What do you want to do about this?

STELTER: Ironically, this is the kind of scandal that the National Enquirer would have exposed in almost any other scenario. The Enquirer had a history, for all of its flaws, for all of its faults, of reporting on politicians on both sides of the aisle for exposing scandals and controversies in politicians' past.

COLLINS: John Edwards, they did it multiple times before anyone else did.

STELTER: But instead, Pecker, because he had a long relationship with Trump and saw a benefit to the Enquirer, decided to pick a horse, right, decided to get in line with Trump and create a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, which is really what the Enquirer was. But he's never fessed up to this until today in court.

PHILLIP: It's not just that part. I mean, if it were just that, then it would be unsavory, bad for journalism, maybe bad ethically. The issue now is what happened next?

RAY: Is it a crime?

PHILLIP: Is it a crime?

RAY: And, hello, let's take everything that you just said is true. If the campaign had gone to the Federal Election Commission and said, we want to make a payment to suppress this story, and we want to use campaign funds to do it, what would the Federal Election Commission have said? They would have said, are you out of your mind? That's a personal expense.

STELTER: We also don't have a competent FEC in this country.

RAY: That's not a campaign expenditure. And the flipside of that, if that's so, is that it can't be, you asked the question, is it a crime, the prosecution is going to have to prove that this is a concealed illegal campaign contribution, and that's going to get hung up on the axle, I think, of testimony that you're likely to hear on my imagine during the defense case or through cross-examination about, wait a second now, that's not the FEC's view of this. They would not have viewed this as a legitimate campaign.

BERMAN: I don't think, and just as I go through this transcript and you look carefully at the exchanges, it is why I think the prosecutor and David Pecker always leads into this was a campaign meeting What can I do for the campaign. It maybe that they closed the circle in the next few days, but that's in here, that's in the transcript.

RAY: And you'd expect that to be there, because they know they have to prove it.

BERMAN: Sure. I'm just saying, so it does seem like they're conscious of this issue that you're bringing up.


RAY: Yes, and as I sit here, I don't know the answer to that question. You know, definitively, as a matter of law, I'm just suggesting that I think that's a legitimate defense. We don't know how that's going to come out. And in large part, it will depend on ultimately the judge and what the form of the jury instructions will be. But I think it's a legitimate legal question. It's not entirely clear what the answer is.

PHILLIP: The other thing, I mean, just to drill down a little bit on what you're saying, and I'm curious about the other lawyers at the table, if Trump had just made the payment himself, it's a personal expense, he labeled it as such, we wouldn't be here. But he did not do that because he was trying to conceal it. So --

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Yes. And I would say all the surrounding facts here, I think, Robert, undercut the hypothetical you put forward, right, if this were simply a personal matter, he could have done something that was far more simplistic. And I think what the prosecution did here effectively was to set the table as to how this was all connected to the campaign, how David Packer effectively was brought on as kind of a campaign actor to help further Trump's chances of winning the presidency.

Now, there is a world where perhaps the FEC might have taken a view that is not -- there's not the facts that we have here. I think when you're talking about Donald Trump's intent, when you're saying, why did he, if it's proven, direct these falsification of business records and was that for the purpose of concealing an election -- unlawful attempt to favor the election? I think the facts here are coming out the gate strong from the prosecution. I feel very good about this first witness.

And the other word I want to put out there is corroboration. We've talked a lot about Michael Cohen being the star witness. I think what's so effective today is that we're not talking about Michael Cohen and his credibility issues. We're talking about Michael Cohen and corroboration. David Packer is going to be a great witness. It has been because Michael Cohen, even before he's on the stand, is becoming a stronger and stronger witness. And I think when you add in the documents, you add in more testimony, it's going to make the prosecution have a really strong outcome.

COLLINS: And, Stacy, what did you hear when they made a point of having David Pecker, or related this back to the campaign, say, you know, we had been doing all of these positive stories, looking for good stories about Trump. This was the first time we ever paid for one, which is there are three stories that are involved in these allegations. It was about a doorman who was shopping a story that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. It wasn't true. And in that, do you have that moment?

BERMAN: I have that. I can read you part of the doorman's stories. We have this, if you have this in the control room, he's talking about the story of the doorman. And Pecker says, if the story was true and I published it, it would probably be the biggest sale of the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presley, okay? So, he's acknowledging it would have been a huge story have they published it. The prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, says did you have any intention of publishing it at the time you negotiated this deal? Pecker says at that time, no.

Steinglass says, what was your intention in terms of publishing it depending on how your vetting went? And Pecker says if the story came back true, I would have published the story shortly after it was verified. Steinglass says, before or after the election? I would have published it after the election, Pecker says.

Steinglass just dives in a little deeper, so even if the vetting came back and you believe the story to be true, you would have held the story until after the presidential election of 2016? Pecker says, that was the conversation I had with Michael Cohen and that's what we agreed to.

SCHNEIDER: So, here's what's going on underneath. This is not going to be a case about eventually disclosing an illegal campaign contribution. This is a local New York case and there is a New York statute that says that it is illegal for two or more people to either promote or prevent a candidate from taking office who's running for public office.

So, we'll get the word promotion here. So, allegedly in this case, burying the Stormy Daniels story and all the other stories as well, but particularly this one, that's going to fall under the New York state statute. We're not getting into issues of campaign finance fraud. We're getting into local law violation.

And this case, really the funny part about it, if you could call it funny, is it's really similar to taking your family out for a very expensive dinner and running the expense through your business. Trump allegedly had a personal matter, allegedly, he's denying it, and he ran the expense allegedly of paying Stormy Daniels off through his business records, called it a retainer to Michael Cohen. And Michael Cohen is going to come in and be the linchpin here and say there was no retainer agreement.

This is what we think. The D.A. has foreshadowed this. There's no retainer agreement and I wasn't doing what they said I was doing, what the Trump Organization and Trump said I was doing. I think that's how the case will eventually fall out.

RAY: But if the jury finds that it was done and they believe that it was for personal reasons, remember, Todd Blanche, in opening statement, tried to, quote/unquote, humanize the client. Everybody kind of dismissed that as, oh, it's kind of quaint that they're trying to establish that Donald Trump is both a father and a husband.


That wasn't done for just some idle purpose. That is done for the purpose of summation later on after evidence is all in, to say, hey, listen, if the jury finds that there's reasonable doubt and believes that Donald Trump's motivations were not principally to advance his interest in a campaign, but to conceal an affair from his wife and his child, and the jury buys that, or at least one juror buys that, or at least one juror finds that there's reasonable doubt as to whether or not it's for an illegal purpose as opposed to a personal purpose.

That's why Todd Blanche did what he did in opening. That's a set up for what's to come later.

STELTER: It might help if his wife came to court, though.

SCHNEIDER: It would help. It would help.

COLLINS: Or any family members. None of his family members --

SCHNEIDER: Yes. But this is all about Donald Trump's intent. So you have a point. You have a point.

PHILLIP: And we will get to -- look, there's so much to get to. You've raised a lot of questions actually with that last comment. Everyone stand by for us.

Up next, breaking news from the court tonight, the judge denying Donald Trump's demand to subpoena Stormy Daniels for information. We'll have more on that.

Plus, how the Secret Service is preparing for the possibility the possibility that Trump may be thrown behind bars for contempt of court.

This is CNN's special live coverage.


COLLINS: Breaking news tonight, as a judge has just denied Donald Trump and his legal team's request to try to get information via subpoena from Stormy Daniels, including whether she's had contact with any of the other witnesses in this case.

Before we discuss, just a reminder, here's what Stormy Daniels told Anderson Cooper when they sat down.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was it hush money to stay silent?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. The story was coming out again. I was concerned for my family and their safety.

COOPER: I think some people watching this are going to doubt that you entered into this negotiation because you fear for your safety they're going to think that you saw an opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the fact that I didn't even negotiate, I just quickly said, yes, to this very strict contract and what most people will agree with me, extremely low number, is all the proof I need.

COOPER: You feel like if you had wanted to go public, you could have gotten paid a lot of money to go public in an interview?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know for a fact I believe without a shadow of a doubt in my heart, and some people argue that I don't have one of those, but whatever, that I was doing the right thing. I turned down a large payday multiple times because, one, I didn't want to kiss and tell and being labeled all the things that I'm being labeled now.


PHILLIP: And the panel is back with us along with Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for New York Magazine, who has been inside the courtroom watching all of this play out. And I want to get to what it's like inside the courtroom in a moment.

But, Tem, just your first reaction to this judge denying the request by the Trump team, they wanted to be able to subpoena Stormy Daniels for her communications. And, basically, the judge said their request was too broad.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: It's not surprising. I mean, I think that one thing about this trial that we have to remind ourselves that it is a normal criminal trial, and at times, the Trump-esque of it makes it feel like this grand process from beside the courtroom. But beside the courtroom, I think if this were not Donald Trump, that's a request that would also be denied.

I think here, when you add in the additional factors of the witness intimidation and everything else you've seen for Trump, I think that hurts them in these kind of applications.

PHILLIP: Do you think that this was even -- I mean, it seems kind of like a bit of a Hail Mary to me, but as a lawyer, I mean, was it a standard motion for them to file?

SCHNEIDER: It's also a little bit late. We started trial already. The time for a trial is motion -- you make your motions. They're called pre-trial motions. If the defense had discovered something different, a change in circumstances from before when the trial started, they'd have every right and they'd probably win this motion to get this. But I think Trump's lawyers are going to reach for every opportunity they can and test the limits and that's the best way for them to mount this defense.

COLLINS: Robert, I mean, when you look at how Trump's legal team is handling this, Todd Blanche, from what happened today, we don't have to revisit the entire gag order hearing, but I wonder how would -- would you be doing this differently? What would you be doing if you were that defense counsel sitting next to Trump?

RAY: The defense is entitled to prior statements of anyone who's expected to be a witness, but they have to be statements that are in the possession, custody, or control of the prosecution. So, that's sort of your frame of reference in terms of having evidence prior statements used to impeach the testimony of a witness if that witness testifies a trial.

It's a little more complicated when it's like Stormy Daniels, and she's made statements, not to the government, but to other people in the media and otherwise, I think they were trying to get access to the universe of those statements.

I don't know why the judge thought it was overbroad or how it could maybe have been narrowed or tailored to get the defense what it's after, but, I mean, I think you can still explore that even during trial up until the time that the witness testifies, indeed, all the way through the witness' direct examination before cross-examination starts.

So, I imagine this will be revisited. I don't think it's the last of this. My guess is they probably took the takeaway message, okay, it's overbroad, why was it overbroad? Is there some way we can narrow it to get subject matter, material information that would go to the witness' prior statements about things that she'll testify to at trial? So, I don't think that's the last word, I guess is what I'm saying.


PHILLIP: And, Olivia, I mean, look, at the end of the day, I don't even know, when was the last time Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels were in the same room? That's going to be a bombshell moment in this case. Trump's entire demeanor around this woman, who is the center of not only this controversy, but an embarrassing episode in his personal life and in his public life.

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: I noticed when prosecutors mentioned Stormy Daniels' name, when they mentioned Karen McDougal, and when they mentioned Michael Cohen, Trump seemed to sort of shift uncomfortably in his seat in the courtroom the other day. He was not looking over at prosecutors. It was not totally clear what he was looking at, but he was sort of shifting, playing with papers, scribbling notes to his attorney.

I can't imagine how much more uncomfortable he's going to appear when he is actually in the same room with them. But I will say, if the defense is looking for communications between Stormy Daniels and other witnesses, she's become friends with Michael Cohen, by both of their accounts. They've taped, I think, two podcast episodes together, at least. There's a lot of public--

I'm sure that Donald Trump is not listening actively to Michael Cohen's podcast or to Stormy Daniels' podcast, but there is some public information about that.

RAY: It's a very hush-hush moment.

COLLINS: But it does speak to the moment of Trump sitting in the room with these -- I mean, David Pecker is one to start, but we believe Stormy Daniels is expected to take the stand. Michael Cohen, obviously, but Karen McDougal as well. Hope Hicks. Maybe Kellyanne Conway, it's not totally clear. I mean, it's a pretty remarkable witness list that we could be watching play out here.

STELTER: And he's rattled already. How do we know he's rattled? Because of the lies he's telling. Four years ago today, this was the bleach day, if you remember that, right? Trump had no control over COVID, over the pandemic, and he talked about bleach. That was four years ago today. What's the lie he told today? He said that thousands of people are being kept out of the courthouse and out of the neighborhood because it's become an armed...

COLLINS: Well, you weren't at the courthouse today. What did you say?

STELTER: I was there. I took an Uber like a normal person, got out, walked around, came over, visited all of you. It's a normal day with a beautiful park in lower Manhattan.

And yeah, there's some police officers and they're pretty bored because nothing's going on outside. If you live in the city, come on down tomorrow, see it for yourself. He's doing that thing where he lies about what you can see with your own eyes. And he only does that when he's really rattled.

So if he's rattled already, sitting in this freezing cold courtroom and then going home at night, listening to his friends on television, tell him it's like Guantanamo Bay, how much more rattled will he be, to your point, when these others are up on the stand?

PHILLIP: It is so interesting that when the Access Hollywood tape was being read out loud in court yesterday, Trump also reacted. He started passing notes to his attorneys. These are things that actually happened, things that he said, things that he did. But when it is out in the public sphere, I find that interesting. Kaitlan, you know him well. Olivia, you know him well. It is interesting to me that he is still, it's almost like embarrassed by it or he doesn't want to own up to it publicly. What's behind that?

NUZZI: I think that he thinks that he can define his own reality. And he has succeeded doing that for a long, long time. For as long as he has been in public life, he has attempted to set the terms of the world around him and how people perceive him. And that's what's so interesting about seeing him in this courtroom, just completely with no power, not able to dictate when he even stands up or sits down.

He is probably for the first time completely out of control. And it's pretty remarkable to see.

STELTER: There is a note of sympathy there. None of us are our worst. Speak for yourself. None of us are our worst moments. None of us are, and so listen, you know, I'm happily married. I don't know what it would be like to go and try to sleep with a porn star, as alleged. But if you go and do that, if you have your worst moment, your worst moment in your life, am I going down the wrong road, Olivia? None of us are our worst moments.

And yet Trump is sitting there having to relive what are alleged to be some of his worst moments of his life. There is a moment of sympathy there.

NUZZI: It's strange to hear from his attorneys, though. He has not accepted that these things happen that we all know about and that are being alleged, and yet they are claiming that they're not illegal. So it's just strange. It's sort of an OJ defense. You know, it's very strange.

COLLINS: And the difference here is 12 jurors are there watching as he processes this and watches these witnesses come up. We have much more to discuss about what this is going to look like in the courtroom coming up.

We're also going to hear from a former judge who is going to join us to talk about what it looks like when that judge today and how he was reacting toward Trump's defense, saying that he was losing credibility with the court and what his options are for these gag order violations if he finds that he did violate it, plus how the Secret Service is preparing for the very long shot possibility that Trump may be thrown behind bars for contempt of court. This is CNN's special live coverage. Back in a moment.



PHILLIP: We're currently waiting for Judge Merchant to decide whether or not Donald Trump actually violated his gag orders in multiple posts online.

And CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson is joining us with more on that and what the judge's actual options are. Joey. JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So this is what Trump cannot do

pursuant to the gag order. What is that? Let's talk about it.

Speak publicly about witnesses. Why witness intimidation and, of course, their public safety. Speaking publicly about prosecutors and staff members cannot do that. Bragg's office. Bragg is fair game. He's the district attorney. However, his court staff and family members, they are off limits as well. And let's not forget speaking publicly about jurors. These are all the things the gag order forbids.

Now, with respect to what Trump has done, let us take a look at all of his posts on Truth Social.


Those posts relating to a variety of alleged violations of the gag order, which prosecutions wants to hold him accountable for. Right? The prosecutor said that's a no-no. They were at a hearing before the judge. The judge has to make a decision as to whether these constitute a violation. And so what is the law with respect to that, right? This is the law. Don't want you looking at that. Let's break it down further as to what this means in English.

And that is as follows. These are the options. Option number one, an admonishment. What does that mean? Mr. Trump, don't do that. You put people in jeopardy. You can cause safety and other issues. It's problematic. Stop. That's what the judge can do. Will that be enough? Potentially not. He could fine Trump up to $1,000 per post that is in violation. Last thing, he could put Trump in prison for up to 30 days.

Many people not believing that that's a viable option. However, he can certainly put him in for a couple of hours. Would that work? We'll see.

PHILLIP: We certainly will, Joey. Thank you. And stand by for us for more on this.

I want to bring in Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell. Judge, at one point during the hearing today, Judge Merchant told Trump's legal team they were losing credibility with the court. If you're a judge and those words have to come out of your mouth, what does that mean for you?

LADORIS HAZZARD CORDELL, FORMER JUDGE CALIFORNIA SUPERIOR COURT: That means that things aren't going well for the attorneys, for Trump's attorneys, and the judge is trying to listen objectively to decide whether or not criminal contempt has been committed.

So when the other side, Trump's lawyers, propose ridiculous defenses or responses, such as, well, reposting isn't really posting, so maybe there's no violation of the gag order. That's absurd. And it's a waste of the judge's time.

So the judge was clearly agitated, irritated, and the good thing the judge did was like, hold up, I'm not going to make a decision right now when I'm in this mood, in this frame of mind. And that's why I think the judge will likely issue an order, if not later, maybe it's too late on the East Coast or by tomorrow, so that Trump can know what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

I mean, it's clear, I think, after the evidentiary hearing today, that Donald Trump crossed over into criminal contempt land at least ten times. So the issue is, you know, what is the judge going to do? And the whole purpose of criminal contempt is to, first of all, preserve the integrity of the court proceeding, to make sure people follow the judge's orders, but for the person who has violated an order, the purpose is to punish the person and also to deter them from doing it again. A fine's not going to deter him. So what's left? Incarceration.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, is that what you would do? I mean, would you go there? You heard Jody suggest it could be not days, maybe a couple hours. What would you do?

HAZZARD CORDELL: Sure, I understand that. So if there are 10 criminal contempt violations, and it's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's required in this instance, so what would you do with a person who is not Donald Trump's high profile? That person would serve some time in jail for blatantly violating the court's order, not once, not twice, but ten times.

So it should not be any different for this person. And Donald Trump has really just pushed the envelope consistently all through this process. So it's not an issue as far as I'm concerned. I mean, this isn't rocket science, right? You violate a court order ten times, then you go to jail. The only issue, I think, is when he goes to jail.

If he goes now, that delays the trial. That's what he wants. You don't want to do that. So the judge can basically hold off and say, I'm going to give you, could be a day for each, could be an hour for each, 10 hours in a cell, and hold off and say you're going to start that sentence at the end of the trial because the trial and the contempt proceeding are two separate things.

PHILLIP: We have Robert Ray here on the panel. Robert, do you have any questions for the judge?

RAY: I guess my question, Judge, is whether in terms of incremental ratcheting up of penalties, if an admonition won't work, why wouldn't it be the case that a judge would look next to, okay, I have my doubts about whether or not fines will do the trick, but maybe I'm going to be cautious here and do that first and actually find out whether or not that's sufficient and lay that record down before I go down, travel down the road of incarceration, whether a matter of hours or days or months.


HAZZARD CORDELL: The New York law gives the judge the option of the fine, jail time, or combination thereof. And by the way, it's 30 days for each violation, a maximum that the judge can impose, but this could be a total of 300 days in jail if the judge were to impose a maximum. So I think we're all making too much of this. If anyone violates a court order and does it blatantly and has been warned, has been fined in other instances, there's only one thing left to do. This person is thumbing his nose at the judge and at the court process. So the issue becomes, and this is entirely up to the judge to say,

okay, you're going to go sit in and cool your heels. He could decide for a few hours and bring Donald Trump back out because, let me tell you, I've seen the jails, and I think the jails here where I live are similar to the jails in other parts of the country. They're not particularly clean, very noisy, and if you go in for a few hours, he won't have to perhaps change his clothes, but if he has to go in for a few days, he's got to wear a jail garb.

So there's a lot that thousands of people have experienced who are sitting in jails now, and I just don't think we should make it such a big deal because this happens to be Donald Trump. He's violated the law, criminal contempt, then he serves his time like anybody else. It's entirely up to the judge, and the judge may want to do an increment, but we all know a fine, a warning, they're not going to deter him. He's pushing the envelope all the time.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and I think most people agree. Any other defendant, this wouldn't, to your point, really be a question, but with Donald Trump, here we are talking about it. Judge Hazzard Cordell, thank you very much for joining us.

And up next for us, the role that former Playboy model Karen McDougal will play when she takes the stand. That's next.



PHILLIP: Tomorrow, the former "National Enquirer" executive David Pecker will continue to testify about the catch-and-kill process. He's going to detail how he handled that process when it came to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

So, which witnesses are expected to testify, and which ones will be the most impactful?

So, starting with Karen McDougal, because I think this is actually fundamentally different, we were just talking about, from Stormy Daniels. This was longer term. This was something that Trump, I mean, he still denies, actually, the Karen McDougal relationship. What are you expecting from her?

NUZZI: This one's more complicated. She has not been antagonistic about Donald Trump. She still speaks with him with some affection. She described in her interview with Anderson Cooper, she described that they were in love. It was an actual relationship, and that she ended it because she felt very bad about it being an affair. She's a religious woman.

And I think it's going to be very different for him to see her in that courtroom versus Stormy Daniels, where that was a more surface-level affair. It was transactional. They were talking about a role on "Celebrity Apprentice" for Stormy Daniels. It was not an emotional affair where he talked about having a child with Karen McDougal in her account. I think it's a much more emotional thing than the Stormy Daniels one.

PHILLIP: That's really fascinating. I mean, for the lawyers in the room, from an evidentiary perspective, what's the thing that you need the most for this case to be rock solid?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: From the prosecution perspective? Yeah. I mean, I think it's fitting to that pattern that we've been talking about, right? That's what the prosecutors want to set forth, that the catch- and-kill was part of this scheme. We use the word conspiracy. I think that's where she really fits in, is that before we get to Stormy Daniels, we're going to have these other data points that show this is part of a broader agreement, and that's where this fills in.

I think if I'm the defense looking at her, and what I just heard, it might impact how she's cross-examined. I mean, if she goes up there, and she's not a hostile witness, and she comes up in a more favorable way, it might impact how you go after her, meaning you don't hit her the way you might do with Stormy Daniels, who you might be aggressive and call a liar.

With her, you might try to fit her into that framework of Donald Trump, the softer figure, that he's the man with the family, a man who's real and has emotions, and she may be able to fit into that defense narrative about Donald Trump as a more sympathetic character, but I think that's going to be hard to do.

NUZZI: It seems very complicated. You're trying to humanize Donald Trump, someone who is larger than life, as the defense noted in their opening remarks, but if your attempt to humanize him is by bringing in an alleged mistress of him, that could really backfire.

PHILLIP: I mean, she is a prosecution witness. She's a defense witness.

NUZZI: That could backfire.

SCHNEIDER: I mean, look, I think the attempt to humanize him is a tiny part of the case. I think what they'll try to do with Karen McDougal is be consistent with the defense's opening statement, which said -- Todd Blanche said, Trump didn't do anything wrong, he was just protecting his family.

And if you look at Donald Trump, before he was elected president, he was an international celebrity, and the cost of doing business is getting rid of people who are nuisances in your life, and it doesn't cost very much money for Donald Trump to pay these people off. They would say this is something he would do anyway, it has nothing to do with the election.

PHILLIP: So, Brian, one way or another, though, this is like, I mean, look, I was there for so much of this. A lot of this, rereading it, remembering it, this is going to be a process of that for voters all across the country, whether you like to or not. This case is going to be front-page news probably every single day for the next six weeks.

[22:55:05] STELTER: So beyond the jury, so beyond the jury, beyond the legal arguments, I was just thinking today about what this is like to be dredging up bad memories for the country. And some people could say, these are great memories, Trump was elected in 2016, yes, but the Ted Cruz sex scandal, the Access Hollywood tape, all the lies about Trump's opponents that we now are learning Trump was helping push through the Enquirer with Michael Cohen and David Becker, all of this is being dredged back up. And a lot of casual news consumers will barely hear it, but it will seep through, it will seep through for the next days and weeks.

I personally love the view that a lot of Americans have short-term memory loss when it comes to the Trump years and the pandemic and all that. They don't want to remember how ugly some of this was. We live in a political environment now where it's all caps, tweets, right? He screams all day on social media. We forget that we used to live in a political environment where people were kind of nice to each other in the political arena. There was some decency and decorum.

And this entire trial, beyond the politics, beyond the legal part, the politics is reminding us of just how indecent and ugly it's become.

PHILLIP: There are parallel things going on. There's a legal case, but there's also a character case about Donald Trump that is happening at the same time.

Thank you all for being here. And thank you for watching "Newsnight's" coverage of the Trump trial. "Laura Coates Live" starts right after this.