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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Longtime Trump Insider Ties Hush Payment To Election, Family; Longtime Trump Insider Cries On Stand During Testimony; Trump Team Continues Assault On Michael Cohen's Credibility; CNN's Post Analysis On Day 11 Of The Hush Money Trial Of Former U.S. President Donald Trump. Aired 10 -11p ET

Aired May 03, 2024 - 22:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of NEWSNIGHT. I'm Abby Phillip in New York alongside Laura Coates.

And tonight, reunited from a distance and under subpoena, the former president of the United States and the aide who was by his side as he ascended the political ladder, they sat mere feet apart today.

There was no mistaking it. Hope Hicks was inside a Manhattan courtroom against her will. The woman who spent years answering questions for Trump was now answering questions from the prosecution. Government lawyers see Hicks as the code breaker, the person who knows him about as well as anyone. And most critically, she can speak to his deep involvement in managing everything about his orbit.

But did what Hope Hicks say while she was under oath actually do damage to the prosecution's case in some ways?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, through tears at times, she actually mapped out the final months of the 2016 campaign and the tumultuous seas as the campaign tried, at least, Abby, to navigate the mess that was the Access Hollywood tape, including, by the way, the furious effort to make Stormy's stories go away.

I mean, she recalled private conversation with Cohen, said that she doubted that he would have made a $130,000 payment, quote, out of the kindness of his heart, recounted how the Trump business functioned like a mom and pop shop with the, quote, core family members as the key deciders.

The prosecution, they scored its most important moment when they elicited this from Hope Hicks about the days after The Wall Street Journal broke the story of Trump's alleged tryst with the adult film actress and director, saying, quote, I believe I heard Mr. Trump speaking to Mr. Cohen shortly after the story was published.

PHILLIP: But Hicks may have also offered reasonable doubt, gift wrapped for the defense. As this case moves forward, the case hinges on if the prosecution can prove whether Trump did what they alleged to benefit his campaign. That is critical.

So, his longtime aid hinted that Trump may have in fact cared to keep the story quiet because of his wife. Here's the quote. He was concerned how it would be viewed by his wife. And he wanted me to make sure that the newspapers weren't delivered to their residents that morning.

Our panel is here with us to page through all of the important moments from this dramatic day. We've got Omarosa Manigault Newman, Olivia Nuzzi, Stacy Schneider, Jennifer Rodgers and Donte Mills.

Quite a moment. I'm going to start on this end of the table because these are like the Hope Hicks whisperers. Maybe you're going to be that for us at this table.

But, Omarosa, when you see all that transpired with Hope, the tears, the angst, but then also the testimony, at the end of the day, what do you think she provided for the prosecution? She was their witness on the witness stand today.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Well, first let me talk about what stood out to me. Hope has this incredible memory. So anytime she said that she couldn't remember or didn't recall, I know it's a legal tactic, but it was a little surprising for me in that respect.

But there were some things that were very similar to my time working with her from the campaign into the White House. She is a messenger for Trump. And I think that she kind of went into a default for that when she took some unnecessary jabs at Cohen.

She said that he broke things and/or he would create these situations where he broke them and he would have to fix them.

And I thought that was really odd, particularly since he had to fix things for her. I don't know if you guys recall her alleged relationship with Corey Lewandowski, Cohen had to kill stories about that relationship on her behalf, and he did.

So, I thought some of those things were her kind of falling into the default of continuing to be a messenger for Donald Trump, but there were other moments that I thought were very poignant.

COATES: That's interesting, I mean, the way you phrase that, especially because I think people often -- there's so much absence of transparency about what really goes on behind the closed doors. And you would hear her name with Kellyanne Conway or others who were maybe the true believers, so to speak, Olivia.

And I do wonder, was she an ideologue? Was she considered a partisan within the organization? Or was she considered somebody, you're already shaking your head, no, somebody who was just a communications person?

[22:05:00] OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: She was a communications person. She became very close to the family beginning in 2012 when she started working for Ivanka Trump, and then she went into the Trump Organization. She really liked Trump, and she became very defensive of him.

If there was ever a bunker mentality, as they took a lot of incoming, all of it justified, I think, from the press over all of those years, she really felt like, oh, well, why don't people see the Trump that I see?

And I think it took her a very long time. There was a lot of self- deception at play for everyone who stayed, and I think it took her a very, very long time to start to realize that the Trump that she saw on a daily basis or how he treated her was not representative and, in fact, maybe just didn't matter at all relative to how he treated the country and the world.

COATES: Your mouth is moving already, this is how you're thinking. Go ahead.

NEWMAN: She was working for Ivanka. And it wasn't that she just kind of segued over for Trump. He saw her, he saw her as attractive, an attractive woman, and he snatched her from Ivanka. He wanted her to work for him because of her aesthetics.

We all know that Donald Trump is obsessed with looks, and that is the sole reason that he chose her. He even tells the story about how she had absolutely no experience in this space, but because she was pretty, he put her in charge of communication. That is the fact. She snatched her because of how she looked.

NUZZI: Omarosa, inception of you, nobody in that White House, nobody on that campaign had White House experience. So, the idea that there were all of these old hands from politics is wrong.

NEWMAN: In fact, it was the opposite. She had absolutely no experience.

NUZZI: Right, that's what I'm saying. So, she was an outlier in terms of not having any political experience. I mean, that was pretty much the norm. It was sort of the island of misfit toys over there.

DONTE MILLS, NATIONAL TRIAL ATTORNEY, MILLS AND EDWARDS, LLP: Well, if I can jump in just to defend her a little bit now that you guys are attacking her, but to look at it from a different angle. She came into this courtroom. And it's one thing where you know you're going to have to testify against somebody because she was called by the prosecution, meaning she had evidence that would hurt Donald Trump. Otherwise, they wouldn't have called her. She knew that coming in, I'm sure, that was tough for her to deal with and you plan it and I'm sure she went through a lot of preparation.

But then you get in that courtroom. It's cold. It's large You see the defendant sitting at that table, the judge there, and I'm sure she went back to the default. She said she was nervous. I'm sure she just went back to her default, her comfort zone of Donald Trump was nice to me. I'm going to try to be nice to him but try and be as truthful as I possibly can. But you have to understand a situation she was in. You're under a lot of pressure and you know the magnitude of the situation and you're testifying against somebody who treated you well.

PHILLIP: Can I just make an observation? And this is a little informed by having covered Trump. If you're in the jury and you don't really understand Trump world, you are coming to understand the gravity of it all. If you're a Hope Hicks, the sense of loyalty that you have to this man, the emotion that's around that, she wasn't just any employee. She wasn't like any White House staffer.

I think we take for granted that that is being conveyed with the tears and with the emotion, with all of the testimony, I think, speaks to that.

And what she testified to today, which was this was a campaign and what she called a big business that was run like a small family office, like a family corporation, all of that, I think, is some atmospherics, don't you think, Stacy, for the jury to kind of understand, who is this guy and what is it like to work for him?

STACY SCHNEIDER, NEW YORK CITY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. And you know what, why that is so important in this case is because Donald Trump's defense here, which was foreshadowed in his lawyer's opening statement, is this had nothing to do with the campaign. This was for my family, my brand, and my reputation.

And what Hope Hicks has done is testified that Donald Trump -- everybody reported to Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. These little points are not coincidental. They're intentional. The D.A.'s office put her on there as their witness. This is not Donald Trump's witness, even though they had a great relationship and supposedly they haven't been speaking since 2022.

But, clearly, her emotions were -- there was a favorable energy between the two of them, according to everybody who was in court today. But this was a strategic decision to show through Hope Hicks that while she was working on this campaign, she was getting calls from Michael Cohen about managing the campaign, even though everyone is saying Michael Cohen was just the fixer, he had nothing to do with the campaign, he's a horrible person, he's difficult to work with, these are all -- Hope Hicks was the witness to tie Trump back into the alleged scheme because Trump's lawyers are going to pull him out and say, Michael Cohen did this without permission from Donald Trump.

MILLS: Except to Omarosa's point, she said --


COATES: I was in court today, and I want to make clear for one thing. And just I kind of wanted to linger for all the beautiful faces on this set, I didn't get the impression that Hope Hicks was just a pretty face to be dismissed. I got the impression that maybe there was some reason that perhaps he first noticed her, to your point, Omarosa. She's a striking woman in the courtroom, and everywhere else. But my impression of the testimony and what they listed from her and from accounts is that she was good at what she was doing, but she said he was the best at actually managing his own brand.

And so when they brought her in to that point about Michael Cohen, she considered him and went along with the testimony to affirm this. She said, look, Michael Cohen was sometimes frustrated into the campaign. He sometimes was doing things that were not what they wanted them to do, that he was a rogue person at times, which is probably an understatement in some respects of it.

But I think she was trying to convey the point that in this mom and pop, and I want to hear your experience, that nothing really went down, that Trump didn't have some fingerprints or some agency over. Was that your experience working there?

NEWMAN: That's absolutely my experience. But I want to clarify something. People say that Michael wasn't involved with the campaign. It's just not true. As someone who was there from day one and watched every one of those pieces put into place, there were only 14 of us, Cohen was an integral part of the early organization of the Trump campaign. Anytime someone says that to me, it's laughable. And also, he actually helped to organize some of the people who are in the key positions of the campaign strategically where they are.

So, when people dismiss him as just someone on the outside, it's just not the case. He traveled with us when we had to formulate this diversity coalition for Donald Trump. You'll see tons of pictures with him. Look at the pictures from Cleveland. Look at the pictures from Detroit. Michael Cohen is right there involved in the campaign. That's number one.

Number two, Michael Cohen could not do anything in that organization without Donald Trump knowing, without Donald Trump directing. Donald Trump knew how many people were in his lobby buying ice creams from the ice cream shop, how many people were coming into the parking garage and which parking attendant was working these. That's how involved he was in the organization.

To say that Michael Cohen went rogue is laughable. It's somebody who doesn't know Trump world and doesn't know how Donald Trump operates.

PHILLIP: I mean, Hope Hicks said as much.

SCHNEIDER: Omarosa, I mean, don't you think it's consistent with how Trump operates? I mean, we were both on different seasons of The Apprentice, but there's blurred lines between his business, the Trump Organization, there were blurred lines between the business, the T.V. show, his campaign, the White House, everything, you know, it's Trump world, and it's all together.

So, I mean --

NEWMAN: All of us was that we all ended up in Michael Cohen's office. We all talked about all those different deals from golf courses, to talk shows, to T.V. shows to production companies, which you agree the centerpiece of all of that activity as we all partied in Michael Cohen's office and all of the problems that went wrong, all the things that went left, we ended up in there either taking shots or crying, including Hope Hicks.

NUZZI: And to your point, I mean, the campaign office in 2016 was literally on the fifth floor, which was The Apprentice studio. So, they stopped filming The Apprentice.

MILLS: The problem is you guys know that. The jury doesn't. They jury doesn't know that. So, when Hope Hicks, who the jury believes has this special relationship, comes in, they think she's an insider, and she says, no, Michael Cohen was a rogue guy. He did things without Trump knowing they weren't in those offices with you when you know that's laughable, that's not possible.

So, the issue for the prosecution is, will they bring in the right witnesses that's going to solidify that point and convince the jury that Trump knew everything that was going on? Or will those little comments by Hope Hicks move the jury to think things can happen without him knowing?

PHILLIP: I just want to remind, though, that she also was very clear. Michael Cohen was not going to write a $130,000 check just to write a $130,000 check.

COATES: Out of kindness of his heart, right?

PHILLIP: It was not out of the kindness, because she implied that there was no kindness of his heart. Like that was the implication. But that's a -- even while painting him in a negative light, that's a crucial piece of information.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And she also did some other things. And, by the way, I mean, this whole demeanor and the positive vibes mean that the jury believes her. So, when she said things like Michael Cohen was involved, I overheard Michael Cohen talking to Trump about this stuff. I overheard conversations between Trump and David Pecker around this time about these things. The jury believes that. You know, they are taking these points that the prosecutor is trying to build.

Now, she doesn't get the prosecutors across the finish line or even close on the main crime, which is the falsification of the business records, and we still have to see that. But honestly, this part about was it about the election? She scored points for the prosecution there. And that to me is a slam dunk. This notion that just because she said Trump was also worried about what his wife thought, who cares? There is so much overwhelming evidence that this was about the election. All they have to do is show that that was a substantial part of it. I think that part is done.

COATES: The thing is, too, I want a quick break, but substantial is not quantified in New York. So, the idea of saying what's substantial to you might be, well, it had to be 99 percent in favor of Melania and 1 percent of the campaign, but that's not actually quantified.


It's got to be probably more fit with 50 percent. But this jury is going to have to think about what they think about it, Abby.

PHILLIP: They're going to have to sort through all of that. I don't envy them. I really don't. Everyone stick around.

So, did Hope Hicks' testimony help or hurt Trump's case ultimately? We'll debate that again, next.

Plus, we'll speak with a famed jury consultant on the impact of a witness getting emotional on the witness stand.



COATES: So, here's the big question. Did Hope Hicks' testimony actually help or hurt Donald Trump's case? Jen Rogers mentioned a very important moment before the break. And, Stacy, I think you have the transcript as well. I want you to read the part about Melania Trump. That's what I leaned in in the courtroom.

SCHNEIDER: Okay, so here's directly from the transcript. Here's what was elicited from Hope Hicks about Melania. President Trump really values Mrs. Trump's opinion and she doesn't weigh in all the time, but when she does, it's really meaningful to him. He really respects what she has to say. I think he was just concerned what her perception of this would be.

COATES: Can I do a Golden Girl Sophia Petrillo moment for a second? Sorry, picture it, Manhattan courtroom 2024. When this came out, it was so important because it was around the time he was trying to figure out, was he concerned about the headlines? And even when, as far as to say, Hope Hicks testified, that he did not want the newspapers delivered to the residents because he was afraid that she would see it, which, of course, I thought, so is Melania getting up in the morning and like reading the paper and leaning in?

But you guys, I mean, you're laughing at that, about this notion that they may be at the newspaper, but did he value Melania Trump's opinion? Did he respect it?

NEWMAN: I mean, there were times that he did, the truth of matters. He talked to Ivanka more often than he did to Melania about things that were important. He consulted Ivanka more than he would her.

But the whole thing about the newspaper, I've been to Trump's home. I don't know if you all have been. They're not like dropping newspapers at your stoop, right?

COATES: There's a lot of paperboy. There's a lot of --

NEWMAN: I've never seen her hold a piece of paper for information since I met her. I mean, I met them when they were engaged. That's not who she is. She might read it on her phone or on her iPad, but he really wasn't concerned about her seeing a newspaper cover and it changing.

MILLS: But there has to be some worry that he had about these kind of salacious things reaching his family. And this is what we talked about before the break. We don't know what their line is going to be, what the judge is going to instruct the jury on, if it can be a mixed bag, if it can be, I wanted to protect my family's name and my reputation, my relationship with my wife. But the campaign also factored in, is that enough?

Because, clearly, they can show that he was doing things like this, catching and killing stories before he was running for president. So, if you follow that through and say, this had nothing to do, it wasn't about the presidency, he would have done this whether he was running for president or not. Is that enough to be --

NUZZI: But an angry wife is a political problem, right? If you're running for president and your wife is mad at you, and if she doesn't come out on the campaign trail, and it's one allegation after another, there were two dozen allegations of some sort of sexual misconduct, if all of a sudden Melania is not involved, she takes a step back, that's a big political message that's being sent.

NEWMAN: But she did that. She didn't come down to Washington for months.

NUZZI: Yes, right? And so I think --

PHILLIP: That has already been a factor for them multiple times.

NUZZI: Just because it's a family concern, it doesn't mean that it's not also a political concern, the optics concern, to say something legally.

SCHNEIDER: Even if the defense is successful and the jury believes Hope Hicks that he had this legitimate concern for his wife, it almost doesn't matter. He's being looked at for violating a New York State election conspiracy statute where it's alleged that he conspired with Michael Cohen to promote a candidate to office in an unlawful manner.

So, whether he did it for his wife, which he's charged with having an affair, he's accused of having an affair, and, of course, he's going to be doing it also for his wife, but it doesn't matter because a celebrity has different rules when you're running for office. You're now no longer just a celebrity. You're now a candidate and you're governed by New York State and federal election law.

COATES: Doesn't the intent aspect of it matter, though? I mean, the whole point is, I mean, we think oftentimes people think about John Edwards, for example, and the case involved in whether it was substantially in favor of political reasons or personal reasons, if the motivation was purely personal and had nothing to do with this, and they could make the argument, then actually it wasn't a campaign finance contribution, they failed to report. And that makes a difference.

SCHNEIDER: No, you're absolutely right. Intense is crucial here. And we're not going to know Trump's intent from his own mouth, because I bet I'm putting all odds in Vegas that he will never take the stand no matter what he says.

RODGERS: But we do.

SCHNEIDER: It's too dangerous.

RODGERS: But we know it from his own mouth through Hope Hicks and through David Pecker and through Michael Cohen.

PHILLIP: It's such an important point that, I mean, we are taking these days of testimony day-by-day. But in the aggregate, we do know that the origin of this catch and kill scheme started in 2015 when they met with David Pecker and said, what can we do for the campaign?

So, that evidence is also there and presumptively at the end of this process, it's all going to be brought together.


But, I mean, to me, there are multiple pieces of evidence, right, Jen, that suggest that this was definitely not -- I mean, even David Pecker said they didn't really -- they've not done this for Trump before, you know, that they did it --

COATES: For Karen McDougal, yes, but not the Stormy Daniels --

PHILLIP: No, no, I'm saying, right, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels were part of something that was new about their relationship with Trump and they did it after that 2015 meeting.

RODGERS: And the timing. I mean, weeks before the election, they're trying to avoid paying Stormy Daniels because once you get past Election Day, you don't even have to shell out the money because who cares? I mean, all of that evidence, some of it is already coming, some of it is coming in, this is overwhelming. This to me is not the complicated piece of this puzzle.

The complicated part is can you prove that he knew about the fraudulent repayments? Because that is the crime that's charged and that's what they have to prove, and that's what they haven't done yet.

COATES: Can we -- I'm sorry, I haven't talked about the crying. I can't help it. I mean, I know. I know this is all very important. So, Laura Coates is nosy, and Laura Coates was leaning into the tears today. And I have got to know what you guys made, especially since you guys know her, as a reporter, obviously, you work with her. What did you make of the moment that Hope Hicks started crying? I mean, in the courtroom, it was --

NEWMAN: She was crying when the prosecution was questioning her. You know, it was actually at the -- it was when the cross began right after the --

NEWMAN: After they finished, right? So, it made me just kind of believe that it was just all becoming too much for her. I will say that she's a very sensitive person and I saw her cry often actually.

COATES: Really?

NEWMAN: If Donald -- yes, she is crier. If he yelled --

COATES: In what context? Hold on, what context is she crying?

NEWMAN: If he yelled at her or something, or he, he criticized her for how she handled something, she would hold it together in front of him, but she would go into Michael Cohen's office or someone else's office, but she's a big crier, you guys. This is common for Hope Hicks to have a moment.

MILLS: It was an overwhelming, especially if she cried after the direct examination, where the prosecution struck some points against Donald Trump. It may have hit her that she may be part of the reason that Donald Trump will go down.

And to sit in that, in that second, it can be -- I'm sure it can be overwhelming and that may have led to those tears.

NUZZI: Her time with Trump represents a huge portion of her life, right? She started working there in her mid-20s. She went with him to the White House, not something that she ever thought would happen, not something most people ever thought would happen, in her defense. And sitting there, all of these memories are being brought up.

So, just thinking as a human being, I mean, for people who cover this, it's been an experience of like, what year is it? I haven't talked to you in years, maybe since we were in the White House together in 2017. It's been this very strange, sort of disorienting --

PHILLIP: There has been a rift. She hasn't talked to Trump --

NUZZI: There has been a rift.

PHILLIP: -- in two years.

NUZZI: Right.

PHILLIP: And part of that is because when she testified before the January 6th committee, she said things that Trump wouldn't like, that --

NUZZI: Even before that, though. After he lost a presidency, I mean, there was a group of people who were around Trump who became -- they stayed, they didn't resign, right? They get no credit for resigning in protest. But he became -- it became useless to talk to him. And so daily conversations, daily, how is it playing, as we heard about him talking today about the Stormy Daniels story, that was not a factor anymore. He was listening to Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. And so everything changed.

And so I think for her sitting here today in this courtroom, reliving all of this, sitting feet from him, it's a very fraught, very emotional and very stressful thing. And as someone who was a crier and people who worked with her knew that and Trump knew that, I don't think it's surprising that she broke down a bit.

PHILLIP: All right. Everyone, stand by for us.

Coming up next, so how will the jury actually see that emotional moment? A jury consultant from the O.J. Simpson case is going to tell us what he thinks.



COATES: We've got more now on the dramatic moment in Donald Trump's trial as his longtime insider Hope Hicks broke down on the stand. The moment came after prosecutors had wrapped their questioning, which revealed that Trump communicated directly to her about the hush money payment and that he was relieved that the story did not come out before the election.

Now she testified, quote, "it was Mr. Trump's opinion is that it was better to be dealing with it now and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election".

And moments later, as the defense was beginning their own questioning, she became overwhelmed with emotion and turned her face and began to cry, prompting the defense counsel to ask if she needed a break. And she said that she did. They dismissed the jury. She got off the stand to go gather herself. And of course, the prosecution then followed her out. Remember, this is their witness. They had actually called for subpoena. So the question is, how will the jury who witnessed her crying on the stand, how will they see all of this?

Joining us now is jury consultant Richard Gabriel, who's also the president of Decision Analysis, and the author of "Acquittal: an insider reveals the stories and strategies behind today's most infamous verdict". So Richard, I'm so glad you're here to unpack this, because you know what it takes to put together a jury to try to get your clients the very best chance. And so we're thinking about the composition of this jury and who might take the stand.

You never can predict whether a witness will start being angry, will be emotional, will cry. How does that read to a jury when the witness breaks down?

RICHARD GABRIEL, PRESIDENT, DECISION ANALYSIS AND JURY CONSULTANT: Well, it's, let's not forget that trials are essentially human events.


GABRIEL: And jurors, even though they're looking at this sort of cut and dried evidence that they're supposed to view objectively, they're really looking for what are the authentic moments.

[22:34:59] Am I getting the straight story? And when you have a witness like this who exhibits some vulnerability, exhibits some human emotion, who's clearly conflicted because she's trying to tell the truth, but also feels some sort of loyalty to her former boss, that's an authentic moment. Jurors can appreciate that.

And then it's up to them to sort of sort out, okay, first of all, it increases her credibility as a witness. And then it's up to then both sides to kind of characterize what is the damage done or the redemption from the particular testimony. So it's a very interesting type of testimony.

COATES: Yeah. I mean, I was in the courtroom when it happened and I remember thinking, gosh, what will the jury make of what she has said before she comes back? And there was a moment beforehand that some argue was the trigger for why she broke down. In seeing it in real time, it almost appeared that she was just overwhelmed by the extent and the moment itself.

But then I was concerned. I mean, as a former prosecutor, were you surprised, was it a lost opportunity for this jury that the defense counsel didn't ask what caused her to be emotional, even though it may have caused him to ask a question he did not know the answer to?

GABRIEL: Well, you know, the old adage, you don't never ask a question if you don't know the answer. And I think they were afraid of what she was actually going to say.

But I think that probably the read about her being overwhelmed is very true. It's incredibly stressful just being a witness on their own, but even in this trial especially.

And I think that kind of emotion is a natural thing. It's almost a relief, I think, for the jury to be able to kind of go, OK, here's somebody who is being authentic, who's telling us she's nervous and is clearly conflicted. But what I also think is really interesting about this testimony, both sides are laying in the themes and the framework for ultimately what I think they're going to be arguing to the jury in closing argument here.

So I think the testimony really did cut both ways. Both sides made some points with it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Richard, this is Abby Phillip. I wonder what you think the jury makes of Trump as they are watching a Hope Hicks come to the stand or a David Pecker come to the stand.

I mean, they all kind of tell of a certain kind of relationship with this sort of larger-than-life figure. What do you think that they're taking in from all of that?

GABRIEL: Well, I think they're trying to really absorb what is this relationship, who is this man. I mean, the big question really is, is he actually going to testify in this case, because that's going to be significant. And is his testimony going to resemble the kind of public persona that we see with him, or is he going to exhibit a type of vulnerability, which I think this jury really needs to see in order for him to maintain credibility.

So I think by laying all these pieces together, kind of bringing his inner circle, they are getting a portrait of sort of the relationships there. And to a certain extent, I think the defense is trying to humanize him to say, OK, there are people that really do care about him, that do care about his message, and aren't just sort of on some of his abuse that he can be known to dish out. So I think it's a very complex relationship that the jury is starting to get a picture of.

COATES: Interesting to add one thing about it. I know as a jury consultant, it's not just about picking the jury, but it's also about giving advice and counsel to the strategy of who's going to cross- examine which witness. What's your tone going to be like? Who are you going to identify as hostile or otherwise? I mean, I was struck by the tone and the tenor of the conversation from the defense counsel, Emil Bove, his tone was conversational, it wasn't patronizing, it was soft- spoken without being condescending. That, to me, sounded like somebody had guided that.

GABRIEL: Well, I think it's somebody who guided it, perhaps. But also, a seasoned attorney really understands they have to read the room. They have to really understand what is the tone here. He was probably prepared, OK, is she going to say some really damaging stuff, and do I need to go after her hard?

But I think that because she exhibited this kind of vulnerability, because she did cry, he had to really backpedal and say, OK, I need to take a softer tone, I need to adjust it, I need to be somewhat sympathetic, I think I need to bring that out and then score my points maybe in a more nuanced way instead of attacking her, which could then lose credibility for me and the case.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, when you're dealing with a high-profile defendant, it's really tricky, that line between, you know, humanizing him and painting a picture that people don't believe about what kind of person he is. So it's interesting to see how they deal with that with the jury going forward. Richard Gabriel, thank you very much for joining us.

GABRIEL: Thank you.

COATES: You know, up next, Abby, one of Donald Trump's conspiracy theories is actually taking a hit right now as another Democratic lawmaker has been indicted.

Plus, there's new CNN reporting tonight about Kristi Noem's chances of maybe being his running mate after she revealed killing her puppy.



PHILLIP: It's one of Donald Trump's most repeated conspiracy theories, that there is a deep state and it's unfairly targeting him because he's a Republican. But more proof tonight that that is baseless. COATES: If you need it, more proof is baseless. I mean, the Justice

Department indicting another lawmaker, and guess what? It's a Democrat. This time, it's Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar and his wife. They're accused of accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from foreign entities, and the prosecution is saying they crafted a scheme with an oil and gas company controlled by another country.


Now, in a statement, Cuellar denied the accusations, writing, and I'm going to quote him here. "I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas".

Now, Cuellar is actually the third lawmaker in the last nine months to be charged by the Department of Justice.

PHILLIP; You may remember that back in September, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and his wife were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and extortion. He was also charged with a conspiracy for a public official to act as a foreign agent, and of course, exiled Republican Congressman George Santos.

He was charged back in October with wire fraud and money laundering, among other things. The House voted to expel him from Congress in December. Remember, the president's own son, President Biden, his son is facing gun charges brought by President Biden's DOJ.

Omarosa, Olivia, Jennifer, all back with us, along with political analyst and author of "The End of Race Politics", Coleman Hughes, and CNN political commentator, Jamal Simmons. First of all, what is going on in Congress? I don't even know who Jamal is.

COATES: We don't have enough time for that answer, so just shorten it.

PHILLIP: What is going on that these lawmakers feel like they can do anything, even approaching this, but to have two basically facing very similar charges with Menendez and Cuellar is really extraordinary?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I mean, this is Congress, right? There's a history of this. There's a long tradition of members of Congress who are getting in trouble, ad scam, you remember the banking crisis, the Keating, you know, senators. We've seen this before in Congress. So there's a little bit of fast and loose that sometimes gets played with some of the members, but we'll wait to see what happens with these cases because they got to get tried and we got to see all the evidence. So we don't really know what will happen.

You know, I remember Bill Jefferson, who was a congressman that I knew from Louisiana who got caught with money in the freezer, right? So we all remember these cases of these members of Congress who've gotten in trouble.

It's something that happens.

COATES: That's where I keep all my money, cold, hard cash, right? Cold. I'm just kidding. Don't go to my freezer.

Let me ask you, Jennifer, though, because, you know, this is a trial from Menendez happening like days from now. I know there's been a big focus on Trump, but his narrative, it's only happened to him. No one ever goes after a politician. It's only because he's a Republican and he's vying for this Oval Office yet again. But that trial starts in like 10 days.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Starts in 10 days, right next door to the courthouse where Trump is being tried. Menendez is going to be tried in federal court, tried by, you know, Democratic-led DOJ prosecutors who charged this Democratic senator for very serious crimes. I mean, we talk about the charges against Trump, unlikely he'll see jail time even if convicted. Not true of Senator Menendez. These are serious charges and he will go to prison if he's convicted for sure.

COATES: So why do you think, Coleman, the idea of this narrative that it has some staying power for a lot of people who look at these issues and say, OK, if Trump is saying that it's a two-tiered system of justice and, you know, frankly, I think we have a legal system in terms of a justice system from my personal experience having prosecuted cases, but it seems to only apply to people. There's an epiphany of thoughts, but he's saying it's the political issue specifically. Why is that continuing to resonate?

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it resonates partly because it's the stronger version of the argument is not that there's a partisan bias, Republican versus Democrat. The stronger version of the argument would be that Trump is Biden's political rival and it's Biden's DOJ.

So the actual stronger counterargument to that would be the indictment of Hunter Biden, although there was argument about whether that was a sweetheart deal or not, and there were many people on both sides of that. That's a whole separate topic. But I think the stronger version is not the partisanship per se, which is a crazy argument. It is, is he prosecuting a political rival?

COATES: And, you know, and that point, of course, we know that it's not Biden's White House or Biden's DOJ that is Fulton County or, of course, is the Manhattan D.A.'s office. But I wonder, I mean, Marissa, you have been in the campaign and you have a lot of political experience. Is Trump trying to capitalize on what he perceives as the ignorance? I don't mean this in a negative way, but the ignorance of the average voter who doesn't know how the political sausage is made, that they he wants them to believe this is how it all works.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER SR. ADVISER, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Oh, absolutely. And Laura, the irony is that he actually weaponized the Justice Department against me. I think as someone sitting up here, he actually took a file when you don't file on time and he magnified it so that they tried to come after me after I wrote my book.

And he literally did it two weeks after the book came out. So he's accusing the other side of something that he's actually done over and over again throughout the four years that he was in office. So he is trying to exploit the ignorance of people who just don't know how things function in Washington. And he's playing victim.


RODGERS: And it's very strange. I mean, part of his --

SIMMONS: I'm sorry, it's people who don't know how things function in normal times. Right? When Donald Trump was president, Donald Trump is the one who weaponized these things. But, you know, ask Bill Clinton about Janet Reno. He wouldn't say that was Bill Clinton's Justice Department. That was Janet Reno's Justice Department. And she had independent counsels launched against the Clinton president.

PHILLIP: And to be fair, it is unusual for the president, a former president, to have gone through all the trials and tribulations that he has. But that's not because it's been weaponized against him. It's because of his own actual conduct.

RODGERS: He's running for president in this election, claiming that he's going to weaponize the Department of Justice. That's what's so strange about this as an attack on President Biden. His big pitch to voters, in part, is that he is going to seek retribution. He's going to spend his at least first term in the White House or first year in the White House of his second term prosecuting people who he feels are his political enemies, getting back at his law enforcement tormentors. This is an essential part of his pitch right now to voters.

COATES: And by the way, Speaker Johnson is being criticized by Congressman Margie Taylor Greene, in part, because she's saying he had the audacity to fully fund the DOJ and she sees them as part and parcel to the weaponization.

RODGERS: And it's very strange. This is the party of law and order. That's what Republicans like to say, right? In one breath, they're saying, back the blue, and they've kind of defaced the American flag for law enforcement. And in another breath, they're saying that the Justice Department is corrupt and out for them. It's very strange and sort of discordant.

SIMMONS: Justice for thee, not for me. I think that's the way it is.

COATES: Well, Jennifer, I mean, when you hear this, I mean, it strikes a chord with me when people, it's almost like the, since everyone's so concerned about injustice and inequity, then it should, every party and everyone should be thinking about all the ways to correct the justice system. But no one's doing that. It's only selectively as it relates to Donald Trump. And even that, to Abby's point, you know, he has been indicted not just by individual prosecutors, but grand juries were a part of this.

RODGERS: Of course. Of course. And the two federal cases that are in play were brought by Jack Smith, a special counsel who was brought in to have a measure of independence from the Justice Department. People also don't understand how long these investigations take. I mean, he wants it to be like the moment that you bring a case, that's when it kind of sprung into being.

These cases, I mean, the Hunter Biden case, of course, was started being investigated when Trump was president. These, you know, Menendez case, the same, like these things take years to bring. So this notion when he says, oh, they brought these cases against me after I declared I was running for president. He was under investigation for many, many months, if not years before that. These things are not just brought on a dime.

COATES: Well, let's talk about Governor Kristi Noem. Can we for a second? Because it's the deep stakes time. And tomorrow there apparently is -- I'm going to call it the Hunger Games happening right now. It's going on. Whoever the odds are in their favor.

Apparently, we're learning from reporting that he might be a little bit soured to Governor Kristi Noem, who had been right in there in the running continuously. Coleman, when you look at it, I mean, is it just the passage that she talks about? Having through her book, having killed a dog that she said could not have been trained? That's been gotten a lot of publicity. Or is it something else?

COLEMAN: It's hard to imagine an issue that unites Americans more than loving dogs. And from -- from a lot of other countries' perspectives, they would say they're shocked the degree to which we love our dogs, because that's not a global phenomenon. But it's hard to imagine. Imagine a bigger screw up. If you're someone that's trying to gain the affections of -- it's not a partisan issue. Right. People, this is the one thing that can unite Americans on the right and the left. So it's just having that small meme in people's heads that she's killed a dog.

And that's all people are going to know. They're not going to know.

COATES: Jamal is smiling. He's smiling right now. Like, yes, that meme is good.

COLEMAN: There might be some way to defend it. Right. If we had the full context. I don't know. But that's not what people are going to see. People are going to see woman killed dog. And that's just an absolute deal breaker.

MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, she got attacked for all of the images of them hunting with game. And they were posing and taking selfies. So that kind of piles on. That's I mean, it's done for her. She's not going to be his vice president. Donald Trump doesn't like anyone whose negatives are bigger than his. And they're going to draw all of the attention if he did add her to the ticket. But I think she's finished.

COATES: Jamal, what's the smart way for Democrats to, on the one hand, acknowledge this, but not overplay their hand? Because I always see a tendency to think that, you know, you get lulled into a false sense of smugness.

SIMMONS: Listen, I think the first rule of any vice presidential pick is to do no harm. Right. And what we know now is that she would do the presidential candidate harm if she were brought on, because this would be one of the storylines. For the Democrats, Donald Trump is just so rich. The hardest part about it is there's so many things to choose from with Donald Trump that you can end up popping off all the time against all the things that are occurring. And then you find that nobody is really holding on to anything because there's so many issues that you put on the table that people don't know how they thread together. So the whole point of the campaign is to tell a narrative story. And each one of these incidents has to evoke as a piece of evidence for the thesis, not just a standalone star of its own.


COATES: Was that saying, Abby, if you see your competitor falling off a cliff, don't stop him. Everyone, thank you so much. I just paraphrase it. Our special primetime coverage continues next.