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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Trump Lawyers Confront Cohen In Tense Cross-Examination; Trump Defense Paints Cohen As Out For Revenge And Money; Trump Defense Grills Cohen On Truthfulness, TikTok Videos; CNN's Post-Analysis On The 17th Day Of Donald Trump's Hush Money Trial. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 22:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special edition of NewsNight. I'm Abby Phillip alongside Laura Coates right here.

And Donald Trump's lawyers tried to pan fry Michael Cohen on the witness stand today and perhaps the most important day of testimony so far.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: And you know, tonight, Donald Rumsfeld, yes, that Donald Rumsfeld, gives us all a lens to view what's left in the hush money trial, the known knowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns.

PHILLIP: So, first, the known knowns, all those bad facts that the prosecution took painstaking care to get in front of the jury so that they did not hear them for the first time in cross-examination, that Cohen was a jerk, that he was a bully, that Cohen was designated a thug, that Michael Cohen cashed in on Donald Trump's name, all of them facts that the government's attorney put on the record to make the cross-examination's case a little bit less of a rough and tumble affair.

COATES: Second, you have the unknown knowns, how the jury will actually choose to react to everything they've seen and heard from Cohen. Well, cross-examination began with Cohen's TikToks and got more combative from there, snaking through public statements about Trump. Ones like Donald Trump belonged in a cage, not very nice.

The questions probe Cohen's inability to stay away from social media, including, by the way, his podcast schedule. How his memory about Trump calls is perfect but less so when it comes to his interaction with maybe a Manhattan prosecutor, how his obsession with winning Trump's approval spiraled into what they say is a revenge plot.

The question is, did any of that connect with the men and women who will actually decide Trump's fate?

PHILLIP: Finally, we have the unknown unknown. Will Donald Trump himself testify? He's given both answers to the question, saying, of course, and then he's saying that he couldn't do it because of a gag order, which is, of course, a lie.

Trump's lawyers say that there's no determination as of yet about whether the defendant, the former president of the United States, will ultimately take the witness stand, daring to go under oath, under the penalty of perjury in his own defense for what would be a brain- breaking moment for the country, and that might be an understatement.

COATES: I mean, brain breaking is, yes, an understatement.

We're here with our panel. But, first, I want to start with a little bit of reading of the part of the transcript to help everyone understand exactly what happened in the courtroom. We'll have Elliot Williams as Trump's defense attorney, Todd Blanche. I expect a lot out of you, Elliot. Also, Marcus Childress is Michael Cohen. You too, accents included. We're starting at the third question in cross- examination. Gentlemen, take it away.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And this was you know, it started off with really getting under the witness' skin and Todd Blanche came out with a doozy. So, this was the question.

As a matter of fact, on April 23rd, so after the trial started in this case, you went on TikTok and called me a quote, crying little shit, didn't you?


COATES: Objection, Your Honor. Sustained. Sustained.

WILLIAMS: Now, there was a sidebar after this, where the judge had said that really, an attorney should not be making himself a focus of a question. It's really irrelevant what a witness says. And he sustained the objection. Now, of course, it was already on the record. The jury heard it, so he couldn't really unring the bell. But there it was. Oh, so, and then, and then it went on.

So, President Trump was a boorish cartoon misogynist, didn't you? You said that.

CHILDRESS: Sounds like something I would say.

WILLIAMS: And those types of comments and names continued on, every single one throughout 2020, correct?

CHILDRESS: I'm sure I said something. I can't say that they're all --

WILLIAMS: You recall the first one in 2020 as a Cheeto dusted cartoon villain.

CHILDRESS: That also sounds like something I said.

WILLIAMS: Now, do you recall that around the same time, October 2020, you started talking about your hope that President Trump would be convicted of a crime, correct?

CHILDRESS: Well, no. I don't know if those are the exact words that I said, but the sentiment is correct.

WILLIAMS: You think you might have said, I truly effing hope that this man ends up in prison. Is that exact?

CHILDRESS: You know, it sounds like my language on Mea Culpa.

WILLIAMS: And Michael Cohen was also challenged about his social media taunts as well. There's a whole trove of those, and so let's continue.

So Blanche asks, you also talked on social media during this trial about President Trump, have you not?

CHILDRESS: There's a theme here, sounds correct, yes.

WILLIAMS: So, for example, on April 23rd, which is after the trial started, correct?


WILLIAMS: You referred to President Trump as a dictator douchebag, didn't you?


CHILDRESS: Sounds like something I said.

WILLIAMS: And on that same TikTok. So, again, on April 23rd, you referred to President Trump when he left the courtroom. You said that he goes right into that little cage, which is where he belongs, in an effing cage like an animal. Do you recall saying that?

CHILDRESS: I recall saying that.

COATES: That's a dramatic reading, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, that's kind of how it went down, intonation and all, Marcus. Thank you for that.

Also with us --

COATES: No New York accent, though.

PHILLIP: No New York accent.

COATES: Where's the New York accent? What are you doing?

CHILDRESS: You probably guys know I can't do that.

COATES: All right.

PHILLIP: But here we are, Kim Wehle, professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Tim Parlatore, a former attorney for Donald Trump, and Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown law professor and former chief counsel to then V.P. Biden. They're all with us now.

Tim, what did you think of -- I mean, look, we knew this was going to happen, right? We knew that they were going to go hard on all the things that Michael Cohen has been saying and doing. How many times did he say he brought up Donald Trump in every single TikTok or podcast or whatever he has done, Donald Trump has been the subject? Did it matter by the time we got to that, because, as we pointed out, the prosecution tried to get some of this on the table in advance?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Yes. It's an interesting way of starting across, to be to be honest with you, because, really, you try and go for a lot of the facts before you go for the bias. I think that's more effective. And, you know, coming right at the gate and making about himself of what Michael Cohen said about him, yes, that's something that -- yes, I've done that before but not on the first question. When I have a witness that said something like that, I hold in my pocket and I keep going on and I wait for the witness to, you know, say something snarky or like earn it, to where I say, oh, you don't like me very much. In fact, you said, and I pull it out at that point, so that it's something that makes sense in sequence to the jury. Because if you just immediately come out at him of, you know, you hate us, you hate me, you hate him, then where do you go from that to then start to get into the substance of the case?

PHILLIP: Can I just make one note? Todd Blanche doing this cross is a choice. Todd Blanche, from what I have heard, has not done a lot of cross-examinations. This is not really his wheelhouse. So, some of these things, it's interesting to hear you say that, Tim. There were also some questions even about the way in which he was kind of going back and forth in time, whether that was strategic or just a little bit of a messy preparation in how he was doing this cross-examination.

KIM WEHLE, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, it sounds like it was a little meandering and maybe a bit confusing for the jury. And it seems like throughout this entire trial his lawyers have two objectives. One is the jury and the other is their client, Donald Trump.

So, it's hard to say how much this strategy is really to actually persuade one juror. After all, they don't need all 12 to effectively win this case and how much of it is, you know, Donald Trump is calling the shots like he does with his lawyers.

COATES: You know, I mean, the most skilled trial attorneys know that the cross has got to be your forte, right? You have to make sure that you are the one really testifying. I've almost had it explained to me in different ways in training as you got to be the angry suspicious girlfriend You know, it's not that where were you last night? Why didn't you come home? It's got to be I called you 12 times, didn't I? You didn't answer your phone six times. I saw your text messages. I'm not well rehearsed in this because, you know, I've never been a jealous girlfriend.

But when you think about how this all plays out, the whole point is for you to demonstrate that you know what they're going to say and only get the yes or no. He was able to essentially have responses, seem a little bit guarded, if not annoyed. That's a problem.

VICTORIA NOURSE, GEORGETOWN LAW PROFESSOR: Well, you know, I think that one of the things that we're missing is that all you have to show to get this from the misdemeanor, and we've seen the documents, there's false invoices, we know that, is people to believe that he was correct on the factual thing that Trump actually told him to do this for the election.

So, we haven't even gotten to the facts, as you indicated. Normally, you go for the facts, not just straight for the character. So, that suggests they have a weak case, not a strong case.

PHILLIP: You mean the defense? You're saying the defense has a weak case?

WILLIAMS: And Michael Cohen's testimony was remarkably consistent today and yesterday in that, number one, virtually everything he said was supported by either a document that was written by Allen Weisselberg, the comptroller of the Trump Organization, or checks that were signed or the testimony of other witnesses. It's all incredibly supported testimony.

Now, though much of the ballgame ultimately becomes how much the jury believes him, and I think a strategy on the part of the defense team today was just to attack his credibility, because the strength of what he's provided thus far.

Now, again, it becomes a credibility contest of how much do we believe this individual who, number one, has a demonstrated clear bias against the defendant and a long rap sheet, you know, of badness in his record.


Now, anybody who's ever -- I mean, Tim, you've worked on these cases too. Anybody who's ever worked on a gang, a drug, a mob case, whatever, no, you can still convict someone over the testimony of really bad people who have really bad stuff in their background.

COATES: I mean, crimes are committed not in front of a bus full of nuns, Marcus. I mean, if you're going to prosecute somebody who's engaged in false behavior, you're going to have liars in there. And, by the way, the difference is, for Cohen, they're trying to suggest, if you're the prosecution, that, look, he's not pretending not to be a liar. He's not suggesting that he doesn't lie, and, in fact, this case is about lies, 34 of them.

CHILDRESS: And it's something you normally, at least I used to in my experience, bring up in opening statements when I was doing a conspiracy case. Look, you're going to hear from some unsavory people, right, unsavory, just like the defendant here today. You want to loop them all together.

And I think it's really important, it hasn't been talked about at least from what I've seen, that Michael Cohen is not testifying under leniency, right? He's not testifying under immunity. He's in a much better position than witnesses I've had who were lieutenants come up and testify. COATES: And why is that though? The fact, if he were -- if he had time overhead, if he was a current inmate, how would that make a difference?

CHILDRESS: I think it's easier to show the bias there, like you're testifying and giving the government what they want because you're scared of increased jail time. You're trying to, you know, make sure you stay within the confines of your immunity. You don't have that type of issue here with Michael Cohen.

So, I think there is less baggage in that regard. His lies, of course, are enough baggage as is, but you don't have that typical immunity or leniency. That defense counsel can really hammer home to discredit all the testimony.

PHILLIP: But he does explain -- this was earlier when the prosecution was still finishing up with him. He explains how he made this turn and why. This is what he told the jury. Cohen, we're in this unique situation I never experienced and my wife, my family, my daughter, my son, all said to me, why are you holding on to this loyalty? What are you doing? We're supposed to be your first loyalty.

Hoffinger, that's the prosecutor, says, so what decision did you make? Michael Cohen says, that it was time to listen to them. Hoffinger, what did you decide about where your loyalty should be going forward? Cohen, to my wife, my daughter, my son, and the country.

That's a critical moment for the jury to understand what's going on in his head?

COATES: And maybe and you've had a lot of people working having represented Trump in the past. He has a command of people psychologically the jury is seeing this.

PARLATORE: Yes. And I think that you know, that is a great story on the direct. We'll see how it holds up, you know through the rest of cross. Because, you know, there's a lot more to the story than just that and you know, I think that you know if Todd Blanche does a good job of going through the facts of when he first, you know, had the raid and he was first offered the opportunity to cooperate, and he didn't, and he said very emphatically, I don't, I don't know anything about Donald Trump, no, he wasn't involved, he didn't know about, you know, these checks, I did it to protect Melania. And then go through, you know, what, what changed? Was it his family? Was it the fact that he asked for a pardon and Donald Trump said no? You know, what, what was it that actually turned?

PHILLIP: I mean, couldn't it have been all of those things? Trump wanted his loyalty, but clearly wasn't going to reciprocate.

WEHLE: Yes. There was -- when he was thrown under the bus, he wasn't brought into the White House. There's a justification for lying when he was under the thumb of Donald Trump and now telling the truth. But it seems like there might be a bit of a weakness for the government in that there were only two conversations that were actually with Donald Trump himself and that between Cohen. I think all the other pieces have been established through documentary evidence, been established through the testimony of David Pecker. Even Hope Hicks testified that the campaign was really worried about the Access Hollywood tape, sort of threading all of that together.

But the jury could say, listen, you know, that one piece, I think Michael Cohen is a liar. I'm not going to convict. There's not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of all of the pieces.

WILLIAMS: And it's fascinating because that's the one conversation he seems to remember verbatim, the one that incriminates the defendant, all of these other questions they asked him about today. I don't recall. I don't recall. I don't recall. Yet somehow the one conversation with Donald Trump that would convict him is the one thing that he remembers almost perfectly.

PARLATORE: and the one thing that there's no documents to support, too.


PARLATORE: That's the real problem.

PHILLIP: Everyone stick around for us. We got a lot ahead.

Coming up next, an underrated moment from today's testimony involving Trump trying to use the power of his Justice Department.

COATES: Plus, there was also an eye-opening appearance outside of court today as Trump's entourage adds a pretty powerful new face.



REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): There's no crime here.




COATES: Well, we've got more now on Trump's hush money trial. Let's have another portion of the transcript where Cohen discusses speaking with Donald Trump right after his home was raided back in 2018. We've got Kim Wehle as the prosecutor, Susan Hoffinger, and Elliot Williams is now Michael Cohen. Take it away.

WEHLE: Did you speak with President Trump shortly after these search warrants were executed?


WEHLE: Can you describe the conversation you had with then President Trump?

WILLIAMS: I received a phone call from President Trump in response to me leaving a message for him to call me. I wanted, obviously, him to know what was taking place. And he said to me, don't worry, I'm the president of the United States.


There is nothing here. Everything is going to be okay. Stay tough. You're going to be okay.

WEHLE: You've spoken directly with Mr. Trump since that time?

WILLIAMS: No, ma'am.

WEHLE: Was your call from President Trump at that time important to you?

WILLIAMS: Extremely important.

WEHLE: Why was it important?

WILLIAMS: Because I wanted -- first of all, I was scared. This was the first time in my life anything like this happened. And I wanted some reassurance that Mr. Trump had my back, especially his help with issues that related to him.

WEHLE: How, if at all, did that call affect you in terms of how you acted going forward?

WILLIAMS: Well, when he expressed to me, don't worry, everything's going to be fine, I'm the president of the United States, I felt reassured because I had the president of the United States protecting me, his Justice Department. This should go nowhere. And so I felt reassured and I remained in his camp.

And then in another part of the of the back and forth, Cohen actually references Attorney General William Barr, being the attorney general at the time -- Pardon me, Jeff Sessions, yes, Jeff Sessions, pardon me, being involved in the ordeal. So --

WEHLE: Mr. Cohen, just getting back to where we left off in my questions. In terms of the substance of your conversation with David Pecker about his receipt of the complaint from the Federal Election Commission, did you tell him that someone in particular in the administration would be able to assist in that matter?


WEHLE: What did you tell him?

WILLIAMS: I told him that the matter is going to be taken care of and the person, of course, who's going to be able to do it is Jeff Sessions.

WEHLE: Who was Jeff Sessions at that time? WILLIAMS: The attorney general.

WEHLE: Why did you tell him that?

WILLIAMS: Because that was post my conversation with the president.

WEHLE: And when you say, post, had you previously been told that by President Trump?

WILLIAMS: Yes, ma'am.

PHILLIP: All right. Let's bring back our panel.

COATES: I mean, we were all riveted. That's why there was a little bit of a pause.

PHILLIP: That is really shocking. I mean, putting aside this case, that's a shocking excerpt.

WEHLE: Well, you know, Abby, it kind of links into the bigger thing that's looming, and which is the election. I mean, this is not just the transaction that gave rise to these 34 counts. This is a hint of a president potentially abusing his power.

And, of course, this jury is not here to decide what's going to happen in November, but all eyes certainly are on it. And I would suspect the jury understands the implications and the weight of this decision.

COATES: It also puts very clearly in the sight of the jury that we're talking about 34 counts after he is the president. You know, you think about the timeline of this case, which -- I mean, the timeline of, you know, the alleged sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels back, I think, in 2006. There is a long gap between when then she comes forward asking for her story to be made public, that and NDA, and you go back and forth, the payments. But, really, it's the 34 counts post- inauguration that are really the key here. And so him having the power to have his DOJ decide the issue is very telling.

NOURSE: Yes, it's extremely telling because he's using the government like a mob boss would use it to cover up what was essentially what he knew. And so it also shows that he knew the basic election connection that is the key to making this a felony.

COATES: How does it show that?

NOURSE: Because he knows what has gone on. It's consciousness of guilt, basically, that he knows he wants to cover this up. He wants Cohen to go away. He will fix it with Jeff Sessions.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, Tim, that seems to be why the prosecution wanted to bring this up in part was that Trump today, he said this outside the courthouse, nothing is wrong. I labeled it as attorney's fees, it's totally fine. But in that moment, he clearly thought it wasn't.

PARLATORE: Well, and it's interesting, the specificity with which Michael Cohen can discuss this, whereas everything else he doesn't seem to remember, but he doesn't get that into that level of specificity, or are we talking about these counts, or are we talking about the much larger counts that Michael Cohen was facing of the taxi medallions, the, you know, the tax fraud, the false statements, the things that he actually went to jail for? Because, you know, you got to remember the, you know, the election violations that he pleaded guilty for were so minor, they didn't even affect his sentencing guidelines.

So, is he talking about this piece, or is he talking about the larger piece?

COATES: You know, interesting, and we were talking about, obviously, the cross and how long he's been on the stand, but you had an interesting comment. You seemed to think that the prosecution was almost trying to rush this testimony of Michael Cohen. For some people looking at this who might not have familiarity with how long trials go or how long someone is on the stand, they might say he's been on the stand for more than a day, two days, really. How could that possibly be a rush?

PARLATORE: Well, think about -- think back to Pecker and how long he was on the stand and the level of detail that they went through with him. And if you think about the volume of material that Michael Cohen has to go through and the relative, you know, brevity that he did, it was something that it did seem to me to be going much, much faster than I would have expected, given the volume of stuff.


And then seeing some of the detail from these transcripts, it's not the level that I was expecting from them.

WILLIAMS: They spent 90 minutes entering checks into the record like last week. We're literally methodically and going through every single --

NOURSE: But don't the documents actually prove the case? That's the point. All they have to prove is that Donald Trump is connected to that falsification, and he did it for the reason of winning election for committing a crime.

CHILDRESS: Michael Cohen's providing color, right? By this point, we've seen the whole conspiracy play out, from 2015 all the way through 2017. He's merely providing color because they know the baggage that Michael Cohen provides.

Look, I don't have a theater background, so my dramatic reading probably wasn't great, but I am an engineer, and I will say that I found the structure of the prosecution's case to be really good. I thought that they were able to present the whole timeline, present Michael Cohen lying, and then provide a reason why he had lied because of his family, and now he's telling the truth, right? He's telling the truth because he talked to his family.

I thought there might be the same type of structure from the cross of going through all of the lies that Michael Cohen is told and then saying, and you're lying because you're vindictive against the president, right? It's the same structure that you could have done in the cross that you could have done on the direct. And I honestly think it's because we're at Tuesday and we're on break tomorrow.

And I think that the defense was trying to get haymakers in before the jury went away for 36 hours that they were sitting on these haymakers rather than, you know, having the full story of Michael Cohen sit and marinate for 36 hours.

PHILLIP: You're going to have to start over, essentially, from the timeline perspective.

COATES: Well, I mean, also it's interesting to me, the idea of, how does a jury see? I'm telling you the truth about being a liar. I mean, that's part of what his testimony is, but also the pre-corroboration that we've been talking about with the documents, Kim, to other witnesses, they know -- I mean, you called it baggage. I mean, he's got like trucks behind him of these things.

But the idea that they had the pre-corroboration is for the pacing to go because he is the primary narrator, I'll be at a flawed one.

WEHLE: Right. He's sort of connecting all of the dots. And, of course, it's the government's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What does that mean? A doubt for which you can give a reason. And so far, the defense doesn't really have an alternative narrative, right?

To your point, he signed the checks from the White House out of his personal account. His low level assistance testified. He was very careful about signing things. It was over $10,000. I had to be approval for it. They carefully demonstrated he kept very tight reins on his money and on his organization. And I think Michael Cohen gives us a flavor of what it was like to be within his tight orbit.

So, the idea that, well, it was for Melania, he had no idea, it was really David Pecker and Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg doing all this, when we have on audio tape him talking about Karen McDougal. So, he knew about the hush money scheme. But somewhere along the line, poof, when it comes to the relationship right after the Access Hollywood tapes, days before the election, he was just out of it. I don't know that there's another story.

PHILLIP: You have to -- right. I mean, you have to wonder whether the prosecution is even going to attempt to dispute the timeline, the facts of the case, or if they're really relying just on the witnesses being unreliable. That may not be enough when even all the unreliable witnesses are kind of singing from the same song about, they're telling the same basic story about who Donald Trump is and what he knew.

COATES: Or a witness being absent.

PHILLIP: You've been talking more --

COATES: Allen Weisselberg not there. PHILLIP: And that may be this kind of X factor in this. And, you know, the jury could say, well, this is a key person, we didn't even hear from them. That, in and of itself, could be enough to add doubt into the equation.

PARLATORE: The judge will instruct them on that.

PHILLIP: Yes, and they will get some instructions.

Everyone, hang on for us, but thank you very much for that good conversation.

It is the hottest place to be, apparently, if you are a Republican seeking Donald Trump's approval. House Speaker Mike Johnson has become the latest to stump for Trump in front of that courthouse. We're going to debate this scene that unfolded today, next.



PHILLIP: Despite Donald Trump's trial, there is still, believe it or not, a campaign underway and both candidates are making false claims about perhaps the biggest issue that is on the minds of voters, that's the economy.

CNN's Daniel Dale is back with us for a fact check, starting with President Biden.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, Abby, so President Biden made a false claim about inflation in an interview with CNN last week, and he was roundly criticized for it, including by former President Trump.

And then today, he did another interview, this time with Yahoo Finance, where he made the same false claim again. Listen to those two claims.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: No president's had the run we've had in terms of creating jobs and bringing down inflation. It was 9 percent when I came to office. 9 percent. I think inflation has gone slightly up. It was at 9 percent when I came in, and it's now down about 3 percent.


DALE: So inflation was nowhere close to 9 percent when President Biden took office. In January 2021, it was 1.4 percent. So the president is making it sound like inflation today, which is 3.5 percent, is lower than when he took office. It's actually substantially higher.

Now, it did fall, it did hit 9 percent during his presidency, 9.1 percent in June 2022. It's fallen since then.

But the president is making that month, 16 months into his tenure, sound like the starting point that Trump left him. It's not.

Now, Trump also made a false claim about inflation today. Listen to what he said in his comments after court in Manhattan.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We have record inflation, and it's back. And people are dying because of it. You would have had no inflation with me. We were down to practically nothing.


DALE: He kept saying record inflation. Inflation today is nowhere close to a record, that 3.5 percent, certainly elevated by recent standards, but not close to the 23-plus percent we had in 1920. Now, you might say, OK, 1920, that's a century ago. But we had over 5 percent in 2008.

We had over 14 percent in 1980. So you don't have to go back a century to know that we are not currently anywhere close to record high inflation.

COATES: Wow. And again, everyone talking about this and all the false statements are being made. Thank you so much for fact-checking all of this. And I couldn't help but notice who was behind the former president, people like, I don't know, Doug Burgum and others, while he made those statements.

And, you know, it is up-front season, it seems now, for the TV networks. And it seems it might be a new season of "The Apprentice". And "Entourage" is being pitched in lower Manhattan, inside and outside of Donald Trump's courtroom, because a revolving door of his allies making appearances in what appears to be a loyalty test of sorts, V.P. contenders, his daughter-in-law, lawmakers.

But today, a pretty extraordinary scene, even for 2024.

PHILLIP: The speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the speaker showing up outside of a courthouse to call the legal system corrupt and illegitimate. Again, the speaker of the House at a trial involving a porn star, hush money, and corruption, except that, objectively, it was pure theater. Mike Johnson didn't even go inside the courtroom to observe that trial, to hear any of the testimony or any of the facts of this case. Instead, he gave us his best Trump impression.


TRUMP: There's no crime here.


TRUMP: This is four weeks of keeping me from not campaigning. JOHNSON: They are doing this intentionally to keep him here and keep

him off of the campaign trail.

TRUMP: It could have been brought six years ago, seven years ago, almost eight years ago.

JOHNSON: Now eight years later, suddenly they've resurrected this thing.

TRUMP: We have a corrupt judge. You know who appointed him? Democrat politicians.

JOHNSON: What we've got here is a partisan Democrat district attorney. We have a Biden donor judge.


COATES: Well, the followers spent the microphone time smearing witnesses that you know Donald Trump cannot because, of course, he is a defendant and he's under a gag order. In fact, one of the accolades just straight up admitted it, saying the not so quiet part out loud.


SEN. TOMMY TUBBERVILLE (R-AL): Hopefully, we have more and more senators and congressmen go up every day to represent him and be able to go out and overcome this gag order. And that's one of the reasons we went is to be able to speak our piece for President Trump.


COATES: And here I thought there were other things to do on Capitol Hill.

For more, I want to bring in former Trump White House communications director Mike Dubke and former Hillary Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines.

First of all, Michael, I just heard you do a big sigh. Is it because you're so thrilled about trying to explain this?



PHILLIP: OK, that's true.

DUBKE: That's more of the side somewhere. The trial is a case. We are now running a presidential campaign out of a courtroom.

So right now, this is like a Trump rally. The elected officials are coming to the rally. And we wouldn't think twice if the speaker came to Dayton, Ohio, for a rally with the president. So, you know, they go to where the campaign's being run. And it's now being run out of the 15th floor of a Manhattan courtroom. COATES: Except it's a court of law.

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON SPOKESMAN: Except. But also that's good gloss. But there are 217 members of Republicans in the House. There are 49 senators. There are 25 governors. By my count, there are less than 10 that have shown up. And the ones that have shown up are auditioning for V.P. like Doug Burgum or Byron Donalds. And oh, I'm sorry, J.D. Vance. So let's not get too much into it.

PHILLIP: Vivek Ramaswamy.

REINES: Vivek Ramaswamy.

DUBKE: They're also the same people that'd be showing up at a rally. Well, then I hope he gets more people than that when he has actual rallies, because you've got a lot of Republicans who are not showing up. These folks are showing up because they need something from Donald Trump. Mike Johnson was just saved by Donald Trump a week ago.

What's sad about this, what I was thinking about on the way here is it's one thing if they had been in the courtroom a week ago or a week from now, J.D. Vance sat there looking at Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen spent 13 years of his life subjugating himself for Donald Trump.

And now his life is ruined for it. You may not like him. I don't like him. I don't think he's a good guy. But it's so funny to watch people go down there or go up to New York and throw themselves in front of Donald Trump to just genuflect and then look at someone who did that for 13 years and not realize that no one comes out of these interactions, Donald Trump, for the better.


COATES: But you know what? One reason they wouldn't have been there last week, perhaps, is because of the nature of that testimony. Remember, Stormy Daniels was last week and she's perhaps not as one as an easy political target. But listen to what former Congresswoman Liz Cheney said about Speaker Johnson. She called him out and his support on X today, writing, I'm surprised that Speaker Johnson wants to be in the -- I cheated on my wife with the porn star club.

I guess he's not that concerned with teaching morality to our young people after all. When you look at this, Michael, I mean, he is one of the most conservative members of the House. I mean, I know that Marjorie Taylor Greene questions that these days, but he's bona fide.

DUBKE: Well, look, I think his office would tell you and his folks will tell you that that the standard bearer of the Republican Party, who is going to be Donald Trump for the presidency, is in a situation that most Republicans, if not a majority of Americans, look to be political lawfare.

This is politics by another means to have the president drawn into a, you know, a misdemeanor that then became a felony because the, you know, the district attorney got creative. So what his people will tell you and what Speaker Johnson will tell you is he was there to kind of draw a light on that fact.

PHILLIP: Although he didn't go inside the courthouse. That's not what he did.

DUBKE: What I understood is he went into the overflow room because there weren't enough seats in the courtroom.

REINES: They couldn't find the speaker of the House.

COATES: I was going to say, I've been in the courtroom.

DUBKE: It's public seat. It's public seating. It's Manhattan.

PHILLIP: Hey, listen, yes. Let me just let me just fact check this for a second. When Donald Trump came into the court yesterday with his massive entourage, they all came with him and they all sat right in front of the courthouse. It was not public seating in that case. So if he wanted to go in, he could have. Real quick, though, Mike, all these V.P. folks who want to get in Trump's good graces, they're all auditioning this week. But how are they even differentiating themselves? Is it just the act of showing up that Trump wants to see? What is he looking for?

DUBKE: Well, I think what he's looking for is a way around the gag order. I mean --

PHILLIP: What does he -- what does he want them to do to prove themselves?

DUBKE: Well, I don't. I'm not going to necessarily answer the question of what he wants them to do to prove themselves, because I don't know. But what I do, what I do, what I am witnessing is that they have the ability to say the things that Donald Trump has been wanting to say, but has been basically struck down 10 times for saying. So this is one way to get around the -- to get around the gag order.

The other thing is timing is everything in politics. That's an old saying that we all have. And to the point of why are they there this week? I think they're there this week if I had to guess. And I was thinking about this in the car ride over as well. If I had--

REINES: Different cars.

DUBKE: -- different cars, if I had to guess, it's because they are watching a prosecution that's flailing and a case that may turn 12 Manhattanites into individuals that are acquitting Donald Trump in this -- in this trial. And they want to be part of that. I think there's a lot of -- I think there's a lot of timing here. I don't think it's necessarily all this the way that it's being described as auditions for the V.P. spot.

I think there's multiple things that are happening.

COATES: You know what, --

REINES: -- they don't know. COATES: -- I mean, just to say if it's flailing, one could argue you

don't need it. Why would they go?

DUKE: Well, we know it's now it's time.

REINES: Well, they don't know what he wants. It's sort of like a decathlon where you don't know what the actual events are. They know that they should go and they should attack, you know, the prosecutor. They should attack the Georgia prosecutor. They should attack Jack Smith. They should raise some money. They should do this.

They need -- they have to check all the boxes just to be even on par with everyone else. There's no downside. I mean, I think jokes aside, Mike Johnson is the speaker of the House. There was something even in this day and age where we have seen things really fall apart, including the fact that the former president of United States is on trial for paying off an adult film star.

There's something about that that was particularly unfortunate. He actually managed to make Kevin McCarthy's visit to Mar-a-Lago in 2017 look dignified in the sense that it's one thing to make pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago. It's another thing to go out in the steps of the Capitol and say that Donald Trump is being mistreated or persecuted to go to New York, to go to this trial. I think it was just demeaning to Mike Johnson. And again, Mike Johnson is just the next iteration in some way of Michael Cohen.

PHILLIP: This was a line crossed. I mean, the speaker of the House is a constitutional position. It is -- it is a representative position of the United States government. And for him to go to a courthouse and demean a court of law, you may not like the charges, but it's a court of law. That -- that was a line he chose to cross today. And I think history will remember that to a degree.


DUBKE: Well, yeah, I listen. I do think that he needed to, if you have the perspective that there is that the law is being used as a political weapon.

And if -- if Speaker Johnson believes that, then you go to where that weapon is.

PHILLIP: If he believes

REINES: -- that what he was there

PHILLIP: -- If Speaker Johnson believes that, then he would denounce -- if Speaker Johnson believed that he would denounce Donald Trump for saying he wants to prosecute his political enemies. Mike and Philippe, thank you both very much.

Coming up, we're going to talk with Michael Cohen's former attorney, Lanny Davis, about his former client's testimony. Stay with us.


PHILLIP: It's time for "Champions for Change", a look at the unsung people whose ideas and innovations are dramatically improving lives, business and society.

COATES: And I get to tell you a personal story about a dentist who's providing both dental care and hope for the people who need that the most. It's a story that's really, well, it hits home for me.


DR. DONDRE SIMPSON, DENTIST: Dude, how you doing, man? You doing good?

DR. HAZEL HARPER, DENTIST: He does so much more than clean teeth.

SIMPSON: Awesome.

KATRINA UPTON, NEW FOUNDATIONS HOME FOR CHILDREN: He teaches, he motivates. He's like a therapist. He's so much more than a dentist.

COATES: How are you?

You have a demonstrated philosophy of providing care and respect and dignity to anyone who needs your help.

SIMPSON: I do what I do because this is what God put me on this earth for.

COATES: I'm actually the daughter of a dentist who really devoted his life to public service and ensuring dental care was given to people who are most in need. He would go into the prisons. He really believed in meeting people where they were.

You also wanted to go into the prisons, I understand as well. Not only to provide that service, but you recognize in many ways that why should they be denied the dignity of care?

SIMPSON: There's a shortage of dentists in prisons around the country. Most inmates, I say 99.9 percent of them, they really are grateful that they get to get out of pain. If I can be courteous and kind and respectful and do my job and treat you good, regardless of who you are, where you are, that's my goal.

UPTON: This is New Foundations Home for Children. We have kids in the foster care system and we have kids in the juvenile justice system. He serves an underserved population. He's not making a lot of money off of these kids. He comes because he feels led to be here.

JEROME PRINCE, DENTAL PATIENT: I got here around 2019 because I had other foster home that was at and that didn't work out. As he cleans my teeth, he talks to me about my ambitions. He remembers everything I tell him and I'm not his only client.

SIMPSON: So that's mind blowing to know that if I could plant a seed in somebody unknowingly, but just doing my job, doing the way that I do it, it will influence them to make good decisions and be a more productive citizen.

He's absolutely creating a brighter future for these kids.

HARPER: After he graduated from Howard, he practiced with me for about nine years.

SIMPSON: My Aunt Hazel, she's the reason that I am a dentist today.

HARPER: And I wanted to make sure that we were treating Medicaid population patients that had public insurance. And my goal was to make sure that Dondre knew that in life, everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect.

COATES: My father's work inspired me to be a champion for social justice. He is someone who could have done anything with the mind that he has. And he always chose to reinvest into the communities. I used to work for him in his office. Now he did fire me because I talked too much. I never forgot the smiles in that office.

And you know, I am a black woman in America. Intergenerational wealth has often alluded inter generations. But what has not alluded us is the passing down of the knowledge of the community service that imparts a sense of morality and justice within us.

And so to hear that he was inspired by his aunt and to feel compelled within himself to pay it forward is the highest form of intergenerational wealth. And in that we are family.


PHILLIP: I love that so much, Laura.


PHILLIP: I got a couple thoughts. One, now we know where these beautiful pearly lights come from. OK.

COATES: What did you say, Abby?

PHILLIP: Your dad did a great job. But more importantly, just on a serious note, yeah, this work is so important because people don't realize is dentistry is not just about aesthetics. It's not even about comfort. It's actually about health and people's quality of life. And for people who don't have a lot of money, that is the very first thing they don't have access to. They might go their whole lives without ever sitting in a dentist chair. And you just showed us really what servant leaders do when they really look at those small things that people forget about and say, what can I do?

COATES: It's such an important part. And thank you for saying that, because I think it's more than just, of course, it's also about how many people, how they want to present themselves to the world. I can't tell you how many people I've seen growing up in my dad's office who came in covering their mouth.

[22:55:00] They didn't know they didn't want to talk. They were self-conscious. And you think of all the people who are voiceless for a variety of reasons. But to have someone care enough in all walks of life to meet you where you are and allow you the opportunity and the freedom to speak and present yourself. Imagine what the absence of that silence really looks like. And so it's really a very beautiful and powerful thing. And of course, I think seeing black dentists in particular is something that I have always grown up watching and seeing. And to have an opportunity to honor Dr. Dondre as well.

PHILLIP: It's good to see it on the big screen.

COATES: Yeah. And you can also tune in Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern for the "Champions for Change" one-hour special. That's only on CNN.

PHILLIP: And our special coverage of Trump's hush money trial continues after this. Stay with us.