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Biden, Trump Agree To Debate June 27 On CNN; Biden Tells Trump: Make My Day Pal; Tomorrow: Cohen Retakes The Stand For More Grilling From Defense; What We Learned From Michael Cohen's Testimony. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Today on Inside Politics, Joe Biden and Donald Trump don't agree on much but they do agree on this. It's time to debate. They both accepted an invitation from CNN to hold the first presidential debate that will be in just 43 days. All the breaking details are coming up.

Plus round two of Todd Blanche versus Michael Cohen. Trump's top defense attorney is trying to paint the prosecution's star witness as a scorned henchmen out for revenge. But will he move past Cohen's character tomorrow and get to the core question of the hush money case. And can Republicans pick up a U.S. Senate seat in the reliably blue state of Maryland. Popular former Governor Larry Hogan will test that after winning the GOP nomination for senate last night. A top Democrat in the state Jamie Raskin will be here this hour. I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and Inside Politics.

First up big news that could reshape the presidential election. Joe Biden and Donald Trump agreed this morning to two debates, including one right here on CNN on June 27. That will be the earliest ever general election debate at least in modern times. The second face off will be in September on ABC. CNN's Kristen Holmes is covering the Trump campaign. But I want to start with CNN Senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche, who's covering the President's re- election. Kayla, take us behind the scenes.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, it's been several weeks now that President Biden's campaign team and the President personally in an interview with Howard Stern essentially laid the groundwork for his willingness to debate saying that he would be happy to stand side by side by Trump and have that conversation and then earlier today suggesting that he would be happy to debate the former president and his now GOP rival at least twice and as early as June.

That is a detail that would allow voters to see the two candidates side by side in that debate matchup with several months before early voting begins. Earlier today. President Biden's team released this video on social media with the President himself.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump was two debates to me in 2020. Since then, he hadn't shown up for debate. Now he's acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day pal. I'll even do it twice. First pick the day style. I hear you're free on Wednesdays.


TAUSCHE: In appearances on CNN today. Biden's campaign officials suggested that there was still a risk that Trump wouldn't show up and suggesting that it was Biden who was the one who has been essentially driving the conversation in the parameters of these debates. There's still a big question as to whether there will be crowds present.

Biden's team has suggested there should be no crowds while Trump's team has suggested that there should be but either way, Dana, one thing is clear is that both candidates are going to be trying to fundraise off of this new development. Biden in a blast message to supporters earlier today building the conversation as grassroots versus MAGA minions, democracy versus authoritarianism, revenge and retribution, retribution versus a forward looking vision for the future and asking for $20 to support him. Dana.

BASH: Kayla, thank you so much for that. Now, let's go over to Kristin Holmes, who is reporting on the Trump campaign and everything that is developing behind the scenes there. What are you hearing, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this announcement from Biden actually came from weeks of conversations informal between Trump's campaign and Biden's campaign over what it would look like if they had a possible scenario where they circumvented the Presidential Commission on debates. They had been trying to do that, at least on Trump's side.

And so it's kind of sparked conversations about what those debates might look like. Now, of course, Donald Trump has accepted as well as Joe Biden, this debate from CNN on June 27. And this has been a key part of their general election strategy. I'll remind you they were sending notes and memos weeks ago trying to get earlier debates from those later months. They believe that it could help President or former President Donald Trump in a general election. Here's what Trump said himself on an interview with Hugh Hewitt earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, absolutely. I've been trying to get you know, he's issuing it I wonder whether or not he shows up? Because, you know, he also challenged me to golf. So I'm a very good golfer. He can't hit a ball 50 yards. He said, I'll give him three a side but he knows he'll never play. This is sort of like that, I think but I hope not because I really think he has to debate. He might as well get it over with, probably should do it early, so that he can you know because he's not going to get any better-

HUGH HEWITT, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That June and September is great.

TRUMP: Every day is a down factor for him.



HOLMES: That was the most Trumpian way of saying that yes, he's going to debate Joe Biden there. But just one other thing to point out here. One of the things that Donald Trump's team liked about what Biden laid out for the debates was the fact that they also only wanted to be one on one. They did not want him to get on a stage with a third party candidate. The other thing that we have now heard from Donald Trump's team, is that they actually are calling for more presidential debates. They think there should be four in total, Dana.

BASH: OK, Kristen, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it. Let's talk about all of this with the great reporters here at the table. Bloomberg and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson; CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Laura Barron-Lopez of the PBS Newshour. Happy Wednesday.


BASH: It is Wednesday, which is why we have a show. There is no trial, and it's a great day for one. Jeff, what are you hearing from your sources?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is something that the Biden campaign was eager to get the upper hand on. For all of Donald Trump's talk about debates, he carries a podium around him to the rallies that he has that says anytime when he plays. Behind the scenes, the Biden campaign realized I'm told weeks ago, several weeks ago, they knew they had to debate. A sitting president in you know, a strong position might try and hold off on this.

But that is not where Joe Biden is they realize that so they knew they had to debate, the President wants to debate. He's a very competitive, you know, locker room like old school athlete who wants to debate his rival. So now the discussion was when and how so they wanted to get on top of the timing of it. And the reality is how voting is conducted in America has changed dramatically over the years.

So holding a debate. The first one was scheduled to be September 16. The Biden campaign thought that's way too late. The Trump campaign agreed with them. So early June or late June, excuse me. That's the first time there's ever been a presidential debate even before the convention.

BASH: Yeah.

ZELENY: That's what's so extraordinary about how quickly all this came together. BASH: Well, you mentioned the date. So we - our team looked it up. North Carolina mails ballots to go out on September 6, right. So that's sometime after that is when early voting will start in a really important state. And it continues from there.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Right. One thing about this, too, is that the President's campaign remembers what happened last time they debated Donald Trump, which was that Joe Biden looked a lot better than people expected. I remember watching focus groups immediately after the debate with undecided voters in 2020.

And they were saying that Donald Trump sounded like a bully, that he was unhinged. And a lot of them were kind of swayed more towards Joe Biden saying that he sounded better than expected. And Trump's campaign has set expectations so low for President Biden. And so his Fox News just blasting out over and over again, that he is not capable of leading the country.

That's one of Donald Trump's biggest arguments, essentially, is that Joe Biden is, you know, being propped up by a bunch of other Democrats and that he's too old to lead the country. And you hear from voters that when they actually go and watch the President's full State of the Union speech, or they go and see him on the trail, that they're surprised that he actually sounds a lot better than they otherwise would think.

HENDERSON: Yeah, I mean, it's clear that they need these debates, early, impossibly, often, if you saw what happened after the State of the Union. You did have reactions from voters that was like, oh, this guy can actually hold his own. He was kind of going back and forth with other folks in the crowd there.

So they need this. If you look at the polls, we have the New York Times polls that came out recently showed him bleeding support among Latinos, bleeding support among young folks and behind in a lot of these very important states, like Nevada, for instance. So they -

BASH: Because you're bringing that up, as you're talking about it, we're going to put on the screen some of the latest state by state polls in some of these battleground states from the New York Times.

HENDERSON: So they need to shake up this race. You talk to Democrats, there is a sense of like, is this race kind of hardening in you know, with - with Biden being behind, at least according to these polls? I have talked to some Democrats who do see a downside in this, right? That this will be a circus, is this Biden just playing into this circus like atmosphere? Can he actually win a debate with somebody like Donald Trump, who's just going to throw everything at the wall?

BASH: Well, on that note, I want you guys to listen to what Nancy Pelosi told our Manu Raju after hearing about these debates.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I myself would never recommend going on stage with Donald Trump. But the President has decided that's what he wants to do. I think the format he is suggesting is a good one. I think you all should have separate townhall meetings with them, let them challenge them with questions about the future and let the public make its decision.


BASH: As you were saying.

HENDERSON: Yeah, I think that's right. That's an idea. Do you sort of elevate Trump? Do you give a platform to his many, many lies about everything by debating him but I you know, to Jeff's point, he is the incumbent president.


ZELENY: You're right. I asked Nate about that like isn't this risky. They're like look not debating is even riskier because it looks like he's hiding out, looks like he's not up to it. And again, the President, I'm told, and I believe I don't think this is spin, he wants to debate. He's competitive. He wants to show that he's better, but they think not debating is worse than showing up and having some type of a melee.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, I mean, they're desperate for that contrast. And they are aware of the fact that a lot of voters either - and especially young voters don't necessarily remember Trump's presidency. They don't remember what it felt like during that presidency. And even voters older than younger voters. And Biden's campaign talks about that a lot, which is that they want to constantly every chance they get to draw that contrast, even if it means putting him in the arena with Donald Trump.

I mean, there was a recent poll out, I can't remember if it's New York Times or Pew, but they found that 17% of voters actually blame President Biden for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which is just a stunning number considering that -

BASH: Is that right?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, which was that it was -

BASH: No information voters.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Which is stunning, considering what we all know, which is that that was done by the Supreme Court of which, you know, three justices were appointed by former President Trump. And so I think that the more chances that the Biden campaign gets to draw those contrasts, they're going to - they're going to take them Yeah.

BASH: And meanwhile, we also have another sort of set of data points that we're seeing today, on the very important issue of the economy, also crime, the President is going to be speaking to a group of police officers on the Hill later. And of course, immigration. Those are two - three big issues. And I just want to put up on the screen some of the latest headlines. U.S. inflation slowed in April, this happened this morning, providing

a glimmer of hope for weary Americans. NPR, violent crime is dropping fast in the U.S. even if Americans don't believe it. The U.S. sees a drop in illegal border crossings after Mexico increases enforcement. So, again, it's about news consumption. And I think it speaks to the point that you were making.

It's breaking through when people maybe are getting their information, whether it's young voters on TikTok or other - other forms of social media, and other people perhaps going to their echo chambers.

HENDERSON: No, I think that's right. You know, I think the message that Democrats have is a good one, sort of the data suggests that Americans are doing well in terms of the economy. The question is, is the messenger in - in Joe Biden, given his sort of age issues that are mainly I think, physical, right? He has sort of a slow walk at this point, is that causing the message to sort of be short circuited because people don't really have confidence in him because they see him as somebody who might not have the stamina to be the person.

And I think that is why the debate is going to be so important. He will be strong, I imagine in the debate. He's a good debater, he's a good talker. But I think his fundamental problem is that he physically seems much older than Donald Trump.

BARRON-LOPEZ: There are a number of Democrats that have said that Democratic pollsters, Democrats who, you know, say more privately that they think it's more of a messenger problem than a message problem but there are a lot of Democrats that like running in on the message.

ZELENY: And the reality is, it's an inflation problem. It's a price problem. So there's no messaging around the fact that your groceries cost more. I mean, when I talk to voters, that is what - even people who, like the president are worried about the prices of things. So look, a lot of these things are out of the President's control, but he owns this economy, but he wants to show a contrast every day of the week. Today's Wednesday. That's why they did this today. And here we are.

BASH: All right, everybody, don't go anywhere. Coming up, round two of Michael Cohen's cross examination is set for tomorrow. What will Donald Trump's lawyers ask next? But will Michael Cohen say next? We're going to talk about that after a quick break.




BASH: I was knee deep into the cult of Donald Trump. That's how Michael Cohen explained his praise of his former boss during Tuesday's explosive cross examination. So will the jury see the prosecution's star witness as someone out for redemption or revenge? Joining me now former prosecutor Elie Honig and Attorney Robert Hirshhorn, who is a jury consultant. Nice to see you both gentlemen. Robert, I want to start with you kind of the big picture of how you take away the first couple of days of Cohen's testimony, particularly the cross examination.

ROBERT HIRSCHHORN, JURY & TRIAL CONSULTANT: Dana, good to be with you. So he did an OK job, but he's being a little evasive. And let me tell you why. When he gives answers, like sounds like something I would say, that's going to bother these jurors. Just answer yes or no. Sounds like something I would say is the beginning of the cracks of Michael Cohen. And so that's one piece.

The other piece is, look, I think that defense lawyer had a great opportunity. And I've heard Elie say this before, the defense lawyers should have started with 10 or actually 11 times where Cohen lied to somebody, because in closing argument you say, I'll tell you who the 12th was, ladies and gentlemen, he lied to you. So the idea is, we'll see what happens tomorrow, but I think Cohen's in for a rough ride.

BASH: Elie?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Yeah, I think the cross so far has been scattershot and sub optimal, Dan, I think Todd will he is not at his best in the couple hours we saw yesterday. As Robert said, first of all, it jumps around topic to topic. I actually went back after our live coverage yesterday and reread the whole transcript, you need to be thematic, you need to be clear and strong.

And I would have started with the lies as Robert just said, there is a lot of ammunition there. And then I would have moved on to Michael Cohen's over the top personal bias towards Donald Trump.


Now some of these were alluded to or sort of brushed by. But then there were these odd detours, like you like you talked about in the beginning, like the fact that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen have this long term relationship, the fact that Michael Cohen used to really like Donald Trump fine, I think you hit that in a couple questions and then move on to the hatred but instead Todd Blanche takes pages upon pages upon pages, having Michael Cohen say how much he wants respected Donald Trump, I don't know how that exactly resonates with the jury. So Todd Blanche has had a - has a whole day right now to prepare. He's planning to spend most of all the day tomorrow on cross, and I expect a different more pointed tone.

BASH: Let's talk Elie, staying with you for a second about what we heard, that appears to be new, in Cohen's testimony. And the one - one of the things that you pointed out to us that I want to put on the screen for our viewers, is the question about the $130,000, of course, which is one of the core questions about the payment and how it was done.

This is Cohen, and he expressed to me just do it, go meet up with Allen Weisselberg and figure this whole thing out. Again, this is Michael Cohen on Monday, and the 'he' here is Donald Trump. HONIG: Yeah, I think that's the single most important piece of testimony that we've heard in this whole trial, because what it does is it links Donald Trump directly to the actual crime charged to the actual falsification of business records. Michael Cohen is well supported, not 100% supported, but well supported by documents, by emails, by text, by phone records, by photographs, things we've seen, but ultimately, the prosecution has to hope the jury credits Michael Cohen's account of his one on one conversations with Donald Trump.

And right there, that sentence or two is where the jury's focus should be centered. If they believe that beyond a reasonable doubt, they'll find Donald Trump guilty. And if not, then we're not going to have a guilty verdict.

BASH: And then, Robert, from yesterday, Michael Cohen, talking about a phone call that he had with Donald Trump after the FBI raided his house, raided Cohen's house. He said to me, don't worry, I'm the President of the United States, there is no - there is nothing here. Everything is going to be OK. Stay tough, you're going to be OK.

That seems like something that the defense would want to somehow (inaudible) him but it might be kind of hard, I mean that's pretty definitive.

HIRSCHHORN: But Dana, it sounds like Cohen talking. It's Cohen's, his interpretation of what he claims Trump said to him. And here's the thing. The jury is going to have a really hard time with a guy that claims to remember everything that Trump said seven years ago, but the guy is hesitating on what he said himself seven weeks ago. And here's the last point I want to make Dana.

The jury is going to be really uncomfortable relying on the word of a serial perjurer, a serial liar. The jury is going to want some person to corroborate, and the corroboration comes in the form of Allen Weisselberg. And the question the jury is going to have is, where is Mr. Weisselberg?

BASH: Elie, I mean, we know where he is. He's in prison. But in terms of - in terms of this trial, I mean, what about that Elie?

HONIG: Key question that's lingering over all this will be worked out in the next few days. The fact that Allen Weisselberg is in prison is not the reason he's unavailable. The likely reason is he would probably take the fifth and what will happen at some point coming soon is there will be an inquiry made probably to Allen Weisselberg's lawyer by the judge, by the parties. Would he take the fifth? If the answer is yes, he takes the fifth.

That's it, he's unavailable to either side won't hurt the prosecution. But if the answer is no, he's willing to come in and testify, then the prosecution has a problem, because then the instruction to the jury will be, you didn't hear from certain witnesses, you can assume the worst about what their testimony would have been.

And by the way, there's no way the prosecution calls him in that instance, because he would not help their case because we know who Allen Weisselberg is so keep an eye on this. This is a looming problem for the prosecutors.

BASH: And Robert, just, before we go, I want you to look ahead to when the prosecution is done with calling their witnesses. We believe Michael Cohen is the last one. Do you believe that the defense, Trump's team should or will bring their own witnesses forward? Or should they just quickly try to end this?

HIRSCHHORN: Well, it depends on what the resolution of the Weisselberg issue is. But I think it's a mistake for the defense - I think Cohen's got the government close to the finish line. But I don't think he's gotten them across the finish line, because there's nothing that really links the defendant Donald Trump to ordering these documents or falsifying these records, so I wouldn't put him on and I'm telling you, I don't believe Trump is going to testify and I'm so convinced I have a ponytail, I'll have my son Jaden come on TV and cut my ponytail off if I'm wrong. I just don't think the guy's going to (inaudible).


BASH: I think your ponytail is safe. Elie?


HONIG: I'll shave my head too. I mean whatever.

BASH: Well, that is not where I thought this conversation was going to go. But I appreciate both of you, your expertise, your insights, your - your experience, all of it. Thank you so much. See you soon. Elie, I'll see you tomorrow. Next, will control of the U.S. Senate come down to one of the bluest states in the nation? Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin is here to talk about how his chosen candidate, whether she can beat a really popular Republican former governor. Stay with us.