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Both Sides Rest In Hush Money Case; Closing Arguments Next Week; Defense Rests Case Without Calling Trump To Testify; Today: Crucial Meeting To Set Jury Instructions; Today: Trump Returns To Court For Jury Instruction Meeting; Trump Deletes Video Referencing "Unified Reich" If Re-Elected. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Dana Bash. The people of the state of New York versus Donald J. Trump is nearing the finish line. Today, the defense rested its case. It lasted barely two hours compared to the four weeks for the prosecution.

The former president did not take the stand in his own defense. His lawyers did call Attorney Robert Costello was their main witness. Costello is a lawyer who tried to serve as an intermediary between Michael Cohen and Trump after the FBI raided Cohen's office in 2018.

Now the case -- a historic case, with consequences far beyond the courtroom heads to closing arguments. Whether the prosecution proved that Donald Trump illegally falsified 34 business records to cover up a hush money payment to an adult film star. That of course is for 12 New Yorkers to decide.

I want to start with CNN's eyes and ears inside the courtroom, Kara Scannell. Kara, you have been front and center at 100 Centre Street for every moment of this historic trial. Let's start with what we saw this morning.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. This morning, Robert Costello, the defense witness back on the stand. He was under cross-examination by the prosecution. They were trying to undercut his credibility and the defense team had called Costello to try to undercut Michael Cohen's credibility.

So, one of the themes that Cohen testified about was he said that he felt pressured by Costello to stay in Trump's camp. And that because of these emails and other testimony that Costello was looking to serve as a back channel to the former -- to then President Donald Trump.

So, with Costello on the stand today, the prosecutors trying to get at his testimony when he said yesterday that he had Michael Cohen's interest in mind and not Donald Trump's in mind when he was talking to him, just days after the FBI had raided Cohen's hotel room, his home, and his office.

And she asked him about his testimony yesterday in which he said he -- Michael Cohen's best interests at heart. He said that that he did. And then she said, well, let me show you this email. So, she pulled up an email that Costello had written to a partner, in which she said, our issue is to get Cohen on the right page without giving him the appearance that we're following instructions from Giuliani over the president.

She asked Costello about that. And he said, it wasn't that he was acting on the former president's behalf. He said that he was acting because he was trying to help Michael Cohen. He said that he was trying to get Cohen on the same page because Cohen had been complaining. Of course, how all these lands with the jury is anyone's guess.

But Costello was the final witness for the defense. They only otherwise called a paralegal yesterday to get in some phone records between Cohen and Costello. Costello was really part of the defense's efforts to try to knock down some bit of Michael Cohen because he is this -- the heart of the prosecution's case.

Now, as you said, Donald Trump did not take the stand to testify. The judge said, closing arguments will be Tuesday of next week. When we go back this afternoon, they will negotiate over what the judge will instruct the jury on the law that is a bit in the weeds. It's very technical, but it's very important to this case. Dana?

BASH: Sure. As you mentioned the jury, Kara, because we are not in the -- in the courtroom and we don't have cameras in the courtroom. The question that we are all wondering is what was the reaction today by the jury, particularly as Costello was on the stand?

SCANNELL: So yesterday, there were these fireworks that happen outside the presence of the jury, with the judge losing his patience with Costello. Today, you know, a lot of the tone was -- the tone was a lot different. Costello was responding to the question, but the prosecutor was peppering him.

And at one point, she -- you know, was using some of the words Costello used against him, throwing it back at him, saying the email speaks for itself and she was confronting to him. I mean, at one point, I did see two jurors, kind of exchanged smiles at each other when there was laughter in the courtroom. But they for the most part have just kept poker faces that they've been taking in all this evidence over the past several weeks.


BASH: All right, Kara. Thank you so much for your excellent, excellent work. Thank and goodness you're there for us. Appreciate it. Joined now by our great political reporters and legal minds CNN's David Chalian and Jeff Zeleny, Jamie Gangel, Laura Coates and Elie Honig.

I want to start with the lawyers. And I wanted to sort of talk really big picture. But before we get to that, let's start where Kara just left off, which is with Costello. Elie, I'm going to start with you on the notion of whether or not Costello ultimately was a good move, or not a good move when it comes to the defense's decision to bring him at all? ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was a terrible move. He accomplished next to nothing of use for the defense. All they accomplished is that Michael Cohen at times said that he acted alone on the Stormy Daniels payments. We know he has said that. He has said that in many other contexts. We did not need Bob Costello to establish that.

On the flip side, the prosecution turned him into a prosecution witness. He really through that cross-examination, it was driven home that there was this effort to keep Michael Cohen in line to keep him from flipping. And his performance was dreadful, right. He clearly alienated the judge. I think it's quite clear that the jury picked up at least some of that.

And as I've said before, you could have -- if you're Donald Trump's team left the jury with a week to marinate and think about Michael Cohen, who lied, who stole, who did -- you know, who has a financial interest in this case, and instead now the last thing they're going to remember is Bob Costello, I think is a huge mistake.

BASH: And we should also say that our reporting is but was real time when they were deliberating was that there was a split among Trump's lawyers about whether to bring him up. It sounded like maybe it was less of a split among lawyers and more of a split among lawyers on one side, the client, Donald Trump on the other, and Donald Trump went out.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: In politics, maybe an audience of one works. But when you've got 12 jurors, that is your singular focus, and you got the other alternates as well. The decision to not have the jury go out thinking, I don't trust the prosecution's case. I don't trust their witnesses. I don't know about the documents.

And instead, now think to themselves, I don't like a defense witness. I don't believe what they have to say. The documents are supporting who they told me not to believe. That's not where you want to be in the defense. And remember, at the end of all of this, they've got about a week to deliberate these things. This will come down to a documents case.

You know, normally we're thinking about the number 270, talking about Donald Trump or a presidential candidate. Now it comes down to 34 different counts. 34 very important documents, 34 business records of the -- judges don't have to give them to tell them how to think about and contextualize it. If I were the prosecution this case, I would feel very good that yesterday was not the day that we ended. They didn't end on Michael Cohen, but then instead are ending on this man, Robert Costello.

If I'm the defense, I'm wondering. Did I commit a grave legal error in the sense, not in terms of malpractice, but a grave legal strategic error by saying, you know what, I'm going to gamble that this jury thinks so little of somebody who's involved in a crime in the past or he has lied, that will overshadow everything else. That's a huge gamble, I wouldn't have made.

BASH: David Chalian, we haven't heard from you yet today. What are your thoughts on how this wrapped up? Of course, when I say this, it is the witness phase of this trial.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah. And I think we are moving phases now from obviously, we will await summations and closing arguments. And we'll follow the judge's jury instructions and wait for a verdict. But we are moving to the phase of pure politics now because we're going to learn whether or not Donald Trump is going to run as the Republican nominee for president as a convicted criminal or not. And whether or not that matters or not to voters.

And you know, I flew from New York this morning and it was a clear morning, and the plane went around the island of Manhattan and this perfect picture. And I'm sitting there thinking as I'm like, following our court feed on the plane, right?

BASH: Of course, you're there.

CHALIAN: I'm sitting there, looking at 1.6 million people on this cramped island that I could see so crystal clear. And 12 people are now going to tell us the answers to these biggest questions we have about the state of this presidential race so far.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, we've spent a lot of time talking about what is the jury think about Michael Cohen. What do they think about him being a liar or thinking that I'm stealing? What matters is what does the jury think about Donald Trump? He is the defendant. And we have learned a lot about Donald Trump in the course of this case.

I'm struck by the Red Finch thing. This is what Michael Cohen was talking about, essentially, stealing from Trump by goosing the bill on that, but he was doing it for to raise Trump's image on this online poll. But I remember David Pecker at the very beginning. They were doing an online poll of Enquirer readers, should he run for president?

So, it puts so many pieces to the puzzle together that we've all, you know, followed blow by blow over the last nine years or so. But to me, what is the jury think about Donald Trump? As he's been sitting there apparently, sometimes with his eyes closed, sometimes not. They've heard some friendly witnesses. Hope Hicks was crying on the stand, Madeleine Westerhout.


So, to me I think the jury probably does not think as much about Michael Cohen as we all do. And we're talking about him as we are here. But what do they think of Donald Trump? That's what this comes down to.

BASH: Jamie?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Again, I'm very curious about the judge's instructions on the law because I'm still not sure after all these weeks that I understand the New York state law, but I do think jurors use a lot of common sense. And I think there's usually a judge will tell them to use their common sense. We have, yes, the documents. Yes, Michael Cohen. We also have the audio tape up between where Michael Cohen recorded Donald Trump where he says, well, we'll pay in cash. And Michael Cohen goes, no, no, no, no, no. I think that the closing arguments will crystallize a lot of that.

I do wonder whether the jury is going to wonder where is Allen Weisselberg because he's the guy whose handwriting is on there. The prosecutors didn't call him, but the defense didn't call him either. And I don't think we quite know yet what the judge is going to do about those introductions.

COATES: I want to go back to -- I had a chance to interview one of the jurors who was dismissed early on potential jurors. And it still strikes me this day. Her comment of what it was like when she saw it Donald Trump, a former president in the courtroom. And she said, he was just a regular guy -- just some guy.

And I think that is very pression for how I think ultimately a jury who has been with him now for weeks on that are going to be hearing, yes, he is a larger than life figure. Yes, the former president of United States. But he's also the defendant in this case. And there is an era and aura of lessening every single day he sits there and otherwise nondescript courtroom, like any other defendant.

And at the end of all of that, you have to wonder, are they going to be the pearl collectors (Ph) that people thought that voters were. When you talked about Access Hollywood tapes and beyond, and everyone thought that was the end of them. There's no way he'll become the president of United States.

BASH: Which he was not.

COATES: We'll find that jurors are not pearl collectors. They've met these guys before. They've met hustlers. They've met cheaters. They've met liars. They've met people who don't want their wives to know something. They may be those guys in some way. Or they may be people who say all right, prosecution, we're here. And that is where a president, is that what you got.

BASH: And Elie, I want to just sort of narrow the aperture just a little bit, just to give one example of something that happened in the testimony of Michael Cohen, that begs the question of one of the prosecution's arguments. And part of the prosecution case against Donald Trump, and this is about his involvement in this and why he wanted this payoff.

Hoffinger, who's a prosecutor as part of your work at the Trump Organization, did you feel that it was part of your job to keep them updated on matters that you were handling for him? Cohen, yes, it was actually required. Tell us what you mean by that. Cohen, when he would ask you -- when he tasked you with something, he would then say, keep me informed. Let me know what's going on.

And he was saying what everybody did is as soon as you had a result, an answer, you would go straight back and tell him, especially if it was a matter that was troubling to him. And elsewhere, he was talking about how this particular problem, that he saw as a problem of Stormy Daniels potentially going out and telling the story was going to make women hate him. Because it is going to hurt women's view of him, specifically when it comes to the campaign.

HONIG: Yeah. This is a good example of why Michael Cohen is the key link in the whole chain here, and the chain of liability that Laura was just talking about. If all that Donald Trump knew was, we're paying off Stormy Daniels. I want her quiet. And it's because of the election. That's not a crime under the law that's been charged here in New York. They have to tie Donald Trump to the accounting, to the falsification of the business records.

And the only one who can directly do that is Michael Cohen through conversations like the one you just showed, Dana, there's several other points in his testimony where Michael Cohen talked about those conversations.

Now, the jury is not going to have to evaluate that in a vacuum because he does have substantial backup, substantial corroboration. We've seen some of the handwritten notes. I don't think they get them all the way there, but they help. We've seen phone records and that kind of thing. And that's the whole ballgame for prosecutors, giving him as much support as possible.

BASH: Before we go to break -- because this is Inside Politics. And we have our political director here. I'm going to take advantage of that. We've talked often about polls showing pretty consistently that if Donald Trump is convicted, there is a group -- not a huge group, but there is a group of voters who support him now and say they wouldn't if he's convicted.


Is there anything that we know about the opposite? Whether or not, if he is acquitted or he's not convicted or whatever happens, hung jury just in some scenario where -- after this he's not convicted, whether it will --


BASH: Whether it will pull support -- whether people will say, oh, he is my guy.


CHALIAN: Yeah. I'm a little dubious of this poll question to begin with. If I'm asking people --

BASH: Yeah.

CHALIAN: If convicted now tell us -- I think voters will actually come to those conclusions when the real world events.

BASH: Yeah, that makes sense. CHALIAN: So, I'm a little dubious about the prediction of behavior. I mean, I guess you should be doing some polls.

BASH: That's my prediction of behavior. That's a snapshot in time.

CHALIAN: Yeah. But I don't recall -- I don't recall seeing a question asked if he is acquitted, or if there is a hung jury, how might your vote be?

ZELENY: It's unknowable on a poll because what if he's convicted of some and not?

BASH: Yeah, yeah.

ZELENY: I mean you can't -- we haven't seen the jury instructions yet. So, the political equivalent of that means different. So, I think it's impossible to know.

COATES: That is a possibility, I mean, there's 34 counts, but the jury -- they're not getting one question that says, do you think that $420,000 was paid this person as reimbursement? It's 34 counts, invoices, ledgers, personal checks. They may say, I can try and connect the dots to Donald Trump on personal checks, but I can't on invoice if Michael Cohen somebody was already fudged those. This could be --

BASH: A split decision. Yeah. All right, everybody. Coming up, all of the latest -- much more of the latest on the Trump hush money trial. And a split second in a video posted on Trump's social media is being called sickening by the Biden campaign. We'll explain, coming up.




BASH: Abhorrent, sickening and disgraceful. That is how the White House is responding to Donald Trump's now deleted video, referencing a quote, unified Reich. If he's elected in November in Reich is regularly used to reference third Reich. Another term for Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.

CNN's Alayna Treene is following the story. What is the Trump campaign saying about why first of all this happened? Why it was put on his social media and then why it was deleted?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Dana, they're trying to distance themselves from it. They're claiming that this was not a campaign video and that it was shared by a staffer while Donald Trump was in court. I'm going to just read for you what exactly the Trump campaign spokesperson, Karoline Leavitt wrote. She said, quote, this was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a staffer who clearly did not see the word while the president was in court. Now, one key thing we did not hear from the Trump campaign and was not addressed in this statement is one, why it took so long to be deleted. So, this video was posted or shared, I should say yesterday afternoon. And it was not until mid-morning that we actually saw it taken down. And that came after both CNN and other outlets had asked the Trump campaign. Why have you not removed this? And we heard no word from the Trump campaign on that.

And look, I do want to just show you a clip of this video because I mean, it's stunning. And I think it's pretty remarkable to see what was shared. And essentially, you know, it features images of hypothetical World War newspaper articles, celebrating a 2024 victory for Donald Trump. And you can see there it says, quote, the creation of a unified Reich under the headline, what's next for America.

Now we did hear pretty swiftly from the Biden campaign and the White House sharply criticizing this. Here's a quick statement from Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson. He wrote, quote, it is abhorrent, sickening and disgraceful for anyone to promote content associated with Germany's Nazi government under Adolf Hitler. It went on to say any antisemitic, dog whistling is dangerous and defensive, and profoundly on American.

We also heard from White House spokesperson -- excuse me, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who says that she expects President Joe Biden to address this directly this evening. And Dana, I do just want to put a very clear point on this, which is that Donald Trump has shared antisemitic tropes before, particularly when he criticizes Jewish Americans for voting democratic.

We've also seen him use antisemitic rhetoric in the past, including when he talks about immigrants poisoning the blood of the country or referencing his enemies as vermin. That is language that has been compared to Adolf Hitler. And so, this is something we have seen before, but definitely they're pushing back on. Dana?

BASH: Alayna, thank you so much for breaking that down and explaining what happened. Thank you so much. Let's talk a little bit more about this, Jamie Gangel?

GANGEL: I'm just looking back because Jim Sciutto did a piece, our colleague in March 2024, in which he quotes for his book from General Kelly, the former chief of staff with alleged praise for Hitler, where Trump allegedly reserved some of his most unnerving praise for Hitler. Quote, he said, well, but Hitler did some good things. And I said, well, what this is General Kelly. And he said, well, he rebuilt the academy.

Look, the problem is there's a pattern here, whether you go back to Charlottesville with good people on both sides to not taking it down immediately, letting you know, to these kinds of comments from a former chief of staff. This is not OK.


ZELENY: There's absolutely a pattern, and whether or not so the former president, of course, he's not fully in charge of his -- or paying attention or proving everything on his social media feed. But as Alayna said, it was up there for a very long time. And it really doesn't matter. I mean, the point is this has been firmly injected into the campaign, injected into the bloodstream. And it's something that has served him well from his view. But the history of this with General Kelly, I think is the reason why this pattern is a problem.

BASH: And I remember back in 2016, I think we have this. There was a post that went up attacking Hillary Clinton. And in that attack, you see history made and you see the star there, most corrupt candidate ever. And then it was edited with a circle.

And I remember Dan Scavino at the time saying that they took it off of a website, where that was a sheriff's badge. And it was in no way a Jewish star. I mean, like a Jewish star to me, but you know, maybe a sheriff's badge looks similar. But the point is, the one


GANGEL: There's a pattern and Nick Fuentes for lunch. I mean, it goes on and on.

CHALIAN: Yeah. And just for a -- so take all the important stuff about this and put it to the side for a moment as to why this should never be shared, and obviously should never have gone up in the first place. From a pure political point of view on this, they're taking it down.

I think, also reveals something very real, which is that the Trump campaign I know, we talked -- they thrive on controversy, they like to feed on it. They like when things get outrage in the mainstream pass, and then they can play it up for donations and echo chamber media on the right.

This Trump campaign, the one run by Chris LaCivita and Susan Wiles, they see this as a problem. This is -- this kind of stuff goes directly against their strategy of the kinds of voters that they are trying to woo to make sure -- to try and then probably --

BASH: What do you make of them taking a bit to take down?

CHALIAN: Whether or not, it's a well-oiled machine is another thing. I mean, I'm not going to get into that. I'm just saying from the actual strategic place of -- this actually goes against what they believe are their political goals as well here. So, it's not -- just like, oh, yeah, this will work for the base. The high command of the Trump campaign thinks this does not work for that.

ZELENY: But it speaks pretty honestly with that pattern to what the candidate has -- regardless of what his current --

CHALIAN: I'm not making excuses for it. I'm just saying, I think in another era, we may have seen this even live online longer. Again, it never should have been there.

BASH: Yeah. All right, everybody standby. 20 days of testimony. Next, the big moments that could make or break the prosecution's case. Stay with us.