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Laura Coates Live

Trump Faces Hush Money Trial; Pro-Palestinian Protests Turn Chaotic On NYU Campus; Prosecutor Outlines National Enquirer "Catch & Kill" Scheme; Laura Coates Answers Callers' Questions; Unsealed Document: Trump Was Warned In Mar-a-Lago Case. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 22, 2024 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And there's a sense in which some people want to do exactly that and pretend that there is no race so that we can move beyond race. But there's still definitely racism happening in this country. Bakari, I want to show this book again.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look how handsome I look, though.

PHILLIP: Look at how handsome he is.

SELLERS: Oh, my goodness!

PHILLIP: It's my turn now to compliment you. Thank you for joining us tonight and for being here. Don't forget, the book is out tomorrow, "The Moment: Thoughts on the Race Reckoning That Wasn't and How We All Can Move Forward."

Thank you for joining us and watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Tonight, one trial, two alternate universes. The very different story as a jury is being asked to believe in Donald Trump's hush money trial.

Plus, new revelations in the classified documents case. What a top Oval Office insider warned Donald Trump and who allegedly got promised a pardon.

And breaking right now, police intervening during pro-Palestinian protest at New York University after intimidating chants and anti- Semitic incidents. We'll have a live report from the scene tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

Well, what a split screen in court today. The jury being asked to choose your own adventure with competing opening statements that tell, frankly, two very different stories. The prosecution says, forget calling this a hush money trial. No. Quote -- "This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up." Going on to allege -- quote -- "The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election, then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again."

And defendant Trump himself, well, he says all he did was pay a lawyer.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a case where you pay a lawyer. It's a lawyer. And they call it a legal expense. I got indicted for that.


COATES: The former president's attorneys are arguing that Trump was innocent and not involved in the creation of the 34 business records that he has been charged with falsifying, and said -- they insist -- quote -- "President Trump had nothing to do with any of the 34 pieces of paper, the 34 counts, except he signed on to the checks, in the White House while he was running the country. That's not a crime."

But the story the prosecution wants to tell is actually bigger than those 34 business pieces of paper, otherwise known as records. It's bigger than a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. It's all, in their words, about election interference. Quote -- "It's all about election fraud. Pure and simple." And the defense -- quote -- "There is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It's called democracy."

So, I ask you, well, who is the jury going to believe? Defense says, whatever you do, just don't believe Michael Cohen. But Cohen, he may be on the roster, but it was David Pecker who was first at bat (ph), the ex-publisher of the "National Enquirer" and a key player in so- called "catch and kill" schemes to bury negative stories on Trump.

And he left us with quite a cliffhanger. He apparently has a secret email account for things he didn't want even his assistants to see. Quote -- "Is it fair to say you had one kind for general purposes and one for purposes that you didn't want other people to have access to? David Pecker, that's correct."

Now, Pecker was an expert in shocking stories about famous people, but even he, apparently, had stories that he wanted to keep secret. I wonder if they'll include something about the defendant.

Let's talk about it now with CNN legal analyst and former deputy assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, Elliot Williams, and former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi, who's also a defense counsel.

Let's start here with you, Elliot, because, look, we are seeing everything take shape. We're calling it the hush money trial. The prosecutors are calling this election interference, a conspiracy of sorts. They didn't charge conspiracy. What's your takeaway about the way they are crafting this narrative?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think they're crafting it as effectively as they can, Laura. They are sort of broadly speaking, saying that there is a criminal conspiracy with respect to concealing evidence of embarrassing interpersonal relationships from American voters. That's in effect the felony. It's not just the falsifying business records. It's falsifying business records to hide another crime, that being a campaign offense here.

The problem here is that lay people, jurors, don't quite understand some of these complexities in law, and some of these arguments that the defense sort of got to might get in some of these jurors' heads, about the -- you know, these appeals to common sense about -- you know, this is just about elections.


Use your common sense, ladies and gentlemen. So, we'll see how this all plays out over time.

COATES: You know, I want to point out that point before we get to the ideas of the defense. You know, this case is not about his marriage being on trial, right?


COATES: This is not about whether he committed an extramarital affair or otherwise. He denies having done so in this context.


COATES: This goes to why, according to the prosecution, he was trying to cover up the payments made. If it's about trying to save his marriage, it's one thing. But if it's even a little part about the election, that could be enough.

ROSSI: Well, I just want to say, the scheme itself that was hatched in the summer of 2015, and Elliot knows this, you try to keep it simple. That scheme had three parts. One, to catch and kill, get a story, kill it, and put it in a vault, literally. The other was to publish favorable articles about Donald Trump. The other was to spread slime about his opponent in Hillary Clinton.

That three-legged scheme was funneled and fueled by payments that Cohen made and David Pecker and AMI. That money had to be reported. And because it wasn't reported, it violated the in-kind contribution and the limits for election laws. That's the simple case that they have to present to the jury. Stay away from the marriage. Stay away from the relationships. It's about hiding things that may hurt him, whether it's true or false.

WILLIAMS: And that marriage stuff, though, is --

COATES: Marriage stuff.


WILLIAMS: Well, but it's a humanizing detail that the defense can use and say, you know, forget all this politics business. What you were talking about is an individual who was trying to conceal embarrassing allegations -- they are merely allegations -- from his family, from his kids. And if they can plant that seed in some jurors' heads, even one juror's head, quite frankly, that could work.

ROSSI: I have another seed. The other seed is what Elliot just said, my buddy, okay? The other seed is this. You have to cut that cord between the false misdemeanor invoice and the goals of this alleged scheme, which is really a conspiracy. You have to cut that connection. And if you can just take Trump's statement that it's false invoices, I was paying my attorney, and there's no connection to the election laws and the tax crimes, and you could put a schism between them, you could possibly not get an acquittal, that's going to be hard, but you could get one, two, or three jurors that say, you didn't draw the connection to elevate it. Emeril, take it up a notch. You didn't elevate it to a felony. If they do that, Donald Trump could have either a hung jury, I don't know about an acquittal.

COATES: Who knew that Emeril Lagasse was going to make an appearance today in our conversation? I happen to love it. There you go.


COATES: Bam! You know -- hey, speaking of bam, there is a lot of different words that were used today. We kind of had a little bit. Take a look at this, guys. We used the court transcript which they, of course, are now making available because there's not a camera in the courtroom every day. We used it to create this opening statements' word cloud of sorts to give you a sense of what was the most commonly used word.

So, for the prosecution, they said "election" at least 41 times, right?

ROSSI: Yeah.

COATES: Repetition, the signal of a great sermon, of a great opening, of a great speech. "Defendant," they used at least 49 times. They named "Karen McDougal," who got $150,000 payment to -- the former "Playmate of the Year" who says that she had an affair and was in love with Donald Trump, at least 45 times. "Stormy Daniels," 35 times. And "David Pecker, 64 times. That's the opening. Fellas, what does that tell you that that's the focus?

WILLIAMS: Well, I'll tell you this.

ROSSI: Okay.

WILLIAMS: The use of the word "defendant" is an important one. Terminology plays a big role in how attorneys frame cases. Certainly, the defense is trying to refer to the former president as former President Trump. The prosecution is being very, very clear about referring to him as the defendant and using the term the "defendant" over and over again. We are trained to this. We were all trained as prosecutors.

Use that term "defendant" to remind the jury that this person there is on trial. It doesn't matter what you think about him. You're not trying to humanize him at all. You are reducing this -- this individual to facts. Now -- COATES: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: -- also -- then all the other stuff --

COATES: Pecker was mentioned fewer times compared to-- Cohen is not making that grade in the same level of their mentions.

WILLIAMS: You know why? Because I think it's a little bit risky hanging your hat on Michael Cohen as a witness because he has some credibility issues.


He has at least one conviction for making false statements, which is literally the worst conviction that you can have a witness have if you're putting him on the witness stand.

ROSSI: I got to make a comment.


ROSSI: I got to make a comment.

WILLIAMS: Go for it.

ROSSI: I had one witness in an organized crime drug case and my defendant killed 35 people.


ROSSI: My star witness, his first name was Kevin, I won't mention his last name, he had about nine convictions for fraud and perjury. And you would think that this person who -- met him in the jail cell and was basically talking about a confession that my defendant made. You would think that the jury would not believe him.

So, here's what's going to happen with Michael Cohen. He's got his baggage. He has the perjury. But where the rubber meets the road is when he testifies, the way he looks at the jury, the demeanor that he presents to the jury, and is he corroborated? My Kevin was corroborated. They believed him even though he was a pathological liar.

So, everybody says that Michael Cohen is going to be a horrible witness. I want to see how the jury reacts.


COATES: Well, by the way, Engoron, in the case that was involved, this last one, he goes to great lengths, almost a paragraph and a half in his opinion, talking about the rehabilitation credibility to the point you're essentially raising of, look, that he was believable in his conduct. Before you get into your point, I just want to say, of course, I made a word cloud (ph) for the defense as well because balance is what's important here. And the defense actually named "Michael Cohen" at least 60 times, right? So, 60 times, which is about as much as they (ph) mentioned David Pecker or another one. So, it's clear that they are intending for you to figuratively in the jury kill the messenger.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. And I think both things can be true. That's where I sort of disagree with Gene a little bit here. It's true that he is corroborated by the testimony of other witnesses, maybe Karen McDougal or other people can, and documents. They're going to have financial statements that can corroborate or substantiate some things that Michael Cohen says.

The problem is that you can't hide from those convictions and the jury is going to be told about every single one of those things. It is no surprise that the defense used the name 60 times because it's a big one. But that's not to say it can't be valuable testimony. He just comes with some baggage.

ROSSI: Yeah. And I want to say this. David Pecker could hurt the prosecution case big. I didn't -- I wasn't -- I didn't listen through the 30 minutes today. But if he doesn't categorically say that we had an agreement that was hatched in the summer 2015 and the agreement had these three goals, if he's wobbly, if he vacillates on that, that gives the defense an opening that there really wasn't an agreement or a scheme to do what they say happened. So, David Pecker's testimony tomorrow or Thursday could be very important, regardless of what Michael Cohen says.

COATES: A really important point. And we'll get back to him as well tomorrow as well Elliot and Gene, please stick around.

I want to get to some break -- I want to get to some breaking news right now. Protests tonight at universities across the country over Israel's war against Hamas, including at one in the heart of New York City, where arrests have been made outside of New York University.

I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in New York. Shimon, what are you seeing? I hear the chants behind you. What are they saying and what's happening?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yeah. I mean, Laura, the protests have been going on here for most of the night. I'm standing outside the business school here in the West Village in Manhattan at NYU. You can see there's this standoff between the NYPD and protesters.

What happened here just a short time ago was there was an encampment. Students who were protesting set up tents. And the police moved in on the request by the school to clear the encampment. And the school says in a statement that they found that there were people who infiltrated the encampment that were not NYU students. And as a result of that, they asked the NYPD to come in and remove the encampment and to remove the tents.

The other thing the school said in this statement was that they heard that people were making intimidating chants, which raised a lot of concern for them, but also that there were incidents of antisemitism. And so, all of that, because of all that, they decided to bring the NYPD. And now, for almost three hours, there has been this standoff.

The other thing what we learned from the NYPD is that there were faculty members that were locked arm to arm to try and prevent the NYPD from arresting the protesters that were behind here. The NYPD and the school have now cleared this entire area. And most of the items that were here before, like tents and other things belonging to many of the protesters, have been cleared. At this point right now, there are about 100 or so protesters that remain.


The NYPD is allowing them to stay out here on the street and continue their chants. There's no indication that they're going to make any arrests at this point. But there is obvious concern here from the school and the NYPD that if they leave, that many of the protesters are going to try to get back on the campus.

But this is certainly another escalation at another university. After these protests, for the school to call the NYPD in to remove students, to arrest students, and to arrest faculty, it is something that is going to certainly spark perhaps more protests like we've seen over at Columbia University. And this is going to be one of these moments here at this university, at NYU, where we're going to see probably students and other faculty members raise concern over what the school here decided to do.

COATES: It sounds like a very tense situation, just watching the number of police officers who are guarding access and the chants behind you. I wonder, you've mentioned the protests at nearby Columbia. This is obviously another university. What are students telling you about how they're feeling?

PROKUPECZ: Well, for one, they are -- you know, certainly, the students over at Columbia having experienced what they say was just an escalation by the school to call the NYPD in to remove students, to arrest students, to clear the encampment, was very troubling to them.

That's why we also saw faculty members, teachers, and employees of the school walk out of classrooms today to show their support for those students, in solidarity with those students. And for the first time, really, here tonight, we're hearing that faculty members here at NYU were arrested. That is certainly another escalation in all of this.

So, I think in the coming days, we're going to be hearing a lot more from students and from faculty members, as we've been hearing from those at Columbia, over the concerns that the NYPD was asked to come on campus and arrest students and arrest faculty members and remove the encampment.

But for NYU certainly to do this, look, it wasn't easy. They have to write letters. There's a legal process that they have to go through with the NYPD. And we're told they did. The school submitted a letter to the NYPD asking them for their help because there were concerns over outside entities, factions outside of the school, non-students breaching the campgrounds. And then, obviously, the school saying there were incidents of antisemitism and then the intimidating chants, and that ultimately is what led them to ask the NYPD to come in.

COATES: Shimon, we're hearing behind you a wave of chants and cheers and then additional chants. Do you know the nature of what they're saying? What's -- what's happening behind you?

PROKUPECZ: Well, it's mostly chants against the NYPD. I'll show you some more of the crowd here. They're gathered here. It's mostly anti- NYPD chants. We're hearing pro-Palestine chants. We're hearing a lot of chants about Gaza. And this has been going on at NYU. It's also been going on at Columbia. It's been going on at Yale. But we're hearing all of these similar chants at all these universities across -- across the country right now.

And the concern, obviously, is that, you know, we're seeing the activity at Columbia and we're starting to see it spread all over, right, to NYU here now, to Yale, to schools out in Massachusetts. So, it's starting to spread.

There is a lot of concern by students over the escalation of involving law enforcement in these incidents. But the schools feel like they're at a point where they need to stop some of this stuff, stop some of the escalation of protests. Certainly, for NYU, they moved quickly. You know, at Columbia, they waited a couple of days. Here, the NYPD just took several hours. The NYU asking the NYPD to come in.

COATES: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. So informative from you on the ground. I appreciate it so much. Joining me now, Omar Wasow, assistant professor of political science at UC Berkeley. He's an expert on protest movements and their impacts on society. Thank you for being here.

Professor, you are hearing and seeing what's happening across the country, particularly in New York City. You have studied protest movements for decades. How do you think universities are handling this moment right now?

OMAR WASOW, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY: One of the interesting dilemmas for both protesters and for authorities is that there's this balancing act.


You want, if you're a protester, to draw attention to your cause, and that can often benefit, ironically, from authorities escalating. And for the authorities, they want to try and maintain order.

But these kinds of escalations, Columbia bringing in police for the first time in 50 years, draws more attention to the issue. And in many cases, what the evidence I found in the 1960s, these kinds of escalations by authorities often produce more sympathy for the protesters.

And so, there's a tension for the protesters in that there's real risks of being arrested, and there's also these real risks for the police and for the universities for dialing up repression in that they become the focus of, you know, national media.

COATES: They were watching some movement on the screen. I'm not sure you can see, but it appears to be some movement of people coming down from earlier today, coming around the area.

And so, we're seeing not only our live shot, but also what has happened throughout the course of the evening for the audience's perspective of this as well.

You know, Columbia says that it will have a remote option for students for the remainder of the year, not the rest of the week, the remainder of the school year. What is your reaction to that?

WASOW: I mean, I think it seems excessive given that, so far, these protests have been largely peaceful and as best as I can tell, not especially disruptive. There are -- they are obviously taking over. You know, they have the sort of occupy Wall Street-style, taking over a particular part of campus. But that doesn't prevent people from going to classrooms.

There certainly are these concerns about antisemitism. But I don't -- you know, what I what I hear more is people talking about a fear on campus and the actual incidents are much more what's happening in the Columbia case off campus.

And so, it seems like an effort to try and manage a situation. But the -- but as a -- as a professor, I want to be in the classroom with my students and sort of pushing people to zoom or at least not -- at least making something that the professor can decide individually. Forcing professors to do that, forcing students to do that, seems more like an effort to manage than to kind of engage with what's going on.

COATES: You know, we often hear -- I know we have much time. We often hear about schools as the marketplace of ideas, where people are looking to have individual students learn the, you know, the guardrails of their own minds and what they believe about an issue. And protests can certainly come up with that. But there is a moment when protest turns from an exploration of one's views and a description of them to one that can be violent, where university could have that balance shift in the other direction. Are you seeing that pendulum shift here?

WASOW: I've not -- I mean, so far, I've been following these quite closely. I have not heard of any significant violence. You know, I mean, in the 1960s, the kinds of things we were looking for were significant injury, death, arson. You know, there's nothing like that as best as I -- has been reported.

COATES: Should they wait for that? Should they -- is there a level of proactivity you'd expect from university?

WASOW: Well, if a protest is peaceful, then I would expect it to -- that's -- that's a kind of free expression.


WASOW: So, I would -- I would expect that yes, that the university should be pretty hands off until there's a significant disruption of life on campus or there's some other kind of escalation. And that really -- I mean, if there is -- if it is interfering with the functioning of the university, then absolutely there's a reason to -- to -- to stop that. But otherwise, it's a form of expression.

COATES: Really important to get your expertise (INAUDIBLE) to rely on it, of course, of all your studies of protest movements over time. Omar Wasow, thank you so much.

WASOW: Thank you for having me.

COATES: Coming up, the first witness to take the stand in Trump's trial. We're going to dig into David Pecker's relationship with one Donald Trump. And we'll answer your questions about the trial live, coming up.




COATES: Well, the first witness to take the stand in Donald Trump's hush money trial, influential tabloid media executive David Pecker. And we're back on the stand tomorrow as well. Jessica Schneider is at the magic wall to catch us up on who this longtime friend of the former president is and, frankly, their mutually beneficial relationship.

So, let's take a step back for a second, Jessica. I'm so glad you're here to break this down. Who exactly is David Pecker and what is his relationship with former President Donald Trump?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you know, Laura, David Pecker, Donald Trump, they for decades have had this really symbiotic relationship. Donald Trump, of course, the famous New York City real estate tycoon who reveled in making tabloid headlines. David Pecker, of course, was the publisher of the "National Enquirer," potentially the most famous tabloid in the country.

The two are definitely longtime friends. In fact, in court today, David Pecker even looked over to Trump's defense table when he stepped down from the witness box and said, hi. And, of course, he'll be back on the stand tomorrow, Laura, beginning at 11 a.m.

COATES: So, what exactly is his relevance in this trial? A friendship aside?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, prosecutors say that Pecker was the one who really orchestrated this catch and kill deals here. And the one at the heart of this case is when Pecker reached out to Michael Cohen just before the 2016 election, and he said that Stormy Daniels was shopping around this story, alleging an affair with Trump. Well, that's when Cohen reached out to Daniels and offered that $130,000 payout. And that is why Pecker is being referred to by prosecutors as the eyes and ears really for Trump's 2016 campaign.

Now, the other two involved payoffs from Pecker's publishing company. There was one to Playboy model Karen McDougal. And then there was another one, to a Trump Tower doorman. He claimed that Trump had a child out of wedlock, but that claim turned out to be false. So, David Pecker will have a lot to talk about when he continues his testimony.


COATES: I would say it was a really brief testimony, a short window of time. I think it was 20 minutes or so. But what did we learn while he was on the stand before they released early?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we did hear just less than 30 minutes of testimony from David Pecker, expected to return to the stand tomorrow. We'll likely hear up to three hours of testimony. But when Pecker did talk today, he already went into great detail about what he called checkbook journalism, not really journalism at all, but that is where the National Enquirer and his other publications would regularly pay for stories. David Pecker really documented it, saying they would pay up to $10,000 per story to investigate and then publish.

So, prosecutors will likely jump off of that testimony to really get into more details about this catch and kill practice that we know Pecker practiced throughout his publications. Laura?

COATES: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much. A really could be a very important figure in this case. Elliot Williams and Gene Rossi are back with me. Look, they led with a witness that they think is going to be very advantageous for the prosecution. You don't want to lead with somebody who's more problematic than Michael Cohen, for example. But he essentially, they're saying, was in the room where it happens, Elliot, where there was some discussion to suggest that they were going to cook the books. That was a phrase they used.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely, and Gene was touching on this a little bit earlier in the program. What needs to come out of that testimony is some establishment of the intent to hatch the scheme. As we all know as former prosecutors, criminal intent is largely the whole ballgame when someone is being prosecuted. Not just did an act happen, but did the defendant intend to commit a crime when carrying out that act?

And one way to establish that is having these three individuals in this room saying not only do we wish to falsify records, but we wish to do so for the purpose of concealing embarrassing information from American voters. Not in those precise words, but that they knew what they were doing.

COATES: You know, Gene, we all remember certainly the testimony of Michael Cohen in front of Congress and other moments he has spoken about. And he suggests that there is sort of an intimation of things when it comes to Donald Trump as opposed to outright saying something explicitly. It's almost like a -- tonight's house, you got here. You know, hate things to burn down in some way. That's not going to be enough in a case where you're talking about in the room where they happen, cooking the books, this overall scheme. That's not enough to suggest there's an intimate intimation here.

ROSSI: Well, as Elliot knows, there's this instruction that an agreement, even a scheme agreement, can be a wink and a nod, an informal understanding, a code. And what Michael Cohen said in his testimony before Congress is Donald Trump talks in code.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

ROSSI: And if the jury believes all that Michael Cohen says about the code, the wink and a nod, then they will agree. They will come to a unanimity that there was a scheme. I do want to say this --

COATES: Before you get there, though.

ROSSI: Yeah, go ahead.

COATES: It might be confusing to people because he's charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. They started out talking about a scheme and a conspiracy that's not been charged. And people maybe have been thinking about the aspect of the Georgia RICO case, for example, and that was a bigger part of it. The fact that we're talking about a scheme and there hasn't been the explicit charge of, say, a conspiracy, that shouldn't matter.

ROSSI: It should not matter because a scheme, really, is a fancy way for saying a conspiracy, although there isn't the word "conspiracy." But the charging document, the indictment, and the statement of facts talks about the scheme. And as I said in a prior segment, that scheme had three goals. Catch and kill, print favorable articles about Trump, and then slime Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. That was the scheme. And the money, the off-the-table money, that fueled the scheme.

But I want to say this. One of the key bits of information that's going to hurt Donald Trump is after the Access Hollywood tape, Stormy Daniels came out of the woodwork, and my former client called David Pecker and or Dylan Howard and say, I represent Stormy Daniels. After that call was made to "National Enquirer," Michael Cohen got a call from David Pecker. That supports that scheme that they wanted to kill this story because it would affect the election.

And you mentioned, I think, in a break, this recording that Michael Cohen has in September of 2016, that recording is very devastating to Mr. Trump, President Trump, because Trump tells Cohen, don't pay with a check, pay with cash. And that goes to what Elliott said. That goes to intent that they're trying to conceal.

COATES: Well, we certainly know from counsel for Cohen and different interviews that there are some receipts that we're waiting to hear from, and the prosecution has now set expectations, the jury. Here's I'm going to tell you, really quick from both of you. Who comes after David Pecker?

[23:35:01] WILLIAMS: Oh, my goodness. Who comes after David Pecker? You know, I think maybe some of the -- quote, unquote -- "more boring witnesses," people to establish from inside the Trump Organization, to establish how the payments were made. I think what you want to do is bury Michael Cohen's testimony in the middle so that he's not the last person you hear from.

ROSSI: Yeah, I totally agree with Elliot. This is a nine-inning game. Okay, the leadoff hitter is David Pecker. You're going to put in some relatively unremarkable witnesses in innings two and three, and you're going to try to bury Michael in the fifth inning.

COATES: Where Stormy come in?

ROSSI: Stormy is probably going to be --

COATES: The seventh inning stretch?

ROSSI: No, Stormy --


-- no, no, no --

COATES: Hey, say what you're saying, baseball analogy.

ROSSI: Stormy, she'll be a fourth inning because she has to come before Cohen.

WILLIAMS: Late (ph) inning left-handed spot --

ROSSI: Exactly. Exactly.


WILLIAMS: -- neutralize their power hitters.

COATES: Okay, we've exhausted this particular analogy.

ROSSI: We have.

WILLIAMS: We have.

COATES: Thank you so much. Elliot, Gene, stick around. Thank you so much. We've got questions about the Trump trial. Well, look, we've got answers, and they're coming up live in just a few moments.




COATES: Donald Trump tonight complaining about the jury and the judge in the hush money trial.


TRUMP (voice-over): This judge said that you can't get away from the trial. You know, he's rushing the trial like crazy. That jury was picked so fast. Ninety-five percent Democrats. The area is mostly all Democrats. You think of it as a purely Democrat area. It's a very unfair situation that I can tell you.


COATES: Right to a speedy trial, some would say. The same judge who tomorrow will hold a hearing on whether or not Donald Trump's posts have violated the gag order against him. It's one of the main topics that you've been asking about on our questions page in You can always type in your question there, and then we'll reach out to have you call in.

Let's get to our first caller tonight. We've got Barbie from Palm Desert. Barbie, you've got a question about the gag order. What is it?



BARBIE (via telephone): For the purpose of punitive leverage, why isn't the judge considering a much higher threshold of monetary fines for each instance of breaking the gag order? Then, doubling it in succession?

COATES: That's a great question. Elliot, what do you think?

WILLIAMS: So, Barbie, I hope my answer is enough for you here. But what I will say, it's New York state law. It is -- it is prescribed very strictly under state law in New York. The judge has to have a hearing. The judge is limited in how he can put the defendant behind bars and also how much he can find him. So, it's not -- he doesn't have full discretion here in the way that people really think he does.

COATES: Interesting. We've got Dmitri from my home city, St. Paul, Minnesota. What's your question, Dmitri?

DMITRI, CALLER FROM ST. PAUL, MINNESOTTA (via telephone): Hi. Trump is facing 34 counts of falsifying business records. Do you see a scenario where Trump could be acquitted on some charges but found guilty on others?

COATES: It's a good question. You know, there are 34 counts that are there right now, but each of them is the falsifying business record. They are tied to different documents in question, different invoices. So, if they're unable to prove their case with respect to a falsified business record in particular, those, of course, could lead to an acquittal and, obviously, if you fail to meet your burden of proof. So, it's documents specific on that very issue.

Andre from Laurel, Maryland. What's your question?

ANDRE, CALLER FROM LAUREL, MARYLAND (via telephone): Hi, Laura. How are you?

COATES: I'm good. How are you?

ANDRE: I'm doing well. Thank you for asking. My question is, what risks are there if Donald Trump takes the stand? And also, can this hurt the defense?

COATES: That's a great question. Let's ask Gene. What do you think?

ROSSI: The risk if he takes the stand is he will be found guilty because he is a horrible witness, whether it's a deposition, one of the E. Jean Carroll cases. He can't control himself, number one, body language wise. And every time he opens his mouth, he says something stupid.

The last thing is they had that Sandoval hearing. There's a lot of uncharged conduct that they're going to cross-examine him on. The chances of Donald Trump taking his stand are zero. If he did take the stand, he would be found guilty, no pun intended, in a New York minute.

WILLIAMS: It's not just Donald Trump. Defendants really should almost never take the stand. They can be picked apart. Anything they say, they'll be eviscerated by prosecution. Just not a good idea.

COATES: Doesn't sound like a true balance of power, does it? Stephen from Wappingers Falls, New York, what is your question?



STEPHEN (via telephone): My question is, how was Trump charged so many years or so long after his alleged crimes? Didn't the statute of limitations lapse or was there a "pause" or a tolling for the years that Trump served as president?

COATES: That's a great question. So, that was one of the concerns that many people have had about this case, including former prosecutors on this very instance, about the stale nature, perhaps, of the actual allegations at issue here. That's one thing they have to overcome in the presentation of evidence. But in terms of such limitations, they are within that particular period of time. They would not be able to bring it otherwise.

Yes, there is a tolling at times if somebody is the president of the United States, given, of course, that advisory opinion in DOJ that you cannot prosecute a sitting president. This, of course, is state level prosecution. So, it's distinct, of course, from the federal advisory opinions. But they are within that limitations period. Whether or not the jury feels that this is an appropriate case is not really the question they're being asked to answer.

[23:45:03] It's about whether they have met the burden of proof. But it's a great question to raise because if you're the prosecution in this case, you're wondering, is it a day late and a dollar short, or do I have enough to be able to bring this home? And the defense will undoubtedly raise that very question in front of this jury with two simple words. Why now or maybe to others? Why after add some more? Why after others decided not to do so? It's a really great question.

Elliot and Gene, thank you for helping to answer all of these questions. And thank you to everyone also who called in. Hey, do you have a question you'd like to answer on the upcoming Trump trial? We want to hear from you. Submit your questions at

Well, unsealed documents in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case revealing that Trump's co-defendant was told that he would be pardoned. And that's not all. We'll unpack the new filing next.




COATES: A major new filing in one of the other criminal cases Donald Trump is facing, this one related to the federal classified documents investigation, and it includes notes from an FBI interview with a key witness described as someone who worked in Trump's White House.

One of the most shocking details, this witness, identified as person 16, says Trump's personal aide and co-defendant in the case, Walt Nauta, was told he would be pardoned if Trump won a second term. Now, a reminder, Nata was charged last June with lying to the FBI and obstructing Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation.

Here's what the filing specifically says. Quote -- "Nauta was told by FPOTUS' people that his investigation was not going anywhere, that it was politically motivated and 'much ado about nothing.' Nauta was also told that even if he gets charged with lying to the FBI, FPOTUS will pardon him in 2024."

And that's not all. In one of the more bizarre details of the filing, this witness gave Trump a stark warning to hand over the documents to the National Archives. The filing says that in November of 2021, "Person 16 told the former president of the United States, whatever you have, give everything back. Let them come here and get everything. Don't give them a noble reason to indict you, because they will. Former POTUS provided a weird 'you're the man' type of response."

It goes on to say that Person 16 was given the impression that Trump was going to return the records. But the meeting was interrupted when a Mar-a-Lago club member and a much younger woman walked up, take a photo with Trump.

I want to bring in CNN senior law enforcement and a former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, so glad to have you on this evening. So, listen, in addition to warning Trump face to face, this Person 16 also says that they also asked Trump's children to convince him to give up the boxes and -- quote -- "talk to your dad about giving them back. It's not worth the aggravation." Is this a value add to this case?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Well, certainly, it's an interesting episode and it could kind of go in a bunch of different directions. I think first, this witness, this witness referred to as Person 16, is somebody who clearly has frequent access or had frequent access to the former president, was a member of the administration, but also traveled to Mar-a-Lago on numerous occasions after Trump was no longer president.

He's also from these statements, somebody who is very, very clearly worried about the legal implications of the retention of these documents and tried to pass along suggestions about how to resolve this through the children and, you know, in different ways.

So, all of that, to me, suggests, Laura, that this person is probably somebody with legal knowledge, probably a lawyer, somebody who maybe who served in a council position in the White House. But we don't know that for sure.

The interesting thing about the Nauta reporting is we really don't know how Person 16 heard about this alleged offer of a pardon in return for lying to the FBI. Did he learn that directly from Walt Nauta or did he learn that from someone else who claimed to have heard it from Nauta or maybe someone else who actually made those comments to Nauta? So that's the piece of the puzzle that we don't have. So, it's hard to assess the impact that this witness would have without understanding that fact.

COATES: You know, this person apparently asked the FBI not to record their conversation, saying, "having the interview recorded was a far bigger risk for him in the Trump world." So, how do you think the FBI interpreted that statement?

MCCABE: Well, it's interesting. I know that it's -- they tried to convince him that not recording the interview would actually look worse for him because everybody else, all other witnesses' interviews were recorded. And, of course, the person made that comment and said that he still didn't want to do it.

Anyway, the question that I would have had as the as an investigator interviewing this witness was, boy, how likely is this person ever to actually testify in front of a grand jury or in front of a trial jury if they're not even willing to be recorded here in a private interview?


So, I think it does indicate -- you know, you should -- they should have some concerns about whether or not this person, even though he did speak to them and let's give him the benefit of the doubt, that he spoke truthfully. He may not be willing to go all the way and testify in a proceeding.

COATES: But would have had to have been under oath talking to them in the first place, right?

MCCABE: Right. Well, you know, you don't always put every witness under oath --


MCCABE: -- during the course of a routine FBI interview. However, you let witnesses know that if they lie to the agents during the course of the interview, that that can be charged as a federal crime. It's 18 USC 1001, making a false statement to an investigator. Of course, the investigation can lead to a federal charge. So, it's essentially, you know, you let them know that there's a significant penalty that could be on their way if they make false statements.

The thing that really blows my mind, though, about this whole -- this whole episode, Laura, is if this actually happened, if some sort of an offer of a pardon was made to Walt Nauta in return for lying to the FBI in his own interview, which we know he did because we've read his transcript now, right, that came out about a week ago, we know that he lied to the interview -- to the interviewers in that interaction, that's something that could be charged as obstruction of justice. That's kind of the worst outcome.

But even beyond that, it certainly indicates a strong degree of guilty knowledge. Innocent people don't usually try to convince others to lie to the FBI about what they did. Innocent people say, sure, meet with the FBI, tell them the truth, there is nothing wrong here, we didn't do anything wrong. So, it's really an interesting insight into what was going on potentially among the Trump camp.

COATES: Really fascinating insight. Andrew McCabe, thank you so much for joining.

And hey, everyone out there, thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.