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Laura Coates Live

David Pecker Testifies; Trump Attacks Cohen; Columbia Encampment Faces Midnight Deadline To Clear Campus; Laura Coates Answers Callers' Questions. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 23, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Donald Trump's eyes and ears opens his mouth. And man, oh, man, did he have a lot to say. We'll take you inside David Pecker's testimony, the 'catch and kill' scheme at the heart of this trial, and the gag order that Donald Trump may have just violated yet again, tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

All right, David Pecker took the stand for now a second day today. He took the jury inside the August 2015 Trump Tower meeting with Trump and Michael Cohen. Now that was two months after Donald Trump came down that escalator and announced that he was going to run for the White House.

When Pecker testifies, of course, he says that's when the 'catch and kill' scheme began. He took us inside the room where all of it happened, saying -- quote -- "At that meeting, Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, they asked me what can I do and what my magazines could do to help the campaign."

And the then tabloid boss said there was quite a lot he could actually do. Quote -- "I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents. I said I would be your ears and eyes."

And boy was he ever, publishing completely unsubstantiated, and I'm being nice here when I say unsubstantiated stories, among them claims of Ted Cruz and mistresses or that his father was linked to JFK's assassination, even that Dr. Ben Carson left a sponge in a patient's brain. Now, those stories, they're outrageous and it escaped precisely no one's notice, but they were all coincidentally about Trump's rivals.

The prosecution asking, why were you running these stories about Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Ben Carson? Well, Pecker's response? "After the Republican debates and based on the success of some of the other candidates, I would receive a call from Michael Cohen, and he would direct me and direct Dylan Howard," that was Pecker's right-hand man, "on which candidate and which direction we should go." That's how the process happened.

Now, stuff like that is bound to grab your attention at the checkout lane at the grocery store. Let's not forget that prosecutors have got to grab the attention of the jury. They've got to try and prove that Trump conspired to interfere the 2016 election, and then falsified business records to conceal all of it.

So, follow along with me here about the plan. Hear about a bad story about Trump? Pay the person not to tell it to anyone. He's being bad about a political rival? Print it. And I mean anything.

Hear about an extramarital affair allegation? Well, then the instructions were quite clear. Quoting David Pecker again, "I said that anything that I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen. As I did over the last several years, I would notify Michael Cohen and then he'd be able to have them kill in another magazine or have them not be published or somebody would have to purchase them."

So, where is Donald Trump in all this, the actual defendant in this case? Quote -- "Here was the question. Did he ever tell you whether he had shared these headlines with the 'boss prior to their publication?' He responded, I don't recollect that, no. You said that Michael Cohen would call you periodically and say, 'we would like you to run a negative story about this political opponent or that political opponent.' Is that correct? Yes, he said. Who did you understand 'we' to be referring to? Pecker said, Michael Cohen always told me he was not part of the campaign, so I only assumed that he was talking to Mr. Trump."

Is that all going to be enough in starting to tell this story for a jury? Well, joining me now, senior political correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," Molly Ball, former January 6th Committee investigative counsel, Marcus Childress, and former Trump attorney, Tim Parlatore.

Now, Tim, I want to start with you here. Think about -- I always think about trial in terms of a jigsaw puzzle of sorts.


What do I need from each particular witness to make this story sell to a jury to persuade them? Talking about David Pecker, you think about this as a puzzle of sorts, what is the prosecution need to share and prove? Well, Pecker is in the center. Guys, talk about a 'catch and kill' as a bit of a pattern, that it had a connection to the actual campaign, but we don't know the last two pieces yet, whether Trump gave direct order, not just intimations innuendos, and also, was he aware there was sort of a cook the books sort of scheme here? Those two things have not been talked about fulsomely. But what's your big takeaway from Pecker's testimony so far? Has he made me dense?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I mean, I think he's definitely setting the scene here. He definitely gives, you know, kind of background of what they were trying to do at the time.

And, you know, it's -- he's trying to bolster some of the things that Michael Cohen is going to say when he gets up later, and I think that that's -- a big part of this is to take some of the sting out so that when Michael Cohen gets up, some of the first things that he'll say are things that the jury has actually already heard from somebody that is more believable, so that might tend to give them some credibility.

COATES: That's an important point.

PARLATORE: I think that's -- I think that's how they're starting it off. And, you know, ultimately, you know, is that going to be effective? You know, we'll see.

COATES: The big thing, I think, everyone remembers Michael Cohen has talked about Donald Trump in the past is that he doesn't give explicit orders. He doesn't say, Marcus, I want you to do A, B and C, and then tell me D, E and F. It's innuendo, it's intimation, it's you're supposed to understand through, I guess, telepathy what I really want you to do, kind of mob style, people think -- keep talking about it.

Here, Pecker testified though that Trump was a micromanager of sorts, that he was knowledgeable, he was detail-oriented, and then he also signed -- signed checks and sought invoices. Does that help to get you closer to Trump being involved?

MARCUS CHILDRESS, FORMER JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: That testimony stood out to me tremendously, actually, because it showed that Trump is involved in the details. So, this isn't just a negligence of the books. This isn't a negligence of how you're keeping the records or where the payments are going.

Because Trump is micromanaging and looking at the checks and where the money is going from an early stage, it sounds like from -- David Pecker understood that's the way Trump was at all times.

So, I think it's not direct evidence per se, but it is circumstantial evidence of Trump's personality, the way he carries himself, and the way he manages others to that point you just made because sometimes his orders may not be explicit or expressed, but when it comes to the finances, he has his eyes on where the money is going.

COATES: You cover politics a long time and you very well remember the 2016 election. If you wanted to talk to Donald Trump, you really had to go to Michael Cohen. He was the gatekeeper. He was known as "the fixer." But here, we're salvaging testimony from David Pecker that he was the point, he was to run point based on Donald Trump.

And there's a moment when Pecker testified that when word got -- he got word of the Karen McDougal story, Trump called Pecker, and Pecker tried to convince Trump to buy the story. But then, Trump said this, Molly, "Any time you do anything like this, it always gets out. Let me think about it, and I'll have Michael Cohen call you back in a few days.'" What does that tell you?

MOLLY BALL, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well it's certainly, as you're saying, fits with what we all experienced when we were covering this campaign. And despite the turn he has taken now, you know, Michael Cohen was fanatically loyal to the man he always referred to as Mr. Trump. And we knew that he was always out there defending his reputation.

I think, to Marcus's point, you know, this also fits with what we know about how meticulously Trump pays attention to his image in the media, right? He -- right -- while this trial was going on, he's tweeting about the details of the way he's being covered in "The New York Times."

So, to this day, I think, is very much fits with what we know about how Donald Trump has always very carefully managed perceptions of himself, always very carefully monitored the media coverage of himself.

So -- but it's wild to actually get this behind-the-scenes glimpse, right, because if you were covering this campaign, you saw these headlines come out in the "National Enquirer," you sort of went, wow, they really seem to like Trump and they really seem to not like all these other guys, I wonder what's going on.

And then back in 2018, "The Wall Street Journal" broke the story about the "catch and kill" scheme and the Stormy Daniels payment, but we have never heard it actually from Pecker's mouth before. And so, to hear him talk about it and to hear all the details in this -- in this first-hand way is really fascinating for anyone who sort of watched it from the outside.

COATES: I sit with you for a second because he's talking about checkbook journalism and, obviously, many bristled at the fact that this would be journalism. Obviously, there is in many ways a snobbery and about the way people view the "Enquirer," and I understand the reasons for that.

When we look at this, many people may not realize the "Enquirer" had their first publication like in 1925 or '26. There was an appetite for the information, whether it was truthful or not. Having David Pecker, though, sit up there and have that symbiotic relationship with Trump, sitting across from him and spilling the tea must have been quite a moment.

BALL: Well, he's under oath, he has to, right? But I would say, I mean -- and I'm glad you brought that up because I do hope that people are not taking away from this, that this is how journalism works, right?


We in the regular media are not entering into schemes like this. We do not take payment. No publication I've ever worked with -- worked for has ever functioned this way. I think a lot of people are very cynical about the media and they do believe that we are promoting candidates or trying to put down their rivals or making stuff up. I mean, you say unsubstantiated. These were made-up stories, right? Made up out of thin air.

COATES: I'm telling you, I was being nice about it.

BALL: You were being nice about it. I'm not being so nice because I do think it affects how everybody perceives the media, and I hope people really do know that this is how the "National Enquirer" functions, this is not how the rest of the media functions.

But to your point, this -- this is a tabloid that has existed for a long time and that has had -- and that clearly had this cozy relationship with Donald Trump that he far preceded his candidacy for president.

COATES: Important to think about this, Marcus, because it's all about the context, right? It wasn't just that they were killing unfavorable stories. They were also promoting stories that were against his political opponents, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or even Dr. Ben Carson. They were a part of this whole thing. And so, he also testified that it wasn't until that August 15 meeting that he began to do this catch and kills.

The prosecution has got to establish what? From those dates in connection, that the whole purpose was for the campaign?

CHILDRESS: I think that's going to be an important thing that they have to show. Going back to what Tim was talking, about setting the scene here, this is all about the election, right, and that's because it's a critical point of concealing a crime, whether it be federal or campaign finance laws or New York election laws.

I think it's really important that the prosecution shows this entire conspiracy was all going towards the election. I think that the prosecution is doing it through David Pecker now. I think every other witness is going to be reiterating this point about Donald Trump, his image, being worried about his image heading into an election season.

And so, when you get to the closing argument of why did you falsify these business records, it's going to naturally, hopefully, fall into place that it was for the election and that concealing of a crime will fit for the jury without having to make too much of a stretch.

COATES: Well, the documents are going to be important here, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and I've got six of them for you, Tim. You previously represented Donald Trump. Look at this. I mean, here he is at different days during -- this is six days-worth of him sitting in the courtroom, whether it's jury selection or otherwise. This is not to look at his ties, but it to look at the demeanor. And this is a former president who wants to be on the campaign trail, he says.

Read a little bit for me what you think he's thinking. I mean, what is his demeanor like to you having to sit not by choice in a criminal courtroom in Manhattan?

PARLATORE: He's a guy used to being the one standing up and making the speeches himself. And the fact that he has to sit there all day, every day, silently, standing up whenever the judge tells him to stand up, sitting down when the judge tells him to sit down, and instead of being allowed to say anything, he has to have, you know, somebody like Todd Blanche do all the speaking for him, I think it's tearing him up that he can't be, you know, standing up there and doing it.

I mean, talking about the furious note-writing. We have had some clients like that. You know, when the prosecution is going on with their opening statement, they're handing me note after note after note saying that's a lie, that's not true. And that's exactly the kind of thing that -- you know, think about how he was in the -- in the debates, you know, back in 2016, when people were saying things, making the faces, cutting him off wrong, and all that kind of stuff. This is, I think, mentally torturing him, that he has to sit there and go through this.

COATES: You have to wonder how the jury is seeing each of those notes, and you better believe that they're studying this person that most of them probably never seen in person. I mean, it is the former president of United States within feet of jurors who are going to decide his, at least, criminal fate in this context.

Molly, Marcus, Tim, please, stick around.

David Pecker today also described how the paper once paid a man 30,000 bucks to silence a false and salacious story. His name was Dino Sajudin, and he was a Manhattan doorman. The tip he apparently had, that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. Now, Pecker turned to face the jury today and told them this was completely false.

And then was asked this question, I'm quoting now from the transcript, here was the question, why are you paying $30,000 for an untrue story? Well, his answer was, because the article says, if the story got out to another publication or another media outlet, it would have been very embarrassing to the campaign. The question, so, this was a way to lock it up? That's correct.

Now, Pecker also went on to discuss how the "catch and kill" scheme was beneficial to his own bottom line, telling the jury that publishing positive stories about Trump and, of course, negative ones about his opponents would actually boost their newsstand sales.

For more on the inner workings of the tabloid, Tony Brenna. He's a journalist who worked at the "National Enquirer" for 18 years.


He's also the author of "Honey Trap," a book about the world of tabloid journalism." Thank you so much for being here. I'm really interested to see what you made of all of this testimony today because this was, frankly, the first time we're really hearing about "catch and kill" from David Pecker himself. In your opinion, did his testimony track with how the "Enquirer" operated under his reign?

TONY BRENNA, JOURNALIST: Yes, it did. Indeed. It was surprisingly honest. I was quite surprised that he was so forthcoming.

COATES: When he talked about this "catch and kill" as a broader scheme, this was not the first time you'd ever heard of "catch and kill" happening. It was this -- he was talking about Donald Trump. But it was pretty routine, I understand, from the testimony to have people come to them with stories, that they would pay them not to publish it, and they would decide what they wanted to do with the rights. Was that a common practice? BRENNA: No, it wasn't a common practice in my -- in the time -- early time, most of the time that I worked for the "National Enquirer." It was something that developed only after David Pecker became the chief executive.

COATES: When you were hearing about the relationship between David Pecker and Donald Trump on the stand today, were you familiar with their relationship and the way in which it was sort of scratch my back, I'll scratch yours?

BRENNA: They had been friends for like 20 years, and their relationship had been very, very close. Wach was using the other. These two men are very similar in personality and character in my judgment, and it did not surprise me at all that they -- that they have figured out a deal like this, particularly when Trump was running for president.

And, of course, Pecker being extraordinary ambitious and vain man, could see the opportunity that was there for him. It once was the White House. So, it's not surprising at all.

COATES: You describe something of a very shrewd sort of business calculation to think if you're in the White House, and I can get you there, then possibly, it could inert in my benefit. I do wonder, what was Pecker like during his time at the "Enquirer" because there's a lot made about the type of headlines and cover pages that came out.

Now, the "Enquirer" itself is not on trial, but this particular witness has got to ring true and credible to a jury. You think he would be someone the jury would find credible in person?

BRENNA: He is coming off very, very calmly and in control of himself, and so on and so forth. Actually, as a former executive, he was given to screaming, rages, and bullying staff and not the least person to work for.

COATES: I wonder if that will be elicited through testimony. Certainly, he has not displayed any of those qualities today. But we do have a cross-examination ahead, and I do wonder how he'll fare.

Tony Brenna, thank you so much for joining.

Up next, why an angry judge told Donald Trump's attorney, you are losing all credibility? And how Trump is testing the limits of that gag order even tonight. Here's a hint of who might be his target. It rhymes with Michael Bowen. Can you guess? I bet you can.



COATES: So, Donald Trump in an interview with CNN affiliate WPVI today testing the limits of his gag order, again, going after a witness in this trial, again, his former fixer, Michael Cohen, and he did so as a hearing was about to be held on violating it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michael Cohen is a convicted liar, and he's got no credibility whatsoever. He was a lawyer and you rely on your lawyer.


COATES: Well, this as sources tell CNN that Secret Service, court officers, and New York City Corrections Department officials are apparently discussing what to do if Trump ends up being jailed for contempt of court.

Molly Ball, Marcus Childress, and Tim Parlatore are back with me right now. So, Tim, this question is not rhetorical, but I don't blame you if you can't actually answer it. Why would Trump continue to go after Cohen knowing that you've got the judge not too pleased, exasperated at different points, with a clear order they're calling ambiguous, and he's saying, what was unclear about my order that you can't do this?

PARLATORE: I don't think that the order is ambiguous. I mean, I don't -- you know, we were talking about this before we came on. The only viable defense that I see is one that's not going to work with this judge. That is the scope of the order itself is unconstitutionally broad. And I think that, you know, there may be some validity to that at the appellate level.

COATES: In what way?

PARLATORE: Well, so, gag orders serve an important purpose, and they are to protect the integrity of the proceedings, to make sure nothing prejudices either the jury or intimidates a witness from not showing up. There is no rational basis to say, don't talk about Michael Cohen, because Michael Cohen is out there tweeting constantly. There is nothing Donald Trump is going to say in any of these interviews. Short of saying, hey, Michael, when you testify, we're going to kill you. Short of saying that.


He's not going to say anything that's going to intimidate Michael Cohen or in any way affect these proceedings. So, I do think that there's an argument to be made that, especially when Michael Cohen is out there, you know, kind of inviting this through his own commentary, that it is too broad.

Now, I don't think this judge is going necessarily sit there and say, oh, you know what, you're right, you've violated this order, and now I see that it has been too broad, so, okay, I'm just going to, you know, pull the order back. That ain't going to happen. No.

It's -- it's good maybe for an appeal, but if the judge is going to put him straight into Rikers Island, you know, I don't think that the appeals court is going to deal with it quickly enough for him.

COATES: I mean, on the idea of what a punishment could possibly be, and again, we're waiting to hear what the judge actually is going to rule on this very issue. The hearing was this morning. And by the way, the allegations of violating it were from last week. He hasn't really been quick about resolving this at this moment. You could ask maybe why there is that case.

But he only can do a thousand-dollar fine per actual alleged violation. Obviously, you could step somebody back, meaning put them in jail until they actually are compliant again. But what's the more likely scenario, the fine? And if so, that's not much of a deterrent for Donald Trump.

CHILDRESS: I mean, I think what the prosecution is arguing for is the only realistic scenario here. They didn't ask for confining, which I thought was pretty notable. They just asked for $10,000 fine, for $1,000 per violation.

COATES: Why didn't they ask for jail, you think? The impracticality of it?

CHILDRESS: I think -- I think that puts the court in a very difficult position because of how logistically impractical it is right now. I think the prosecution realizes that and they didn't want to put the judge in a tight spot. And so, they talked about the max punishment of confining but only asked for $1,000 per violation.

I think that was the main takeaway of the gag order argument today. It was just how tough it is to balance what Tim was talking about not prejudicing or creating posts that could put jurors in danger, and then also what the court actually can do with Donald Trump because let it be known that if this were any other defendant, they would have been in pretrial a long time ago.

But this is a separate consideration when you have the former president and president like President Trump sitting in the courtroom. I think that's an obvious reality that we're seeing play out right now.

COATES: Are you suggesting that we don't have (INAUDIBLE)?

CHILDRESS: It might be helping him out right now.

COATES: It might be helping Donald Trump. Gosh. Well, that just is a horse of a different color, as they say. Think about this.


Molly, let me bring you into this very notion here because, look -- I mean, with the gag order -- I mean, Trump's lawyers are saying, look, there was no willful violation, your honor, here, which, you know, I don't know how you want to gauge willful, but the idea of Donald Trump listening to the advice of counsel or listening to a judge that he has been antagonizing for weeks if not months on end, when he believes, look, I'm not just talking to you 18 people, the 12 jurors and six alternates, I'm talking to the people who can get me to the number of 270.

BALL: Exactly, and that's the thing, is that the jury is not his only audience here. The ultimate jury of his peers is the one that convenes on November 5th. And that is what he has been saying, he is a political candidate, and he has been arguing that he's being silenced and that this is unfair because he's got to make his argument to the public in the course of his political campaign.

And so, when Michael Cohen is out there attacking him, Michael Cohen isn't just attacking -- isn't attacking him at all for the benefit of the jury, he's attacking him politically, and Trump feels that he deserves to have a right to respond to that.

So, you know, Tim was talking earlier about how obviously annoyed Trump is to be sitting there. Everything is about domination for him, right? And I think he cannot stand to be under the thumb of a higher authority, to have a judge who is in control and telling him when he can and can't speak.

And so, I think on almost a visceral level, we've always seen him, you know, have -- feel that he has to counterpunch when anyone attacks him. And so, even when he has been told just right then at that minute, you cannot attack these people, when they attack him, he's got to do it, and it is part as well of his political argument to show that he is the alpha dog in all of this.

COATES: Compulsive, impulsive. I got to tell you, as a prosecutor, if I had one of my witnesses out there talking on Truth Social, on Twitter, I'm talking to Michael Cohen or anyone else, I would be wanting to muzzle them because it's just not going to end well. There are opportunities for cross. There are moments that they could falter. There are things that could build up the obvious ammunition of bias. So, I wonder how all of this is playing out.

Molly, Marcus, Tim, you still can't leave. Stick around.

We're also knowing that Columbia now has set a midnight deadline to reach an agreement with pro-Palestinian protesters over dismantling an encampment on campus. We've got a live report from the scene in about 30 minutes. That deadline, next.



COATES: Columbia University has set a midnight deadline, just really minutes away, to come to an agreement with a group of faculty and administrators over dismantling the protest encampment that is on campus. Now, the NYPD says it has not been requested by Columbia University to respond to campus at this time.

I want to bring in Isabella Ramirez. She's editor-in-chief and president of the Columbia Spectator. Isabella, thank you for joining. We've been intensely watching what has been happening on your campus. But tell us what is happening on the campus right now. We're seeing a lot of movement right now. What's happening?

ISABELLA RAMIREZ, EDITOR IN CHIEF AND PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA SPECTATOR: Yes. So, as you can see right here, I'm between the two lawns, east and west lawn, here is the site of the encampment.


Currently, there are still dozens of students still situated on the encampment, but many, many others, dozens of others, have shifted to what we call Furnald Lawn, which is a lawn in front of the dormitory Furnald Hall.

And we are kind of getting reports from some of our sourcing that it is believed the students who are choosing to leave versus students who are choosing to stay are accepting a different level of risk. So, therefore, some of the students that are currently here at the encampment are -- you know, we're all kind of primed with this idea that potentially this might mean another NYPD sweep, another intervention from the police department.

And so, what we're kindly currently seeing and at least hearing is that the students that you see moving are not quite, you know, willing to be arrested or -- but would like to stay involved. Those who are staying in the encampments are accepting the risk of the potential -- the potential of another sweep.

COATES: Are you hearing murmurings that NYPD will be brought in to address those who are accepting that elevated level of risk?

RAMIREZ: Um, currently, it's just sorts of murmurs. Well, really, what we're citing is Shafik's recent email from earlier -- just a few hours ago. She used language that -- it suggested that she would use alternative options or that the university would use alternative options to clear the encampment.

I think that, like I mentioned before, everybody is kind of primed with this idea that the NYPD may make an appearance. I'm actually hearing some chants that are erupting from the Furnald Lawn. Although it's quite far away, I can still hear it from here.

They're mentioning a few chants about the NYPD and also the National Guard even -- although that is sort of unconfirmed and rather something that we've heard from a few politicians and a few other kinds of high-profile figures that have called for the National Guard, although we have no confirmation as to what certain level the university is willing to take in terms of what these alternative options may mean for clearing this encampment.

COATES: Isabella, this deadline is midnight. It's about 24 minutes away. Is there any insight as to whether that that deadline would actually result in an agreement being reached?

RAMIREZ: Our current insight is no. We have some -- you know, we spoke with some negotiators. We're pretty certain from the way that they have been adamant throughout period but also just the way that this panned out, that there seems to be very little room in terms of where the university wants to meet the students and the students want to meet, you know, the university. It doesn't seem that there is much room for in terms of compromise although anything can kind of happen in these next 20 minutes. Our current insight is that no, it doesn't seem that the two -- you know, administrators and the students are going to come to a resolution, probably in enough time, but certainly maybe not even at all considering just how this has panned out and how the students have been pretty adamant on their demands and very explicit with what they want to see from the university.

COATES: Isabella Ramirez, chief and president of the Columbia Spectator, thank you for your great reporting. Something tells me we're going to see a lot more of you in the future.

Well, Columbia is one of several colleges grappling with the growing protest movement. At NYU, officers cleared an encampment and arrested more than 130 protesters just last night. New York City's mayor, Eric Adams, says that outside, agitators are disrupting the protests at both NYU and also Columbia. But camps are popping up at colleges from California all the way to Connecticut, calling for universities to divest from the Israeli government. Alleged acts of violence have been reported at some protests.

At Yale, police are investigating after a Jewish student said that a pro-Palestinian protester poked her in the eye with a Palestinian flag. Sahar Tartak filed a police report and was treated by a doctor.

Well, joining me now is Gabriel Diamond, a senior at Yale. He's a friend of Sahar and attended the protest. Also, here, a Columbia University professor and former NSC director, Hagar Chemali. Thank you both for being here.

Let me begin with you, Hagar. What is the mood like on campus with this impending midnight deadline now just really a few moments away?

HAGAR CHEMALI, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, it's increasingly tense, Laura. It's -- it's -- all of us are sitting on edge a little bit. As a professor, we had virtually -- we were at virtual classes on Monday. And now, we are supposed to be in hybrid mode through the end of the year, which means that we're supposed to offer virtual opportunities for students who feel unsafe.

And it's not fair. And that is the feeling among a lot of people. That it's not fair for -- if you have a group of protesters creating this, an unsafe environment for the rest of us. To stay home and for them to be allowed to create that hostile environment. That wouldn't be allowed in a workplace and it shouldn't be allowed in a private institution or private campus.

So, things are very tense and especially with the fact that we're nearing commencement, and that is why you've got this midnight deadline tonight, because they need to clear the lawn for the upcoming commencement.


COATES: What do you make of the Columbia's president and her handling of this? Should she resign? CHEMALI: I personally don't believe she should resign. I think that she has been dealing with an incredibly difficult issue here. Last week, she was dealing with -- when she invited the police to the campus, she was dealing with students who are breaking rules and breaking violation. She repeatedly and repeatedly told them to leave. And as -- whether you're on a campus or whether you're in a public park, there are rules for protests and for when and how you can do them and where. And if you're breaking those rules, there are consequences.

And I think that her goal right now to do this deadline and to dialogue and negotiate with the protesters with their organizers is an effort for her to try and say, listen, I want to work with you, but there are rules and there are other demands and needs, and other students and other people here on campus that they need to respect.

COATES: Gabriel, I want to turn to you as well because your friend says that she was assaulted at the protest happening at Yale. Have you ever seen this before on your campus?

GABRIEL DIAMOND, SENIOR, YALE UNIVERSITY: Well, we've seen a number of protests in some sense similar to this after October 7th, but nothing like what we just recently saw for the weekend. When I was there this weekend, on Saturday night, the first thing I saw as I walked up was two visibly Jewish students, both friends of mine, who are being targeted and cornered and clearly sort of pushed aside. They weren't being allowed to enter into the protest. All they want to do is video them.

And then at one point, Sahar had wandered off. My phone died. I'd been following them around and recording them. The next thing I know, she comes running out of the protests saying that her eye had been messed up, and I hear thereafter that she had been jabbed in the eye with Palestinian flagpole.

I mean, these -- these protests have really gotten out of hand that just the night before that, the protesters tore down an American flag and tried to burn it. I mean, these people are showing really who they truly are, and I think we ought to listen.

COATES: Hagar, I mean -- first of all, Gabriel, it's very disturbing to hear about the way that that has been described and this is happening on college campuses, not only at Yale, as you talked about this one incident, but the protests across the country.

I do want to play a video for you, Hagar, of -- we've obtained -- of some of the protests from just off Columbia's campus.



COATES: I mean, just seeing the captions and reading along, do you see a difference in the protests that are happening on campus versus those happening off campus? CHEMALI: There is a difference between them. There's -- what I would like to say is that they're separate but related. So, the protests that are happening off of campus are non-students, mostly, at least, that we know of, and they are very, very aggressive and loud, their rhetoric is incredibly violent and supports terrorism.

I walked by one of them Saturday night and they were banging loudly on the Columbia gates praising Hamas. They were the ones who, when Jews individuals who identify -- who are very identifiable as Jewish walked by, told them that they were pigs and told them to return to Poland. Just rhetoric that is completely unacceptable.

That said, while they are separate, these are extremists from the outside and non-students, the students on the inside are coordinating with them. They are telling them what time to come and protest.

And so, there is some onus here on the students to take responsibility. I believe that if the -- if the students want to protest for a ceasefire or for divestment or whatever it might be, fine, do it within the rules of the school and don't -- and just associate yourselves from these extremists in order to make your own cause credible.

COATES: Do you believe the campus right now, given what you've described, is safe for Jewish students?

CHEMALI: I have to tell you that if I had my own -- if my own child were walking around with a yarmulke, I would tell him not to walk around with the yarmulke. It pains me to say that. We are in New York City, in 2024, in America. That is not how it should be.

But the fact is that there have been Jewish students who've been -- who've been targeted, who've been harassed, who feel unsafe, and that -- that -- they have a right to be on this campus and to study and to learn, which is the mission and priority of the university. And so, I think that I understand why they don't feel safe.

COATES: Gabriel, I want to give you the last word here because I do wonder, from your perspective, what you think about the safety of yourself and your classmates more broadly on these campuses. And you only -- I think you only heard from one faculty member, I think, since even the weekend. Does that surprise you?


DIAMOND: It's sad to say, but it doesn't really surprise me. I mean, we have faculty members, we have administrators who are openly supporting these protests, and it's said at Yale by the protest organizers that all 14 heads of college, that is the people who are the leaders of our dormitories, endorsed and supported and wanted to make sure that these students stayed where they were in the plaza.

I mean the real problem here is not just about safety. It's these students have taken over the university. And the universities are trying to negotiate with them when, really, they should be offering leadership, direction, and redirecting their energies into things that are more positive, getting kids back into the classroom. And clearly, these students aren't going to classes. I even had a class of my own canceled because of what's going on.

The university, really, has to reestablish some order, some civility and sanity, and to make sure that students can go to school, get an education, and do what they're supposed to do.

COATES: Hagar Chemali, Gabriel Diamaond, thank you both so much.

DIAMOND: Thank you.

COATES: Well, there are a lot of questions about the Trump trial in Manhattan, especially after today's testimony. You know what? We're going to answer them, next.



COATES: It's day six of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial. I know you got a lot of questions. And tonight, we are taking your calls.


And Molly Ball, Marcus Childress, and Tim Parlatore are here to help answer them. If you want to participate, just go to You fill out the form, you type in your question there, and then we'll reach out to have you call in as the trial unfolds.

Let's get to our very first caller tonight. John from Gainesville, Georgia. What's your question, John?

JOHN, CALLER FROM GAINESVILLE, GEORGIA (via telephone): Hey, good evening, Laura.


JOHN (via telephone): My question is, have any of Trump's family members. Melania or otherwise, been at any of these proceedings so far?

COATES: That's a great question. You know, Trump was actually asked about that state. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): President Trump, where is Melania?

COATES: He gave a fist in response.


COATES: But Molly, has anyone been in the courtroom? BALL: No, they have not. He has been with his lawyers. Obviously, there's been a couple of political aides in the courtroom at various points, but none of his family members have been in attendance.

COATES: What does that tell you? Anything?

BALL: They don't want to be there anymore than he does, I guess.

COATES: Yeah. You know, I wonder also, if you think about that, it might actually benefit the defense to say, see, his family doesn't want to be here because this is actually embarrassing, not about a campaign, but about his family dynamic as well. They might try to use that in some way. We got another question. Kevin from North Carolina. What's your question, Kevin?

KEVIN, CALLER FROM NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): Good evening, Laura. Thanks for having me on.


KEVIN (via telephone): Is it possible that the former president be found guilty of a misdemeanor falsification of records and not a felony conviction?

COATES: That's a good question. Tim, what's your answer?

PARLATORE: So, in New York, they have the ability to possibly instruct the juror on these lesser included offenses. The defense can object. Now, the problem is, given the passage of time, the misdemeanor offenses, the statute of limitation is gone. So, if the defense objects, then the judge cannot instruct them on those lesser included offenses.

But the defense does have the option of waiving the statute of limitations and saying, yes, we agree for that lesser included offense to be instructed on if they think strategically that a jury is going to come to compromise a verdict.

COATES: That's a great response. I'll think about -- well, one of the things that have been controversial about this case is that it only becomes a felony if they were trying to conceal another crime, right? That has been a real question today, about what is the underlying crime. Is it campaign finance? Is it a conspiracy? A really important point.

Let's go down to Dallas, Texas. We got Jaylon. Jaylon, what's your question?

JAYLON, CALLER FROM DALLAS, TEXAS (via telephone): Hi, Laura.


JAYLON (via telephone): Is there anything preventing Trump from firing his trial lawyers? If not, what would happen if he were to fire them? Would this cause a delay? COATES: Oh, that's a good question. I'm going to ask you, Marcus Childress. What do you think? Could he -- I mean, could he fire him? He could.

CHILDRESS: He can try, but we're in a trial stage, so it's more of like a proceeding on itself. So, you have to raise a serious concern under New York case law to fire your lawyers at this point. And so, there probably a mini hearing where the judge would probably try to hear what's your concerns, the irrevocable differences, that you're not talking to your lawyers.

But what's the actual concern here, it would be an uphill battle to fire your attorneys at this point, but it would cause a mini delay because the court won't be cautious about listening to the evidence.

COATES: And, of course, the court might very well know that this would be a delay tactic unless there was some real legitimate reason to fire his attorneys. And the plural part is important here because maybe you have an issue with one, but you've got others you could rely on as well, so maybe having more than one. But do you think Trump would do that? You represented Trump in the past. Would he fire his attorneys?

PARLATORE: I don't think so. Not at this point because it's not going to derail the trial. And, you know, in New York, you have to have judicial approval for a lawyer to be removed from the case. And so, unless he came in there, you know, tomorrow and said, hey, judge, I want to fire these people and I have a new lawyer that's ready to go without any delay, the judge is going to say no.

COATES: Hmm. Okay. Well, Dan from Boise, Idaho, you got a question. Hey, Dan.

DAN, CALLER FROM BOISE, IDAHO (via telephone): Thank you for taking my call.


DAN (via telephone): Doesn't defendant -- doesn't defendant Donald Trump have the final decision and say as to whether he takes the stand to testify? And if that's true, he can and will testify even if his lawyers advised against it?

COATES: He does have the final say. In this case, he does have the ability to testify or not testify. And the reverse is true. If they're telling him, you absolutely have to get on the stand, he could very well say no, I don't want to do it. There's a lot of risk when you're up there.


In fact, we've already had a hearing recently that talks about what kinds of things he could be asked about, including prior convictions or prior civil judgments or the E. Jean Carroll, liability findings as well. All that could come into play. And you got the wild card of having to maintain your composure, not open Pandora's box, and all these things are very well possible to happen.

But, of course, it's up to him in the end to do so, and even whether to really put on a case more broadly because it's the prosecution's burden to prove, not his to prove, that he is innocent.

But would you, Tim, having advised him in the past, would you tell him to testify under any circumstances?

PARLATORE: Under any circumstance? I don't want to be absolute with this.

COATES: Oh, you're such a lawyer.

PARLATORE: Under the circumstances as they exist right now, absolutely not.

COATES: When would you say he should?

PARLATORE: If at the end of the government's case and at the end of the rest of the defense case, if there is some, you know, final point that the only way you can make it is by having the defendant get up and personally say it, and it's worth the gamble, then -- then yes. But barring that, it is only risky.

COATES: Molly, Marcus, Tim, thank you so much for helping to answer these great, great questions. Thanks to everyone who called in. If you have a question you'd like to answer on the upcoming Trump trial, you know what? We'd love to hear from you. Submit your questions at

Thank you all so much for watching. Our coverage continues.