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Laura Coates Live

Trump's Hush Money Trial Wraps After Witnesses Testify; CNN Interviews Amie Parnes; Photographer Discusses Snapping Trump; Biden Says He is Happy to Debate Trump. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 26, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm Laura Coates alongside Abby Phillip and our panel here in Washington for a special edition of LAURA COATES LIVE. We're at the end of a very long week in the Trump hush money trial. You know, court is actually dark on Monday, but they will get going again on Tuesday morning at 9.30.

So just what exactly will jurors take away from what they heard in court today, and what are they going to be thinking about over their long weekend? Well, there were three witnesses who took the stand today. You had David Pecker, who wrapped up more than 10 hours of testimony over a period of four days, also Trump's former longtime assistant, Rhona Graff, who was only on the stand for what, a half an hour? And then Michael Cohen's former banker, Gary Farro, who is second to continue testifying this coming Tuesday.

And the prosecution wants jurors to remember Pecker's testimony, that his intention was to never publish Karen McDougal's story of an alleged affair with Trump. From the transcript, he said, "Had you published a story about a Playboy model having a year-long sexual affair, while he was married, with a presidential candidate, would that have sold magazines do you think?" His answer? "Yes." "That would be like National Enquirer gold?" "Yes." Going on to say, "And despite the fact that publishing that story would have helped your bottom line, you killed the story because it helped the candidate, Donald Trump?" "Yes."

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And then there was Rhona Graff, Trump's longtime gatekeeper over at the Trump Organization. Her desk was, at one point, just outside of Trump's office. From the defense's standpoint, she was there to show what you might call a kinder, gentler version of her boss.

She testified that, "Sometimes, if it was a long day in the office, I appreciated it, that he joked, he poked his head in and would say, 'go home to your family.' It was very thoughtful of him."

She also confirmed that he kept contact information for Karen McDougal and for Stormy Daniels, who she said she saw at Trump Tower and assumed that she was being considered for "Celebrity Apprentice." From the transcript, "Am I correct that prior to Stormy Daniels coming up to the office at Trump Tower, you recall hearing President Trump discuss whether Stormy Daniels would be a good contestant?" Answer, "I vaguely recall hearing him say that she was one of the people who may be an interesting contestant on that show."

COATES: Hmm. And then last up today, you had Michael Cohen's former banker, Gary Farro, a connect-the-dots kind of witness, who said that Cohen coordinated with him to try to create an account for an LLC that Cohen would use to pay Stormy Daniels at $130,000.

Now, from the transcript, "Did he tell you what the new account would be for?" Answer, "The same. For real estate." "And did he express any type of urgency in opening the account?" Answer, "Every time Michael Cohen spoke to me, he gave a sense of urgency." "And this is one of those times?" Answer, "This is one of those times."

Let's talk about it now with former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi, he represented Keith Davidson, who actually negotiated the NDAs with Karen McDougal and also Stormy Daniels, former Trump attorney Tim Parlatore, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, former Republican senior congressional advisor Rina Shah, and law enforcement reporter for "The Washington Post," Devlin Barrett, the author -- the co-author of the "Trump Trials Newsletter."

So, I want to begin with this idea of Gary Farro because his testimony, in many respects, was one I think that people may not have anticipated. They were thinking about a Michael Cohen, a Stormy Daniels. They were thinking about, of course, David Pecker, maybe Karen McDougal. Talk to me about the decision to have this person testify. What was the weight of it?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, number one, it was a Friday, and they did not --


UNKNOWN: I agree.

WILLIAMS: I mean that. It would not have been in the interest of the prosecutors to call a big, splashy witness who they would have had an hour of testimony with, and then had to cut off and resume on Tuesday, not even Monday, so number one.

Number two, not all witnesses at trials, and you, half of us here know this very well, not all witnesses at trials are splashy fact witnesses. You need people to come and talk about business practices, documents, and so on. Someone like him could do that. Not unlike Rhona Graff did today. We can talk about her a bit, too.


She was only up for less than an hour on just a very few specific points and that's it. That's not a bad thing and it kept the pacing of the trial going. COATES: You know, let's talk about Rhona Graff. That was really interesting to me in particular because, first of all, the experience of Donald Trump to be in this courtroom, having long-term associates like David Pecker, and then somebody who worked for him for 34 years, they were so close that she actually was on the platform for the inauguration she talked about. That's how close the relationship was, and many identified her as sort of the gatekeeper. If you want to talk to him, talk to Rhona.

Here she is saying, I don't want to be here. She's there from a subpoena. What impact did her testimony have?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I mean, I think that, you know, she connected a couple of dots for the prosecution. But I think she was also a very effective defense witness because you have to remember, New Yorkers, especially the New Yorkers who have been there for a while, you know, these are people that, chances are, they voted for Mayor Giuliani. They know Donald Trump from back when he was a real estate guy, from back when he did the "Celebrity Apprentice."

She kind of has the opportunity to humanize him and to remind people of those old days of when he was that real estate developer.

COATES: But why was the humanizing part so important? She talked about him as -- that he respected her intelligence. She wouldn't have been there for 34 years had he hadn't.


COATES: He was a kind person. He was a fair boss. It was never a boring day. It was a stimulating environment for her. What was the impact of her saying that about him, given the context of this case?

PARLATORE: I mean, I think it goes to, you know, take the jurors and take a little bit of that prejudice out of it to remind them of what kind of person he was and what type of, you know, New Yorker they remember him as, to maybe, you know, take people back a little bit.

So, I do think that they were quite effective at that. Obviously, it was important to kind of explain, you know, why is Stormy Daniels in that, you know, in the context, which, again, gives them an opportunity to go back and talk about "The Apprentice."

WILLIAMS: It wasn't even their witness.


PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, but Devlin, for the prosecution, though, I mean, what did she do for them?

DEVLIN BARRETT, LAW ENFORCEMENT REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I disagree a little bit with Ellie, and then I think a lot of prosecutors try to have like a big hitter witness on the end of a Friday because that stays with jurors and, especially, you're talking about a long weekend, it saves them extra-long. I think there was one really telling moment in the courtroom with Rhona, and that's when she was leaving the witness stand, she -- Trump tried to shake her hand and Rhona sort of understood this is not the time or place for that. I think that's important, Abby, because jurors spend so much time and energy focused on these interactions of people.

Jurors can't be told the law, they don't know a lot of the intricacies of what's going on, but they really focus in on how everyone interacts with each other. I think that moment in front of the jury says a lot about how Trump is trying to humanize himself and about how the people around him, even people like Rhona, who are sympathetic to him, are like, hey, man, this is cool.

COATES: I mean, I hate that picture when she went -- I mean, we got to pantomime this. Go ahead, roleplay that. What happened?

BARRETT: So, he reaches to shake her hand, and she sort of acknowledges him. But she's not reaching back because she understands in that moment, like, it's not a big -- it's not a big well, but she understands that moment, like, we're not like hugging it out here.

PHILLIP: I feel like if I were the defense, I'd be like, oh, my God, why would you do that? Because it almost suggests that he is trying to kind of flutter --


PHILLIP: -- her up.

BARRETT (ph): Right.

COATES: Well, they are paying for her attorney.

ROSSI: You brought up a great point.

COATES: Now, remember, Gene, they are they are paying for her counsel.

ROSSI: I'm just going to mention it. Elliot knows this. Jurors watch everything --

WILLIAMS: Everything.

ROSSI: -- in a courtroom. I had a trial, that was six weeks, and we found out later jurors were talking about the hairdo of my lead agent, special agent. They look at everything. And when they saw Trump try to shake her hand, guaranteed if they do a poll or an interview of these jurors, half those jurors will see that moment and say that was weird. And the reason it's weird, he's paying for her attorney. And when he did -- when he tried to shake her hand, that's a subtle way of witness intimidation. If I'm a juror, it's not violence, but it's kind of like, hey, I like --

COATES: You don't think so, Tim.

PARLATORE: I don't know about the witness intimidation. I do agree that it's a terrible look.

ROSSI: Not intimidation, but influence.

PARLATORE: It's definitely not something you'd want to do. It's something that I would definitely, you know, counsel my clients never to do because every single thing, from the moment you get up in the morning to the moment you get back into your apartment at night, a juror can see. And, you know, jurors have made decisions based on things they see on the street.

And so, the idea that this happens right in front of the jury is awful. You know, I mean, even if she had received him well, it's not a good look. You know, I think either way, it's better for you to just sit there --

PHILLIP: He can't help himself.



SHAH: Because he thinks he owns everyone.


SHAH: And that is always the look for him.

ROSSI: That's the point.

SHAH: I got to show that ownership.


And if it's not ownership, it's loyalty, because let's not forget how much he demands loyalty of everybody that's ever been in his universe. And so that, to me, is sort of a moment of, like, how much is that hitting the people on the jury, each individual's consciousness, right, of what is this moment between Trump and a former, you know, a person that was very close, it seems, to everything that happened in his life, especially these salacious, very private moments.

But I think when you're talking about the messaging of all this and how it really hits the average person looking at this trial, particularly those who are right of center, they just see this as a further dissection of a private life that doesn't need to be dissected. I find that highly problematic.

COATES: Well, you know, everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about on this because there's also an exclusive interview tonight with Kaitlan Collins on CNN. The former attorney general, Bill Barr, saying that not only would he vote for Trump, but he also suggests, maybe to the point we're talking about, maybe how jurors in the court of public opinion might see this, he thinks they're very sympathetic towards Trump. We'll get our panel to react to that as well.

And by the way, if you might recall, Bill Barr, yeah, he's the one who criticized Trump's actions on January 6th. And even after the former president mocked him on social media earlier this week, saying in part -- quote -- "Bill Barr has just endorsed me for president despite the fact that I called him 'weak, slow moving, lethargic, gutless and lazy.' Based on the fact that I greatly appreciate his wholehearted endorsement, I am removing the word 'lethargic' from my statement."

Listen to what Bill Barr said to Kaitlan Collins.


WILLIAM BARR, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm very disappointed that this country is stuck with this choice between two people. I don't think either of them should be president of the United States. But given that binary choice, I feel I have to choose Trump.


BARR: So? It's not about me.

COLLINS: You said recently, which was that, you know, the conduct that was involved with Donald Trump, you said trying to subvert and prevent the progress, the execution of probably the most important process we have, which is the peaceful transfer of power after an election. Name one thing that Biden has done that's worse than that.

BARR: I think his whole administration is a disaster for the country.

COLLINS: Is worse than subverting the peaceful transfer of power?

BARR: Did he succeed?

COLLINS: Only because Vice President Mike Pence stood in the way. And now, the people who are lining up to be VP again say that they will not do what Mike Pence did.

BARR: Look, I was very loud in saying I thought it was a whole -- the whole episode was shameful. And I'm very troubled by it. That's why it's not an easy decision. But I think when you have a Hobson's choice, you have to pick the lesser of two evils.


COATES: Well, he was not lethargic in that.

PHILLIP: You could call it that.


COATES: To say you have that one word (ph).

PHILLIP: There are some other things you could describe that. I mean, it is pretty amazing that we are here. I mean, we were just discussing this arena. I mean, Bill Barr continues to astound. The other interesting thing is that he doesn't actually ever have to come out and say these things. And yet he does. He could keep it to himself.

COATES: After he's being mocked this way.

SHAH: Yeah.


PHILLIP: It is interesting that he does choose to come out. I mean, on television, he's -- what, the second or third time in a week?

SHAH: Like he doesn't have to do this, but he's -- he wants to show America that there is a step that's too far when you vote for Joe Biden. And I want to be honest when I say this. I think there's a real fear of a President Harris. And I think there's a misogyny that's rooted there. I think there's a fear of the unknown because they just don't know what she'll represent. I've heard it in private conversations with many Republicans.

And look, people say to me, well, what was it like working in the party for 15, 20 years growing up in it? You must have heard a lot of misogyny. And I said, well, you know, I don't look at it that way. But what I've heard in recent years, particularly in the past year, when we talk about Biden's age being at the fore, is a deep hatred for Kamala Harris, and therefore painting Biden out to be the worst choice of the two.

So, again, coming out and saying that I am so sure about this choice, it's a lesser of two evils, it shows me that he doesn't really believe in the rule of law. He doesn't believe in a country in which we look at two candidates and we say one is for upholding what our founders wanted and the others for tearing it down. It's a binary choice. He's not willing to make it.

PHILLIP: Devlin, I'm curious about the other part of this, which is actually about Bill Barr himself. I mean, you covered DOJ. Bill Barr was, for a lot of liberals, considered to be someone who would basically kind of rubber stamp Donald Trump. He had a moment toward the end there where he wouldn't do that. But now he's back. He's come back around in this way. Think about what the next Trump attorney general could look like.


If it's not a Bill Barr, what is it? And are people inside the DOJ asking that question of themselves and wondering what it could mean for that agency?

BARRETT: Abby, I think about that a lot. I think a lot of people in DOJ have spent the last two plus years trying to build a system that could survive or at least the things that they care the most about would survive in sort of, you know, whoever the next attorney general would be. When Bill Barr was selected by Trump originally, a lot of the Republicans I spoke to in the legal community said, well, at least we didn't get Jeanine Pirro.


And I think that the next iteration of this, should Trump become president, would not be Bill Barr. It won't be anyone with ties to the Federalist Society or any of the sort of more traditional conservative legal circles. It will be someone who is more of a rabble rouser, someone who's more intense and wants to break more China, to put it mildly.

And so, I think there is a lot of concern about that. There is a lot of effort within this Justice Department leadership to try and, you know, put a lot of bubble wrap around that China as much as they can.

PHILLIP: Is that working?

COATES: You know, what strikes me, though, this is in some ways a commentary. I think a lot of people criticize the notion of a two- party system, right? That this idea of the either or, that, you know, you could be an appointee of Donald Trump in a position that's not even an obscure cabinet official, right?

You were the attorney general of the United States. You've seen two different presidents. You've served under different presidents. And you've said he should be nowhere near the Oval Office. You don't believe in him. You have criticized him to no end about his policies, about his character in the office. And yet you see, well, look, my only choice is a Democrat or him. So, I got to go with the Republican.

And there are a number of people like Ambassador Bolton who would say famously -- you know, he wrote in someone else. He didn't want to say what he wanted to do because he was acknowledging that what he could not just sort of hold one nose and swallow. That just to me is a real criticism or a real, you know, exploratory notion of how closely we are tied to the idea of a two-party system.

WILLIAMS: Well, and, you know, and having served under both Republican and Democratic presidents in the Justice Department, what's really interesting is that, yes, and Devin was talking about this a little bit, there are shifts a little bit in sort -- like the Civil Rights Division will prosecute different types of cases under different administrations. And that's fine.

But the difference is both parties, at least the ones that I serve, Democratic and Republican, respected the institution and its goals and its aims. And the next sort of Trump attorney general simply won't. And that's not -- I mean, I'm not even -- it's not even a criticism. It's a fact. It is -- he will bring in someone that does not believe that --

PHILLIP: They've said so pretty explicitly.


PHILLIP: I mean, the idea is to turn the place on its head.


PHILLIP: And perhaps starting with DOJ. We have to take a quick break here. So, everyone, stand by for us. Donald Trump is blaming his hush money trial for keeping him from celebrating Melania, his wife's birthday.

And up next, there's some new reporting about her absence from the courtroom and also from the campaign.

COATES: And it's one of the photos that is going to go down in history. Donald Trump sitting at his criminal trial. You know, I got the photographer who snapped it with us tonight.





DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to start by wishing my wife, Melania, a very happy birthday. Nice to be with her, but I'm in a courthouse for a rigged trial. I'll be going there this evening after this case finishes up, this horrible, unconstitutional case.


PHILLIP: That was Donald Trump today as he entered the courthouse. And that is not all he had to say publicly about his wife's birthday. He's also fundraising off of it, sending out this text to his followers -- quote -- "I'd love to be with Melania on her birthday, but instead I'm stuck in court."

Now, I want to bring in Amie Parnes. She's a senior correspondent with "The Hill." Amie, I guess we could ask why Melania is not in court, but we know why. This is a trial that is about porn stars and affairs and whatnot. So, when Trump wishes her a happy birthday and says he wants to be with her, what's really going on behind the scenes?

AMIE PARNES, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: That's the thing, Abby. The irony there is pretty big. And I think that when -- you know, when you talk to people, and I have, I reported extensively for a story I just wrote, they -- you know, she supports him. She supports him politically. I don't think she supports him, obviously, in what he's going through right now.

I think the Stormy Daniels thing is one thing. I think she's very hurt. And a lot of sources have told me she's very hurt by the Karen McDougal aspect of the case. And, you know, that was something where he professed -- where she professed some love for him and it was ongoing. She came into their home.

So, I think a lot of this is very awkward. I've heard from some sources that she's watching the trial, obviously not very happy about some aspects of it.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, why would she be? There's also, though, the issue of the campaign trail. Even before all of this, she has been completely absent, really. Why is that? And will that change? PARNES: I don't expect -- when I talk to sources about this, she said, stay tuned. When she was asked by a reporter last month when she was voting with her husband, alongside her husband in Palm Beach, a reporter asked her, are you going to be on there? Are you going to return to the campaign trail? And she said, stay tuned. And she smiled and people thought, well, maybe she will be.

So far, she has only done one fundraiser last week at Mar-a-Lago. She wasn't really going that far. It was at their residence. And a lot of people don't expect -- people close to her who are familiar with her views on the political stage are basically telling us that they don't expect her to do much in terms of campaigning.


It's just not her thing. She has taken a very non-traditional role as a First Lady and as a campaigner in chief's wife.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, look, she wasn't exactly the most, you know, omnipresent campaigner any of the times that he ran for president. But a lot of Trump's family has taken a step back from this particular campaign. The other thing about Melania Trump is that she and Trump actually were very close when it came to seeing eye to eye on the policy, sometimes on the strategy, even on the tone of some of the things that he did. Do you get the sense that she still has that kind of influence over his thinking and over kind of how he approaches the things that come his way?

PARNES: She does. She has his ear. And he listens to her for the most part. He takes it seriously. She has been bandying about names, for instance, on who he should pick for vice president. She did that in the past. Every time there's an issue that comes up, she gets right in his ear and talks to him about it, according to sources. So, she's still very much involved. She's still very much in the mix. Although she doesn't really deal with the campaign on this, she will go straight to her husband.

PHILLIP: I mean, I would not expect anything less of a wife, I would think, right Amie Parnes, good to see you. Thank you.

PARNES: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: And our panel is back with us. Gene, the absence of Melania and really any other family members of Donald Trump's in a trial in general, but maybe not so much in a trial like this, what does it mean?

ROSSI: I'm going to defend Donald Trump on this one strongly. When you have a case like this, where obviously it's salacious, it's hush money and all that, I think a jury would see the presence of her family and Melania as a little bit uncomfortable. I've had -- I did a lot of prosecutions, and in certain cases, you don't want your family there.

So, if she's not in a courtroom, I don't think that sends any message other than they don't want to embarrass Melania by listening to David Pecker. Can you imagine if she were in a courtroom hearing all this or she is in a courtroom with Stormy Daniels? It would make anybody, an R, a D, or an independent or a vegetarian uncomfortable. And I got to say this about Melania. I'm a D, of course, but I really feel sorry for her because she's going through a hard time, a hard time.

PHILLIP: I mean, we were just talking about how the jury is -- you know, they have nothing else to do but watch the room like a hawk.

ROSSI: Exactly.

PHILLIP: Can you imagine what it would be like to have the man's wife sitting there in the audience? What a thing to be able to look at as all of this is being read and said.

PARLATORE: Exactly. I mean, he's absolutely right. It is something that's unnecessary, it's uncomfortable, it's something you don't want to put her through, and it's something that could potentially have a negative impact on the jury.

And so, I understand that. I mean, I know that she does support him very much. She made a point back when I was there to, you know, call me and Jim Trusty over to talk to us, to meet us, and, you know, to show her support for what we were doing. Absolutely wonderful person. I loved meeting her. I was terrified when she called me over, but other than that --


So, I do think it makes sense.

COATES: You know, I guess I could see a different approach to this. And on the one hand, there could be jurors who are looking at this and saying, well, if she doesn't -- if she's not here, she doesn't believe him. Number one. One part.

The other part of it, it could be, and this is -- juries can speculate about this. Other part could be, if I'm defense counsel, I may very well not want any member of the family in the courtroom so that I can turn for closing arguments otherwise and say, you know why the family is not here? This is exactly what he was trying to avoid when he did "catch and kill" stories.

Your point earlier today -- fine, all of this he did. Fine, they were "catch and kill" and everything else. Well, he was trying to prevent the embarrassment to his family. They can't even be in the courtroom. That's how awful this is for them, to hear this. Now, that may or may not be true for this family, but it would be a strategic tactic for the defense to try to point it out. I don't know how it plays, but it's a possibility.

WILLIAMS: No, that's interesting. So, I think a couple of things. One, and I've seen it, you see it in mob cases, you see it when you have the family members in the room. Naturally, they can't help but react and often react very loudly.

(LAUGHTER) They do. And it's hurtful to watch someone you love be beaten up and picked apart and talked about in a horrible way. So, number one, it's just creating an uncertainty that's not good.


Two, you know, I do wonder with such high-profile figures if injecting her into the courtroom creates something that then you would have had to ask the jury about at jury selection. Do you have a strong opinion about the president's family, not just the president himself?

Now, normally, that wouldn't be a basis for throwing out a conviction, but these are such outsized figures that it's at least worth the question and, you know, it wouldn't be out of the question for the prosecutors to at least want to raise it.

PHILLIP: Do they -- does she --

ROSSI: Well, no.

WILLIAMS: I mean, it's not --

ROSSI: I think -- I think the jury questionnaire covered the Trump family and Donald Trump.

COATES: But not one member of the family. Not just Melania.

ROSSI: No, no. I think --

COATES: -- has been here. But not just Melania. None of the family.

ROSSI: No, no. What I'm saying is asking a jury, their feelings about the family, not him. I think that was part.

BARRETT: I think you have to think of another way of thinking about this problem, which is unique to this defendant, which is, if he has his family behind him, any members of his family, his own behavior may change because of the types of things being talked about here.

We saw in E. Jean Carroll that he can get worked up and that he can be his own worst enemy in a courtroom in front of a jury, in front of a judge. If his family is sitting behind him while some of these things are being talked about, I don't know, Tim would know far better than me. I'm not assuming to get in the man's brain but, like, I would worry as his lawyer that my client might be a problem if his family is behind.

PARLATORE: There are so many, so many different, you know, unmitigated risks of having her there. And -- I mean, suffice to say, I do believe that she supports him through this, based on my experience, but as a trial lawyer, as much as I like having the families there, I've had the same experiences, as you described, where sometimes I've had to turn around and tell the wife, hey, sit down, you know, try -- try and keep a straight face. But in this case, it's such a complex web of un-mitigatable risk. SHAH: I disagree. I mean, I think we're forgetting who we're talking about here. This is probably one of the only first ladies in modern history who is devoid of any expression on her face most times she's out in public. I mean, to me, she has never been a stand-by-your-man type of person. And we had four years to see that.

And I never really saw the empathetic behavior of a truly caring, loving spouse that was putting out the hand, that was even doing the public shows, if you will, of any affection. I mean, she famously swatted his hand away one time. Again, the lack of expression.

And let's not forget the jacket she wore to the children's detention center at the border. "I don't really care. Do you?" This is who Melania Trump is in a nutshell. I mean, her family and she have always had a meal ticket to Donald -- through Donald Trump to this great life in this country. She likes that life. She's private about that life. I don't think she really cares that she doesn't have to be at that trial.

PARLATORE: Assuming that what you're saying is true, yeah, I'm not necessarily agreeing with you, but even that is yet another un- mitigatable risk of having her n the court.

SHAH: Sure. Yeah.

COATES: Well, a lot more. Guess there's some opinions tonight.


Stick around, everyone. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. With no video cameras inside Trump's hush money trial, this might be worth all the much more. The photographer who snaps the former president in the courtroom joins us next.




COATES: You know, Donald Trump is a man who ever -- never actually shies away from the camera. Case in point, the mugshot. Now, the average person might not want the world to see something like this, but not Trump. He's used this image, the first mugshot of an American president, as a fundraising and campaign tool.

You know, it's happening again now. Here we are, a smack dab in the middle of Trump's hush money trial. Well, maybe the middle. But every opportunity he gets to mug for the cameras on his daily jaunt to the courthouse hallways, he certainly takes. He glares at the cameras for daily photos inside the courtroom.

But if you were hungry for more, this is all you're going to get, because video cameras are not allowed inside that courtroom. So, the best we've got to show is a history making trial through the eyes of my next guest. Joining us now, Curtis Means, photographer for "The Daily Mail." Curtis, I'm so glad that you're here. You have taken some of the most consequential and historic pictures now that we might ever see from an American president standing trial. I've just got to know, not many people can get as close as you've been able to get, and I'm wondering what's happening at the time you're taking these photographs. Is he -- is he glaring? Is his demeanor that way when you're taking it? What's going on in that moment?

CURTIS MEANS, PHOTOGRAPHER, DAILY MAIL: So, when we -- when we entered the courtroom, we immediately get in front of the defendant's desk, in front of the desk, as you see in this image here. He basically looks directly into the cameras. I think he's very, very used to the cameras being focused on him, and so he knows where to look. He looks from one, you know, one photographer to another photographer to another photographer, always making sure. To me, it seems that he's -- you know, he's always making sure that he's making eye contact with the photographers.

COATES: Now, you guys are only showing us the pictures when he's not smiling. I'm assuming he's not smiling. His demeanor is not changing. It's this, as you say.

MEANS: Right. I mean, sometimes, he's smiling. Sometimes, he's not smiling. And so, a lot of -- we edit the pictures, obviously. So sometimes, we put some of the pictures that is smiling in. Sometimes, he's not smiling, so --

COATES: You edit the pictures. You mean you just -- you choose which one --

MEANS: We choose which one. Yeah, exactly.

COATES: Got it. So, can you explain what it's like?


I mean, when you're in this courtroom, one of the big concerns that the judge certainly had and jurors being selected had was the idea that their anonymity would be compromised. You have a camera in the courtroom when Trump is there, but not when the jury is present, right?

MEANS: That is correct. Exactly. Nor do we shoot any of the jurors when they're in the hallway. So, during the jury selection process, we always had our cameras down when the jurors were passing by the photographer's pen. So, we never, ever focused any cameras on any jurors.

COATES: Can you explain how you actually get into the courtroom as a journalist photographer? What is that process like?

MEANS: So, we arrive at the court. Several photographers arrive at the court earlier in the morning. We're in a pool situation and our names are already on a list, which is given to the court administrators and the court officers. We check in in the front of the courthouse, we wait there for a couple of minutes, and then we go through a magnetometer downstairs.

Most of the time when we're in the courts, though, if you work in the courts daily, you have what we call a hard pass, a secure pass, which allows you to go past the magnetometers. But in the case of Trump, we have to go -- everyone has to go through the magnetometers, whether you have a secure pass or not.

Once you get past that first set of magnetometers, you're escorted into an elevator up to the floor where the case is happening, you go through another series of magnetometers, and then you go into a pit to get set up for his arrival.

COATES: What has it been like for you capturing history?

MEANS: It is -- it is very surreal, I have to say. I mean, obviously it's an honor, but it is very surreal to be shooting a former president in a criminal trial.

COATES: Have you noticed, by the way, on any particular day that his demeanor has been different from the other days you have photographed him? And if so, when?

MEANS: Well, it seems to me, and this is only my take, it seems to me, as time is going by, he seems to be looking a little tired, like, you know, I guess this must be wearing on him.

COATES: Have you noticed him sleeping?

MEANS: We're not in the courtroom. It will be the reporters who would notice him sleeping. Once we finish taking our series of pictures of him when he arrives, the jury comes in and we're escorted out of the courtroom. So, we never actually get to see that.

COATES: And does he ever speak with you when you're taking the photographs?

MEANS: He will nod. He will acknowledge you. I think he's kind of used to the group of photographers that are coming in, you know, shooting him every day. And he -- I mean, he's cordial. He nods and acknowledges you.

COATES: All right, I got to ask this question because you can't capture this in the picture. Is it really as cold as they keep complaining about in this courtroom, Curtis?

MEANS: I've been in that courtroom several times and it's not cold.


I mean, maybe we need to raise the humidity level up to Florida standards.

COATES: There you go. It's okay, it's hot, but it's a dry heat. I guess it's cold --

MEANS: It's dry, yeah. COATES: -- but it's not a moist one. Okay, that's the way I think about it. Curtis Means, we're looking at your photographs and really the moment that you're capturing. We've never seen anything like it before. And here we are in this historic moment, and you are the man behind the lens. Thank you so much for joining us.

MEANS: Thank you for having me. Thanks so much.

COATES: Well, a big announcement from President Biden.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): I don't know if you're going to debate your -- your opponent.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I am somewhere. I don't know when. I'm happy to debate him.


COATES: Well, now, Donald Trump is responding with a venue suggestion that's raising some eyebrows. That's next.





TRUMP: I've invited Biden to debate. He can do it anytime he wants, including tonight. Ready? Here we are. I invited him to the courthouse. Just tell me where. We'll do it at the White House. That would be very comfortable, actually.


PHILLIP: A face-off at the White House isn't exactly going to happen. But Donald Trump and the president appear to be ready to actually debate in 2024. After previously saying that it would depend on Trump's behavior, Biden today told Howard Stern that he is -- quote -- "happy to face off against Trump." When and where? Well, that is to be determined.

COATES: Remember, in normal times, there are three presidential debates during an election cycle. In 2020, there happened to have only been two. One was because Trump had COVID and, of course, it was canceled.

Joining the panel now, Meghan Hays, former special assistant to President Biden, and senior data reporter Harry Enten is here as well. Harry, this was a thing. Remind us what happened when the two debated back in 2020.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I believe there was a certain term you might use that we can't use on our air. So, I'll merely say it was a crap show.


It was absolutely -- I remember I was sitting on my buddy Noem's couch because the fact was we had limited contact with people because, remember, it was during COVID.

COATES: As in Governor Noem?

ENTEN: No, no, no. I like dogs --

COATES: Your buddy Noem. I heard it.

ENTEN: I like dogs and I was staying with someone who likes dogs. So, it wasn't Governor Noem, it was my buddy Noem Dorman (ph). Either way, I remember sitting on his couch and just watching the two of them go at it, and Donald Trump just interrupting it every single term. In fact, the tally showed that Donald Trump interrupted either Joe Biden or moderator Chris Wallace north of 90 times during that debate.

It was the nuttiest thing I've ever seen. Afterwards, there were curse words flying on CNN. And it isn't so surprising when you go back and watch some of those interruptions. I believe I have some of those. So, let's take a listen.


BIDEN: What does it mean for them going forward if you strike down the Affordable Care Act?

TRUMP: Joe, you've had 308,000 military people dying because you couldn't provide them proper health care. What did he do with Burisma --

BIDEN: None of that is true.

TRUMP: -- to deserve $183,000?

BIDEN: None of that is true.

CHRIS WALLACE, BROADCAST JOURNALIST: You've asked a question, let him answer.

BIDEN: None of that is true.

TRUMP: Oh, really? He didn't get --

WALLACE: Mr. President --

BIDEN: The question is --

TRUMP: -- Supreme Court justice, radical left.

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?

[23:50:00] TRUMP: Listen, who is on your list, Joe?

BIDEN: This is so --

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I think --

BIDEN: This is so unprecedented.


COATES: Whew. I remember that.

PHILLIP: I know. It really did bring you right back to that moment. What a time for this country. I mean, Trump, we've seen him with Biden, we've seen him with Hillary Clinton. What do the voters think when they see Trump and his demeanor? It's a very specific, aggressive demeanor on that debate stage.

ENTEN: It absolutely is. You know, I think we have these memories of Trump, you know, squashing all over Jeb Bush and those fellow Republicans during 2016. We get this idea that the debates helped Trump. But that has not, in fact, been the case during the general election.

If you go back to 2016, you go back to 2020, the first debates, and you look at the difference in the polls before the debates and afterwards, you see actual bumps for Hillary Clinton on the order of about five points in 2016, four points for Joe Biden during 2020.

So, yeah, those debates were absolutely crazy. They were quite entertaining. But at the end of the day, did they help Donald Trump? No, they did not, at least according to the polling data.

COATES: Meghan, there are those who say, though, including former speechwriter for President Bush, wrote in "The Atlantic," David Frum, that Biden should not debate Trump. And here's why. He said -- quote -- "President Biden's spokesperson should answer like this: 'The Constitution is not debatable. The president does not participate in forums with a person under criminal indictment for his attempt to overthrow the Constitution.'" Do you co-sign that advice?

MEGHAN HAYS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I mean, whether or not the president debates, it's really irrelevant. I think the problem here is that Donald Trump just talks and lies. And so, it leaves Joe Biden in a really awkward position because what are you supposed to do, interrupt every time like we saw in 2020, or do you just continue to correct him every single time? That gets exhausting, right? Nobody wants to see that.

That doesn't help anybody. To your point, it doesn't help in the polls for him. I'm not sure why Donald Trump wants to debate him. I think it's just all normal rhetoric that he's just continuing to say. And I don't actually think that he has any interest in debating Joe Biden.

COATES: He probably wants a side-by-side because if his perception is that Joe Biden is not as strong as him, has issues with his either memory or other demeanor issues, he wants that side-by-side. But is that Biden avoiding that side-by-side or Trump?

HAYS: I don't think that Donald Trump wants that side-by-side when he gets down to it. He's four years younger. That is not different when you are 70-something years old. They are the same age. They have the same issues. But the issue here is that Donald Trump talks and lies. And so, what is the president supposed to do at that point?

And I don't think it actually is going to help him in the polling. So, I think that he's going to avoid it. He also dropped out of the Presidential Debate Commission. He has no interest in debating Joe Biden.

PHILLIP: So, on a slightly different topic, RFK, Jr. was on Bill Maher tonight, and he was asked about being a spoiler candidate. Listen to what he said.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot of times people, liberals who I know of, friends, say to me, you need to get out of the race to let Biden run because, otherwise, President Trump is going to win. They never say to me, let Biden run because he has the cognitive capacity and the vigor and the energy and a vision for a future that's going to really change things.


PHILLIP: I mean, sure, but also, can he win? Because I haven't seen evidence that he can.

SHAH: Well, I mean, number one, the ballot issue is a problem. But also, what's he talking about these days that's promising, hopeful, interjects between the two of these people? Because look, I think if Biden were to get in a debate with Trump, he could -- well, if he brings a version of himself that he brought to the last State of the Union, he could do some really good there. But he could tear down that presumption of innocence that Donald Trump enjoys every day of the week right now. Biden could do that.

Where's RFK on all of this? He has had many entry points, and he makes none. It's all of this talk. In fact, it's actually very self- centered. If you listen to RFK, Jr., it's all about, well, everybody wants something else, but what are you for? Because at the end of the day, what we saw in 2016 that first time, and what we kind of saw in 2022 from Biden, people want an action. And I go back to that build-a- wall language.

So, RFK, Jr. needs to give something tangible. At this point, it's just all a lot of talk, hype, and again, no ballot access enough to really make a difference.

COATES: You know, also, I mean, just thinking about if it's -- if it is, in fact, going to be Trump, and it is Trump and it isn't Biden, who is going to be the running mate for Donald Trump? I mean, the deep stakes are continuing. It heads to Mar-a-Lago, by the way, next Friday. And all of these Republicans, by the way, who are reportedly on Trump's VIP shortlist, are going to be attending. I don't know if this is going to be like a Hunger Games scenario or something else or anything. I don't know what it's going to be, but it feels like an episode of "Succession" or "Game of Thrones," Harry.

ENTEN: It feels like something is cooking, I'll tell you that much. Look, this to me is so interesting because it's not just about picking the VP for this time around. If Donald Trump wins and the polls in the swing states suggest that he has a very good shot of doing that, this is setting up the Republican nominee for next time around.


But in terms of this particular cycle, let's see how low these different potential Republican VP nominees will go to defend Donald Trump. What will they say to get on Donald Trump's good side? Because we've seen a lot of people who are up here, then they try and please Donald Trump, and they end up all the way underneath the table. Will one of these VP, potential VP nominees, sort of sell themselves out to please Donald Trump? We'll just have to wait and see on the next episode of "Apprentice VP."


PHILLIP: Exactly. That's a good tease. I like that.

COATES: Thanks, everyone. And by the way, tomorrow night, don't miss CNN's live coverage of the "White House Correspondents' Dinner." Harry and I will actually be live from the red carpet with John Berman and Sara Sidner hosting, starting at 7:00 p.m.

PHILLIP: You may or may not have an Abby Phillip cameo. I don't know.

COATES: Yes! There we go. Can't wait to see it.

Thanks for watching, everyone. CNN's coverage continues with Anderson Cooper next.

PHILLIP: Goodbye.