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Laura Coates Live

Michael Cohen Testifies; Trump Allies Join Him In Court; CNN Presents "Champions For Change". Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired May 13, 2024 - 23:00   ET





DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We paid a lawyer a legal expense. A legal expense is a legal expense. It's marked down in the book -- quote -- "legal expense." It's perfectly marked down.


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Except Michael Cohen said it's not actually so perfect. The prosecution's star witness in Trump's hush money trial, he finally took the stand today.

Welcome to a special edition of "Laura Coates Live" alongside Abby Phillip right here in New York. And you know for years, Michael Cohen, he was Donald Trump's attack dog. But today, the person who made it a point to keep Trump's enemies in line, turning against his former boss in court and, of course, under oath.

Trump himself, realizing the importance of the moment, showing up with a huge entourage of political allies, including possible V.P. pick, J.D. Vance. Former president remaining quite restrained though, of course, of Cohen's testimony.

But on the other end of the courtroom, the jury was listening, they were taking notes, and the prosecution is hoping that each one of those jurors are looking past Cohen's, let's call it obvious baggage, and trying to connect the dots to see if the prosecution has built the case in the last 16 days. That is, of course, trying Donald Trump directly to the alleged criminal scheme for those 34 false business records.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: So ultimately, how did they use Michael Cohen to do that? Well, they had him speak to Trump's political motivations to silence Stormy Daniels, his approval of the scheme, and this is key, his final sign off of Cohen's reimbursement.

So, Cohen testified that once Trump learned Stormy Daniels was chopping her story, he didn't care how it would impact his wife. His only concern was the campaign. Cohen said that Trump told him -- quote -- "Women will hate me. Guys, they think it's cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign." Cohen also claims Trump told him to do what he often did for Trump, just fix it. He testified that Trump -- quote -- "stated to me that he had spoken to some friends, some individuals, very smart people, and that it's $130,000. You're like a billionaire. Just pay it. There's no reason to keep this thing out there. So, do it. And he expressed to me, just do it."

COATES: Michael Cohen eventually had to front the money himself because I guess he wasn't like a billionaire. And then near the end of today's testimony, he came full circle, bringing the entire Stormy Daniels hush money scheme right back to Donald Trump.

Cohen is saying that he went to former Trump CFO, Allen Weisselberg, in early 2017, where they agreed on the reimbursement plan. He and Allen Weisselberg gave that plan to Trump. And then Cohen says that Trump personally approved it.

Now, the prosecution asked Cohen directly whether he was being paid for future legal services, to which Cohen responded, that was what it designed to be. Then the prosecutor asked, what was it actually? With Cohen responding, reimbursement of my money.

I want to bring in CNN legal analysts Jennifer Rodgers and Michael Moore, civil and criminal defense attorney Donte Mills, courts reporter for the "New York Daily News," Molly Crane-Newman, and retired judge George Grasso.

A really important day to be with you, Judge Grasso, because you were in the courtroom today. Abby and I were as well. And you were there this morning. You were actually there the whole day. And, of course, Michael Cohen, he's known for his, let's call it a charismatic temperament, right?


COATES: Sometimes bombastic, sometimes berating. He was not presenting as that today at all. He was measured. He was calm and restrained. What did you see?

He was smooth. He told a complete story. He didn't hesitate. There weren't uncomfortable pauses. And I thought it was -- his arc was quite interesting, having -- I've been there every day. So, having heard all of the testimony firsthand. How they -- he starts with that infamous first meeting in Trump Tower with him, and Pecker and Trump, where the catch and kill scheme was plotted. And then the positive stories and the negative stories.


And he went from that arc all the way other key aspects of the case, from the doorman payment of $30,000 to the Karen McDougal payment of $150,000 to the Stormy Daniels payment of $130,000.

And where do they basically end up the plane today? Back in Trump's office, in Trump Tower with Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and now substituted for Pecker, Weisselberg, with the dynamite, the dynamite piece of evidence, the Weisselberg notes laying out the scheme that involved the false records to pay Michael Cohen $420,000, not do it as a reimbursement, but do it for bogus legal services. And Michael Cohen walked that document right into Trump.

It was fascinating, compelling testimony. There still has to be cross- examination, obviously, and this is going to be a witness subject to very serious cross-examination. But I think the prosecution team is feeling pretty good tonight. And I don't think defendant Trump is feeling that great right now.

COATES: I mean, you talked about the arc, too. And Molly, I want to get you in here because the arc that you also saw was, he talked about being honored to have been asked to work for him in the first instance, calling the Trump Organization like a family. He was almost sycophantic and wistful in the way that he described when they actually asked him, you know, how did you feel when Donald Trump would give you praise? And his voice was drilled up, I thought I was on top of the world. I mean, this is -- that's how he was beginning his story. And there he is now, face-to-face with Trump.

MOLLY CRANE-NEWMAN, MANHATTAN COURTS REPORTER, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Yeah, I think that's kind of some of the strongest emotion we saw from him when he was talking about how much of an honor it was to work for Trump and kind of describing, you know, he's always called the fixer, and we hear he was his kind of loyal lackey in many ways.

And, you know, he kind of said, when I was hired, my job was to -- my only job was to work for Donald Trump. I didn't take tasks from anybody else. And once he won the White House, I had no job. You know, he kind of described being sort of despondent once Trump won because he didn't really know what to do with himself.

And he was expecting to go to Washington with Trump. And that didn't immediately look clear. But it was quite remarkable hearing him kind of describe the better years. And, you know, when -- you know, he was sort of -- the day that this opportunity came up to work for Trump was the last day he worked for his firm, and that he moved into Ivanka's old office, and he was right by Trump at Trump Tower. Yes, that was pretty remarkable.

PHILLIP: I mean, I -- not to be Debbie Downer but --

COATES: But be Debbie Downer.


PHILLIP: -- be Debbie Downer because at the end of the day -- at the end of the day, this was -- you know, they're going to present this sort of like rose-colored case with Michael Cohen just giving all the perfect answers. But there were some things that are not going to be left unanswered, even just the kind of hearsay element of it. It's really just Michael Cohen's word that is -- that is anchoring. Actually, the biggest part of this case at this point.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, they're going to have to get into some of the bad stuff before they turn him over. They certainly don't want the defense lawyers to have the first crack at tearing down Michael Cohen. He's going to have to do some of that himself first. And they will do that tomorrow, without question.

One of the things is, you know, you talk about how he was so wistful and so positive about his time with Trump. Since then, on his podcast and in a million TV appearances and so on, he hasn't really been that way.

So, he's going to have to explain how the breach happened, how he felt, how he kind of transformed. And maybe the answer is that's a persona that he's putting on, you know, for the purposes of the podcast or whatever.

But he's going to have to own up to those feelings because they're ready. The defense is ready to pound him over the head with that, you know, a million times.

COATES: But can't both be true. I mean, just thinking about -- you know, if you're the prosecution, you really want to like freeze him in time and say, yeah, okay, he hates him now, but I'm focusing on when this all went down, right? This is the moment in time to focus on. When he -- this is the job that was done. Every -- all the bias that's developing now is after the fact. How do you play both?

DONTE MILLS, NATIONAL TRIAL ATTORNEY, MILLS AND EDWARDS, LLP: Well, you have to, because everybody starts -- in order to have a special relationship with Trump, it had to be good at some point. So, you can't disregard that. You can't ignore the fact that he was dedicated to Trump exclusively for a very, very long time. And, in fact, I mean, he's named Trump's attack dog, all of that kind of stuff. He was a bad person, but for Trump.

So even when you talk about what the cross-examination there -- of course, they're going to call him a liar, they're going to talk about his flaws, but he used those flaws to benefit the defendant that's sitting right there. So ultimately what he's going to say is, well, we did this together, we were in this together. And I saw the light. I accept the responsibility. Now, it's his turn.

PHILLIP: You mentioned the --


PHILLIP: Yeah. Okay. So, talk about the tape because this is really important.

MOORE: You can't be in love with him and tape him at the same time. That's really what happened to me.

COATES: He gives a benign reason for taping.

MOORE: There's no benign reason to say I'm taping my buddy -- I'm taping my buddy and -- who happens to be my client and who I love and worship.

[23:10:02] But I didn't tell him I taped him. And that's what's going to catch him tomorrow. He told -- you know, they're going to get him on cross- examination about all the different times that he has lied. And one of the biggest times that we saw today was that he lied in court because he said, I always told Trump what was going on. He knew everything. I was totally honest with him. I told him what happened. That's what he didn't tell him. That he was taping him. That this was a secret recording. So, he has now lied in court in this case.

COATES: Well, hold on. What he said was, if I'm remembering correctly, it was -- she asked the question, to the best of your knowledge, are you aware of whether Trump was aware that you were recording? And he said, no. So, he didn't -- like you say, I'm not -- I'm not saying it wasn't surreptitious.

MOORE: Because he didn't -- because he didn't tell him. I mean, he's got his little recorder going in private while he's having this meeting. So, you've got him now hiding something from the man he says is responsible for everything. Well, that just doesn't make sense. I mean, that doesn't fit together. Not to mention the fact that it's completely distasteful and all kind of creepy that you're taping your client.

PHILLIP: Can I just ask --I mean, the tape is all kinds of fascinating. But there is a part of the tape that makes you wonder, did Michael Cohen believe that at the time, even that Karen McDougal transaction was maybe a little bit illegal, and wanted to memorialize on the record that Donald Trump was involved and knew about it?

COATES: But what he said, though --

MILLS: -- to hold it with Trump because it will be damaging --

PHILLIP: Yeah, to hold it over Trump.

COATES: Remember, what he said was -- the explanation Michael Cohen gave was, I recorded the conversation because I wanted to make sure that David Pecker, who was increasingly antsy about being repaid, knew that Trump intended to do so because he had this drawer full of boxes, full of ammunition essentially against him. And that was what he gave as a basis.

PHILLIP: That's the explanation he gave.

COATES: That he said.

PHILLIP: The question is, is that --

MILLS: He was using a tape to make sure that Pecker knew that Trump was on board with everything that was going on.

COATES: But they never played it, though.

MILLS: But that tape itself is the reason why I believe this case moved forward. Because without that tape, you're simply relying on Michael Cohen's word. But that tape puts Trump directly into the conversation, saying, cash, are we paying cash? And I think that's the sum and substance of why Michael Cohen has credibility, because Trump is on tape.

MOORE: But it turned out --

GRASSO: I think -- I think that the way Cohen put it fit very well with David Pecker's testimony. But I have one question that I can't help but asking. Is Debbie Downer related to Douglas Dennison?


MOORE: I mean, I think another way to hear the tape is that it sounds like a businessman, and he's got his CFO and his lawyer handling things. And Allen Weisselberg is handling things. And Michael tells him, don't worry, Allen is on top of this. I mean, that's on the tape. And that's what -- that's what a CEO does, is he lets somebody else do the work and he sign the papers or whatever else.

And so -- and then we're not going to have Weisselberg come to court. And so, you've essentially got this absent witness. You've got Michael Cohen saying this. And Michael Cohen made one recording that they've given, and it cut off in the middle. And we don't have a recording of Trump saying, yeah, go ahead and let's make some false records. I mean, it's just too much stuff.


I think they have a phone record that corroborates the incoming call.

PHILLIP: And that's going to be --

GRASSO: But they don't have another tape. But they don't have another recording.

MOORE: Yeah, but they have a record that corroborates that. But it's a phone call cut off.

GRASSO: But there's no -- there's no other recording? This is just this one tape, one recording?

PHILLIP: He said -- he said he has never recorded Trump except that one time. And the reason he did it was because he was worried about keeping David Pecker happy. So --

MOORE: He took an oath to tell the truth, too, and he went to jail.

COATES: Wouldn't it be so fascinating if there was a president in history who had tapes and I could talk to his former lawyer? Oh, John Dean is coming on next. Hold on a second, everyone. Stand by because not every day you see someone in the legal orbit of a president end up testifying against them. But, of course, it has happened before. I'm talking with the former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean. There he is. He joins me next. Actually, next.

Oh, now? Why are you playing music in my ear then? Okay, here, John, I'm here right now. Your testimony -- I want to talk to you right now. Your testimony against former President Nixon is, frankly, legendary. What did you think of Cohen's testimony today?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, from all the reports I've heard, it was very good. Obviously, the big test is going to come tomorrow, as the panel made clear, when he's subject to cross-examination.

COATES: Well, when you look at this -- I mean, the idea of this tape -- obviously, the Nixon tapes are distinct from what's happening here in this courtroom. But you disclosed your suspicion about the existence of Nixon's Oval Office tapes. We were just talking about the jury hearing the tape of Trump and Cohen talking about this hush money payment to Karen McDougal.


I want to play for everyone, just to remind everyone, what this tape sounded like. Listen to this.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY (voice-over): Correct. So, I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP (voice-over): Listen, what financing?

COHEN (voice-over): We'll have to pay him something.

TRUMP (voice-over): ina0 pay with cash.

COHEN (voice-over): No, no, no, I got it.

TRUMP (voice-over): Check.


COATES: Now, Cohen offers a kind of innocent explanation, he says, for recording his own client, that he wanted to prove to David Pecker that Trump was going to pay him for that hush money payment. Did that and does that sound believable to you, that a jury would buy that?

DEAN: It's possible. I have no reason to doubt Michael's assessment of why he was running his voice recorder when he went into the office. It sounds like -- it doesn't sound like he turned it on when he got in there. I understand that he cut it short because he had an incoming phone call, which on my iPhone often does cut anything else off. So that's understandable also. And he didn't take the call, apparently. So, I -- you know, we will hear his fuller explanation tomorrow when you can be sure he's going to be grilled on this issue at ad nauseum, if not even longer.

COATES: Yeah. I mean, we're hearing that the cross will be likely as long as the direct, if not maybe longer. There's going to be a focus on trying to undermine his credibility by raking him over the coals, as you can possibly imagine here.

And then you've got the idea of bias. We've talked a lot about the moment in time where he worked for Trump. But most people know Michael Cohen in the aftermath. There's going to be comments about his bias, his animus, about revenge, possibly. Cohen testified that he was resentful at not being brought to Washington after he had done so much for Trump. How do you think that aspect is going to play?

DEAN: Well, I would think he probably was more resentful of having his bonus cut down as sharply as it was. And the fact that he was told his career was over with the Trump Organization. And then he explained that his ego was what made him want to at least be on a list to go to Washington.

But I thought he came up with a fairly clever way that he could cash in, which was to be the private counsel of the president. Richard Nixon had a private counsel who got a lot of clients as a result of his association with Nixon. He'd later go to jail for his fundraising, but he did do well while Nixon was president as a result of that connection. And I think that Michael probably would have done well had things unraveled a little differently.

COATES: John, talk to me about the enormous pressure, frankly, that Michael Cohen is under. I mean, he has been billed as the star witness for several months, for really a very long time now. You have testified under tremendous pressure. What is it like living with the anticipation and then the aftermath?

DEAN: Well, mostly, I think, particularly attorneys, tend to just spend their time preparing and not thinking a lot about what's going to happen. In my own case, I had to work with the prosecutors who really had on and off knowledge of Watergate. They quizzed me at length before my testimony, and then they went broad and sort of used me as a data bank and a source.

And then after my testimony -- immediately before they stopped talking to me, and then after my testimony, I was on the stand for two weeks during the big trial where I was working with the prosecutors.

So, in the courtroom situation, after that testimony, they had me come to the back room, and I met with them every break they came in. They would have questions for me as sort of their database to get facts about witnesses they were about to cross-examine and what have you.

So, it was a very unique vantage point. I got to see the trial, which was from the prosecutor's own room.

COATES: But how did it feel in terms of your safety, your feelings of law enforcement?

DEAN: I -- Laura, I didn't really feel any pressure.


DEAN: I was very comfortable with what I was doing. I was before -- I testified before the Senate. Because I had worked on Capitol Hill, I was familiar with the forum. It was -- there's no rules of hearsay, of course, in hearings like that, so you can go wide and far when you answer questions. It's much more difficult to testify in a courtroom where there are rules of evidence. You have to be much tighter in your answers.

And it seems -- I was struck from the reports today, I haven't seen the transcript yet, that Michael was very well prepared, and I think he'll probably be prepared and ready to take it on the chin tomorrow and take some punches in the gut and deal with them in a calm and collected manner.


COATES: Oh, I think taking on the chin and maybe a punch in the gut would be the best-case scenario. We were talking about the cross- examination of Michael Cohen. John Dean, thank you so much.

DEAN: Thank you, Laura.

PHILLIP: And ahead, Michael Cohen has been described in court like the dog who yells squirrel. But today, he was calm on the stand. How will jurors actually view this testimony and his credibility as well? We have a jury consultant who's joining us next.


PHILLIP: For weeks now, the jury in Trump's hush money trial has been hearing all about Michael Cohen. They've heard he's a jerk, that he's hostile, he's very aggressive, hopeless, like the dog who yells squirrel. But today, they actually got to meet the man that allegedly no one wanted to talk to in the Trump Organization. And the Michael Cohen that they met, though, is much more subdued than the man who was described as a highly excitable person. Cohen on the stand today even poked fun at how he has been described.

So, the question is, how is the jury going to ultimately receive all of this testimony? I want to bring in jury and trial consultant Robert Hirschhorn.


Robert, it is an interesting question. When the person sitting in front of you is so very different from the person that you've been hearing about in a lot of ways, how is the jury going to reconcile that?

ROBERT HIRSCHHORN, JURY AND TRIAL CONSULTANT: So, they came in with a set of expectations, and he completely did not match up to it. And as I've been telling everybody, it's not how a witness does on direct examination, it's how he acts on cross. So, if he maintains the same kind of state of mind, if he continues to be calm, if he maintains his aplomb, the jury is going to be much more likely to believe him.

But remember, Abby, this is the person that went from saying, I take a bullet for Trump, to the guy who's now shooting bullets at Trump. And he's going to come in with a lot of baggage, and I expect the defense is going to go right after him.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I think it's going to be a very different vibe in that courtroom. I was in there today, in the morning, and it's so striking how this jury is. I mean, listen, my hat goes off to them because they know that they have a really important job to do. And they walk into that room stone-faced. They're looking straight ahead. They walk directly, one in front of the other, to the jury box. And they take their seats. And maybe more than half of them pull out pens and pads, and they're scribbling down notes practically the entire session. It was about over five hours today with Michael Cohen.

I wonder what you think that signals to them, signals about them, and about what kind of jury they're going to be because there are some juries that are going to be about the letter of the law, and then there are some juries that might be about what they feel in their gut.

HIRSCHHORN: So, they know this is a historic case. And I want to tell the whole audience, regardless of the outcome, even if it's a hung jury, regardless, we ought to give kudos to this jury because it's a really difficult job. That's why they call it jury duty, not jury fun, not jury vacation.


HIRSCHHORN: So, we ought to be proud of them. So, Abby, here's the thing. The fact that we haven't lost a single juror should signal to everybody how seriously they are taking this. The fact that they are taking copious notes, they are going to do the very best job they can deciding this particular case. And I want to tell everybody, they're going to hold the government, or in this case the prosecution, to the burden of proof.

And I'm telling you, because this jury is so smart, they've got two lawyers on the jury. This is -- they've got a PHD on this jury. This jury is so smart that if the prosecution doesn't prove their case, they understand their job is going to be to find this defendant not guilty.

I've been saying, Abby, this could very well be the O.J. Simpson number two. Everybody knew O.J. was guilty, but the state didn't prove their case. It's possible this could happen here. And the big reason why, Abby, where is Weisselberg?

PHILLIP: Well, okay, I'm so glad --

HIRSCHHORN: This jury --

PHILLIP: -- I'm so glad you brought that up. That has become the elephant in the room, especially after today. If you're the jury, and you hear Allen Weisselberg, and you're like, where is this guy? And the judge, when he dealt with this issue, they weren't in the room for it. So, are they going to go into that deliberation box and say, why on earth? What was the prosecution afraid of? Were they afraid to bring Weisselberg to the stand?

HIRSCHHORN: Yeah, because he's either going to support Trump or worse, he's going to take the fifth, which tells the jury he's the guilty guy, not Trump. Here's the thing, Abby. The state has corroborated a lot of things that Cohen has done, but what they haven't been able to corroborate are the individual communications between Cohen and Trump. And the prosecution is really hoping that the jurors are going to believe Cohen's version of what happened.

But there's a perfect answer. The answer is called Allen Weisselberg. The jury -- and again, we got a smart jury with two lawyers.


HIRSCHHORN: These lawyers know that the state has to prove their case. If there's no Weisselberg, there may not be a case.


HIRSCHHORN: So, even if the jury believe Cohen, even if they believe Cohen, they still may be wondering, where's Weisselberg?

PHILLIP: All right. That's very, very interesting. Robert Hirschhorn, thank you very much for bringing that to us.

HIRSCHHORN: Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: And on that note, let's come out to the panel here. I mean, Jen, where is Allen Weisselberg? He's all over Michael Cohen's testimony. But does he hang over this case at this point?

RODGERS: He does right now. I mean, it's going to have to be addressed. And the parties are currently in the process of talking to the judge about what's going to happen, right? Prosecutors wanted to introduce the severance agreement that Weisselberg had with the Trump Organization to explain why he's not available, because all this money is still coming to him if he doesn't cooperate voluntarily with law enforcement.


They said they'd also take a stipulation that he's in prison for perjury and therefore unavailable. They're probably not going to get those things, but they will get --

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, the judge actually said today they weren't going to get --

RODGERS: They're not going to get the severance agreement. But they'll get some sort of instruction. I mean, they have to get some sort of instruction that -- that somehow not just that -- it is not just the typical missing witness. Don't hold it against either side. You can't speculate as to why he's not here. I think they'll get something better than that. But what that actually looks like, the parties are still fighting about. But they have to get something. He's definitely the elephant.

COATES: He's not missing. He's in Rikers, just so everyone knows. He's nowhere to find him. He's got like an inmate number as well. And so -- but the reason there is the conundrum is because they can't call. They can't bring this severance agreement in for the purpose of showing that he's not available. They also can't necessarily bring him in to testify, knowing that he might plead the Fifth throughout and not actually substance testimony. They're in a real pickle here, thinking about how you do it. By the same token, they've tried to call everyone else but Weisselberg. They called, you know, Makani (ph). They've called another bookkeeper as well. Could that be enough?

MOORE: I don't think so. I mean, I really think that they're going to need to have him come in because he does -- he is the one in the room that supposedly has this sort of intimate details about what was said and who did what and who approved what and how it was going to work to back up Cohen.

I mean, they've corroborated some stuff like, you know, that the sun came up and that Trump writes with a sharpie. I mean, they've corroborated some -- I mean, really, they've corroborated some things like that. But when it comes to sort of the crux of it, when it comes to what we're talking about in the indictment, that's where they needed him, and I think that's going to be a problem for them.

MILLS: Yeah, because it's two things to this. We have to remember two parts to this case. One is the business records component, and then two is, did he do -- did he hide this for the purposes of the election? I think Cohen today solidified that this was done for the purposes of the election. But that other component, the business records being doctored, Weisselberg is the one that would be able to testify to that and confirm that.

And Cohen can't do it. He said he had the conversation with Weisselberg. Weisselberg went into the room, a meeting with Trump, and that's where they discussed it. But he can't talk about what was said in that meeting. So, nobody knows that. That piece is still hanging. I think the door is still open a little bit, and they need him.

COATES: The judge, on that point -- I mean, you've given a million instructions on some circumstantial evidence, right? Jury, you're going to look outside. In the evening, you went to bed, there was green grass. You woke up in the morning, it was covered in snow.

GRASSO: Right.

COATES: Then it must have snowed.

GRASSO: It must have snowed. Exactly. And so, I take a bit of a contrary view. They've got a killer piece of evidence that has been put in today. And I alluded to that earlier. The Weisselberg notes, not notes on any piece of paper, by the way. The essential consulting bank statement with the $130,000.

COATES: They've been authenticated, right?

GRASSO: They've been authenticated, admitted into evidence through Jeff McConney, the controller. But then they were doubly admitted today by Cohen who said, I don't only recognize Weisselberg's handwriting, I saw him make those notes.

And I think, substantively, one of the most important things for the people's case that Michael Cohen did today, he brings that piece of paper right into Trump's office. That's the piece of paper that they're using to set up the scheme, the scheme where they're going to pay Michael Cohen the $420,000 and disguise it as lawyer's fees.

As far as the evidence, there are 34 counts. You know what I think the nine strongest counts are? The nine checks Trump signed for $35,000. The people have put in evidence through, here's a guy who has bragged about cashing 50 cent checks. The jury is going to be expected to believe he signed nine checks for $35,000 each for Michael Cohen, who was performing no independent legal services unless he was aware of that. I take a contrary view. I think it's a compelling case.

COATES: It makes an interesting point because we have to remember, it's not all just invoices or checks. I mean, there's a lot of different counts. There are 34 and they could very well find some and then none.

How did this play in the courtroom, though? I mean, we're talking about the elephant in the room that was not there, Allen Weisselberg. Did you get a sense being in the courtroom today that the jury was wanting more?

CRANE-NEWMAN: Well, it was kind of interesting today. You know, there were so few objections because so much of the evidence we saw of Cohen was already in. So, there -- I mean, there were about 27 objections overall and about half of them were sustained. But it was pretty -- there was not one sidebar today. So, if you think about Stormy last week, you know, the lawyers were constantly up at the bench. And so, it was kind of, you know, it flowed quite smoothly in comparison to some other witnesses that we've seen.

And a lot of these documents that have come in, though, you know, we kind of learn after the fact their significance.


So last week, when we saw that statement with Allen Weisselberg's handwriting on it, you know, it's what could be a potential smoking gun. You know, Weisselberg signing, like calculating how much money Cohen is owed on a statement for the literal alleged hush money. And today, we heard about again that Cohen's handwriting was also on that statement. The $50,000, that was a new piece of information.

GRASSO: RedFinch.

CRANE-NEWMAN: RedFinch. We didn't know that before. So, you know, I think it'll be very interesting to see when the prosecution gives their closing statement and they kind of tie this all up together. But what was very interesting about Cohen today, I think, is he kind of wove together so much of what we've heard. These documents, the different witnesses.

COATES: Yeah. It's important to think about all this. And again, the jury hearing it before, the pre-corroboration is so crucial as a strategy, knowing you've got a witness with quite the Achilles heel. Thank you so much, everyone, on this. Trump was in court also, by the way, with an entourage in tow, including the V.P hopeful, J.D. Vance. It's all part of some kind of an audition and maybe a strategy for how to attack his enemies. We'll discuss it next.



COATES: Well, it was the moment everyone was waiting for. Michael Cohen, the prosecution's star witness, finally on the stand. But Donald Trump and his campaign, while they came prepared, parading more Trump allies into this courtroom today than any other day of the trial.

PHILLIP: In attendance were vice presidential contender J.D. Vance, the senator from Ohio also there, Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis of the state of New York, and attorneys general from Alabama and Iowa, Steve Marshall and Brenna Bird, respectively. Former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is expected to be there tomorrow also, I think, in the veepstakes. But it all begs the question, why? Why is this even happening and why now?

Back with us is Attorney Donte Mills, CNN contributor Leah Wright Rigueur, and CNN political analyst Natasha Alford.

Donte, I want to get you on this because I think that there's all the circus of it, but it's kind of important. These other people who are not Trump, the J.D. Vances of the world, they're out there in front of the court, they're making all kinds of false statements, but they're also doing what they know Trump can't do, which is attack the witnesses, attack the judge's daughter. That's kind of -- look, it may not be crossing a legal line, but it's crossing a line in a way.

MILLS: It definitely is. And you said this, Abby, when we talked about before the gag order, you said it's actually working, right? Trump has stopped -- he stopped talking as much, and he's not crossing the line, but we see he's employing other people to do it. J.D. Vance did that today, talked about Merchan's daughter, which is not supposed to happen. The problem is I don't know what authority the judge has to control what other people are saying.


MILLS: So, this may continue to go on. But as long as it's not Trump doing it, then there's no punishment.

COATES: Well, that's the whole design of it, right? That's the part that's important to think about. And also, who's doing it? I mean, these are members of Congress who are being brought in as well, who are just the optics of it, Natasha, there to support him for a criminal case involving actions taken to try to hide from the American public allegedly a payment like this.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Laura, there's almost like a pre-filter selected for the type of people who are willing to do these things. You know, J.D. Vance, willing to flip-flop, right? First, he was anti-Trump. Now, all of a sudden, he's in Trump's camp. It's about power. It's about proximity to power. And I think that this is a test. This is the loyalty test to see who's willing to do whatever it takes to speak in Trump's favor.

PHILLIP: And, of course, one of the things Trump was really excited about today were the polls. A big New York Times-Siena poll showing that he's leading in a lot of battleground states. And that is a snapshot of the race as it is right now. Essentially, taken all together, this isn't either a tied race or Trump is slightly ahead. And that is happening in spite of all of this, this legal (INAUDIBLE) that he's a part of.

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think there are two things that are going on. The first is that it tells us that the Biden administration is having some real struggles with key kind of demographics that make up the alliance or the coalitions that are necessary to win, for the Biden administration to win re-election. But the other thing is that there is a trial that is going on in the court of public opinion.

And so, this is why all of these people who are coming and auditioning for the Trump show, the Trump veepstakes, whatever we're going to call it, but also putting that messaging out there, if you listen to what they're saying, they're actually making the argument that this is injustice, this is unfair, this is not a legitimate process.

And so, they're doing the work that Trump cannot do, one, because there's a gag order, but also, two, because he is locked up, you know, pardon the pun, but he is locked up in court in trials and quite literally has to take care of the business of, you know, being under investigation and being indicted.

So, what we're seeing here is the outcome and the play-by-play of this. And what it's, I think, telling us is that his strategy is actually working. So, it's the combination of the Biden administration failing in a lot of ways, but also the Trump administration's strategy in this kind of chaotic moment working.

COATES: But here's a split screen as well. I mean, there's a strategy being employed now, maybe rolled out by the vice president, Kamala Harris, not at all fending off any legal attacks, but being more and more increasingly visible. And here she was today talking in D.C. about breaking down barriers. And she wasn't mincing her words. In fact, many say she's being a little bit more relatable. Listen to this.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My mother would say to me, don't you ever let anybody tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. We have to know that sometimes, people will open the door for you and leave it open. Sometimes, they won't.

[23:45:00] And then you need to kick that (bleep) door down.



Excuse my language.



COATES: I mean --

PHILLIP: Let me tell you, it's like -- it's like catnip for reporters to have a politician curse, especially using the "F" word.


ALFORD: I love it. I mean, the vile things that Donald Trump has said, that he has been allowed to get away with, like let Vice President Harris have her moment of authenticity. And I think that's what people want. They don't want talking points. They want to know that they can believe in these candidates.

And what struck me about that poll that Leah was just talking about, 50% of people say the economy is bad, and that's against all of the numbers that we talk about, right? Stocks being up. You know, jobs being created. And so, there's a disconnect. And that is -- that's a heart issue. How are you connecting with the minds and the hearts of the people? And I think you just have to be real. That's how you do it.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: I also think it's important that she is making part -- she's making messages where she is really strong. So, it's not just about, you know, I think kicking the door down. She's also really strong in messaging on abortion. We know that abortion is one of these things that Trump is extremely vulnerable on.

She has also been going to various HBCUs across the country and either speaking in person or doing these videotaped messages because I think the Biden administration understands just how important Black voters are to this coalition.

So, she's really working, I think, working the campaign trail in the ways that she should have been doing from the very beginning.

COATES: Really important point to think about. And truly a moment of authenticity. We remember the big effing deal.

PHILLIP: She seemed to surprise herself, honestly, with that one.


She was a little bit surprised.

COATES: We had a beeper for this, like a beep machine for a primetime. I don't know. Thank you, everyone, so much.

Ahead, a story very personal to me. One dentist changing the lives of so many, frankly, just like my dad did. My champion for change is next.



COATES: It's one of the best times of the year. It's time for "Champions for Change." Look at the unsung people whose ideas and innovations are dramatically improving lives, business, and society.

Well, tonight's story is personal for me. You know, my dad is a dentist who always gave back to the community. So, I knew firsthand about the power of a smile and how life-changing it could be to give someone the ability to be free to speak and show themselves as they wanted to be seen. My champion for change is Dr. Dondre Simpson, who is both providing dental care and hope to the people who need it most.


DONDRE SIMPSON, DENTIST: How you doing, man? Doing good?

KATRINA UPTON, NEW FOUNDATIONS HOME FOR CHILDREN (voice-over): He does so much more than clean teeth.

SIMPSON: Awesome.

UPTON: He teaches. He motivates. He's like a therapist. He's so much more than a dentist.

UNKNOWN: How are you?

COATES: You have a demonstrated philosophy of providing care and respect and dignity to anyone who needs your help.

SIMPSON: I do what I do because this is what God put me on this earth for.

COATES: I'm actually the daughter of a dentist who really devoted his life to public service and ensuring dental care was given to people who are most in need. He would go into the prisons. He really believed in meeting people where they were.

You also wanted to go into the prisons, I understand, as well. Not only to provide that service, but you recognize in many ways that, why should they be denied the dignity of care?

SIMPSON: There's a shortage of dentists in prisons around the country. Most inmates, I'd say 99.9% of them, they really are grateful that they get to get out of pain. If I can be courteous and kind and respectful and do my job and treat you good, regardless of who you are, where you are, that's my goal.

UPTON: This is New Foundations Home for Children. We have kids in the foster care system and we have kids in the juvenile justice system. He serves an underserved population. He's not making a lot of money off of these kids. He comes because he feels led to be here.

JEROME PRICE, DENTAL PATIENT: I got here around 2019 because I had other foster home that I was at and that didn't work out. As he cleans my teeth, he talks to me about my ambitions. He remembers everything I tell him. And I'm not his only client.

SIMPSON: So that's mind-blowing, to know that if I can plant a seed in somebody unknowingly, but just doing my job, doing the way that I do it, it will influence them to make good decisions and be a more productive citizen.

UPTON (voice-over): He's absolutely creating a brighter future for these kids.

HAZEL HARPER, DENTIS: After he graduated from Howard, he practiced with me for about nine years.

SIMPSON: My aunt, Hazel, she's the reason that I am a dentist today.

HARPER: And I wanted to make sure that we were treating Medicaid population patients that had public insurance. And my goal was to make sure that Dondre knew that in life, everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect.

COATES: My father's work inspired me to be a champion for social justice. He is someone who could have done anything with the mind that he has. And he always chose to reinvest into the communities. I used to work for him in his office. Now, he did fire me because I talked too much. I never forgot the smiles in that office. And you know, I am a Black woman in America. Intergenerational wealth has often alluded inter-generations.


But what has not alluded us is the passing down of the knowledge of the community service that imparts a sense of morality and justice within us. And so, to hear that he was inspired by his aunt and to feel compelled within himself to pay it forward is the highest form of intergenerational wealth. And in that, we are family.


COATES: Well, be sure to tune in Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern for the "Champions for Change" one hour Special.

Hey, thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues with "Anderson Cooper 360" next.