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One World with Zain Asher

Iran Calls The Death Of Its President A Great Loss For The Nation, ICC Seeks Arrest Warrants For Top Hamas And Israeli Political And Military Leaders On Charges Of War Crimes And Crimes Against Humanity; Cohen Admits He Stole Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars From The Trump Organization By Overbilling The Company On A Deal; Investigations Underway On Helicopter Crash Killing Raisi And Foreign Minister; CNN Political Commentator Dies At 58. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired May 20, 2024 - 12:00   ET




ZAIN ASHER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: All right, coming to you live from New York, I'm Zain Asher and I'll be bringing you the latest on two top stories

out of the Middle East. Firstly, the death of Iran's President in a helicopter crash and the ICC seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leadership

in connection with October 7th and Israel's Prime Minister over the war in Gaza.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: And I'm Omar Jimenez. I'll be following Michael Cohen's critical third day of cross-examination in the

Donald Trump hush money trial. There's even a chance Donald Trump could take the stand himself. We will see. You're watching "One World"

ASHER: All right, Iran is calling the death of its President a great loss for the nation, but is also bound the government will press on without



ASHER: Right here you see black flags being hoisted across the country as Tehran and actually the world are really reacting to the sudden deaths of

two top political figures at a tense moment in Iran and of course the wider region. President Ebrahim Raisi, the foreign minister and seven others were

killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. Iran's army chief has ordered an investigation into the exact cause.

Iranian officials say the helicopter was carrying officials back to Iran after inauguration ceremony for a new dam when it went down in heavy fog

over Iran's east Azerbaijan province. People gathered across the nation to pray and mourn the deaths. Iran's state television paused its regular

programming as the news came in.


ASHER: The cover of the "Tehran Times" showed a picture of Raisi with the caption, "Martyrdom in the Line of Duty" and a chair Raisi usually sits in

was vacant and draped with a black sash in his memory in a photo shared by state media.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning. Worth noting that Raisi was widely considered to be the prime

candidate to eventually secede him as supreme leader. We know that elections are going to be held in about 50 days. Khamenei, in the meantime,

has appointed the first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, to take over as acting president.


MOHAMMAD MOKHBER (through translator): This is a serious incident for all of us. It is sad and upsetting. But in the interest of country and our

people, we won't have any disruption. The country will continue moving forward under this leadership. Everyone should continue on with their roles

despite this incident. In no way will this tragic incident interfere with the government and running of our country.


ASHER: CNN's Ben Wedeman is tracking the developments. He joins us live now from Rome. Ben, this, of course, comes as a huge shock for various reasons,

not least because Raisi was one of two people, including the Ayatollah's own son, who was set to possibly be groomed to take over that position. The

Ayatollah, of course, is 85 years old. He's not in good health, and there is no deputy supreme leader, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it brings into question who the next supreme leader will be. But more immediately, who

will the next President be? And what we've seen in recent years is a growing dissatisfaction with the structure, with the establishment in Iran.

For instance, of March this year, there were parliamentary elections.

It was the lowest turnout in any election in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And certainly President Raisi was seen as a guardian of the

establishment, very much the product of it. And so, the question is, when the next presidential election takes place, which according to the Iranian

constitution should take place in 50 days.


The question is, will the candidate selected or rather allowed to run in the election, will the choice be broad enough to give some sort of

legitimacy to whoever wins the election? When Raisi was elected in 2021, he only won, I mean, the turnout in that election was only 48 percent. At the

time, that was a record low.

Since then, we've seen, for instance, the nationwide uprising following the death of Mahsa Amini, that young Iranian woman who was allegedly killed

because she wasn't wearing her headscarf correctly. So, the system is under pressure from the street. The question is, is this an opportunity for the

establishment to regain some credibility, or is that gradual loss of credibility only going to continue?

ASHER: As you point out, it is the Guardian Council in Iran who decides who runs. And as we saw in 2021, that process was severely restricted. There

were a lot of people who were blocked from running back in 2021, and that is partly why the turnout was so low. We'll see if that changes this time

around. As you mentioned, the elections are set to take place in about 50 days from now. Ben Wedeman, live for us there, thank you so much.

All right, now to what could mark a significant turning point in the Israel-Hamas war. The International Criminal Court is seeking arrest

warrants for top Hamas and Israeli political and military leaders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On the Hamas side, the warrants are being sought for Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Al-Marisi, who is not pictured here. And on the

Israeli side, they include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Both Israel and Hamas are condemning the court, but

in an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, the ICC's Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, said his team has a variety of evidence to support

the application for those warrants.


KARIM KHAN, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: The way I very simply try to do things is look at the evidence, look at the conduct, look

at the victims and airbrush out the nationality. And if a crime has been committed, we should move forward. Nobody is above the law. No people, by

dint of birth or passport, religion, nationality or the color of their skin, have a get-out-of-jail-free card, have a free pass to say, well, the

law doesn't apply to us.

Israel has every right and obligation to get hostages back. But you must do so by complying with the law. The fact that Hamas fighters need water

doesn't justify denying water from all the civilian population of Gaza.


ASHER: The warrants sought against Israeli politicians marks the first time the ICC has targeted the top leader of a close ally of the United States.

So far, there's been no official statement from the Biden administration, but U.S. officials have repeatedly reiterated their opposition to any ICC

action against Israel.

CNN's Kayla Tausche joins us live now from the White House. So, worth noting, Kayla, that Israel is, of course, not party to the ICC. It doesn't

recognize its authority, much like the United States. But still, we haven't heard anything yet from the Biden administration. We know that this is a

serious rebuke against Israel. But what is the likely reaction going to be here, Kayla?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction, Zain, will need to be carefully calibrated from the United States given the

fact that the ICC is targeting both Hamas leaders and Israel's leaders, which you well point out that Israel is a long-standing and close ally of

the United States.

We're still waiting on that official response from the Biden administration. But the administration has made no question of the fact

that it does not believe that the ICC has jurisdiction in this matter. And as recently as two weeks ago, saying at least where the Israelis were

concerned, the U.S. strongly opposed any action. Here's State Department spokesman Matt Miller on May 8th.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I can't make any predictions or any announcements one way or the other about what we will do about

something that has not yet happened. I'll just make clear that we do not believe the ICC has jurisdiction in this matter and we're opposed to their



TAUSCHE: Miller was asked specifically whether the U.S. would put sanctions on ICC's own leaders and the top prosecutor if it were to go forward.

That's where he said that he can't weigh in on hypotheticals. But under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. did put some of those sanctions on

ICC's top prosecutor and staff in response to an ICC investigation into potential war crimes committed by the U.S. in Afghanistan and by Israel in

the Palestinian territories.

The Trump administration at that point putting those sanctions on in 2020, freezing assets of those individuals and family and banning their entry

into the United States.


The following year, when President Biden took office, Secretary of State Tony Blinken reversed those sanctions, calling them inappropriate and

ineffective. So, the big question is what the U.S. will do now.

On Capitol Hill, GOP leaders in the Republican Party are weighing a potential legislative response, but we're starting to get some rhetorical

responses from leadership there. The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee calling these warrants absurd and slamming what he

calls the false moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Zain.

ASHER: All right. Kayla Tausche, live for us there. Thank you so much. You can watch Christiane's entire interview with Karim Khan next hour on

Amanpour right here on CNN. All right, let's dive a little deeper. Rami Khouri was the Founding Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public

Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He's now a senior fellow. He joins us live now from Doha in Qatar. Rami, thank

you so much for being with us.

So, just in terms of Karim Khan basically applying for these arrest warrants, obviously it still has to be approved by judges, but it is

remarkable in that it would mean that Netanyahu and Golan, if they travel to an ICC member country, that they could be arrested. I mean, this is the

most serious, right, the most serious sort of international condemnation of Netanyahu's strategy of the war so far, the way he has conducted this war

so far.

RAMI KHOURI, DISTINGUISHED PUBLIC POLICY FELLOW, ISSAM FARES INSTITUTE: Yes, it is. I mean, the ICC getting a warrant is pretty serious stuff. It

means that you've committed war crimes or crimes against humanity or something really awful, about the worst kind of crimes that there is in the

world. And it's not sure that he'll actually be arrested because once the warrant is out, somebody has to arrest him and take him to trial.

So, this is something that we have to wait and see what to do. The United States is going to put intense pressure on the court to try to get them to

reverse it or whatever they can do. But there's just no way to deny that what Israel has done in Gaza in the last seven and a half months is really

a crime, genocide and crime against humanity and whatever war crime.

They also indicted three Hamas leaders. And that's the right thing to do. If there are people who are acting in a way that's criminal and the court

is supposed to stop them, well, no, that's what should happen.

ASHER: Yeah, and just in terms of Israel committing genocide in Gaza, obviously it is worth noting that that has not been officially determined

by the ICJ just yet. But just in terms of one of the issues that Israel is raising about the ICC seeking arrest warrants, this idea that, listen, it's

a democratic state, number one, and also this idea that there is a false equivalency.

You can't lump them in to the same sort of bucket as you would Hamas. Israel is obviously a democratic state. Hamas is a terrorist organization.

What do you make of that?

KHOURI: Well, I think it's nonsense. This is the kind of propaganda that the Israelis use all the time. You know, Hitler was elected democratically,

and other war criminals who have done terrible things were elected according to their systems. So, no, you can be in a democratic state and

have criminal activities link your policies. That's very clear.

This has been so obvious. I mean, these crimes have been committed live on TV and on social media every night. So, it's very hard for the Israelis to

get out of this. How they will try to neutralize it remains to be seen. They're going to certainly pull out all the stops, but we don't know if

they can have the same kind of impact that they used to have.

The Israelis are running into a big, big problem now, which is that all of their lobbying techniques, their propaganda techniques, their PR techniques

that have succeeded for a century, really, since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started a century ago, they've succeeded really well except for

the last, like, two years because the world sees what they're doing and, therefore, they can't just keep doing the same things.

ASHER: I do want to talk about what's happening in Iran. Obviously, we got the shocking news over the weekend that the President of Iran and the

foreign minister were killed in a helicopter crash. You think about what this means for the region and sort of what's happening in the region at

this particular time.

Obviously, there's been direct military action in terms of Iran's relationship with Israel and also via Iran's proxies, as well. How does --

I mean, Raisi, obviously, is not the most powerful man in Iran. We know that.


But how does his death affect Iran's posture in the region, would you say?

KHOURI: Personally, I don't think it affects it very much. The Iran leadership is made up of various groups and various individuals. There's

three or four major power centers in Iran. They all come under the supreme leader.

But there is a, I wouldn't call it pluralism, but there is a kind of collective decision-making that happens after they present their different

views -- the judiciary, the revolutionary guards, the elected president, the government, the supreme leader.

So, the thing that Iran has, which most other countries in the region don't have, is a very strong tradition of national identity, which is now, of

course, under an Islamic identity since the revolution, but that's relatively recent. They have set up a system that is quite powerful and is

able to withstand all kinds of shocks, like the terribly amazing sanctions they've been put under, probably the worst sanctions any modern country has

suffered, the intrusive inspections of the IAEA, the nuclear energy agency, and they're still there, moving along.

So, they have a kind of a depth to their national identity and their national institutions. And, of course, the Israelis have been attacking and

assassinating some of their key people, especially scientists and the head of the revolutionary guards, Soleimani.

So, they've suffered these kinds of losses without really making much difference. So, I don't think it's going to have much of an impact.

There'll be a succession, there'll be a new election, and then they'll get on with it.

ASHER: All right, Rami, Khouri, live for us there. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it. I'm going to hand it over to my colleague Omar Jimenez,

who is live for us in New York as Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial enters a new week. Omar, take it away.

JIMENEZ: The quote is, it's like a bomb was dropped in the middle of the prosecution's case. That is how a CNN legal analyst describes a key moment

from today's testimony by Michael Cohen at Donald Trump's hush money trial. And just a short time ago, Cohen admitted that he stole tens of thousands

of dollars from the Trump Organization by overbilling the company on a deal.

Now, Cohen is essentially the prosecution's most important witness, and this is really another instance of his credibility being challenged. Now,

the defense has wrapped up their cross-examination of him, and we should point out Cohen has been on the stand for nearly 16 hours over the course

of four days.

Now, the prosecution is redirecting questions to Cohen, likely hoping to repair some of the damage done during that lengthy cross. Earlier today,

the judge in the case said he expects closing arguments to happen next week based on the court schedule and holiday schedule here in the U.S., an

indication the defense will not call many witnesses once the prosecution rests.

My colleague Katelyn Polantz has been tracking all the action inside the courtroom today. All right, Katelyn, so redirect has started. What have we

learned so far based on the questioning we've seen from redirect, and how would you assess what we saw from the defense during cross?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, whether a bomb was dropped, that's going to be up to the jury, and we just don't know how

they're going to be responding to the specific things that were brought out in questioning today.

Over this eight hours where Michael Cohen was on the stand as being under cross-examination from Donald Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanch. Much of it was

focused around his credibility and his motivation to make money for himself, either to skim a little from the Trump Organization because he had

a bone to pick with them, because the situation arose with this tech company Redfinch where he was able to skim some off the top whenever the

Trump Organization reimbursed him for money he paid to that tech company.

That's the stealing issue. And that he was able to make millions of dollars since Donald Trump left the presidency on books, podcasts. He was planning

a T.V. show that hasn't gotten picked up yet. He mused about having a run for Congress. All of that is going to be the portrait that the defense team

is laying the foundation to present to the jury in closing arguments.

But now the prosecutors have their opportunity to try and remind the jury why he's there. And they're doing that even in this scenario with the

company Redfinch and this stealing accusation, talking to Michael Cohen and making sure that he is reiterating that even if he was getting reimbursed

more from the Trump Organization than what he was owed, it still wasn't legal expenses. That was the questioning that has just happened in the last

10 minutes, Omar.


So, all of this is presented to the jury. The jurors will be able to deliberate and mull it over later on whenever they are hearing those final

arguments. But it all will come back into the arguments the prosecutors make that Michael Cohen was doing later on whenever they are hearing those

final arguments. But it all will come back into the arguments the prosecutors make that Michael Cohen was doing this crime for Trump and that

the defense team argues he's a liar.

JIMENEZ: And, look, you mentioned a few times the most important part of all of this. As we dissect all of the words and the testimony during cross

and redirect, what really matters is how it lands with those jurors who will ultimately decide this case that we've now been following for weeks.

And we may be in the final stages here. Katelyn Polantz, really appreciate it. Thank you. I'll be back later this hour with the latest from the

courtroom. But for now, let's go back to Zain with more news from around the world.

ASHER: All right, thanks, Omar. I appreciate it. Still to come here, it's a short but infamous list. World leaders wanted by the International Criminal

Court. Ahead, we'll take a look at the work of the ICC and its role on the global stage. Plus, further signs of division and dissent in the Israeli

war cabinet. Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing intense pressure to come up with a plan for what happens in Gaza once the guns fall silent.


ASHER: All right, further signs of division are showing in Israel's already splintered war cabinet. Over the weekend, Benny Gantz threatened to leave

the government on June 8th if a post-war plan for Gaza was not in place. Gantz, who is the prime minister's main political rival, said the focus

should be on getting the remaining hostages home safely.


BENNY GANTZ, MEMBER, ISRAELI WAR CABINET: I think that getting back the hostages is the highest priority within the goals of the war. I'm not

saying that the other goals are not important. I just understand that we are facing a very long campaign, whether it's in Gaza, whether it's in

other places, but the hostages, they don't have that much time. And every week that it's being postponed, the life of the hostages are in danger. And

I want to see an end to it as early as possible.

ASHER: His comments came after Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an earlier ultimatum within the cabinet demanding to know what was going to happen

after the fighting in Gaza ended. Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant challenged the prime minister to come up with a strategy that did

not involve Israeli governance of the besieged enclave.


All right, let's return now to one of our top stories. Israel's foreign minister is calling it a historic disgrace that will be remembered forever.

He's condemning the International Criminal Court after its chief prosecutor said he's pursuing arrest warrants against senior Israeli and Hamas leaders

on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. CNN's Nic Robertson takes a closer look at the role that the court has on the world stage.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia's ruthless Vladimir Putin, Sudan's former dictator, Omar Al-Bashir.

The now dead Libyan tyrant, Muammar Gaddafi. Leaders who claimed innocence, but with blood on their hands, had arrest warrants issued by the ICC, the

International Criminal Court.

Set up in 2002, a court of last resort located in The Hague, the Netherlands. Established to hold to account individuals accused of some of

the most heinous crimes -- genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes. The first verdict came in 2012 against Thomas


UNKNOWN: The charges of conscripting and enlisting children.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Former leader of a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Convicted of war crimes for using child soldiers and

sentenced to 14 years in prison. But the ICC's reach is limited. So far, neither Putin nor Bashir delivered to The Hague.

DONALD TRUMP; FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Its jurisdiction isn't limited to the near 125 countries that are signatories to the Rome Statute that establishes it. But

non-signatories like the U.S., China, India, Russia are not obliged to turn over alleged criminals.

KHAN: I perform my duties.

ROBERSTON (voice-over): The current chief prosecutor, British lawyer Karim Khan, appears proactive in his attentions. Making an unannounced visit to

the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Not long after Israeli troops began their months-long deadly Gaza offensive.

KHAN:I want to underline clearly to Israel that there must be discernible efforts without further delay to make sure civilians receive basic food,


ROBERTSON (voice-over): In November, he followed up with a visit to Israel, including sites ravaged by Hamas during their brutal October 7th attack.

Followed by the occupied West Bank. He had a warning, comply with the law or my office will act. It appears Khan's biggest challenge, as his

predecessors found, not legal, but physical. Putin, the embodiment of that. Still at large, still president. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


ASHER: All right, turning to Gaza now, an update from an American doctor that we've been keeping in touch with. You remember that we spoke to Dr.

Adam Hamawy around this time last week on the life-saving surgeries that he's been performing in Gaza and the level of violence and destruction that

he's been witnessing there. He was actually one of several American doctors trapped in the enclave.

ADAM HAMAWY, U.S. DOCTOR: I'm seeing a -- utter destruction of buildings and people and basically a whole civilization that's going on here. This

war that I'm seeing is not combatants of fighters fighting fighters and trying to get a victory in that sense. What I see is children, women,

civilians as being the primary targets. I'm seeing that their homes are completely being destroyed so that they have nothing to go back to.


ASHER: Well, even though 17 of his American colleagues were evacuated Friday, he says that he's not coming home and instead is choosing to stay

in Gaza with two other medics from the U.S. In a statement over the weekend, he wrote, I have never in my career witnessed the level of

atrocities and targeting of my medical colleagues, as I have in Gaza. He's calling on President Biden to ensure medical personnel can continue their

work safely in the enclave.

All right, still to come here, a closer look at the life and the legacy of Ebrahim Raisi and what his sudden death means for Iran's immediate future.



ASHER: All right, welcome back to "One World". I'm Zain Asher. More now for you on our top story. Iran is in five days of official mourning after the

death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. He and Iran's foreign minister, along with seven others, were killed when their

helicopter went down in a remote mountainous area on Sunday. They were returning from a ceremony for the opening of a dam.

Iran's army chief has ordered an investigation into the exact cause of the crash. Raisi was widely considered to be in line to potentially succeed

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei says there will be no disruption of governance in the country, business as usual, as

international reaction pours in. A U.S. Senate leader says there is no suggestion of foul play.


CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRATC LEADER: Now, on Iran, this is on, as you know, there was a helicopter crash. Okay, and this is late news. Okay,

so I've just spoken to the intelligence authorities. At this point, there is no evidence of foul play. It looks like an accident. There was very bad

foggy weather in northwest Iran where the copter crashed. So, it looks like an accident, but it's still being fully investigated.


ASHER: Raisi's death comes at a time of regional turmoil. CNN Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Matthew Chance looks back at the impact of Ebrahim

Raisi's presidency.



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He was a staunch critic of the West, even seen as a possible successor to the Iranian

supreme leader. Ebrahim Raisi came to power in 2021, winning an election with a record low turnout. Ebrahim Raisi came to power in 2021, winning an

election with a record low turnout. And for three years, enacting policies that made him a polarizing figure at home and abroad.

His presidency saw a dangerous escalation in tensions with Israel. In April, he supported a major attack against the country in an unprecedented

response to a suspected Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed several Iranian commanders.

Throughout Raisi's presidency, Iran pressed ahead with its nuclear program, violating an international agreement while blaming the U.S. for withdrawing

and European states for not living up to their end of the deal. Tehran also supplied lethal drone technology to Russia, fueling the conflict in

Ukraine, allowing Moscow to strike deep behind the front lines.

Meanwhile, at home, Raisi oversaw a brutal crackdown on dissent, suppressing a 2022 uprising sparked by the death of Massa Amini, a young

woman in the custody of Iran's religious morality police. It all cemented his status as a loyal hardliner, potentially in line to succeed Iran's 85-

year-old supreme leader. President Raisi's sudden death plunges that succession into chaos.

Raisi died along with his minister of foreign affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian. The top Iranian diplomat took office in 2021 after a long

career with the foreign ministry.


ASHER: Time now for The Exchange. We want to get a closer look at the implications after the sudden deaths of Iran's president and the foreign

minister, as well. Iran expert Trita Parsi joins us live now. He's the Executive Vice President of Foreign Policy Think Tank Quincy Institute.

He's also the author of the book, "Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy".

Trita, thank you so much for being with us.


ASHER: Obviously, the President of Iran doesn't have that much power within the country. He's essentially no more than a figurehead, but it is still

worth delving deeper on the man who is going to be replacing him on an interim basis. What more do we know about first vice president Mohammad


PARSI: Thank you for having me. Let me first say that presidents in Iran actually do matter, but it's not because the position or the institution

itself automatically gives them a tremendous amount of influence. It has a lot to do with the personality of the presidents themselves.

If, for instance, Rouhani, the previous President, had died in a helicopter crash in the middle of the sensitive nuclear negotiations, it would have

had a profound impact as to whether those negotiations would have been successful or not, because he was such a strong driving force of the

approach to resolve the nuclear file diplomatically.

Raisi, however, never really was a driving force behind any major policy. He was implementing what the hardline establishment wanted to have, and

that's part of the reason why they were so content with him. So, I don't think he will leave much of a hole.

And the new Interim President will do nothing but to just be a stakeholder and make sure that nothing dramatic happens in the next 50 days until the

next elections. So I don't think we should expect anything in particular at all from him. His mandate is not to put forward any new initiative. His

mandate is to just keep things as they are.

ASHER: I think it's important that you pointed out, you know, this would be a very different situation had it been, you know, the previous president.

Obviously, Rouhani was a much more moderate voice compared to Raisi, who's much more of a hardliner.

In terms of just sort of the impact domestically of Raisi's death, you know, he wasn't exactly the most popular person in Iran. He had

marginalized a lot of moderate voices. There were hardliners who, even though they might have had the same view as him politically, they saw him

as an inept President.

You think about how he conducted himself with the handling of the economy. Just explain to us how his death is really, you know, putting aside the

sort of five days of mourning on state media, how is his death really being perceived within Tehran?

PARSI: I think there's elements in Iran that are supportive of the regime and as a result have a certain degree of loyalty to Raisi, who at least at

this moment believe that they need to express a degree of support and mourning, which is not so much supportive of Raisi as it is supportive of

the system as a whole.


And then there are plenty of people, particularly in the big cities, who have really given up on the regime and given up on the idea that the regime

can be changed from within.

But amongst those people, I think it should also be very clear, Raisi was never seen as a particularly relevant figure. This is not, again, a driving

force behind some of the policies. And as a result, I also don't think that you will have the type of either a backlash or likely instability that

would have potentially have come had there been a different figure who had passed away and which would have left a hole or a gap that some potentially

would see as an opportunity to fill. Raisi is not really leaving much of a gap.

ASHER: So, not necessarily a relevant figure in terms of Iranian politics, but there is one area where he was extremely relevant, and that is

potentially seceding the Ayatollah himself. As I understand it, there are, or were, I should say, two contenders, Raisi being one of them and the

other one being Ayatollah's own son, who many had sort of dismissed.

He didn't have the credentials, a lot of people said. And so, the focus was on Raisi, also bearing in mind that the Ayatollah does not have a deputy,

unlike his predecessor, Khomeini, who did have a deputy. So, what does that mean in terms of filling that hole?

PARSI: That's where I think you put your finger on it. This is a much more important question. Now, of course, we know very little about what actually

is being planned behind the scenes within the halls of power in the regime when it comes to the secession. It's a very, very sensitive issue. There is

a tremendous amount of nervousness about it.

But it was quite clear that he was at least being considered, perhaps he was a leading figure. And this is going to be much more of an issue

compared to, you know, the role that he played in policymaking, because he was, by and large, being groomed to be the caretaker, to be the one that

would take over from the supreme leader.

And if it turns out that that really was what they were betting on, then that option is now gone, and they're back to square one. And this is a

very, very tense power struggle behind the scenes about who will replace the supreme leader.

This is part of the reason why the regime has really made sure that the last few elections have been rather meaningless. They have made sure that

all levers of power in Iran are controlled by conservatives, precisely because they want to make sure that the next supreme leader is a

conservative and that they won't have to deal with any major challenges coming from centrists or reformists. And the way to do so has been to

simply exclude them from all of these different institutions of power.

ASHER: Yeah, the Guardian Council controls who runs in Iran, who's able to stand for political office. And we saw during the last elections that

brought Raisi to power, just how tightly controlled that process really was. Trita Parsi, live for us there, thank you so much.

All right, back now to my colleague Omar Jimenez, who's following Donald Trump's trial and Michael Cohen's critical third day of cross-examination,

which has wrapped up. Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, Zain, we've been following these updates as they've been coming in. And coming up, the star witness for one side, we've been talking

about him, Michael Cohen, is providing important information on the other side, which is, of course, Donald Trump's side. We're going to bring you

the latest from Donald Trump's hush money trial when we come back.



JIMENEZ: We could be towards the end of Michael Cohen's testimony at Donald Trump's hush money trial. Court is on a quick break right now. The defense

wrapped their long cross-examination a short time ago, and the prosecution has been asking more redirect questions during their opportunity. And Cohen

has been a very key witness essentially for both sides.

And in his final moments on the stand, it contains some pretty major drama during cross-examination today. Cohen admitted that he stole from the Trump

organization by billing them $50,000 for an expense that only cost him $20,000. And yet, another instance of Cohen's credibility being challenged

on the stand. But will it make a difference?

Joining me now to provide some legal analysis is National Security Attorney Bradley Moss. Bradley, thank you for taking the time. Now, look, one part

of redirect, the prosecutor read a line from a letter Michael Cohen's attorney sent to the Federal Election Commission as part of that statement

saying, quote, "the payment in question does not constitute a campaign contribution.

And when Cohen was asked whether that was a true statement, he said no, and then testified later that that letter was intentionally misleading. What is

the prosecution trying to do here during redirect?

BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Sure, what they're trying to outline are the steps Michael Cohen was taking back when he was still an

employee of Donald Trump to mislead, to conceal and obfuscate the abilities of U.S. government authorities to determine what had actually occurred,

whether or not a civil or criminal violation had transpired with respect to the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and then the repayment, obviously,

to Michael Cohen.

And back then, yes, this is what Michael Cohen did. He provided these statements that were at a minimum highly misleading, if not straight out

false. He ultimately pled guilty to federal felonies tied to this. This was at the core of basically him being the subordinate taking the fall for

Donald Trump at whose behest he was committing these actions. They're outlining this now to demonstrate Michael Cohen explaining and accepting

responsibility for purposes of credibility, to rehabilitate Cohen's credibility after that very lengthy cross-examination.

JIMENEZ: And look, that's part of where I was going next with this, because obviously this comes on the other side of a long cross-examination where

two other moments, one that we just talked about, when he admitted stealing from the Trump Organization, but also over contradictions of a 2016 phone

call where he allegedly discussed the Stormy Daniels payment with Donald Trump. But texts indicate the call may have at least started about

something else. How critical do you believe those moments are when it comes to trustworthiness of Cohen in the eyes of the jury?

PARSI: Yeah, so this is the thing about juries is they're unpredictable. And so, what could be and appear to be a very minor issue, a very minor

point of possible credibility could stick with at least one juror, and that's all Donald Trump needs for a hung jury. So, the prosecution's job

right now on redirect as they're rehabilitating Cohen is to clarify what transpired with respect to these phone calls.

Remember, the one that was brought up on cross was October 24th. There was other evidence indicating the real subset of discussions with Trump was

actually October 26th. As the story was about ready to come out, they had to get this payment done to silence Stormy Daniels. That's what they're

going to discuss on redirect, and that's going to come up, no doubt, in the prosecution's ultimate summations and closing arguments next Tuesday when

this trial comes to a close and we get ready for jury deliberations.

JIMENEZ: And even though closing is expected to be next Tuesday, the amount of court days is essentially pretty minimal given the court schedule, but

also the holiday. And so, we are essentially at the end here, assuming the defense doesn't pull a wild card and call all sorts of witnesses.


But to this point, do you believe the prosecution has done an effective job in proving its case to the jury?

PARSI: I think they built a great house of circumstantial evidence around the one key witness who unfortunately is a witness with credibility issues.

That's Michael Cohen. They've built up everything around him. The question that's ultimately going to come down to in the jury deliberations, does the

jury believe Michael Cohen? If they don't, if they don't believe his story that connects this to Donald Trump specifically, that will be extremely

difficult for the prosecution to overcome and could result at least in a hung jury.

Now, look, the judge made the decision to move the closing arguments from tomorrow, essentially to a week from tomorrow. What is the significance of

that? Does that benefit, do you think, the prosecution more or the defense?

PARSI: I don't think it really helps either side unless there's something specific going on that we don't know yet about in terms of the defense's

planned witnesses. We certainly don't expect to see Donald Trump take the stand. There's no way he'd risk that despite his bravado. They might bring

in one or two small witnesses.

They've largely not been able to bring in their expert. The reason, as far as everyone can tell, that this is getting pushed is because tomorrow would

be summation. There's no trial Wednesday or Friday. Thursday's a shortened day. Almost, certainly that would break up some rhythm. And so the judge

basically said, we'll push it off until after the holiday. Summation's on next Tuesday, and then you've got that whole week to start with jury


JIMENEZ: Look, I know court schedules are always weird, but this one has been tough to keep up with week to week. But it could be coming to a close

pretty soon here, all things considered. We'll see what comes out of the rest of redirect once they get back from their break here. Attorney Bradley

Moss, really appreciate it. Thanks for being here. All right, Zain Asher will be back with more world news after a quick break. Stay with us.


ASHER: All right, before we leave you today, we do want to take a moment to remember a colleague and a friend who we lost far too soon. Alice Stewart,

a political commentator here at CNN, was a regular political voice on our show. I'm sure you recognize her. More importantly than her title, she was

our friend, and we were all deeply shocked and extremely saddened to hear that she died very suddenly over the weekend. Alice was just 58 years old

before becoming a commentator here at CNN.


She ran communications for a number of Republican presidential campaigns. Alice was always unafraid to tell it like it is, and she risked her

standing among Republican consultants by voicing strong opposition to Donald Trump. She was also very open and very welcoming to other political

views. And honestly, she was an absolute delight to work with.

Before we go, I want to leave you with a couple of moments from her many appearances on this show with Bianna and myself. Thank you so much for



ASHER: I mean, how many miracles would have to occur at this point, Alice, for Donald Trump not to be the nominee?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, many miracles would have to happen, Zain, but I believe in miracles. It's the holiday season, so I'm

going to be optimistic on this. That's what these candidates want to show, is that you can have the policies of Trump without all of the dumpster fire

that comes with him.

ASHER: Okay.

STEWART: In order to win the GOP nomination, you have to get not just the base, but broaden that electorate, so there's a difficult dance to make the

case where I am strong on policies that Donald Trump has, but I can also win in a general election.

ASHER: Alice Stewart, live for us there. Thank you so much.

GOLODRYGA: Thanks, Alice. Alice Stewart, appreciate the time today. Thank you.

ASHER: Thank you, Alice.