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CNN Live Event/Special

Michael Cohen Testimony Continues. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 11:00   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: The people who throughout this trial have been like, please don't say my name. I don't want to be a part of this. Why am I being mentioned, from the catch-and-kills on to now?

But tell us. You're talking about him right now because Cohen says that he told Pecker that: "I told him that the matter was going to be taken care of."

And the person, of course, who's going to be able to do it was Jeff Sessions, who was, if you may remember, the attorney general at the time. They're talking about a number of issues with respect to what happened with Pecker and, of course, the catch-and-kills.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the "Wall Street Journal" article from 2018 essentially on AMI, Pecker being concerned that this is going to have a long-term effect on AMI, which, obviously, he did not want at the time.

I still believe at this time he was up for consideration to run "TIME" magazine, though I'm not sure if that was still going on.

COATES: Well, remember too Pecker's testimony about why he felt insecure, uncomfortable about even paying in the first instance.

He was reflecting back to a payment -- or a discussion with then- gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that it came out that there had been some involvement by AMI in stories, and that made him feel as though it had a harmful effect on the reputation of AMI.

HOLMES: Exactly.

And so, right now, they're having a conversation as to what exactly Jeff Sessions plays -- role plays in this. And he says, essentially, that they said: "I told him that the matter was going to be taken care of" -- this is going to Pecker -- "and the person who, of course, was going to be able to do that was Jeff Sessions," who was attorney general at the time.

Now, one thing to just go back in time and look at is the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions came under a lot of heat because people thought that he would do anything that Donald Trump wanted him to do.

Now you are hearing Michael Cohen testify that Jeff Session was going -- Jeff Sessions was going to take care of this issue... COATES: Mm-hmm.

HOLMES: ... and it would be fine for David Pecker regarding AMI.

COATES: Well, it's interesting too, because, as we're looking at the courtroom today and those who are going to be a part of it and inside are also members of Congress.

We were talking earlier today about the fact that there seems to be a bit of a -- if not a veepstakes, more broadly, a Cabinet stakes that might be happening as well. In the event that Donald Trump is to secure the presidency again, there is a new barometer at play. This might be part of the visible impression for the court of public opinion that, once again, you're seeing people vying for his affection, politically speaking.

HOLMES: Yes, but I will remind you that none of this is new. This is not the first time someone in Donald Trump's orbit has been brought into a court appearance.

Obviously, Michael Cohen himself went to jail, as did Allen Weisselberg. The people who are sitting in that courtroom now know exactly president is, and they have decided to give their backing to him regardless of what that might be long term.

Now, you talk about the political consequences. Well, if this man does get elected to be the president of the United States, they want to be on his good side. They don't want to be focusing on what the bad side looks like.

COATES: Mm-hmm.

Now we're getting up to speed as well. Remember, we have got these cast of characters we have all been familiar with, Michael Avenatti making an appearance, at least in terms of testimony, right now. We're learning that Keith Davidson, who no longer represents Stormy Daniels, in the conversations, Cohen was trying to use him to make sure he had more control over when she was speaking and not.

We heard about Eric Trump wanting to enforce some aspects of the arbitration, or a TRO, a temporary restraining order, against her ability to speak about a variety of issues. And Cohen is talking about this entirety now.

So, this is him, again, the fulsome narrator.


And Michael Avenatti's entrance into the scene, this represents a significant escalation in what Stormy Daniels was doing with her story, how litigious she became, how public she suddenly became too, the two of them making almost daily -- well, not her, but he made almost daily TV appearances on her behalf.

He eventually gets her to do "60 Minutes." I mean, once Michael Avenatti enters the chat, things related to Stormy Daniels seriously escalate. Now, that doesn't necessarily matter for this case and the alleged criminal charges, but it's going to speak to the chaotic season we're about to enter in terms of Trump and Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

COATES: But remind people, Paula, when Avenatti comes into the picture, have the payments already been made to Stormy Daniels?

REID: Yes.

COATES: But -- but not the falsified business records component of it?

REID: So, at this point, I believe he's entering the chat. I believe we are well past yes, we're in 2018.


REID: So, at this point, she's already received her hush money through her previous attorney, Keith Davidson.

The falsified business records,all of that allegedly happened in 2017. So, here, we're in 2018. And this escalation really has to do more with Michael Cohen and him losing control of the Stormy Daniels story and Stormy Daniels herself once she takes on Michael Avenatti.

So, Cohen says he, along with Trump, eventually agreed not to enforce the NDA against Daniels. So, that's really why this portion of testimony is significant, not necessarily for the alleged criminal conduct, but I think this will likely help explain the sudden decline of the relationship between Trump and Michael Cohen.

COATES: And the interest potentially.


I mean, if we're -- we're talking about 2018, you have already -- you're into a presidential administration, right? You -- the idea -- we have heard testimony yesterday about Michael Cohen saying that Trump was less interested once he became the president, perhaps, with the campaign, but he always had reelection on the brain.

HOLMES: He did always have reelection the brain.

And, also he did have his wife on the brain during that time in 2018. We are told by people who were close to Melania at that time that she was mad. She was furious at him when these reports came out. She felt embarrassed. She felt that he had put her in a position to be embarrassed.

And he was president of the United States. I mean, this was a huge news story at the time. So this idea that, yes, he thought that it would be fine post-election, that might have just been for the actual -- actual votes being cast, but now he was in office, and this story really took a life as its own, as -- as Paula said, everyone kind of losing control of the story. COATES: Do we still have Kuby with us as well on this point? Because,

if we do, I want to bring him back in, because I -- you're always told in trials, especially if you have witnesses and credibility, you got to be wary of speaking in absolutes.

The fact that Michael Cohen suggested yesterday in court that Donald Trump did not care at all really about Melania Trump plays into the ability of the prosecution to make its case, because they have to show, by law in New York, not an exact percentage, but that there was a substantial motivation that was the campaign.

How do you think the prosecution and then the defense has to talk about how the jury should quantify this?

RON KUBY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's -- it's a very difficult question.

And it's a question that really is at the heart of the case. But what the prosecution has done repeatedly through a number of witnesses, most recently Michael Cohen, pointing out that Donald Trump's concern, as he stated it, was always about the election.

If Melania came into the conversation, she was an afterthought. So Hope Hicks testified that she had to clean up the magazines around the house, so Melania didn't see the Stormy Daniels covers, but that's a far cry from adducing testimony to say that Donald Trump was substantially concerned about his wife.

And that's the problem Donald Trump has. There's only really one person who can get up on the witness stand and say the motivation for not doing what I'm accused of doing, because Donald Trump denies that he ever authorized the hush money payments, but the motivation for doing what I didn't do was to protect my wife.

He has got himself in this sort of bag of denying everything, having his lawyers attack everything, that he can't really get on the stand and talk about his motivation for doing the things that he is going to swear he didn't do.

What do you do with that?

COATES: No. Yes.

Well, Ron, just as we're following what's happening right now, we are at the part of the testimony where the prosecution has got to confront the fact that Michael Cohen is somebody who has guilty convictions and pleas. They are talking about at this point in time that, one, much of 2018, as Trump's personal attorney, he continued to deny his involvement in the payment of funds to Stormy Daniels.

We're also now up to speed on that FBI raid, where Cohen is saying, he looked through the peephole. He was some people out in the hallway. He saw the badge, opened the door. He was saying at the Loews Hotel because his apartment had flooded in some respect.

So we are now getting into this point. They said that they identified themselves as the FBI and asked him to step into the hallway. You can bet your bottom dollar that the jury are beginning to lean in now, hearing about this.

And I want to go back to Jake on this point, because, Jake, this is the part of the story that perhaps jurors had heard about in the past that the prosecution needs to be able to address and front. And if they cannot take the sting out of things that make him seem less credible because of convictions before the defense gets up to cross, they have got a problem.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Indeed. Indeed.

And let's talk about this with the panel, because, right now, we're -- Michael Cohen is on the stand. And he is beginning to describe when the bottom fell out for him. It is this morning April 2018. He is staying at the Loews Regency Hotel because his apartment is flooded.

There's a knock on the door, and he looks through the peephole, as Laura said, sees a ton of people out in the hallway. It's an FBI raid.

Kaitlan Collins inside the courtroom notes that Trump has looked in the direction of the witness stand twice as Trump -- as Michael Cohen testifies about the FBI raid of his hotel room and office. Cohen is express -- explaining: "The search warrant gave them the right to take my two cell phones, any electronic devices, as well as records."

Cohen confirms these cell phones were seized as the same have -- that have been referenced in the trial, including the phone that contained the audio recording of Cohen talking to Trump.

Asked if he was frightened, he said yes.


What was the basis for the FBI raid?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, this is when the bottom falls out on the relationship.

The FBI went to the judge and got permission, they got approval, because they were able to show probable cause, meaning more likely than not, that Michael Cohen had engaged in various crimes. I think, at the time, they alleged bank fraud, wire fraud, potentially campaign election fraud.

TAPPER: Because of the payment to Stormy Daniels?

HONIG: I'm not sure if that's a basis for the search warrant.


TAPPER: Elliot, go ahead.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was at least a portion of it...

HONIG: Right.

WILLIAMS: ... yes, in the context -- so, anyway, keep going.

HONIG: So, they get in the door. They search his home, his apartment, his hotel, his office.

And, importantly, they pull out two cell phones. And now we have seen evidence in this trial that prosecutors have taken from those cell phones. We have seen texts. We have seen phone call records.

So, part of this is, Michael Cohen is setting the basis for the jury to understand where some of this evidence came from his own cell phones at a time when he didn't know they were going to be taken, right? He didn't know the FBI was coming. That's number one.

Number two is, this is the turning point. This is when it all goes bad. Pretty soon, in this narrative, Donald Trump and Michael Cohen have the public falling out. And, ultimately, Michael Cohen that summer ends up pleading guilty to various federal crimes.

TAPPER: So, Cohen spoke to Trump after the raid.

"I received a phone call from the president, Trump. It was in response to me leaving a message for him to call me. I wanted, obviously, him to know what was taking place. He said to me: "Don't worry. I'm the president of the United States. There's nothing here. Everything's going to be OK. Stay tough. You're going to be OK.'"

Cohen also says that he was frightened.

Lanny, what was the basis for the FBI raid? What exactly was his -- Michael Cohen's understanding about why they were going into his phones?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: So, talk about a consciousness of guilt. Michael knew at that point he was up to his neck in doing these crimes for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: By the way, this is the last time that he and Donald Trump spoke, on that phone call.

DAVIS: He recognized the raid as maybe the beginning of his being targeted, and nobody else. And it turns out he was right.

TAPPER: Targeted by whom?

DAVIS: Well, he wasn't sure, because Trump was saying, stay -- hang in there. I'm outraged.

But then he started to distance himself. And it didn't seem, until Geoffrey Berman, the Southern District U.S. attorney, wrote a book where he said he was receiving pressure from Washington on the Cohen case, that Cohen started to add things up after the fact that maybe he was targeted, and the weaponization that everyone talks about was really just Michael Cohen, not Weisselberg, not anybody else.


WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP PAYROLL CORPORATION ATTORNEY: The issue that I have with Lanny's recitation is when he says he had consciousness of guilt because he knew these crimes had taken place at the behest of Donald Trump.

Whether or not that was part of his consciousness of guilt, it wasn't all of it. He certainly didn't not report $4 million in income tax to the tune of 1.387 in actual taxes lost at the behest of Donald Trump. As Elie said earlier, he certainly didn't lie at his bankruptcy proceeding at the behest of Donald Trump.

So he had plenty of criminality going on. Part of it may have been things that he did for Trump.


DAVIS: So, just to be clear, he'd only pled guilty to the tax crime spread out over five years, $470,000 per year.

And in the annals of criminal prosecution, H&R Block says .0001 percent...


DAVIS: ... of tax crimes are convicted, are used -- criminal system, rather than civil.

TAPPER: Bill's larger point...


BRENNAN: That's some real heavy lawyer dancing there, Lanny.

DAVIS: Well, it's not a lawyer dance. It's to overstate his tax crime...


TAPPER: But Bill's larger point -- Bill's larger point is that...


BRENNAN: I know people that don't make $470,000 in 10 years.

DAVIS: Well...

TAPPER: Bill's larger point is that Cohen may have known or may have suspected there were other things that he had done as well.

But, in any case, Cohen right now is in the courtroom. He's talking about how he felt reassured and he remained in the camp because Donald Trump had said that he was going to protect him, that I'm the president. Don't worry about it.

He heard from other people in Trump's circle, Cohen says: "You're loved. Don't worry. He's got your back, most powerful guy in the country, if not the world. You're going to be OK."

Cohen is now being shown the Trump tweets from 2018 about him.



And this, of course, as he is worried, am I still in the fold, am I still in the fold?

And I guess my question -- I take your point about all of his crimes, not crimes. You're sort of alleging maybe they were weaponizing the Justice Department against Michael Cohen.

I think my question is, what was Michael Cohen's -- what is Michael Cohen's theory of why the president turned on him at this point?

TAPPER: So, in any case, at this point in the narrative, though, Cohen says he believed Trump was communicating to him through these tweets...

HUNT: Right.

TAPPER: ... stay in the fold, stay loyal, I have you, you're a fine person, don't flip.

So, let me read one of the tweets. I think we're going to prepare it.

But go ahead, Kasie.

HUNT: Yes, it's right here: "'The New York Times' and third-rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunky who I don't speak to and have nothing to do with..."


HUNT: ... "are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will flip" -- quote, unquote.

And it goes on. And I think there are additional tweets being...


TAPPER: Maggie Haberman, by the way, a first-rate reporter.





HUNT: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Maggie Haberman. I...

TAPPER: He certainly talks to her a lot.


TAPPER: ... she's third-rate.


HUNT: Well, this is what Trump does, right?

I mean, he involves -- he involves himself with these -- with people. I mean, he does -- the idea that he isn't...


TAPPER: Here are some of the other tweets.


HUNT: ... reporters...


HUNT: These are the other ones.

TAPPER: So: "They use nonexistent sources" -- not true -- "and a drunk, drugged-up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account, lawyer who I have always liked and respected. Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don't see Michael doing that, despite the horrible witch-hunt and the dishonest media."

So, the idea that Cohen says he believes Trump is communicating to him, stay in the fold, stay loyal, I have you, you're a fine person, don't flip, it's pretty clearly stated right there. "I don't see Michael Cohen flipping." I mean, that's -- it's pretty clearly stated there.

DAVIS: So, I can answer...

TAPPER: Trump's attorney just handed him a Post-it note during these questions about Trump's tweet.

DAVIS: I can answer from my memory.

So I first heard from Michael and we talked in June. The raid was in April.


DAVIS: I mean, April and June, Trump started, after these supportive tweets, to make it clear that he was distancing himself.

Is this unusual for Donald Trump? Do you remember his support for Bill Barr? Do you remember what he's now saying about Bill Barr? He has a record through his lifetime of throwing people that he's used over the side.

HUNT: Right, but there are some people that he saves. I mean, he saved Paul Manafort, for example.

TAPPER: He pardoned him.

HUNT: Right?

DAVIS: That's after he allowed Paul Manafort to be prosecuted with his own attorney general.

So I'm just saying that Trump has a history of distancing himself when the guy that's helped him through the years starts to get into trouble.

TAPPER: Although, according to Cohen, Trump was paying his legal fees still at this point. It's April 2018.

And Trump, the Trump Organization has been paying Michael Cohen's legal fees as he testifies privately, but before Congress, on the Trump-Russia affair.And he is being represented and paid -- his representation, is being paid for. Donald Trump's still paying Cohen's legal fees in April 2018.

DAVIS: And -- and all I can tell you is, on the night -- it was many nights, but this was the night that he made up his mind.

His family and his children and his friends were pressuring him to turn his life and to tell the truth, which is when I said to him: "The only way I can help you is if you say you're honest, not made-up emotions, I'm ashamed -- I'm ashamed of myself."

HUNT: And that, of course, was when Trump...


HUNT: Right.

DAVIS: And that was when the final break occurred.

On July 2, through ABC -- excuse me mentioning another network.

TAPPER: That's OK.

DAVIS: The story broke that Michael Cohen was breaking with Trump and telling the truth for his family and his country.

And that was an agonizing two weeks that I spent with him and his family, and it was about his desire to turn his life around.

HUNT: OK. Well, you suggested like a weaponization of the Justice Department to go after Michael Cohen.

DAVIS: Well, to this...

HUNT: I was trying to kind of square that. And I'm not sure we have here.

DAVIS: Well, to this day, since -- since the U.S. attorney wrote his book, Geoffrey Berman, who described pressure from Washington, in fact, even trying to reverse the Cohen guilty plea to get rid of the documents that found Trump had directed the crime.

TAPPER: Yes. So, we will dive more into that in a second, but court's taking a morning break.

Cohen, before the break, said that he took the tweet that Trump sent that we read to you as a message that: "Mr. Trump did not want me to cooperate with the government, certainly not to provide information or flip."

Cohen audibly exhales as he leaves the courtroom. Prosecutors had him explain to the jury everything he did to protect Mr. Trump.

Court is in this quick break. As I mentioned, we're going to have much more of CNN's special coverage of Donald Trump's hush money trial in just minutes.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money cover-up trial.

Any minute, Michael Cohen will resume his testimony. He just finished explaining how he interpreted a series of Trump tweets in 2018 as a caution against him cooperating with prosecutors.

I want to bring in Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. She's a former senior adviser to Melania Trump and author of the book "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady."

Thank you so much for joining.

So, you know Michael Cohen well. You both spent years in the Trump family orbit. Neither of you are in the family orbit currently. Have you spoken with Michael Cohen recently? How is he handling any of the pressure he might feel?

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR, "MELANIA AND ME": Yes, Michael Cohen I have spoken often, and almost daily, Jake.

And I think Michael had to come to a realization that, yes, everyone is going to barrage him with the statements that we keep hearing over and over that he lied and he lied and he lied.

I think it's most important that people start now listening to Michael, because what he's been speaking about is corroborated by so many individuals that were in the Trump orbit, that were close to the family, as well as myself. And we have Allen Weisselberg, who everyone keeps discussing as well,

who was a part of all of this. And he was a silent camp -- he was involved in the campaign, as was Michael, silently. And so I think people need to just start looking at the facts of the case and stop focusing on what Michael lied about for so long for Donald.

TAPPER: Michael Cohen says that Donald Trump approved every part of the plan to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels and to hide it.

Do you see any scenario where something like this was carried out by Michael Cohen on his own to help Donald Trump, but without Trump's explicit sign-off? Is that possible at all?


WINSTON WOLKOFF: Jake, you know, I wasn't there for any of those discussions.

And I'm not a lawyer, so I can't say -- you know, I can't guarantee that, but I do know Donald and Melania Trump. And nothing happens without their approval and with their full knowledge, to the extent of everything that's going on.

I had to experience that myself. And so I can relate to how Michael feels. And knowing just their -- extent of their involvement and knowing that nothing would -- you wouldn't dare actually do anything without them knowing.

TAPPER: You worked for the former first lady Melania Trump. Knowing their relationship, how much do you think Trump was worried about the Stormy Daniels story coming out because he was worried about her reaction, and how much do you think he was worried about the reaction of voters, given that this was October 2016, just weeks before the election?

WINSTON WOLKOFF: I think people have to remember who Melania Trump really is.

There is no enigma. There is no mysteriousness. Melania really is who she has portrayed herself to be. There's a strength within her that is unlike any other individual I have ever met. She does not care what others feel about her, nor does she feel she ever had to really explain anything to the American people.

And that is why she didn't move to D.C. in the beginning or when she was in the hospital. Donald's way of dealing with Melania is something that I have spoken about very -- most recently, whether it be a podcast or in interviews.

And that is that I do believe it is a transactional marriage in so many ways, that they both garnered so much out of their relationship. And by marrying Donald, Melania really did finally get to be the "Vogue" cover model that she's always wanted to be, that supermodel.

And by marrying Melania, Donald was legitimized as trying to get away from that whole Playboy mentality that -- that everyone wanted to characterize him as.

Donald's main concern, yes, there is -- there is something between the two of them that others cannot deny that are close to them. Donald's main -- in my opinion, knowing Melania, knowing that she really did fight for the locker room talk, that it was something that she shared with me at lunch after she had canceled her interview with Anderson Cooper.

And that was something that she was very nervous about when it first came out. And it was the only thing she thought would put the -- the -- his election at any chance of being at risk. I do not believe Donald's first priority was Melania, because she isn't going anywhere. They are, to one another, unlike anyone is to, I think, anyone else.

TAPPER: You just referenced Melania talking to Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes."

Let's play a little bit of that. This is right after the "Access Hollywood" video broke. And, obviously, on that tape, he's talking about grabbing women by their genitals, and, if you're a star, you get away with it.

And Melania Trump came to his defense in these closing weeks of the election, October 2016. Let's run that clip.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: He described it as -- as locker room talk to you.


COOPER: I mean, you sort of alluded to that as well. Is that what it is to you, just locker room talk?

M. TRUMP: Yes, it's kind of two teenage boys. Actually, they should behave better, right? It was not...

COOPER: He was 59.

M. TRUMP: Correct. And, sometimes, I said, I have two boys at home. I have my young son, and I have my husband.


M. TRUMP: So -- but I know how some men talk. And that's -- that's how I saw it, yes.


TAPPER: Stephanie, a lot of -- a lot of voters heard that tape and thought, that's Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault.

And you hear Melania Trump there letting him off the hook. It's just silliness.

WINSTON WOLKOFF: It is, Jake, but I have to tell you -- and I think it's so important for the American people that do support the Trumps.

When you hear Melania Trump say it, you almost want to believe it, right, the way she just says it so lightly and casually. You -- but the reality is, she really does mean it, right? To her and to Donald, it is about winning at all costs.

And, for them, it really is, again, part of their talking points, right? It's about perception. It's about the perception of their marriage and who they are as individuals, about them being caring or not caring. The -- their reality is, it is whatever is best for them.

And Melania felt very strongly, even when "Fire and Fury" came out, that Melania was crying -- and you were talking about this earlier on your show, that she was in tears on election night. She made sure that I told the American people, because I was not there.

I was not there that evening, so I could not dispute it. But she wanted me to make sure that everyone knew that she was not crying and that she was strong and she was independent, but that she and Donald together were victorious.