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CNN Live Event/Special

Michael Cohen Continues Testimony in Trump Hush Money Trial. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 13:00   ET



JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: First thing we're going to wonder is, can they rattle him?


GANGEL: He has been through trial prep. He has been through murder- boarding. They have already gone through what they expect to happen on cross. The jury will notice if his tone and demeanor changes.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Very, very quickly, Kasie.

HUNT: Well, and even Lanny Davis acknowledged that, when he sat behind him in -- in that congressional testimony, what he was worried about was that Cohen was going to get mad. That says a lot.

GANGEL: Right.

TAPPER: He was worried that he was going to get angry, lose his temper, and then lose the confidence of the jury.

Special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money cover-up trial continues right now. Thanks for watching. I will see you back here in three hours.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's first criminal trial.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in our nation's capital. Laura Coates is outside the Manhattan courthouse for us today.

Michael Cohen laid out once again today the who, the what, and the why behind that payment to silence porn star Stormy Daniels. He detailed to jurors how the hush money scheme continued after Trump became president of the United States, talking about a February 2017 meeting he had with Trump and then Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.

And it set up how Trump was going to pay Cohen back for the hush money he initially paid Stormy Daniels -- Laura.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Yes. And, Wolf, Cohen also described the fallout after the FBI raided his properties back in 2018, describing what Cohen testified would be his last conversation with Trump. It was actually over the phone.

And quoting Cohen: "He said to me: 'Don't worry. I'm the president of the United States. There's nothing here. Everything is going to be OK. Stay tough. You're going to be OK.'"

Now, we know, of course, that he ended up not being OK.

I want to turn now to CNN's Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes.

I mean, Paula, bring us up to speed about the significance. First of all, for many people -- and this was his last conversation with Trump? I mean, that's, what, 2018. Here we are, and all that has transpired, making it all the more significant that he is coming face-to-face within a courtroom.


This is the second time this year that they have been in the same courtroom, but this is far more significant, because this is a criminal proceeding. And he is arguably the star witness of this case. Whether people like it or not, much of this case rests on the testimony of Michael Cohen.

And, this morning, he brought the jury through those 11 checks that he received, each for $35,000, because he submitted false invoices to the Trump Organization. And then, after that, he walked the jury through sort of how his relationship with Trump deteriorated, to the point where he became one of the most significant public witnesses against Trump and really helped set the wheels in motion for this criminal case.

Overall, he came across as pretty calm, pretty steady. But I think there are definitely some questions that the jury must have about how many times this man has lied, right? He has lied to the public. He has lied to the IRS, as I have said. He's lied to banks. He has committed campaign finance crimes.

He has lied so many times in the course of the story that he has told. Jurors have to be asking themselves, why should I believe you now? And we're about to hear from the defense attorneys, who are going to give them about 1,000 reasons, all along the same theme, which is, he hates the defendant. That's why you shouldn't believe him, because he is out for -- quote -- "revenge," of course, the name of one of his books.

COATES: And, mind you, Kristen, you think about it, that's been the statement that Trump has been crafting, either himself prior to having the gag order in place, and, certainly, the political talking point about this being a political witch-hunt against him and the person who is driving, essentially, all of this broom is Michael Cohen, in his mind.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. Look, remember -- and I know Paula and I have said this quite a bit,

but this is the defense's witness, as well as the prosecution's. They have been planning for this moment, for this cross-examination. They believe that this is actually going to, at the end of the day, be beneficial to their case, if they can get what they want out of Michael Cohen.

Now, as you mentioned, he has had a litany of political allies in and out of the courthouse, many of them stopping to talk at cameras located outside the courthouse. What you are hearing them say over and over again are attacks on Michael Cohen personally.

Remember, they are not under the same gag order that Donald Trump is. Donald Trump's team is using these surrogates to get messaging out about these witnesses. And you're going to continue to hear that. Whether or not it is people who are aligned with Trump in the legal space or in the political space, the message that they want to drive home when it comes to the court of public opinion is that Michael Cohen cannot be trusted.

COATES: And Kara Scannell just got out of the courthouse. She's been watching the trial throughout.

And particularly today, as we have all been noting, Kara, he has been measured. He has been reflective throughout yesterday and parts of today. But tell me what you were witnessing in that courtroom. We now saw sidebars happen for the first time today from this -- this team during the testimony.


We're also seeing notes being passed as well. Take us inside the courtroom.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Michael Cohen back on the stand today.

As you said, his testimony was measured. It was still even, as he was yesterday, as he was giving the narrative for the prosecution of this hush money payment, the repayment to him.

And then they spent a good chunk of time talking about Michael Cohen's past lies, his change of opinion, like he said he decided that he had -- after a conversation with his family, that he was going to plead guilty, and, from there, how his relationship with Trump had stopped, and spoke a lot about the pressure campaign, as he put it, that Trump put on him when he said that he was now -- well, when he was first -- the FBI first raided his apartment, hotel room and office in April of 2018, up until his decision to plead guilty and then later cooperate with investigators.

While Cohen was telling that story about the FBI raid, describing how, at 7:00 a.m., there was a knock on the door, he looked through the peephole of the hotel room where he was staying because the -- his apartment had been flooded, he was looking directly at the jury as he was explaining to them what it -- was going through at that moment. And then, throughout, he was much more engaged with them than he was

the day before, where his -- a lot of his focus was directly on the prosecutor, answering her questions. So he was more comfortable relaying the story to the jury about what had happened to him and his experience.

And then, ultimately, his last words under the direct by the prosecution -- you know, they're trying to get at all of the issues that the defense is going to bring up at his changing of his story, about how he ultimately went on to sell merchandise, to have podcasts, to sell books based on Donald Trump.

And they asked him, are you lying here today? He said, no, he isn't. And they asked him if he had any regrets about working for the Trump Organization. And, for this, Cohen gave both -- gave two answers. He said that he did have a lot of regrets. He said that he lost his moral compass working for Donald Trump, lying on his behalf and bullying for him.

But he also did really enjoy working at the Trump Organization, so trying to give that sense to the jury that he's not entirely against Donald Trump, but that he did enjoy some of his time working for the company.

And it's a lot for the jury to digest. Again today, they're very engaged. You see them keeping their eyes on Michael Cohen, taking notes. There was one moment in the afternoon where some of the politicians that are in court today to support Donald Trump walked in late, and they walked in as a group in the middle of Cohen's testimony.

And, at that time, I was looking at the jurors. I didn't see any of their eyes divert to what was a bit of a disruption in the courtroom. They seemed to keep their focus on Cohen and what he was saying and what he was testifying about.

So they are very engaged, as they have been throughout this trial -- Laura.

COATES: So, tell me when you're looking, Kara, was -- how was the judge in terms of controlling the courtroom?

There were some objections that were offered by the defense during the direct examination. There had been some yesterday. There were some sidebars. Alina Habba, an attorney who's not on this case, but had been previously representing Trump in other matters, was also there.

Tell me about what that was like.

SCANNELL: So, the judge, you know, he has kept control over this courtroom throughout.

And he had set a rule early on that, if there were going to objections, he didn't want what is known as a speaking objection. He didn't want the lawyers to start arguing the reasons why something should or shouldn't come in front of the jury. So that has been the course that this trial has taken, and consistently.

And so when there were some objections, the judge brought the attorneys up to the bench. He would have a discussion with them. That was not something that the jury or the public could hear. And then they would come back, and he would either say that the objection was sustained, overruled, or, in one case, withdrawn.

So he has kept this trial moving ahead very efficiently. He seemed to have appeared a little bit annoyed. He was staring at the politicians when they walked in, in the middle of Michael Cohen's testimony, but he didn't say anything himself to disrupt the proceedings or even to note it in the record. But he has kept pretty firm control over this trial.

As the day -- as this morning session ended, we should also note -- I'm sure you have -- that the prosecution has finished their questioning, Michael Cohen. So, next up, after the lunch break, it will be the cross-examination, with Trump's attorney Todd Blanche beginning to ask Cohen questions.

That is expected to be pretty fiery. And I think the question is, will Cohen's calm demeanor remain in place as he is being pummeled with questions by Trump's lawyers?

COATES: That's the million-dollar question -- well, maybe we should say the $420,000 question.

Paula, Kristen, Kara, thank you so much -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Laura, thank you.

We're going to continue to follow our analysis of all the dramatic developments so far today. Our panel of experts is here with us right now.


Let me start with one of our experts, Elie Honig.

Elie, as you know, Michael Cohen earlier in the day described an e- mail from Robert Costello, an attorney very close to Rudy Giuliani at the time.

And this is what Cohen said. "I spoke with Rudy." This is what he quoted Robert Costello saying: "I spoke with Rudy. Very, very positive. You are loved. If you want to call me, I will give you the details."

Then he went on to say: "Sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places -- in high places."

How persuasive is this in establishing his place in Trump's orbit?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is an important part of the prosecution story. This is sort of the -- the moral here is, he who controls the lawyers

controls the story. And what happens -- and we have seen this with a lot of people who've broken ranks from Donald Trump -- is, there comes that moment of truth, and Donald Trump starts extending sort of the carrot and the stick, right? Stay loyal. You're loved.

And, by the way, the guy who loves him is at that point the president of the United States, who holds pardon power. Michael Cohen is now under -- at that point, under federal investigation. So, essentially, the deal that's being offered to Michael Cohen through that e-mail, in so many words, is, stay loyal and be rewarded, or turn and be punished.

And Michael Cohen said, I turned and I dealt with the consequences.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there was a joint defense agreement at one point.


BORGER: So, because there was a joint defense agreement, they were all represented by the same attorneys.

And they believed that their goals were all the same. When Michael pulled out of that joint defense agreement, there was hell to pay.


BORGER: And that was what Trump didn't want, and that was what Costello didn't want. And that's why he was sweet-talking him, saying, you know, you're loved by the boss, right?

BLITZER: Very high places, yes.

BORGER: Right.

But he pulled out of it.

BLITZER: Elliot, let's talk a little bit about Cohen's testimony today.

At one point, he read some of Trump's tweets going back, including this: "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."

He saw these as messages to him to stay loyal from Trump to Michael Cohen. What do you think the jury will make of this?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, there's always a tweet, Wolf, really. There really is always a tweet.


WILLIAMS: But, you know, this afternoon -- or this morning into the afternoon, it was sort of a tale of two direct examinations of Michael Cohen.

What prosecutors spent a lot of the morning doing was getting the dirty stuff about Michael Cohen out there, preparing the jury for what they would hear invariably on cross-examination about Michael Cohen's credibility.

The other part was stuff like this, which was dirtying up the defendant implicitly. In getting out all these statements about the relationship between these two men, the former President Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, what they were doing was also putting on the record, number one, that the defendant is vindictive, the defendant cares a great deal about loyalty, number -- the defendant goes after his former folks and even implicitly threatens people based on their testimony.

And it was quite effective, because, if the prosecutor had simply asked Michael Cohen directly, do you believe that the defendant, the former president, is a threat, do you believe he is whatever else, and he answered the question, that would have been likely objected to and thrown out of court.

So, this was a good way, a subtle way of really getting in damaging information about the defendant.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring Dana into this.

Dana, I'm glad you're with us. You covered Congress for a long time, and you have a speaker of the House...


BLITZER: ... right now on this day and other members of Congress, Republicans, taking time out of their very, very busy schedules to attend this trial in New York.

What's the political point of this?

BASH: Because it is such an easy political win for any Republican who wants to get right with the Trump base. And for the House speaker, he has maybe been praised a little bit too much by Democrats recently, voted for by Democrats recently.

And this, on the raw politics of it, is sort of an easy way for him to say -- you know, use all of the terms that we have heard all of these Republicans use about the way that they think that this trial is unfair, and to actually show up for the former president, for the guy who wants to be president again and who is the effective nominee of their party, is -- is pretty easy.

And for somebody like Mike Johnson, remember, he's coming off the heels of not just the vote I talked about, but also doing things that are unforgivable in the eyes of some in his party, like funding the government...


BASH: ... speaking out against chaos.

BLITZER: Funding Ukraine.

BASH: Funding Ukraine.


BASH: And so, you know, it's -- it's kind of a win-win politically.


BORGER: And from Donald Trump's...


BLITZER: What do you think -- Gloria, what do you think voters are going to -- how are they going to react to see the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, show up, go outside, deliver another scathing attack against this entire legal system?

BORGER: Well, it's -- you know, it's Trump's peanut gallery, right? And Trump always demands supporters' what he calls loyalty and the adoration he gets from big crowds.


And he was apparently complaining that he wasn't getting the crowds he wanted. So, what he got was people coming into the courtroom instead, and they're people of some notoriety. And they walked in late into the courtroom, and that upset the judge, apparently, right, Elie?

I mean, yes, they...

HONIG: Judges don't like that, yes.

BORGER: They didn't behave.


I don't think this move helps legally whatsoever. If anything, first of all, I don't think the jurors probably even recognize folks like J.D. Vance or Mike Johnson. And, if they do, by the way, if you just...

BASH: Mike Johnson's the guy with the security with him.

HONIG: Right.



HONIG: He's the speaker of something, yes.

By the way, Manhattan is an overwhelmingly Democratic district, county. The other thing is, if I'm the -- Donald Trump's defense team, I don't want the jury thinking about Donald Trump, political being, at all. I want them thinking about him as a human being and an individual.

So, if it was up to me and I was the defense -- look, they have a right to be there, but I wouldn't want them there.


BASH: But this is one of those examples -- sorry, Gloria. Go ahead.

BORGER: No, I was just going to say, it's not up to them. It's up to Trump.


BASH: Yes, exactly.

This is one of those examples, like several points along this trial that we have seen, like pushing Stormy Daniels, asking questions much longer in the cross-examination than maybe you would have if you were an attorney for the former president.


BASH: This is one of those examples of when he wants the political sort of communications and strategy to supersede everything else.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

Everybody stand by.

When court resumes in about an hour, we're told -- they're on a lunch break right now -- it will be the defense's turn to question the fixer-turned-felon Michael Cohen. His claims are central to the charges against the former President Donald Trump. And what he says under cross-examination could potentially make or break the prosecution's case.

Don't go anywhere. Our special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial continues right after this.



BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of Donald Trump's hush money trial.

Court is now in a break for lunch. When it resumes in a little while, the defense is expected to begin cross-examining Trump's former lawyer and so-called fixer Michael Cohen.

CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins has been inside the courtroom all morning.

I know you just walked out, Kaitlan. Give us some initial observations. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes, Wolf, it was really remarkable how

that ended, with Michael Cohen obviously still getting the direct questions from the prosecution there.

They spent probably the last 30 to 45 minutes really fronting all of his baggage, everything that they know that Todd Blanche, Trump's attorney, is about to use when he gets up there to cross-examine Michael Cohen. They were walking through his guilty pleas to the Southern District of New York, the -- as he asked for a reduction in his sentence, the money that he's made off his podcast and his books ever since everything happened and the relationship between him and Donald Trump completely deteriorated.

They really were trying to get ahead of all of that, his meetings with Stormy Daniels, with someone that he met when he invited her on his podcast. They'd never actually had a conversation in person before. And they are essentially trying to thwart everything that they know Todd Blanche is going to get up there and ask Michael Cohen about, starting with everything that he has been saying in recent weeks about Donald Trump and about this trial.

And there were several moments in there where you really listened to Michael Cohen at the end, as Donald Trump, I was paying attention to him, had his eyes closed for most of Michael Cohen's testimony.

It doesn't mean he's asleep. He just kind of takes this moment where he almost pretends like what's happening isn't actually happening. And there was this moment right at the end when the prosecutor was asking Michael Cohen if he regretted kind of how intertwined he's been with Donald Trump.

He said he didn't regret working for the Trump Organization, but he said that what he regrets is keeping the loyalty and the things that he, referencing Donald Trump, "asked me to do." Michael Cohen said: "I violated my moral compass and I suffered the penalty, as has my family."

Now, Michael Cohen's wife was seated on the right side of the courtroom today listening to this. She was also there yesterday as he first took the witness stand. And Michael Cohen was really kind of taking the jury inside, Wolf, what it was like when his and Donald Trump's relationship broke down, when he did have his home and his hotel room and his office raided by the FBI and what that looked like.

And he was walking through the fear that he felt, the pressure campaign to stay in the fold with Donald Trump, to have a Trump-allied attorney, using terms that almost seemed more like something you would hear in a case of a mob boss, of staying in the fold, than you would with the former president of the United States, who was seated right there at the defense table.

It was quite remarkable, Wolf, to see the jury kind of be walked through his entire relationship with Donald Trump from when they met yesterday to when it completely broke down and that last phone call they had a few days after the FBI raided all of his properties. BLITZER: And, Kaitlan, what else are you hearing about the Trump

team's upcoming cross-examination of Michael Cohen that's expected to begin in a little while?

COLLINS: It's going to begin any moment, Wolf, as soon as they get back inside that courtroom.

That is when we do expect Todd Blanche to get up. He kind of stood up right at the end, when Susan Hoffinger, the prosecutor, said she had no further questions. And then the judge said, no, let's take the -- it's time to take the break for lunch.

And so it is going to be brutal, I think. They are going to try to eviscerate him, to undermine everything he said, to turn his credibility and all of his even tone that he had during the last day- and-a-half of his testimony, the "Yes, ma'am"s, the "No, ma'am"s that he had for the prosecution, they are going to try to turn that on its head.


And I expect that the cross-examination, it certainly will not finish today, unless everything has completely changed from the Trump team's -- defense team's plan. But it is going to be quite lengthy, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will be, and expected to be quite intense as well.

You reported from inside the court, Kaitlan, that the judge, Judge Merchan, looked visibly annoyed as Trump's Republican entourage from Congress reentered in the middle of Michael Cohen's testimony. Talk to us a little bit about that moment.

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, this judge does not give away much. He has a very even tone. He greets Donald Trump with a "Good morning, Mr. Trump" every single day that he walks inside the courtroom.

And he -- certainly, every time Trump's attorney objects, he brings them up there. He hears their concerns. But there was this moment. And I have been watching the judge very closely the times that I have been privileged to be inside the courtroom and his demeanor as the questioning is going on.

You know, we saw him looking visibly uncomfortable during the Stormy Daniels testimony when that was initially going on. And there was this moment where -- when there's a break, everyone gets about 10 to 15 minutes to go out to the hallway, go out to the restroom, Trump and his whole entourage leaves, the prosecutors and their whole team leaves, and they both return to the courtroom.

Trump returned without, you know, multiple of those lawmakers, and Doug -- Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, in tow with him, and we just thought they weren't coming back in the room, because the court began, the questioning started, and it was basically silent inside the courtroom. And then, a little while in, we heard the door open. And it wasn't

just one person coming in and out. It was five or six people from Trump's team walking down that center aisle. And they're not just sliding into a back row, Wolf. They get into the second row of the entire courtroom to sit in the pews to listen to what's happening.

And the judge stared straight at them as they were walking in. It was Vivek Ramaswamy, Congressman Byron Donalds, Congressman Cory Mills, Governor Doug Burgum, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign who used to work inside the Trump White House.

And he looked visibly annoyed, Wolf, because Michael Cohen was in the middle of a line of questioning, and he was answering. And the jury, from Kara Scannell, which she could only see a few of them, she said, they didn't seem to look over to watch the entourage coming in.

But you saw the judge basically staring straight at them as they were walking in, in a way, because it seemed disruptive to the proceedings. Every time I have been in there, I have never seen a large group of people come in and sit at the front of the courtroom while the witness is on the stand testify.

BLITZER: And was the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, part of that entourage?


So, Speaker Mike Johnson -- this was something that was reported this morning. He was planning to come and support Donald Trump in court. I believe he spoke to reporters outside of the courtroom while I was inside the courtroom.

I -- unless he is coming in, in this afternoon session, in both sessions this morning, even though there was one brief break, I never saw the House speaker, Mike Johnson, inside the room. And I was seated quite close to Trump's side and to all of the people that come in with him. It was quite a few people today, probably the most we have seen since this trial started, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

All right, Kaitlan, thank you so much for your observations. We appreciate it very, very much.

Meanwhile, an appeals court has just denied Trump's latest attempt to get his gag order overturned. But has the former president's high- profile posse found a work-around?

Our special live coverage continues right after this.