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Appeals Court Denies Trump's Latest Request To Overturn Gag Order; Soon: Trump Defense Cross-Examines Michael Cohen. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 13:30   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our very special coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial. We're following all the details on Michael Cohens testimony. It's set to resume, by the way, in about 40 minutes with cross examination.

We also learned a New York appeals court has just denied the former president's latest attempt to overturn the judge's gag order against him.

For more on this and other important issues, we're joined now by the former U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin.

Judge Scheindlin, thank you so much for joining us.

First of all, what's your reaction to this decision to, once again, deny Trump's lawyer's request to remove the gag order?

SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: I'm really not surprised. They praised Judge Merchan for getting it right and for properly weighing First Amendment rights against the possible harm to the jury and to the witnesses. So they did what I expected they would do.

BLITZER: As you know, several high-profile


BLITZER: Go ahead. I missed what you said.

SCHEINDLIN: I was going to say Trump has -- Trump has figured out a work around anyway, because he has his surrogates saying all the things that he can't say.

BLITZER: Yes. Now on that point -- that's a good point. Several high- profile Republicans, including the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, were there in New York to support Trump this morning.

I want to give your reaction to some of what he said about Michael Cohen. Listen to this.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): This is a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge and who is widely known as a witness who has trouble with the truth. He is someone who has a history of perjury and is well known for it. No one should believe a word he says today.



BLITZER: As you know, the gag order prevents Trump from speaking about witnesses or the jurors, but his ally certainly can. Is this just a way for Trump to get around that gag order?

SCHEINDLIN: Absolutely. It's an obvious work around. And what the speaker just said is exactly what Trump would say if he could say it.


SCHEINDLIN: Not surprising what the speaker's (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Can this show of force of Trump's supporters, including the speaker of the House of Representatives, inside the courtroom, could it impact the jury?

SCHEINDLIN: I don't think so. The juror is not -- the jury is not supposed to be listening to this. And they know their or they will know shortly that, indeed, Cohen was convicted of perjury. Cohen is now against Trump. There's no secrets there. There's nothing new that the speaker said.

In fact, it's -- in that sense, it's accurate. He's been convicted of perjury and he's now testifying against Trump.

BLITZER: I just want to get your thought, is it appropriate for the speaker of the House of Representatives, second in line to the presidency, to even show up at a criminal trial like this?

SCHEINDLIN: Of course, it's not appropriate. And I suppose it's third in line. We have the vice president. But in any event, no, it's not appropriate for the speaker of the House to be doing that.

I was quite surprised that he did that. But people say, well, the Democrats have been praising him. It's time for him to take back the Republican's base.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right. The vice president is the first in line. The speaker of the House is the second in line, god forbid, if something happens to the president. So the speaker is the second in line.,


BLITZER: Judge Merchan looked visibly annoyed as Trump's allies re- entered the courtroom right in the middle of Michael Cohens testimony.

How disruptive is this? And is there anything the judge can actually do?

SCHEINDLIN: I think it's very disruptive to have a group walk in, in the middle of testimony and walk to the front and have special seats set aside from them.

But there's not much the judge can do because, if he raises it, it only draws attention to who's there. And the jury may not have even noticed who they were or know who they were. They just saw some guys coming in.

So I -- I agree with the judge in not doing anything about it at the time.

BLITZER: In his testimony, Michael Cohen tried to make it clear that Trump knew all about the hush money payments that were ongoing. Trump's signature is on the checks, as you know, for the reimbursement.

What has -- has Cohen's testimony definitively shown that Trump committed a crime based on everything we've heard so far?

SCHEINDLIN: Well, I think that his testimony, as corroborated by the documents, certainly shows that Trump was aware that there were payments being made and that the business records would be falsified to pretend that those payments for legal services, which, of course, he knew they were not.

But the key is turning the misdemeanor into a felony. So is it true that Trump was aware that this was a violation of the federal campaign finance law?

And that's the underlying crime that has to be proved to turn it into a felony. It's actually a violation of the New York election law, but by unlawful means. And the unlawful means is the federal campaign -- campaign finance law. So it's complicated. It's complicated.

BLITZER: It's very complicated. They certainly have their work cut out for them.

Judge Shira Scheindlin, thanks as usual for joining us.

SCHEINDLIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, back to you.


And we've got Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes here with me outside the courthouse as we are waiting on the defense to begin their cross- examination of Michael Cohen, ultimately, what could be one of those pivotal moments of this entire case.

And obviously, the defense has been prepared for this. They knew Michael Cohen was going to be the star witness here.

You could see Todd Blanche, Trump's attorney, the entire time that Michael Cohen was on the stand kind of lean forward, taking copious notes and watching intently as Michael Cohen was testifying, preparing for how they're going to start their cross.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. In many ways, the cross-examination of Michael Cohen is the defense in this case because they were only expected to call a few witnesses. Blanche has been preparing for this for weeks, even months.

I think the greatest challenge for Todd Blanche, it's two-fold. One is, what do you include and what do you exclude?

I know there were hundreds of pages in terms of the preparation that they had ready to go for this. They had to cull it down to what's really going to make their case and break that of the prosecution.

The other challenge is you want to go hard here. Mostly, because you have some really important points to make. Also, you want to appease your client.

But you don't want to go so hard that you throw sympathy to Michael Cohen. Because he is -- you could go a couple of different ways. He can be quite charming. He can be sympathetic.

We also know he can kind of lose his cool on the stand under cross- examination, which is what happened in the civil trial that they referenced during the prosecutor's direct.

So this is going to be arguably the most significant afternoon of the entire case.


COLLINS: I mean, Kristen, the jury is basically expressionless. It's so hard to read and to discern how they're taking in certain pieces of information. You know, there were moments earlier today when I was watching Michael Cohen turn toward -- towards the jury as he was answering certain questions.

You know, at the end, he was saying he didn't regret working for the Trump Organization, but he regretted lying on Trump's behalf to benefit Trump. He regretted bullying people to achieve outcomes.

And kind of talking about really what was his main task for Donald Trump for the last several years that he worked for him.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What he was hired to do. One of the things that we've talked about is that Donald Trump has this very complicated relationship with attorneys.

Because he mostly wants them to act like Michael Cohen did. And Michael Cohen was willing to do that.

Now we know one of the things that the defense is going to bring up, and probably pretty quickly, is how much Michael Cohen himself has benefited from his dislike of Donald Trump. He has built an entire brand around that for the last seven years. So

how does that actually line up with the Michael Cohen that we just saw in court in front of the jury saying he regretted it, but there were some good times, this earnest person?

And then you're going to have these social media clips of him just eviscerate Donald Trump, going after him on every front, saying essentially that he hates him and that he hopes something happens to him.

Now all of this is going to be presented to the jury. And as you noted, Kaitlan, at the end of the day, these are the men and women who are going to determine this entire case.

Do they believe Michael Cohen now or do they believe the defense, which is likely to say he lied to you then, why wouldn't he be lying to you now?

COLLINS: Well, he's also been on TikTok trashing the attorneys, Trump's attorneys who were sitting there, Todd Blanche, Susan Necheles. I don't know if he's gone after Amil Bove, but the TikToks I've seen, he's gone after the attorneys.

But even as they try to undermine him, get him off his balance, Paula, there were -- at the beginning of this today was when they gotten to the part of why we are -- why they're sitting in that courtroom.

Which is they are walking through each of the checks that he got from Donald Trump and where he would send an invoice to Allen Weisselberg from the Trump Organization and every check said, you know, this is for the retainer for legal services rendered.

And Michael Cohen testified it was a false business document because there was no retainer and there were no legal services that were rendered on his behalf. It was reimbursement for the money that he paid to Stormy Daniels.

REID: That was a really important thing that happened this morning, right, before we got into the more difficult subjects for Cohen. They walked through those checks once again.

We've already been through those with two accounting officials from the Trump Organization. And I do expect that the defense is going to have to go through those the same way Michael Cohen did with prosecutors.

But their question is going to be about Trump's involvement. They're going to remind Cohen that he submitted the falsified invoice. He received this check, and did he have any evidence that Trump was aware of this alleged scheme to falsify business records?

They're going to really press him on that to get more specific and try to undercut the idea that somehow Michael Cohen has made the prosecutor's case and provided evidence that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Trump was aware that they were going to falsify business records to reimburse him. COLLINS: And there were also several moments where Michael Cohen -- I mean, he was he was talking -- he was talking about what it was like to have the FBI come and raid his house. And his -- he was staying in an apartment because his house was under renovation. His office at that time.

I mean, the room was so silent, you could just hear everyone's keyboards clicking as everyone was typing exact quotes from what Michael Cohen was saying.

As he was talking about how he was scared. He was frightened. He was angry the day that he pleaded guilty to his crimes to the Southern District of New York. He said it was the worst day of his life.

I mean, he also seemed to kind of strike this, if not a sympathetic figure, but certainly someone who has this narrative that we all know is someone who gets caught up in Trump's world. And then as a result of it, ends up in a courtroom like the one that Trump is in right now.

HOLMES: Yes, absolutely. I think that there was a compelling part of his narrative as he went through the story.

But I also think that he walked through kind of his falling out with Donald Trump, which was also part of this that was so interesting. Him, essentially, holding on to his loyalty with the former president, something that we know is really important to him.

Talking about how he, at some point, stopped talking to him after that one phone call. Was the last time they ever spoke. And then he started having to go through Castello, who was going through Giuliani, and getting farther and farther away from the former president.

But as you note, this is not the only person who has suffered from this fate, who has gotten this close to Donald Trump and then ended up in legal peril. This is something that happens to quite a few of these people.

And one of the things we've been talking about all morning is this idea that, despite this, Donald Trump showed up today at court with a huge entourage of political -- politicians, political leaders, some of his family, them all knowing what happens to people who often get too close Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Yes, it's a remarkable moment. And I mean, obviously, we know what the defense is expected to do. And we know it's expected to last for quite some time.

We're going to be following it all closely as court is set to resume any moment now with Michael Cohen -- is going back on the witness stand. But what's different this time is who is going to be questioning him. It will now be the defense getting their chance to cross-examine Michael Cohen.


You're watching CNN's special live coverage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial in New York.

Before wrapping for the lunch break, the prosecution ended its direct questioning of Michael Cohen by asking if he regrets his past association with Trump. Cohens response -- and I'm quoting now:

"I regret doing things for him that I should not have, lying, bullying people in order to effectuate a goal. I don't regret working with the Trump Organization. As I expressed before, some very interesting great times.


But to keep the loyalty and to do the things that he asked me to do, I violated my moral compass, and I suffered the penalty, as has my family," close quote.

Our panel of experts is with us.

And, Elie, let's talk about that. What do you think of that admission from Michael Cohen?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a smart way to end the direct examination. You want to bring the jury to the present moment.

And you want to present, in this case, the cooperating witness, essentially, as somebody who did bad things in the past, recognizes it now, and has taken account for it.

BLITZER: Why did the prosecution end their questioning with that?

HONIG: Because it brings them up to this moment. Here, we are presenting to you the Michael Cohen of May 2024, not that Michael Cohen that you've heard about that matters of 2016, 2017. It's a fairly common, and I think, effective way to end.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: And isn't it -- correct me if I'm wrong -- but isn't it also preparing for what the prosecution is expecting after lunch, which is the cross-examination, the Trump defense team questioning every single part of his story because he has been convicted -- convicted of crimes?

HONIG: Various crimes. Yes. Exactly. They're trying to sort of anticipate and preempt that. And what they want to present Michael Cohen to the jury as somebody who's had a change in his life, a change in his approach, in his moral compass.

BLITZER: Todd Blanche, an attorney you know, you worked with him when he was an assistant U.S. attorney working with you in New York. He's going to lead the cross-examination.

HONIG: Yes, I should say I worked alongside Todd Blanche and Alvin Bragg, who's now the D.A. We were all there at the same time.

You know, Todd is a soft-spoken person for the SDNY. Some of us, you may have heard, tend to be --

BLITZER: The Southern District Southern District of New York.

HONIG: Yes, the Southern District of New York, tend to be --


HONIG: -- confident, are in charge (ph).


HONIG: Todd is a modest person. He's soft-spoken. But don't mistake that for any sort of weakness in the courtroom. He was the chief of the Gangs and Violent Crime Unit at the Southern District of New York.

And when the moment comes, and this will be a moment, I expect them to go at Michael Cohen, no punches pulled.


ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And you know, there's something so fundamental about, in cross-examination, there's a big difference between the question, Mr. Cohen, where were you on Tuesday. The open- ended friendly question. And, Mr. Cohen, on Tuesday, you were committing a crime, weren't you?

And when the question is like that, the pointed leading questions that are allowed on cross, not allowed on direct, really start very quickly. Even the most disciplined witness can get flustered, rattled, and lose their -

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I -- can I ask a question of the attorneys here?

How much does remorse play into this? Because Don -- you know, Cohen has been full of remorse. Every answer is, I'm sorry I did this. I made a mistake. I hurt my family. You know, I'm not sorry I worked for the Trump Organization, but I'm sorry about bullying people, about lying to people.

Every single answer had that in it. The remorse was oozing out of Michael Cohen. And does that matter?

WILLIAMS: Sure. There is no doubt that he's being sincere there, that he feels he hurt his family, that he lied to many people. There's no question about that. He very well might be.

However, he also has a long string of criminal convictions, a long string of bias against the defendant, which the defense can confront him with.

Now, it's up to the jury in the slurry of ideas they have about a witness to really decide, well, what do we really believe? Do we really trust this guy? And the way we shouldn't? And, yes, I think he's telling the truth, but was he lying back there?


WILLIAMS: He's already lied. So it's complex.

But again, and as we've sort of talked about before, witnesses -- pardon me -- defendants can still be convicted over the testimony of very complex and very troubled witness --


BLITZER: Dana, it's interesting because, so far, Michael Cohen has been measured, very quiet, in a sense

BASH: Which is very much --

BLITZER: He hasn't lost his temper. Those of us who know him, that's unusual.

BASH: That's very Michael Cohen. He's quiet --



BLITZER: Not really.

BASH: Shy.

BLITZER: But can he continue that kind of demeanor during what's going to be a very brutal --


BLITZER: -- cross-examination.

BASH: I mean, that is the question. That's going to be the challenge. Because there's no question that that is what's coming at him after they finish their lunch break.

And I mean, I'm just thinking, as you said, the word remorse, Gloria, I'm thinking in my head, I'm sort of playing out if the defense attorney - attorney, if you're remorseful, why was your book called "Revenge?" And not "Remorse."

BORGER: Exactly, exactly.


BORGER: I mean, there are ways to get around --

BASH: Isn't that what you're doing here --


BASH: -- and things like that? The one thing that we haven't talked about is what matters to the jury

beyond what Michael Cohen says, which is the receipts?

HONIG: Yes. And that's going to be, ultimately, I think, the tell-all with Michael Cohen. Do they believe he has been corroborated enough that they can take the leap of faith in his word?

And the whole object of the prosecution's case, up to now, the day and a half of direct examination is trying to narrow that gap that they need Michael Cohen to carry the jury across.


And things like the checks, the handwritten notes, the emails, the phone records, all of those help because they just nudge it a little more towards, sure, I think I can take this guy's word for it.

But ultimately, if you have to boil down the crux of this case, what I think the jury is going to be deciding is, can we credit Michael Cohen to get us over that hump?


BLITZER: Demeanor during cross-examination, for sure, is going to be very, very subtle about this.


BORGER: -- this morning. But -- but the fact that Allen Weisselberg is not there, and he's at Rikers. He's the guy who wrote the receipt. OK? He's the guy who wrote the notes.

He's the guy -- you could call him the mastermind of all of this, right? Because he figured out how to pay -- how to pay Michael Cohen back, how to account for the taxes, how to give them his bonus. And he's not there.

BLITZER: He's serving jail time right now.

BORGER: So -- so --

BLITZER: He's the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization.

BORGER: Right. So isn't that a large problem?

WILLIAMS: There's a legal question that they are certainly fighting about behind the scenes over whether they can or should call Michael Cohen. And we haven't --


WILLIAMS: -- Allen Weisselberg. And we've not heard the end of that yet.

BLITZER: We shall see what happens on that front, but it's a good point you're making, Gloria.

Thank you. Everybody, stand by.

The cross-examination of Michael Cohen is just a few minutes away. A chance for Donald Trump's defense team to try to undermine the compelling testimony from today and yesterday. We'll discuss that and more after a quick break.