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CNN Live Event/Special

Cross-Examination Of Michael Cohen In Trump's Hush Money Trial. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 15:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial. The defense is piling on the pressure in what's become a very fast-paced cross-examination of Michael Cohen, aiming to discredit this testimony from direct examination. Let's get back to our panel right now.

They just took a quick break, an afternoon break, but they're going to resume this momentarily. Eli, what do you think?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think for the last 15, 20 minutes, it's gotten a little bit confused and confusing. I think Todd Blanche is jumping pretty quickly from --

BLITZER: The Trump defense attorney.

HONIG: -- yes, the cross-examination here. I think he's jumping quite quickly from one theme to another, and he doesn't seem to be fully fleshing out these things.

I mean, he started, in my view, strong on the theme of, you, Michael Cohen, hate Donald Trump. You want nothing more than to see him convicted and go to prison. That's a great point. There's a lot there.

Then he jumped into sort of, well, there was another time when you liked Donald Trump. Now he's into the nuances and deep in the weeds of Cohen's efforts to talk to Mueller, and sometimes when he misled Mueller.

I mean, all of this has its place, but the organizational structure here, to me, is lacking. I would do this first, all the stuff on bias, how much you hate him, then all the stuff on credibility, all the times you've lied, and then if you have some extras, maybe. But at this point, they seem to be jumping around too quickly for me.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems as though Blanche is trying to combine all of the various points of controversy in Donald Trump's political life, where it was sort of said, one thing happened publicly, another thing was happening privately, and it seems as though Blanche is trying to establish a pattern of all of those times Michael Cohen said one thing, but he was not telling the truth. Credibility issue.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: One thing they may be doing is stepping up to the line, but not giving the jury the conclusion that they're ultimately choosing to make from these things. So ask the questions, even in a scattershot fashion that might confuse the jury a little bit, and then on their closing argument, make the point that, you know, look, you heard Michael Cohen say that, you know, pick one of these things that just came up, that he flipped his position on Donald Trump or whatever else. But you're right. I mean, if you're a jurist either, you might be a little lost now.

BLITZER: I want to get your legal perspective. Cohen is refusing to acknowledge, to admit that he lied in various questions over the years, but he is acknowledging that he may have made a misstatement. Now, to a jury, what's the difference?

WILLIAMS: I mean, it all depends on what the particular question is and how credible it seems. Sometimes it's best to just answer the question the defense attorney is asking and leave it to the prosecutor who will have an opportunity after this to clean up any messes that he stepped in.


But the witness runs the risk by sort of picking, by nitpicking, some of these questions, where there's an obvious answer, you lied, you run the risk of appearing that you're trying to hide something. Sometimes it's better to just -- In the spirit of --

BLITZER: You said, I don't want to use the word lie. I may have made a mistake.


WILLIAMS: Yes, but in the spirit of appearing more candid and straightforward, saying I was dishonest then but I was doing this for the former president.

BASH: No, he's playing into -- sorry Gloria -- just quickly, playing into the line of questioning from the defense, which is that he won't even admit what a lie is, which begs the question, do you even know the difference?

WILLIAMS: And the way to do that is you say, the way to do that is to say, I lied for the former president, objection, your honor, from the other side. They get it struck from the record, but the jury already heard it once again, his saying, I did this for the former president.

BORGER: How come you can't recall certain things, but you have a very clear memory of conversations you had with Donald Trump?

HONIG: That's effective, right? The point that, Todd Blanches made this point a couple of times, you remember specific words of a conversation you had in February 2017 with Donald Trump, where the specific words are going to be all the difference in this case, yet when I ask you a straightforward case like, have you ever talked on your podcast about wanting Trump to go to jail? The first answer was, maybe, I think so.

I mean, that's completely implausible.

BORGER: And also conversations with prosecutors in the Mueller case, for example, he's not, he's unclear about what he said to them, but again, when it comes to Donald Trump, this is what we talked about.

BLITZER: Why do you think it's significant that Todd Blanches, the Trump defense attorney, is suggesting he's getting Michael Cohen to acknowledge that his views of Trump have dramatically changed over the years?

BASH: It's the credibility issue. It's the, it's, do you really, did you really change your feelings about Donald Trump? Or are you saying what you're saying now because you are trying to save your skin and now you're so angry you're trying to take him down with you?

WILLIAMS: I think the point Elie made a moment ago is a good one, which is that the one thing you seem to remember vividly happens to be the one sentence that would incriminate the defendant here, which is that you heard the defendant say in this meeting, I believe it was in 2017 or 2016, that he was doing this for a political campaign purpose. That seems to be the one thing. And I think they'll probably make that point again in their closing because it, it's a notable departure from a number of the answers he's given.

BORGER: Well, then why not talk about it more? This kind of seems to me to be a jumble. And as Elie was saying before, they're moving back and forth between Mueller and between what happened with Donald Trump in, and you know, in 2017 and you know, you want to say the guy's a liar.

OK, you got that out there. But, and his recollections are firm on some things and not on other things, but you know, what we're talking about here is a case, a paperwork case where these documents come into play.

Now, maybe we'll get to the documents soon. Maybe we'll talk about what he did with Weisselberg soon. But at this point, they're kind of gilding the lily and going over and over and over again.

OK, yes, he didn't tell the truth all the time. And people have already testified to that, including himself.

WILLIAMS: It's risky to go back to the papers though, because the papers actually are quite positive for Michael Cohen.

BORGER: Well, at some point don't they have to?

WILLIAMS: No, not the defense. No. Cause they're just poking his credibility. I think if you say the word checks or Allen Weisselberg, that brings back up this evidence that was really good for the prosecution.

HONIG: I agree with that. I don't think they're going to put the most incriminating evidence in front of Michael Cohen and try to get him to disavow it. That's not going to work first of all. I think the way you do that is you just make the case to the jury. He's a liar and he hates Donald Trump, hence you can't trust him.

BLITZER: Which they're trying to make my case then.

BORGER: Or that he was doing legal work, cause he said he was doing legal work for the kids. Right?

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. We're going to take a quick break. Our team in New York is watching all of this as well. The defense's cross- examination will resume. Michael Cohen, right after a quick break.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial happening in the courthouse behind me. Todd Blanche, Donald Trump's attorney is about to begin questioning Michael Cohen again. He has been on the witness stand all day today and all day yesterday but the cross-examination has only been happening just this afternoon and the court is taking a brief break right now.

We are continuing to follow the live updates as you see Donald Trump and his entourage there entering the courtroom including Vivek Ramaswamy, Congressman Cory Mills, you also saw Eric Trump, there's another Trump attorney and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum who you saw in here just a few moments ago.

Quite a packed front two rows inside that courtroom which is a stark change to what it was at the beginning of the trial when Donald Trump was largely without any supporters in the room.

Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes are here with me. And Paula we were just talking about the strategy that Todd Blanche -- I'm wondering if it's a strategy that Todd Blanche is employing as he's jumping kind of all over the place with Michael Cohen in the sense of questioning him about what he said to Robert Mueller, the special counsel of the Russia investigation, what he said yesterday in court, when he reported to prison, to him asking and trying to seek to get his prison sentence reduced.

I mean I'm not totally following but what have you heard from sources about where Todd Blanche is going with this cross-examination?


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So you have so much to work with when it comes to Michael Cohen. So much material. You have to come up with some way to approach it.

But it appears that the Trump legal team's priority here is to throw Michael Cohen off his game. And when he testified with the prosecution on direct examination, it was mostly chronological.

They went through logical questions from one day to the next day, from one month to the next month. He was confident. He was strong. He was consistent throughout. And it appears that this is a tactical decision to throw Michael Cohen off a little.

Now also note that our colleagues inside the courtroom, they say that it doesn't seem in the courtroom to be jumping around so much. It's sort of like a movie where they show the present day and then they go all the way back, right, to start at the beginning of the Trump organization. But I agree with you. It's been a little hard to follow but as I understand it, this is a tactical decision to try to throw Cohen off a bit.

COLLINS: And we know they expect to keep Michael Cohen up there for quite some time until at least end of day tomorrow is what Todd Blanche told the judge earlier. You know, one thing that he is trying to get Michael Cohen to acknowledge that he has lied about things. Michael Cohen has done that a lot on the stand already.

The prosecution had him do that multiple times where they would say, here's this statement that you helped Stormy Daniels prepare to put out and none of it was true. And he would say, yes, here's this check where you said here's an invoice for my legal work, which he did no legal work. I mean, he admitted already multiple times to lying.

It's just not as, you know, he knows that the prosecution is going to ask about. He doesn't know what Todd Blanche is going to ask about.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I think to Paula's point, I mean, a lot of that was in chronological order. Then you said this, but that wasn't true.

Then move on to the next story. OK, at the very end of that, then you said this, but that wasn't true.

It wasn't a deep dive into how many times he's lied. But part of this, which we believe might be tactical, going back and forth is really just showing bang, bang, bang. Here are the times that you lied.

What was this? What was this? And part of throwing him off, remember, is because they want to get him to react. That is what they want from Michael Cohen. He is known to be a reactive person, and they believe that if he reacts, that the jury will react to that.

What we have seen from Michael Cohen, who has been deeply prepped for hours and hours, is a calm, measured person, a witness who knows what he's talking about, who is sorry for some of the things that he has done.

They are trying to get beyond that to the person that Michael Cohen can be, the person that we've seen on social media, etc.

COLLINS: And the judge has just gotten back on the bench. That means Michael Cohen will be back in the room soon. Obviously, we expect. We just saw Trump's team in the room, the prosecution as well.

Paula, I mean clearly, overall, what they're trying to do is say that Michael Cohen is someone who was motivated by vengeance here, that he was cast out of Trump's circle, that, you know, he soon had the FBI at his front door raiding his office and his hotel room that he was staying in. And they're trying to say that a lot of this is motivated by falling out of Trump's good graces.

REID: You need reasonable doubt in the mind of one juror, right? That's what they need here, and they're trying to establish that Michael Cohen is, in their words, obsessed with Trump, so obsessed that even when prosecutors asked him to please stop talking about the case, he just couldn't do it. He cannot stop talking about the defendant, and that's what motivates them.

They will argue to lie about the facts at the heart of this case, which is that conspiracy to falsify business records.

COLLINS: How do Trump's allies feel about this so far? I mean, as this case has gone on, we've only seen more and more of Donald Trump's supporters, including, we just saw half of them walk into that courtroom there, show up inside this room. We're told that more are planned. Is that an indication of how they feel about how this trial is going?

HOLMES: Well, trial overall, I think there's still some concern that some of what came out, particularly during Stormy Daniels' testimony, the salacious nature could impact voters. I think right now what you're seeing is a show of force. These are some of his most vocal allies that are showing up behind him.

They are trying to show that they are still loyal to the former president, that he still has a loyal following sitting behind him, and it is also transactional. We know that he is the current Republican nominee for president, and there is a chance he could be president again, and all of these various lawmakers want to be on the right side of this.

Now, when it comes to Michael Cohen, very much radio silence right now on what they've seen of the testimony. All of them telling me they are waiting to see how the defense plays out. They thought that he did a good job, but not much on where you could actually poke holes in his story. They continue to say we're waiting to see what happens when Todd Blanche takes the stand -- begins the cross-examination, which obviously we've seen, and since he has, I have not heard anything yet on how they think he's doing.

COLLINS: And Trump has this screen in front of him on his table, so he doesn't even have to turn around to look at Michael Cohen, who walks right behind him when he enters the room. We're told that Trump appeared to watch him come back into the courtroom on the screen in front of him. That means Michael Cohen is going to be back on the witness stand in just a few moments, where he will be being questioned, and we will see what that looks like as Todd Blanche is trying to catch him and what he has said previously, what he is saying now.

We are continuing to follow every moment from inside the courtroom. Stay with us.


[15:53:25] BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial. Court is back in session and prosecution witness Michael Cohen is being grilled by the former president's defense team. Let's get some analysis right now.

I want to bring in jury consultant Leslie Ellis. Leslie, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, what do you think of the defense's strategy of now using Cohen's many negative TV comments and TikTok posts about Trump?

LESLIE ELLIS, JURY CONSULTANT: It's fairly common. Obviously the defense's first goal is to undermine his credibility, make it look like he's got a motive to say what he's saying, whether it be revenge, disappointment, and not being included in the White House, or just pure monetary benefit.

BLITZER: How are some of Michael Cohen's answers, where he's actually admitting to being untruthful in the past, likely to play with the jury?

ELLIS: Well, the prosecution did a really good job, I thought, of baking a lot of that into their direct so when they hear it on the cross, it's not a surprise to them. He does seem to be picking at words a little bit and those sorts of semantics, what is lie versus inaccuracy, those sorts of things do bug jurors.

But I think he's got to do it. He has to admit it. He already did. And if he starts fighting back now, that would just undermine his credibility even more.

BLITZER: Do you think political allies of Trump, like Governor Doug Burgum, for example, or Vivek Ramaswamy and others, showing up at the trial for Donald Trump, do you think that matters with the jury?


ELLIS: It could a little bit. I think they're probably trying really hard to pay attention to the evidence and to the witness. Michael Cohen is one of the most important witnesses. It's probably the one they've been waiting to hear from the most.

But I think it is helpful to see that there are people in his camp, on his side, supporting him. They weren't there at the beginning of the trial, though. And I do think the jurors noticed that they showed up a couple weeks in and they might wonder what that meant.

BLITZER: Good point. At times, Donald Trump's eyes are actually closed. His mouth is open. His head is resting on his chest at times. Do juries pay attention to that kind of thing?

ELLIS: They pay attention to everything. There's very little that happens in the courtroom that gets past them. They've got a lot of time in there. They're watching everything and every move everybody makes. And so, they're certainly noticing that. It's been happening on a regular basis. I think what they're trying to figure out, to the extent to which they're actually thinking about it too much, is, is he really falling asleep, or is he really just trying to focus? There seems to be a pattern that he's doing that when it's testimony that Mr. Trump doesn't like, and it might be a technique on his part to try to keep his frustration and anger and anxiety in check so he doesn't get reprimanded from the judge again. And in that case, I don't think it would be too much of a detriment to his own credibility.

BLITZER: How do you think the prosecution's case has gone overall, at least so far? Have they done enough to prove the criminal charges to the jury?

ELLIS: It seems, at least from what I can see, they've done a really good job of very methodically tying the chronological course of events to the elements of the crime. Right? They've been trying very hard, and I think they've done a good job of showing this isn't just a case about an affair and trying to cover it up. That not only are there false records but that it's attached to the federal crime of trying to influence an election. And they've worked really hard and I think done a very good job of very carefully connecting those dots for the jury in a way that they'll be able to follow despite this sort of fire hose of information that's been coming their way.

BLITZER: Leslie Ellis, the jury consultant, thanks very much for joining us and much more of our special coverage of this trial just ahead.


BLITZER: We're following the historic criminal trial of former President Trump as defense attorneys continue their cross-examination of Michael Cohen. He's the prosecution's star witness and today directly tied Trump to payments made to silence allegations of an affair in the weeks just before the 2016 presidential election victory.


But Trump's lawyers are now going through Cohen's history of not telling the truth, including an interview with a then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe and Cohen's testimony before Congress.

They also pointed out Cohen's open hostility toward Trump and his team that he expressed right before the trial began. The prosecution says Cohen is their last witness and the defense may begin to present its case for Donald Trump as early as Thursday. No trial on Wednesday.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'll be back in two hours, 6 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." "THE LEAD" with Jay Tapper starts right now.