Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Key Takeaways of Cohen Testimony Yesterday at Trump's Trial; Cohen Resumes Testimony Today. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 09:00   ET



GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: So, this is a fiendishly more difficult situation. An enemy who hides among civilians and so forth.

But clear, hold, build, I think is the answer. The question is, who's going to be the hold force? And then how quickly can they commit to rebuilding, flooding the areas with humanitarian assistance, restoring basic services and reconstruction of the damaged infrastructure.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: General Petraeus, it's always great to have you and hearing your take on this. Thank you so much for joining us.

PETRAEUS: Good to be with you.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: You always learn something, clear, hold build. Yes. They do in these war scenarios (ph).

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

SIDNER: All right, thank you so much for joining us. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL. CNN's special coverage of the Donald Trump hush money trial continues. Big day today on the stand. Contentious.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, back on the stand. You are looking at live pictures of 100 Centre Street in downtown Manhattan where in just minutes Michael Cohen will be back under oath, and Donald Trump will be watching as his former fixer tries to stitch together the prosecution's case for a jury that could send the former president of the United States to jail.

Welcome to our viewers. I'm John Berman in New York. And you're watching CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money coverup trial.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, D.C.

Today, prosecutors want Michael Cohen to say more about the last piece of that sentence, the cover up part that is the crux of the government's case against the 45th president. I was following his directions, Cohen claimed in day one of his testimony, the Trump explicitly ordered him to pay Stormy Daniels, the adult film star and director, to keep quiet. And Cohen also claimed that the reason was not to protect Trump's family, but to prevent voter backlash just weeks ahead of the 2016 election.

Today we anticipate the prosecution the dive deeper into the details about how Trump repaid Cohen, who fronted the money used to allegedly by Stormy Daniels' silence. And then proceedings promise to turn extremely heated with cross examination. Inside the court expect defense attorneys to attempt to dismantle Cohen's credibility. Outside the court, expected a growing list of Trump allies, including the Republican speaker of the House, to do what Trump cannot do, attack the witnesses.

CNN's reporters are inside the courtroom to bring you every important update from this historic hush money cover up trial.

Let's get right to CNN's Elie Honig at the magic wall.

Elie, a big day yesterday. Another big day today.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Jake, a full day of critical testimony yesterday for Michael Cohen. Let's go through a couple of the key takeaways.

Now, Michael Cohen took the jury back to the very start of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2015. When Donald Trump came down that escalate at Trump Tower, Michael Cohen was there. And Cohen told the jury that Donald Trump told him - he - he said, when this announcement comes out that I'm going to be running for president, expect a lot of different women to come forward. Now, that ended up being true. In fact, in the months that followed, Michael Cohen worked with Donald Trump and with various people at "The National Enquirer" to make hush money payments to a doorman who had a false story about Donald Trump, $30,000. They paid off Karen McDougal through "The National Enquirer," $150,000. And finally, they paid off most importantly to this case, Stormy Daniels for $130,000.

Now, Michael Cohen was at the center of the Stormy Daniels payment. And he detailed for the jury exactly how it was structured. First, Michael Cohen himself paid Stormy Daniels $130,000. And he told the jury exactly how that happened. He told the jury that Donald Trump said to him, he meaning Donald Trump, "Trump expressed to me just do it. Go meet up with Allen Weisselberg," the CFO of the Trump Org, "and figure this whole thing out."

Now, there was a really important example yesterday of the prosecution weaving in corroboration, documents that backed up Michael Cohen about a very important specific day, October 26, 2016. This is the day that Michael Cohen lined up the $130,000 he was going to pay for Stormy Daniels.

Prosecutors first showed two phone records, 8:34 a.m. that day showing that Michael Cohen had phone calls with Donald Trump. Cohen told the jury, "I said to him, are you sure you want me to do this? Are you sure you're going to pay me back? He said, yes and yes." Half hour later, prosecutors showed an email that Michael Cohen sent to something called The Delaney Corporation, to line up the paperwork to get the money. Then we know from bank records that Michael Cohen opened an account that day in the name of Essential Consultants. And then finally, at 4:15, we saw an email confirming that the $130,000 had been moved into the account.

The next day Michael Cohen wires that over to Stormy Daniels and her lawyer. And then the day after that they have their non-disclosure agreement.


So, you see prosecutors there using documents to try to support and bolster Michael Cohen's testimony.

Cohen also testified about the non-disclosure agreement. He confirmed Peggy Peterson, that's Stormy Daniels, that's her signature. David Dennison, Michael Cohen testified that's Donald Trump, although Trump did not sign, and Cohen confirmed that this signature here, that's his scratch on the sheet. He said he signed on behalf of Essential Consultants.

Now, the other part of the payment is that Donald Trump repaid Michael Cohen $420,000 by a series of checks issued over the following year. This is the most important testimony that Michael Cohen gave yesterday. He said that when it came to that reimbursement, he was asked by the DA, Michael Cohen was asked, "did Mr. Weisselberg state in front of Mr. Trump that you were going to receive $420,000 over the course of 12 months?" Cohen responded, "yes." And then the DA asked, "and what, if anything, did Mr. Trump say at that time?" Michael Cohen said, "he approved it."

So, Jake, that is the most important piece of testimony that we heard yesterday. Michael Cohen link Donald Trump directly to the payment and to the cover up, the reimbursement. So, when Michael Cohen picks up today, I think we're going to hear more about that testimony. And count on the defense team going back there during cross-examination probably later today.


TAPPER: Interesting stuff. Elie Honig, thanks so much. Come join us at the panel here.

And let's talk about this with our panel.

First of all, let me start, Jamie Gangel, with you. Reportable VIPs there today include the House speaker, and we should note he's not the speaker of the Republican Party, he's the speaker of the entire House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, and yet -


TAPPER: He is - he is there to support President Trump. You can call this support. You can call it vassalage. Whatever you'd like.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Florida Congressman Byron Donalds and Cory Mills, and then former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

What do you make of this?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. Look they're doing the same thing. This is like going to pay tribute at Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump clearly wants them there. And they are happy to oblige.

I think of all of those, I understand the veep stakes guys. The - who think that they have to come please him. I do find it fascinating, as I do everything about this case, that we find ourselves on a day where the speaker of the House is going to 100 Centre Street for this - I know it's not a hush money porn case. It's a - it's a records case. But this is where we find ourselves.

TAPPER: Well, it's also just interesting because it's - it's - it's very different from like theoretically there was a time when politicians, if there was a case going on -

GANGEL: Right.

TAPPER: Politicians might say, just as a knee-jerk, let's let the system play out and not have these demonstrations of support.

HUNT: To me they'd want to be as far away from the leader of their own party being in - criminally indicted is possible.

TAPPER: Well, not just that, but also - yes. Yes. But that's the politics of it. I also just mean the respect for the system playing itself out.

HUNT: That too.

But there is something going on here. We know the importance that Donald Trump paid - feels about his - his definition of loyalty, which is loyalty to him, not necessarily a two-way street.

And, Kasie, I want to play this moment from 1992, Donald Trump talking about the issue of loyalty.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (1992): I would have wiped the floor with the guys that weren't loyal, which I will now do, which is great. You know, I love getting even with people.

If given the opportunity, I will get even with some people that were disloyal to me. I mean I had a group of people that were disloyal and I found out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But how do you define disloyalty?

TRUMP: They didn't come to my aid.


TAPPER: How do you define disloyal? They didn't come to my aid.

So, what we have here is the ultimate display of loyalty by these VIPs, including the speaker of the House. And also, in front of him, the witness, the ultimate display of disloyalty.

HUNT: You do. And that really shows you how Donald Trump, the man, was foraged many decades ago and has been true to this set of personality traits and tendencies now for -- I mean that was - that's how old? Thirty years old, right. And -

TAPPER: I was told there was not going to be any math on the show (ph).

HUNT: I'm doing math on my own, you know. I know, yes. But it's over 30 years old. I will say that. And he is demanding loyalty from the people around him and then casting them out. I mean when I talked to Republicans who worked in the White House they'll say, with Donald Trump loyalty is a one-way street. He expects loyalty from you. But the second that you are not useful to him anymore, that's - that's when it's over.

I mean Michael Cohen had remained loyal to Donald Trump, I believe, until Donald Trump basically cast him out, right? And then there was the FBI raid and they broke ranks at that point. The idea that - I'm not sure that the idea that Michael Cohen turned on Trump before Trump turned on Cohen is an accurate kind of description of events. But then, yes, from a political perspective, you're seeing this - just this parade of people that he is demanding. Someone described in the headline as the indignity of the Trump veep steaks.


And I really do think that - that is what it is. They sort of have to prostrate themselves for him because, I mean, the reality is he - if you are a politician in the Republican Party and Donald Trump turns on you, you will be cast out of the party. That is just the reality of the situation right now.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the case - so Bill Brennan, one of the things that Michael Cohen tried to do, the prosecution tried to do, was to illustrate the idea that this cover - this payment, the hush money payment, happened explicitly because of Donald Trump's fears of how voters would react and not out of fears of how Melania, his wife, would react. This is according to Michael Cohen. I'm not saying it's a fact. I'm saying according to Cohen. And, in fact, Cohen testified that he asked what - to Trump what Melania's reaction would be when the Stormy payment was made. And Trump said, according to Cohen, quote, "don't worry. He goes, how long do you think I'll be on the market for. Not long. He wasn't thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign."

Again, good evidence if you consider Michael Cohen to be a credible witness.

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP PAYROLL CORP. ATTORNEY: Right. I agree, Jake. And I think that any married individuals, especially married men, on that jury will say that this doesn't pass the smell test. I mean, you know, I think there was another quote in there that Cohen attributed to Trump that sounded - said something, it's going to hurt me with women. Going to hurt him with one particular woman, Melania Trump.

And even if you take the, you know, the love and marriage aspect out of it, there's a huge financial risks there. And I think it's so long ago. I think his son was only a baby. So, it's ludicrous to say that - for Cohen to say that there was no import to Trump about the impact it would have on his marriage.

You know, these two things, Jake, are not mutually exclusive. And I think that's where people are getting hung up. If that jury gets back there and says, well, he was worried about his marriage and his family, and he was worried about his presidential campaign, and they don't think that the primary worry was the presidential campaign, I don't think it gets to the second crime and I don't think it gets it to the felony.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's an important question to that point, how the judge will instruct the jury to handle how they weigh the question of, was it primarily political or was it sort of personal. The judge will have to explain to the jury, you must convict or you - pardon me, you can convince if you find that the defendant has done the following. But no one really knows, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, don't - no one truly knows that - sort of what the balance of whether its political for personal ought to be because it's an open sort of nebulous gray area legally.

HONIG: Yes, so the test more or less is, was one of the substantial motivators the campaign and politics. There are often mixed motives, and it makes perfect sense to me that Donald Trump would have been concerned about both the political end of this and the familial end of this. But as long as they're both substantial, it's not even a question of which is more prevalent in his mind, as long as they're both substantial, that's enough.

But Bill makes a good point, we are about to get into a sort of dicey - and Elliot makes the same point - dicey area of campaign finance law. And we've had reporting, and I've -- maybe Jamie's report on this, that both sides are considering calling a campaign finance expert. That would scare me as a prosecutor because, you know what the answer is to almost every hypothetical you pose to a campaign finance expert? Well, it depends. It's subjective. Youd have to look at all the facts. And as a prosecutor, that's poison. You don't want the jury going back there going, I don't know, it's a - it's a riddle, it's a mind bender.

So, I'm very interested to see how the prosecution's going to deal with that and try to explain to the jury, clearly, here's what campaign finance laws are, here's how they were broken.

TAPPER: And the quote that was just alluded to, Cohen testified when - about the Stormy Daniels story. Trump said, quote, "women are going to hate me." Bill was talking about this. "Guys may think it's cool. But this is going to be a disaster for the campaign. He said to me, this is a disaster. A total disaster."

HUNT: Yes. Well, I mean, that was the impression at the time. I mean when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, you'll remember, it was one of the few times - Donald Trump was not one to apologize for things that he said that offended people. I mean he went after John McCain, and he stood by that all the way along, no matter how many people told him, hey, you should take that back, you should apologize, he's a war hero.

This was a time, and I remember that day. I mean as I'm sure, you know, you guys do as well from covering it, they were in this panic mode initially and then there was the statement from him. But the thing that mattered the most, I re-watched some of it earlier this morning on this network, what mattered the most was Melania going on TV in that moment and saying that this was just locker room talk. She went in there and she vouched for him, and that gave a way for all these women who, yes, probably looked at that - I mean, look, Donald Trump's very good at understanding the political ramifications of what he does and like what he says, what is going to play, what's not. This idea that this would be really bad for women, it rings true for very obvious reasons.


And what he needed was a woman to vouch for him, and she did.


HUNT: She stood by him at that moment. I do think that, you know, underscores why it's noteworthy she's not there now. And I will also say, I mean, to your point, sure, I see what you mean about how, yes, he could - and there's no way we're going to know if Michael Cohen is telling the truth or if there's some other version of the truth in terms of what Donald Trump was saying. I will just say, if you hear him talk about women, it does not ring untrue that he would say something like, are you kidding, if my wife left me I'd have another wife right way. Also, by the way, his public persona like bore that out.

GANGEL: Right.

HUNT: I mean this was not his first wife.

GANGEL: Just quickly, the public knows who Donald Trump is.

HUNT: Yes.

GANGEL: They know him from the tabloids in New York. They know his marital history. He's not some anonymous defendant who's sitting there. I don't think that helps him.

Also, the testimony that he really didn't want to pay Stormy Daniels until after the election. They were trying to (INAUDIBLE) because then it wouldn't matter.

TAPPER: Yes. And - well, I just got a note here. A press advisory from the Office of the Speaker of the House. Not from his campaign, but from his actual official speaker of the House, paid for by you, saying, "Speaker Johnson to deliver remarks outside sham Trump trial."

That is - that is the thing and about 10:15 in the morning the speaker of the House will give remarks.

John Berman, in New York.

BERMAN: All right, Jake, thank you very much.

I should say the doors are open to the courtroom now. The press has been let in. Paralegals have gone in carting a whole lot of documents, preparing for the testimony which could begin just a few minutes from now.

With me, Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes.

Paula, first to you. What are we going to see today? Michael Cohen's not done with - and the prosecution, importantly, not done with Michael Cohen.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, far from done with the prosecution's case because when we left off last night he was talking about what happened in January 2017. And the actual charges at the heart of this case, allegedly falsifying 34 different business records, that all occurred in the year 2017. So, now prosecutors are going to have to walk him through this alleged conspiracy. What he heard from Trump. What he saw. His own even falsified invoices that he submitted. Walk him through all of those checks that he received over the course of that year.

Then it is likely that they will have to walk him through some pretty uncomfortable subjects, including his lengthy criminal record and also the fact that he has spent years attacking the defendant. The reason prosecutors are going to want to talk about that is because we know the defense attorneys are going to talk about that and you don't want Todd Blanche to be able to debut these in front of the jury. You want to get out in front of that. So, we still have a long ways to go with Mr. Cohen.

BERMAN: Pull the sting, I've heard it called.

REID: Yes.

BERMAN: You want to pull the sting. They have a lot of sting to pull.

REID: Yes.

BERMAN: It's a big stinger when it comes to Michael Cohen.

And just to clean up - not clean up but add some color to one thing, the panel in D.C. was discussing, when the defense - if the defense make a case, which is when the prosecution is done, you have some details about a witness they may call.

REID: Yes, exactly. They're only expected to call a few witnesses. We expect that they'll call Trump Organization official Alan Garten, one of their attorneys, and then they do expect at this point to call an election expert. Now, we expect that testimony will be narrow, but that is one of the few people we expect to hear from in the brief defense case because the defense is the cross-examination of Michael Cohen. This has been Todd Blanche's focus. This is how they believe they will break the prosecution's case.

BERMAN: And, Kristen, we know that Mike Johnson, the U.S. speaker of the House, will be holding a press conference here at 10:15. Vivek Ramaswamy in the motorcade from Trump Tower to here. You've got some reporting on the strategy, as it were, behind all of this.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is basically the new loyalty test for Donald Trump. It's also kind of a test if you want to be at the top of the ticket. And we're seeing some of these potential vice presidential pics, people who we know are on the shortlist, showing up at court. We saw J.D. Vance, the senator from Ohio, yesterday. We reported that he is on that list. Someone Donald Trump talks about a lot. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum is there today. He's going to be giving remarks. And, obviously, Speaker Johnson.

Now, some of this is just a mutually beneficial situation because Speaker Johnson needs Donald Trump right now. And, in fact, a lot of these lawmakers feel like they need Donald Trump. They want to be on his good side because he is the Republican nominee and he very well could be president again.

The other part of this, that Donald Trump was really upset when he felt like he didn't have any support in the courtroom and outside of the courtroom. And there weren't enough protesters out there that supported the former president. So, this is part of that strategy to get him to have that support in the courtroom. And I've got to say, you know, this is twofold. You have some of these people who are offering to come in. Donald Trump's team is reaching out to some of the others. I mean they are both looking at this as a mutually beneficial situation.

REID: I'm really curious to see how this plays with the jury because, obviously, not many members of his family are there.

BERMAN: Well -

REID: Eventually, after this is all said and done, I mean Eric Trump has showed up a few days.


We may see Lara Trump here today. But I'm curious, seeing all these politicians supporting him, does that help or hurt the overall perception of the defendant?

BERMAN: Any word that any non Eric Trump blood relatives will show up for Donald Trump?

HOLMES: We have had no indication of that. I mean, obviously, Ivanka Trump has kind of removed herself from the political sphere. Don Jr. is still close to his dad, but however he's just doing his show every day on Rumble talking about the case but not actually showing up. And there's absolutely no indication that Melania Trump would show up.

And one of the things, when I talk to people who knew her back when these reports first came out, is that she was not so much upset just about the actual event that happened, these potential hush money payments and the alleged affair, but what she was barest about was this idea that everybody knew her personal business. It's not something she's going to be on display. She's not necessarily your type of first lady who's going to come stand by their man, but instead she will be down at Mar-a-Lago living her life separately while this unfolds.

But again, no real word on any other family members coming.

BERMAN: So, if you're keeping score at home, no Ivanka Trump, but Doug Burgum. No Melania Trump, but Vivek Ramaswamy.


BERMAN: We will see how that plays with the jury.

And we're going to see it all in just minutes. Critical testimony set to start in Donald Trump's hush money trial. Michael Cohen, back under oath.

You are watching CNN's special live coverage.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money cover up trial. Donald Trump complaining, as is his want, about the gag order. How he cannot campaign, et cetera, on his way into court just moments ago, reading from a thick stack of papers.

In minutes, Michael Cohen, a former Trump fixer turned nemesis, will take the stand.

Again, back with my panel, and David Chalian joins us now.

And, David, politically, what are the stakes here? I'm torn between thinking that this is incredibly important, a former president on criminal trial, and the fact that the charges really pale in comparison to the other court cases out there on subverting the election and classified documents, et cetera. And I can't really get a sense from the American people through polling as to whether or not a conviction will make any difference whatsoever?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, agreed that you can't get that sense at all through polling because I don't think we know.

I am curious to see if that changes once a verdict is in, in this case, and we'll have a little bit more of a sense of how the American people sort of feel about that verdict in this case. Because right now, Jake, throughout the course of the trial it doesn't seem to be moving the fundamentals of the race at all. And I'm not sure that it will.

You made the point of comparing it to the other case, which, by the way, are not likely to see a jury before Election Day, or get tried before Election Day. And so this may be the only one. And so the fact - that comparison sort of goes away because it may be the only one before election day.

That doesn't mean that the stakes are small. The stakes are large. This is a former president of the United States and a presumptive Republican nominee, sitting through what is now the most consequential week of his life as a criminal defendant. I mean that - that - that is high stakes. There's no doubt about that.

And I do think we sometimes undercount just the targeted voters in the middle, independents in these battleground states that turned away from sort of Trump chaos in '18 and '20 and '22. It's hard to imagine that this brings them back in some way. And so if it keeps those voters at arm's length from Donald Trump, that doesn't serve him well in this scenario. But we truly don't know. And I think we have to wait and see, which is enormously frustrating, obviously, for - for the Biden campaign, for the Trump campaign, and for those of us that cover and observe this.

TAPPER: And, Jamie Gangel, one of the strongest bits of evidence so far that we've seen is this memo sketch down by Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer at the time of the Trump Organization, if we could put it up just to show people. And it's Weisselberg, according to the prosecution, it's Weisselberg calculating how to pay Michael Cohen back the $130,000 he pays Stormy Daniels, allegedly. $50,000 he paid this firm called Red Finch that was cooking all these bogus online polls on behalf of Donald Trump in 2016. So, that's $130,000 plus $50,000 equals $180,000.

He doubles it so as to have Michael Cohen not have to pay the taxes on it. And then there's additional money because Michael Cohen was really upset that he got stiffed out of a good Christmas bonus in 2016. And then it says at the bottom of it, wire monthly from DJT. And this buttress the argument that he was paid back by Donald Trump for the hush money payment, and it was just this scheme to cover it up by having it look like he was just being paid a monthly fee.

GANGEL: Right. And you did the math again.


GANGEL: I am - I'm - I'm told by sources familiar with the prosecutors, they think that document is a critical piece of evidence because it lays it all out. There is the elephant not in the room. And that is Allen Weisselberg. He is sitting in Rikers for the second time.

TAPPER: Yes, he's got free time. GANGEL: Right. And there is - there is a whole question about why the prosecutors have not called him to testify. The understanding is he would not be co-operative.


That's why he's sitting in Rikers for the second time. But right now the judge is deciding whether or not to bring Allen Weisselberg.