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CNN Live Event/Special

Michael Cohen Back on Stand; Trump Hush Money Trial; Michael Cohen's Cross-Examination. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 09:00   ET




REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): I don't know exactly what he's saying, but he basically seems to want to go back 100 years in American progress. And that's not what we should do here in America. And, you know, maybe we should get people who aren't just -- whose credentials aren't just being great football players to give commencement speeches.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Seth Moulton from Massachusetts, we appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for being on "CNN News Central." We'll talk to you again soon.

MOULTON: Good to see you, John.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all so much for joining us. This is "CNN New Central," as John said. CNN special coverage of the Trump trial starts right now.

BERMAN: This was "CNN New Central."

BOLDUAN: "News Central."

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: A live view of the criminal courthouse here in Manhattan, where we are told Donald Trump's legal team will be on a mission today, zeroing Cohen's admitted and alleged lies. The former president is on his way to the courthouse right now as the defense is preparing to pick up where it left off, grilling Trump's longtime fixer. You can see him there waving to the cameras as he gets into his motorcade.

Over the last 24 hours, Trump's legal team has been preparing for this moment, for Cohen's return to the witness stand, I'm told, and plotting their strategy to undermine the prosecution's star witness. The question is whether they can convince the jury, but also their client.

I'm Kaitlan Collins here in New York.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, D.C. You're watching special CNN Live coverage of Former President Donald Trump's hush money cover-up trial. The cross-examination of Michael Cohen resumes. Just minutes from now, the Trump team is hoping to shred Cohen's credibility with the jury by focusing on his past statements, including some he made under oath. A source saying it will take a long time to "get through the lies."

We're told that Mr. Trump's defense is also Cohen's testimony about conversations he had with Mr. Trump around the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and the reimbursement as the prosecution alleges. Cohen's testimony has directly tied Trump to the Daniels payment and the alleged cover-up of that payment that according to Cohen and according to prosecutors was all designed to protect Trump and his presidential ambitions in 2016.

The prosecution says Michael Cohen will be its final witness. It is not clear what the defense will do after that, whether they're going to call Mr. Trump to the stand or call any additional witnesses at all. CNN's team of reporters and producers inside the courthouse are going to bring you constant updates to capture all the drama from this day of testimony.

But let's go back to Kaitlan, who has more for a new reporting on what exactly to expect today.

COLLINS: Yes, Jake. Obviously, today is one of the biggest days for this trial that has happened over the last several weeks. And it's really going to be a test of the defense's strategy to try to undermine Michael Cohen. Clearly, it's a stormy day here outside the courthouse, Jake. It's also going to be so inside the courthouse, because it's not just a strategy test of how they're going to go after Michael Cohen, it's also whether or not they can please their client, who has often had high and unrealistic, frankly, expectations for his legal team.

And he has gone from, you know, berating his legal team in private to praising them. He said to people that he thought Todd Blanche did a good job when he began cross-examining Michael Cohen on Tuesday, that's despite how Blanche got a scolding really from the judge after he made the first two questions to Michael Cohen about the attorneys rather than about the defendant himself. We don't expect him to try to repeat that strategy today. And instead, will just be grilling Michael Cohen himself.

I mean, this is also a test of Michael Cohen and what his prosecution or what his witness value is going to be. But it's also a test of how Trump views his legal team and in particular, his lead attorney here, Todd Blanche.

I've got CNN's Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes here with me. And Paula, I mean, it is not an understatement or an overstatement to say that this is the biggest day for this trial so far.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, this is the game. And here we expect that Todd Blanche will shift from his strategy Tuesday, which was really just kind of bat Michael Cohen around a little bit, bring up his more sensational social media posts, and instead focus on the substance of this case.

Let's go back to what he said in direct testimony and what he said previously about the alleged crimes here, highlight his past inconsistent statements, what happens today and how successful Todd Blanche can be, and at least convincing one juror that they should not pin this historic decision on the testimony of Michael Cohen. This will really decide the case.

COLLINS: And, Kristen, what have you heard? I mean, obviously we're expecting Trump to show up at the White House -- or at the courthouse, not the White House, any moment. He is going to have Republicans with him, we believe. You know, he's kind of been bringing a bunch of allies to the White House with him. We'll see who joins him in court today.

But what have you heard about, you know, how he's been reflecting on this over the past, you know, 24 hours or so, but he wasn't in court?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he had two fundraisers yesterday, and I am told that he was ranting about the case, but the big thing for him yesterday, the focus, was the fact that now he gets to actually debate Joe Biden.


What I've been told in private is that Donald Trump wants this case to be over. He's been talking about it incessantly. He is done sitting in that courtroom. Obviously, no surprise there as they wait for a verdict or wait for the case to wrap and then wait for a verdict. But he is really trying to focus on the campaign. That's what you saw a lot of over the weekend.

The other thing I want to point out about what we are looking for today is can Todd Blanche throw Michael Cohen off? Can he get him to be reactive? That is one of the things Donald Trump wants. Donald Trump has mentioned that to people saying that Michael Cohen is always flying off the handle. He wants to see Michael Cohen react.

And I was told by some Republican legal analysts that that might have been why Todd Blanche kind of seemed all over the place on the last day of testimony, two days ago, it feels like the weekend. So, I was about to say Friday. Wednesdays are our weekend.

COLLINS: Time does fly right now.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. But on Tuesday, it was because they were trying to kind of throw him off, to see if he would be reactive in some way. I mean, look at the two people that we're really focused on right now, Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. Which one of them is going to break first? Both of them have been on their best behavior during Michael Cohen's testimony. We'll see how today goes.

COLLINS: Yes, Trump shockingly wasn't responding in the way that he was with Story Daniels on the stand. With Michael Cohen, you know, he had his eyes closed. There was one moment where he talked about how much money Michael Cohen made, but it wasn't, Paula, like, what we typically -- what anyone would have guessed, even those who know Trump the best, that he would do when Michael Cohen's on the way to stand.

REID: That's right. And Michael Cohen also didn't do maybe what they would have expected, right? Jumping around the timeline, really highlighting some provocative things that he said, trying to antagonize him. He was undeterred, even though he was prepared for very linear chronological direct examination. Even on the sort of unusual, unorthodox approach that Todd Blanche took, he wasn't really shaken. That's why I think today you're going to see them go back to a more traditional approach, and instead focus on what he said, because that'll really make or break the case. Forget about making or breaking Michael Cohen on the stand, they need to undercut these criminal charges.

COLLINS: CNN's Elie Honig is at the magic wall. And, Elie, obviously Todd Blanche is going to be picking up right where he left off on Tuesday. He may not be doing the jumping around that we saw when they were trying to, as Kristen reported there, you know, kind of throw Michael Cohen off. Tell us exactly what we heard on Tuesday and what we can expect today.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Hey, Kaitlan. Pivotal day of testimony ahead from really the make-or-break witness in this whole trial, Michael Cohen.

Now, watch for Todd Blanche, Donald Trump's defense lawyer, to try to develop three main themes as he continues cross-examination today.

First bias. It turns out Michael Cohen, not a fan of Donald Trump's, not anymore at least Now, on Tuesday, Blanche confronted Michael Cohen with, for example, some of his mercurial insults directed at Donald Trump, Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain. But more importantly, with the fact that Michael Cohen has been openly and publicly yearning for Donald Trump to go to jail.

He confronted Michael Cohen with his prior statement that, "He, Trump, goes right into that little cage, which is where he belongs, in a blanking cage. Like an animal." And another thing, Michael Cohen said, "President Trump needs to wear handcuffs and do the perp walk." That's relevant to Michael Cohen's credibility.

We all know, no breaking news, that Michael Cohen dislikes Donald Trump. But remember, the jury can only go based on what they hear in the courtroom. So, expect Todd Blanche to hit on that.

The second major theme, Kaitlan, as you were talking about the prior lies. Michael Cohen has lied to virtually everyone you can think of. He's lied to courts. He's lied to Congress, prosecutors, banks, the media.

Now, on Tuesday Todd Blanche focused in particular on a lie that Michael Cohen told to Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and to Congress about Donald Trump's efforts to build a tower in Moscow. Michael Cohen minimized that, said it ended way earlier than it did, and Blanche confronted Michael Cohen with those lies.

There was some dispute about how to categorize the lies. They had a little back and forth. Cohen said, the information I gave was not accurate. Blanche said, so is not accurate information a lie? They went back and forth. Cohen said, it's not. I mean, Blanche said, is it a lie? Cohen said, it was inaccurate, yes. Blanche, it was a lie. Whatever you want to call it. It was false testimony that Cohen gave.

And the defense team will go today through Michael Cohen's prior convictions. Now, back in 2018, Michael Cohen pled guilty in federal court to four crimes, all relating to honesty, campaign finance violations, that relates to the payments to Stormy Daniels at issue in this case. False statements to Congress, relating to the Moscow Tower. And tax fraud and bank fraud that Michael Cohen committed on his own behalf relating to his own personal finances.

Now, the third and final theme to watch for today is that Michael Cohen has a financial motive. He's really created a mini-industry off of his public hatred for Donald Trump. We learned on Tuesday that Michael Cohen, from his two books, titled "Disloyal" and "Revenge" made over $3 million. We also know that Michael Cohen has a profitable podcast. We learned that Michael Cohen is doing TikTok and selling subscriptions, apparently $5.99 a month. And of course, Michael Cohen now has merch, including T-shirts and mugs showing images of Donald Trump going to prison, 32 bucks a pop.


And so, the argument will be, not only does Michael Cohen have a bias, not only does he very much want to see Donald Trump convicted, not only does he have a prior history of lying, but he also has a financial motive.

So, it'll be a contentious day of cross-examination. It's really all on the line today, Jake, as we get ready for this key day. Let's kick it back to you at the desk.

TAPPER: All right. Well, I'm here with my panel, including a former Trump attorney, Tim Parlatore. But let's start with some of the politics of this because one of the things that's going to be interesting, Dana, is the prosecution has as their main witness, whether you want to call him the star witness or not, he is the main witness, Michael Cohen, and the plan of the Trump team is to paint him as liar, liar and they really don't have any shortage of material to work with.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: They don't. And we've seen so far in their cross-examination liar, but also somebody who has a motive to try to get Donald Trump, somebody who wants to get revenge. I mean, we talked last week about -- or this week, whatever week it was, about the fact that that's actually the name of his book and --

TAPPER: Revenge."

BASH: "Revenge." And so, we've seen kind of that theme so far. I expect, as you were saying, Elie, at the wall, that the lying part of it is going to be much more emphasized in the cross as they continue today. And it's so obvious what they're trying to do, which is to put that kernel of reasonable doubt into the minds of the jury, even just one juror and they hope that's the end of it.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: I sort of wonder if that motive though might not cut both ways, because the fact that he did lie for Donald Trump helps explain why he could be being honest today, right? If there's this line in the sand where he stops lying for Donald Trump because he has this -- you know, and he explained this during direct examination, that his family finally convinced him, OK, I want to stop doing this.

I do wonder if that kind of makes sense to a jury, if not only because Michael Cohen is far from the only person who has lied on behalf of Donald Trump?

BASH: And that's their goal. The goal of the prosecution. I mean, that's kind of the whole ball game for them, to convince the jury that yes, he sort of, you know, found a higher spirit, a higher calling and said, I'm not going to lie for Donald Trump anymore. I think the question also is how much the receipts, the documents that they have on the prosecution side to back that up will really sit with the jury.

TAPPER: Right. But Jeff Zeleny, let me go to you because -- just put your juror hat on for me, if you would. And I want to go over some of the stuff that Elie already talked about because, I mean, this is non- insignificant. Here is the defense getting Cohen to admit about some of the rather puerile, is that the word you use for it? Puerile or juvenile.

I mean, this is not -- I mean, I can't read as to what Lanny Davis or whatever any prosecutors would have told Michael Cohen to do, but this is not what a prosecuting attorney would want a witness to have said. He said, on your first -- this is Todd Blanche, the Trump attorney, on your first podcast, Mea Culpa, you referred to President Trump as a boorish cartoon misogynist, didn't you? Cohen says, it sounds like something I would say. You recall the first one in 2020, you called him a Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain. Cohen, that also sounds like something I said.

Question. Now, do you recall around that same time, October, 2020, you started talking about your hope that President Trump would be convicted of a crime, correct? Answer. I don't know if these are the exact words that I said, but the sentiment is correct. "You think you might've said, I truly effing hope that this man ends up in prison? Is that exact?" Answer. It sounds like my language on Mea Culpa.

This is clearly a man with a mission and a grudge.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt, and a mission of revenge, like Dana said, like his book says, in very large type. Look, every witness in any case that we've covered personally or watched on television is not perfect. And Michael Cohen is certainly Exhibit A of a not perfect witness.

However, the receipts that Dana talked about are clearly what the prosecution is hoping the jurors focus on. That picture in the White House briefing room, that moment he went to the White House in early February of 2017, I keep going back to that because it was so unusual at that moment for him to be there.

But I think the jurors, you know, are going to have to throw a lot of things out. Some of the Stormy Daniels salacious testimony, some of the Cheeto conversation and focus on the facts. But that is the question. It takes one juror here.

I think his demeanor on the stand today is also as important as it has been for the last couple of days. Does he manage to not lose his cool? And I think that certainly will help him appear credible in the eyes of jurors. But look, he's not a perfect witness. Of course.


TAPPER: So, Laura, let me ask you. This was Defense Attorney Todd Blanche's first exchange with Michael Cohen when cross-examination began on Tuesday. He said, question, Mr. Cohen, my name is Todd Blanche. You and I have never spoken or met before, have we? Answer, we have not. Question, but you know who I am, don't you? Answer, I do. Question, as a matter of fact, on April 23rd, so after the trial started in this case, you went on TikTok and called me a "crying little shit," didn't you? Answer, sounds like something I would say.

This was -- the prosecution objected. It was struck from the record I think because it had to do with Blanche himself and not the case.


TAPPER: But what was the point of that?

COATES: You know, I question why he would come out of the gate like that, because it has a different impact. If your suggestion is that Michael Cohen has a bias against Donald Trump singularly, the fact that he makes statements that are crafts or otherwise about everybody, it's kind of like the statement of, well, this is a universal or an equal opportunity jerk, that doesn't actually help you to form a bias against Trump.

He was actually criticized by the judge about why are you making this all about me? Now, I may have saved that down the line if there was a contentious moment with Michael Cohen to suggest and explain his demeanor or his treatment towards me, as in, you don't want to answer my questions. You actually don't like me.

But I want to just for a second have a different take on how you use, how the prosecution is talking about all these things. It is absolutely true -- and of course, I'm going to go to my tablet, but it's also -- it's absolutely true that Michael Cohen does not like him now, but an effective prosecution looks at this. The Michael Cohen's views over time and his change of heart.

You want to freeze in the juror's mind how he used to feel at the time when all this was actually happening. In 2015, he called him a good man, a man who carries by his family, a man who tells it straight. He talks about September 2016 and being generous and compassionate, principled and empathetic. It was this change in 2018, mind you, after, of course, the inauguration, that he would no longer lie for the president of the United States. And then after that, you've got the Cheeto comments and the going to prison and et cetera. And then to Dennis' point as well, this idea of a changed person, the moral compass.

If you're a prosecution in this case, you want people focus on not how he feels now, but at the moment in time that he actually did the 34 counts of the falsified business records, because at that moment, that's what's important.

TAPPER: So, Elie, do you have an idea why Blanche would start with that? Because, I mean, it does kind of make it seem as though Michael Cohen is kind of just like a shoot from the hip jerk and not necessarily focused entirely on Trump as a motive.

HONIG: Well, I think it was a mistake to open the way that Todd Blanche opened. I absolutely never would have done it. It was properly sustained. First of all, it's not the point. It's not the point does Michael Cohen hate Todd Blanche. The point is Michael Cohen hates and desperately wants the defendant, Donald Trump, in prison.

Let me give you what I would have started with. We like to play like armchair prosecutor now that we're no longer actual prosecutors. First question would have been, Mr. Cohen, are you a perjurer? OK. If he says yes, great. Folks, he's a perjure. He says no, then you just hit him with the dozens of lies that he's -- he is a perjure. I mean, that's a fact. So, it leaves him -- it's a win-win. You want to start safe.

I thought it was a misstep by Blanche. I actually was not impressed with Blanche's cross, the two hours or so that he did on Tuesday at all. I thought it was meandering and unfocused.

TAPPER: So, Tim, there is some talk of whether the defense is going to present its own case in a robust fashion or small fashion. It's not unprecedented, by the way, obviously, as you know, but maybe not for our viewers to just say they haven't proven their case. The defense rests too. What would --


TAPPER: Yes. I mean, what would you do if you were defending Donald Trump on this case?

PARLATORE: I think in this case they are going to present a defense. Yes, I would present, you know, somewhat of a minimal defense. You know, I don't think that they should present a whole bunch of witnesses.

Bob Costello is one witness that I think that they're definitely going to present. Beyond that, I know that they've been talking about possibly an expert, because there are issues with these records of whether they actually constitute business records. You got to remember the majority of these checks came out of his personal account. TAPPER: Yes.

PARLATORE: And so, they may, you know, do some type of a technical defense on that. But, you know, beyond that, maybe Bob Costello or maybe somebody else, you know, to bear on Cohen's credibility. But I don't think a lengthy defense, and I certainly don't think Donald Trump himself testifying is helpful.

TAPPER: Yes. So, we'll have more on who Bob Costello is later in the program. In addition, we did -- he was mentioned, I think, on Tuesday. But in addition to that, he testified before Congress, I believe, yesterday. And we'll bring you more explanation as to who that is. Because that is somebody that the Trump team considers to be a credible witness against Michael Cohen.

When Donald Trump's historic criminal trial resumes, any minute, we're going to get a fuller sense of just how far the defense is willing to go in its attack on Michael Cohen's credibility. Our special live coverage is just getting started. Right now, a quick break.



TAPPER: We're back with our special live coverage of Donald Trump's criminal trial. Here's Merrick Garland, the attorney general. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- executive privilege. He invoked executive privilege. It protects you both personally. Is that a conflict of interest?

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Justice Department is a fundamental institution of our democracy. People depend on us to ensure that our investigations and our prosecutions are conducted according to the facts and the law and without political influence.

We have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the committees get responses to their legitimate requests. But this is not one. To the contrary, this is one that would harm our ability in the future to successfully pursue sensitive investigations.

Now, there have been a series of unprecedented and frankly, unfounded attacks on the Justice Department. This request, this request, effort to use contempt as a method of obtaining our sensitive law enforcement files is just the most recent. The effort to threaten, to defund our investigations and the way in which there are contributions to an atmosphere that puts our agents and our prosecutors at risk, these are wrong.

Look, the only thing I can do is continue to do the right thing. I will protect this building and its people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to respond --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. You kind of answered this just now. But I was wondering like, you know, what this combined with the efforts to defund Jack Smith and the other attacks on Biden administration officials say about, you know, the broader effort to discredit you and to discredit the Justice Department. And also, how do you manage that? How are you resisting that? And what can you do about that as Attorney General?

GARLAND: We have to go about our work following the federal principles of prosecution. They said we follow the facts and the law. We screen out outside inappropriate influences. That's what we're doing here. We're protecting our ability to continue to do high- profile and sensitive investigations and we will continue to do that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kerry, last question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Attorney General, it now seems vanished -- that's now seem vanishingly small that the two Jack Smith federal cases are going to begin trial, let alone finish trial this year. What does that say about the pace of the justice system and confidence in this Justice Department?

GARLAND: Look, the special counsel brought both cases last year. He appropriately requested speedy trials. The matter is now in the hands of the judiciary, and I'm not going to be able to comment any further.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, what do you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone. We have to go to the FBI Memorial. Thank you, everyone.

TAPPER: All right. So, that was Attorney General Merrick Garland. And just to bring you up to speed on what's going on, is that House Republicans led by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, and the chairman of the Oversight Committee, Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, are pushing to get the audio of the special counsel, Robert Hur's interview with President Biden.

You might remember that in that report in which Special Counsel Hur said that they were not going to prosecute Joe Biden. They didn't think the case would be prosecutable because Joe Biden would come across well to the jury and as an "elderly man with a poor memory."

So, that said, the Republicans in Congress want that audio. What is the purpose of that? Let's discuss. What is the purpose of trying to get that audio?

BASH: Well, I mean, the members of Congress, the Republicans in charge of that committee, argue it's for oversight, or argue it's for the public record. But we know the reason that they want to get that audio.

TAPPER: Are you suggesting to embarrass Joe Biden?


BASH: Yes. I mean, that's -- I'm not saying that the public record and for all of us in the -- you know, American citizens to get more information is not valid.


BASH: And if that was the sole mission and motivation, OK. But it's not.

TAPPER: As a journalist -- I mean, as journalists, we want all of everything released all the time.

BASH: Absolutely. Absolutely. Having said that -- and Kasie and I were talking about this. And, Kasie, I know you want to add to this, just the sort of choreography of what just happened, that it was the attorney general who almost never speaks out about this stuff who came out and said what he said and defended the president.

TAPPER: Right, because he is facing a contempt of Congress.

BASH: Exactly.

TAPPER: A threat from Congress for not turning over -- from Republicans, for not turning over this audio.

HUNT: Yes, and I just think we should dig into what we saw from Merrick Garland there because, remember, this is a man that Joe Biden selected to run his Justice Department in an incredibly charged environment with an outgoing president in the wake of January 6th. And Merrick Garland was designed to try to protect the Department of Justice, to make it seem unimpeachable, quite literally, no pun intended, to -- and he handled the special counsel situation, the prosecution of Donald Trump in a way that a lot of Democrats were very frustrated by, because he was so reluctant to put his Justice Department into a perceived political position.

And for him to actually come out there and make that very strong statement about how there are all of these comments that have been made about the Justice Department, to say that these threats against his -- that what has happened to some of his prosecutors amount to threats to their safety, he is entering this conversation that we are collectively having as a country that is a political conversation in a way I don't think we've seen Merrick Garland do before.

ZELENY: I mean, he's not -- the reason he is speaking is not to be a spokesperson for the White House. He is the central character here because he is being called by these committees for contempt of Congress for not authorizing the release of this. I mean, that's why he is speaking as he was walking out to an FBI memorial.

So, legally, this may be very sound. We'll let the lawyers talk about this. Politically, the optics of this clearly are not very good. And this is something we are going to be hearing about repeatedly is my guess for the next five -- TAPPER: All right. So, let us let us return now to the other legal

matter going on right now, which is in court. Lawyers are approaching the bench. Judge Merchan is on the bench. We're told that Eric Trump and Congressman Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, one of Donald Trump's strongest supporters in Congress, are there in the courtroom.

And what are we expecting today? What is going to happen next?

COATES: Well, they're going to talk more through the cross- examination of Michael Cohen. They expect to have him on for quite some time. Remember, there's no court tomorrow, so this is not their -- perhaps this is their final bite of the apple today, it might actually go into next week.

Because their entire case for the defense hinges on, they hope, it's planting a seed of doubt as the credibility of Michael Cohen.

TAPPER: I thought Blanche said that today might be the last day? That today would be --

COATES: It could be the last day, but it won't be the last day of this particular trial. We --

TAPPER: No, no, no.