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CNN Live Event/Special

Michael Cohen Back on the Stand for Cross-Examination. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 10:00   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Who's seen the light, this is a guy who came forward because, A, the usual reason people cooperate because he wanted to get out of prison early and, B, he has this longstanding, intense -- well, not longstanding, but intense recent grudge against Donald Trump.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And the prosecution brought that up as well, though, because they were pointing out that he tried to get a letter from them to show that he was somehow cooperative or to get some good graces. I think the prosecution also wanted that raised to suggest, right, Elie, that, hold on, this whole narrative that he's only cooperating for our benefit, which is what normally somebody who has time over their head, Tim, would want to have, they couldn't get that in.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: let me ask you a question because we're told that the prosecuting attorney, Susan Hoffinger, voir dires Cohen and asks if the large swaths of redactions that are in the text messages that he's being shown make the texts out of -- take the texts out of context. Cohen says, I believe so. She then objects to them coming into evidence and the lawyers are at the bench and the judge is sustaining the objection.

So, what exactly does that mean, Tim, in terms of -- like if you're on the other side, you're allowed to just pop up and say something?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: When any side, you know, wants to offer, you know, some exhibit and evidence, so here the defense is trying to offer some text messages and they've redacted certain portions out. When you offer that into evidence, the other side has the opportunity to get up and voir dire or ask the witness further questions to challenge the admissibility of that, whether it's the authenticity or, in this case, whether it is a fair represent and accurate representation.

TAPPER: Did Susan Hoffinger already have them? Had the defense already -- so she -- and she had them -- yes. Okay.

PARLATORE: This will be the text, which I find very interesting from the 2023 turning over of his phone. So these are all the text messages relatively recent. And so the defense wants to show, you know, his bias or potential lies after he has, you know, so called seen the light.

TAPPER: And here, Todd Blanche, Trump's attorney, is asking if Michael Cohen said he was, quote, going to hold President Trump accountable in one of the texts.

PARLATORE: That's exactly what it is. He's, he's trying to show the bias and he's shopping himself to this investigator and saying, you know, what he wants to do as opposed to what you want a witness to say, which is, I just want to tell the truth.

TAPPER: Well, although I will say, going to hold President Trump accountable is a lot more reasonable sounding than some of the other things we've heard that Michael Cohen said.

PARLATORE: It is but it's still not what you want to have between a witness and an investigator.

HONIG: This is a G-rated version of I want to be locked in a cage like an animal, which you said earlier. But I also think it's important people understand just how unusual of a star witness Michael Cohen is. I mean, on the one hand, he's not trying to work off time. Most cooperators have -- they are looking at 15-year sentences, and this testimony will be their key to get out early. That's the way it works. That's not really an issue with Cohen, it was early on. But to have this kind of personal animus, this type of personal ambition about the guy getting convicted and sent to prison is really, really unusual.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Making money off of it.

HONIG: And making money.

TAPPER: Yes. You can see why, Kaitlan Collins, this was a debate within the district attorney's office as well as within Robert Mueller's office and the Southern District of New York office as to whether or not Michael Cohen was good enough as a witness to bring a case against Donald Trump. Mueller said no. Southern District of New York said no. the district attorney ultimately said yes, but there was a real back and forth about whether or not Alvin Bragg was going to take the case, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely, Jake. It caused quite some consternation inside his office when he first was elected to that office.

And, Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes, as we're watching all this play out, Todd Blanche is acting if this detective who was suspended last summer, I believe, from the district attorney's office confirmed to Michael Cohen that Trump had been indicted based on news reports, not something that had been publicly announced by Bragg's office.

Trump had been and was indicted last March. Obviously, we were all covering it live when that happened as all of this was going on. But Todd Blanche, one thing that is clear as he's beginning this cross- examination is he's getting into the substance of Michael Cohen's interactions with the district attorney's office. He's not, you know -- and he's reading his text. He's not taking the same tack that he was on Tuesday. So, at least a noticeable change beginning today.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the cross-examination, right? He has to get into the substance of exactly what has transpired during the course of this investigation and also what Michael Cohen testified on the stand because that's what the jurors are going to use to make their decision.

Now, bringing up something like this, Detective Rosenberg, the questions about possible improprieties behind the scenes, what this does is this highlights for the jurors a question about whether there was some sort of bias, some sort of collusion behind the scenes between was clearly hostile witness to the defendant and the prosecutors investigating him.

So, it's unclear exactly where how far Blanche will take this, but this is to, again, raise doubt in the minds of at least one juror about Michael Cohen,

COLLINS: But doesn't Todd Blanche need to kind of pull the jury into his line of questioning because, you know, the reports on Tuesday were that they looked kind of bored or like maybe confused.


They don't give a lot of way as he was going all over the place. I mean, he has to tell a convincing narrative not just to throw Michael Cohen off but to appeal to the jury.

REID: Yes. I think that they tried something on Tuesday, and that was to try to knock Michael Cohen off his game. Here now, Blanche is asking if this detective told Cohen that the D.A.'s office told The New York Times about the indictment. Cohen says no, sir, when asked whether the detective told him there was an indictment before it was unsealed. So, Cohen appearing to try to tamp down the suggestion that there was some sort of backchannel about what the outcome of this investigation was.

But, yes, I do think that Todd Blanche eventually needs to get back to the meat of this case. What is at the heart of this case? Because on Tuesday, he tried to throw Cohen off his game by asking him questions that were sort of all over the timeline, not really about allegations of falsifying business records, and it's not clear that really got them anywhere. It didn't throw Cohen, and it really didn't attack the case.

COLLINS: We've also had three sidebars already this morning where the latest one the prosecution objecting over certain text that they wanted to show that had some redacted and essentially arguing it wouldn't paint the whole picture for the jury. So, I mean, the jury is not just sitting here listening to Michael Cohen. They're also looking at what he said about Trump in the past, what he's texted, his messages as well.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I think for the jury, it's an interesting moment because it continues to have objection after objection after objection. So, clearly, something is going on here in this line of questioning.

Now, obviously they're going to have to piece together what exactly that looks like, but I do think this is an interesting turn in the questioning of Cohen, because before it was just himself questioning Cohen's credibility. Now, he's undermining the investigation using Cohen and this relationship.

We know that he's going to try to paint Cohen as a liar, that he's going to go back to some of the comments that he's made, that he's going to once again delve into his book, but this now goes to the heart of the investigation, and he's trying to undermine the investigation using Cohen and using Cohen's dislike of Donald Trump.

COLLINS: I want to bring in criminal defense attorney David Oscar Markus, who is joining me now. And, obviously, I should also note that you were once offered to be -- Trump sought you out to potentially be on his legal team for another case, the one in Florida, I believe.

And as you're watching this, you are not the attorney in the room here today, but what do you believe, David, is the most important thing for Todd Blanche to do as he is developing this line of questioning of Michael Cohen?

DAVID OSCAR MARKUS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sure. It's do or die day for the defense, Kaitlan. I mean, I think Todd needs a knockout punch today to win this case. They need to really undermine Michael Cohen and they need to make the case all about Michael Cohen. I think it's risky for the prosecution to end their case with their most incredible witness. And this is what the jury is going to be left with for the whole weekend.

And in closing next week, if I'm the defense lawyer, I make it all about Michael Cohen. I say, it's not about whether the president had sex with Stormy Daniels or whether he paid Stormy Daniels. It's about these false business records. And here's why you can't believe Cohen.

COLLINS: And right now, Todd Blanche is bringing up Cohen when he went on CNN in March of 2023, just over a year ago, and kind of referred to this as David versus Goliath, obviously himself and former President Trump. And right now, Cohen is confirming that he does view himself as David and Trump is Goliath.

I mean, this is the less sensational of previous comments from Michael Cohen compared to what the jury had to listen to on Tuesday. But Blanche is asking him, you actually said on March 30th before this indictment was unsealed that you had Goliath on his back, didn't you? What's Todd Blanche trying to get at by implying that Michael Cohen knew that this was coming? I mean, he spoke to prosecutors, I should note, he testified the other day, two weeks before Trump was actually indicted in this case.

MARKUS: Right. I guess he's trying to make him out to be an insider and that he had inside information. He was in bed with the prosecution of case. Of course, I think, you know, Todd should follow this up with, how many times did you meet with him? Go through the specific meetings. Did you prepare? Who was playing the cross examiner in the D.A.'s office? You can really go after his credibility by showing that he was rehearsed. I might ask him, why did you name your book Revenge instead of Rehearsed? How many times did you rehearse your testimony in this case?

And, you know, jurors don't like lawyers, Kaitlan, especially lying lawyers. And that's what I would make, you know, this case about if I was Todd Blanche.

COLLINS: What did jurors think, though, of a defense team that has, you know, a tense relationship with the judge at times? I mean, the judge has been fair from what I've viewed inside the courtroom. Sometimes he sides with the prosecution when they make a motion. Sometimes he sides with the defense. Todd Blanche just asked to approach the bench. That would have been for the fourth time. They had a sidebar this morning, and Judge Merchan told him no.


MARKUS: The jury is always going to believe in the credibility of the judge, of course. And so it's really dangerous to get on the bad side of a judge. You don't want the jury thinking, you know, the judge is against you. And so the judge has to do everything he can to look fair. And as you say, the judge has been trying to do that in this case, except, you know, Trump's been out there saying how biased the judge is. And the jury's not going to hear that, of course, but the jury's going to see, is Trump fighting with the judge or is lawyers fighting with the judge? And, of course, they look at that.

COLLINS: And the other thing, as I should note that right now, the judge, Todd Blanche and Michael Cohen are wearing headphones. These are not Apple air pods, I should note. These are really old school Walkman-style headphones that they have to put on, which just speaks to, you know, that it does feel like the 1980s sometimes in that courtroom. They're listening as the questioning is turned to Cohen's podcast. There's a plethora of information for the defense here to use because Cohen has spoken so often and so repeatedly in public about Donald Trump. And Blanche is pulling up a clip of Cohen's podcast, Mea Culpa, in which Cohen gives his reaction to the indictment. And Trump did not put on the headphones, I should note, to listen to this clip.

David, the other thing is, right now, the other people in that courtroom, it's not just the jury, there's also, like, 12 members of Congress in there, does the jury notice them? Do they pay attention to who's filling up the, the two rows behind the defendant?

MARKUS: Absolutely. They see everything that goes on in that courtroom. And, you know, this is a strategy that was employed by the great Edward Bennett Williams back when he represented a Teamsters boss, and he brought in Joe Louis to hug his client in front of the jury. And Williams was a master of this.

Of course, everybody loved Joe Louis. He was. He was the heavyweight champion. Everyone loved the guy. I'm not sure bringing in Matt Gaetz is the same as bringing in Joe Louis. Matt Gaetz is not beloved by everybody, but the jury is going to see it and, and they're going to take it into account like they do every little thing that happens in that courtroom.

COLLINS: David Oscar Markus, great to have you. Thank you for joining.

Right now, Cohen on that podcast that they are playing said he is about to get a taste, referring to Trump, of what I went through and I promise you it's not fun. Paula Reid and Kristen Holmes, these are the comments that may be more beneficial to the defense team as they are showing that, you know, last week when they were asking, you want Trump to -- or the other day when you want Trump to belong in jail. Michael Cohen was saying, I want to see him held accountable. They're going to use all of these comments of his where he anticipated exactly what is playing out here.

REID: They appear to be going through chronologically, starting around the time of the indictment and going through Cohen's comments, and one would expect. And then we'll go through the other statements that he has made in the course of this case and then compare it to other things he has said in other investigations. Remember, he's been interviewed many times by investigators in and around various Trump legal issues. So, this does appear to be more linear than what we saw on Tuesday.

Now, on the podcast, Cohen says, picturing Donald Trump being led through the booking process fills me with delight and sadness at the same time.

COLLINS: And, you know, what's interesting about this is -- I was just going to make this point. Cohen's voice on the podcast is starkly different than how he sounds on the stand. If you listen to his podcast, if you watch his interviews on CNN, we all know Michael Cohen, it's not the demeanor you saw on the stand where he was initially, yes, ma'am, no, ma'am, to the prosecution, looking at the jury, you know, acknowledging that he was mesmerized by Donald Trump, but how that relationship deteriorated. They're hearing him sound gleeful in these podcasts.

HOLMES: And that's what our reporters say. They say that he sounds excited, that he's talking very fast. He sounds excited that he's been indicted. I mean, that I think is part of the contrast that they're trying to show here, because you have this person on the stand who really is playing along with what they wanted him to do, which was to stay measured. Now, they're showing a different side of him.

I think they tried to get at that on Tuesday, was showing the kind of aggressive social media posts that he had written, but now you're actually hearing a different Michael Cohen than what the jury has been hearing.

REID: And now they're, they're playing other quotes where he's talking about revenge. But at this point --

COLLINS: His book.

REID: Exactly, his book. And this is used in a different context where he's talking, you know, the famous saying, revenge is a dish best served cold, but it's a common theme. But at this point, it's not clear that the defense has done enough to say, okay, he clearly hates Trump. He clearly has a vendetta, perhaps even an obsession. But do I not believe what he testified to in terms of this conspiracy to falsify business records? At this point, it's not clear the defense attorneys have successfully undercut his credibility in terms of the testimony that matters in this case. That's what we expect they'll get to today, but so far, we're not there.

COLLINS: Also, remember, this is a jury that is -- they're not just hearing Michael Cohen's past comments as Cohen is speaking much quicker on the podcast, showing a hefty dose of excitement, they're playing another one from October 23, 2020 that they are playing, jumping back a little bit in time.


They also heard Donald Trump, though, in his own words, they pulled out multiple clips from Trump's books, where he said, you know, if people screw you, you screw them back. And so they haven't just heard Trump's -- you know, Cohen's past comments, they're also hearing Cohen's as well on October 23rd, one where he said, I absolutely effing hope that this man ends up in prison.

HOLMES: Yes. Look, this again is what they're trying to get at here, is that Michael Cohen hates Donald Trump so much that he would do anything for him to go --

COLLINS: To put him away.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. And the other part of this that they're going to, I assume, eventually tie in is to go back to the fact that Michael Cohen is a known liar. So, now we're still in the October recording here. Cohen says, revenge is a dish best served cold. This is the one you mentioned. I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to my family.

So, this is one aspect of it. Then you're going to see them go back to the fact that Michael Cohen has known have lied before and try to link the two that he hates him so much and he would do anything to put him behind bars.

COLLINS: How does Michael Cohen defend those comments? Because it's not, you know, the ones where he was trying to take the sting out of calling him a Cheeto dusted cartoon villain or whatever it was, where one juror was apparently taking notes of that.

And right now, Blanche is asking Michael Cohen if he's publicly said that the work he's done helped get Trump indicted. I took some credit, yes. I mean, this is the jury hearing, you know, from this witness in his own words, hoping for a certain outcome that they will ultimately decide here.

REID: You were asking, how does he defend these comments? What you do is you own them. You don't deny them because it doesn't really matter what your opinion of Trump is. It does. But it only matters for your credibility in terms of the testimony you have provided about falsifying business records. He said, you continue to call President Trump various names on your podcast, and when you're even doing CNN interviews, correct, Blanche said? Correct, Cohen says.

So, here, you know, Cohen's like, yes, that was me, that's what I said. He's not backing down or backing away from his criticism of the defendant at all. And it's up to the jury, how do they interpret that? They're like, okay, he said what he said, and he agreed that he said it, he's not denying it, so maybe he is, now that he's on the stand, after this long and winding journey, maybe he is telling the truth about the other stuff.

COLLINS: What is the defense team's plan if Michael Cohen does just own all of his past comments? He says, yes, sounds like me, yes, I did call Trump various names, yes, I did say that he should rot in jail.

HOLMES: I think they think it makes their job a lot harder. I mean, look, we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what they have done in research into Michael Cohen what he has said. We know they've gone through the book, which I don't think we've even brought that up yet. We're just in the podcast. We know there's social media posts videos that exist. So, whether Michael Cohen continues to just own it and say, yes, of course, I said that question, but unclear how this works.

COLLINS: And, obviously, Jake, it is quite windy out here as we are watching how testy it's going to get inside as Michael Cohen is now on the stand walking through all of his past comments.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlin Collins, thanks so much.

Let us talk more about what's going on. First of all, you know, kind of interesting, the Trump campaign is not paying for the House members to travel to New York to attend Trump's trial. In some cases, individual campaign committees of members of Congress are paying. But that's just interesting because it is such an expression of support for the president from this almost dozen members of the House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Also not surprising, one of the central themes of this is how tight or careful the former president is with his money. So, he is not going to be spending his precious campaign funds on this.

Look, the members of Congress are more than happy to go there. I mean, they're literally almost falling over themselves to fill up those precious seats in the courtroom.

TAPPER: Here we go with more of this, Todd Blanche clarifying that Michael Cohen responded on Twitter, now known as X. when Trump attacked him and Stormy Daniels in March, 2023. Blanche asked whether Cohen responded and Blanche clarifies, you did respond, quote, you called him Dumbass Donald. Sounds correct, Cohen confirms.

This is also after the podcast excerpt was broadcast in the courtroom, quote, I truly effing hope that this man ends up in prison, but revenge is a dish best served cold, and you better believe I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to my family. We have with us Bryan Lanza, former Deputy Communications Director for the Trump-Pence campaign of 2016. We're learning -- welcome. Good to see you. We're learning that today's cross-examination is really going to go hard at -- is going hard at Michael Cohen, Todd Blanche asking Cohen about a TikTok from just before opening statements when Michael Cohen said that he, quote, has mental excitement about the fact that the trial is starting.

So, this is about undermining Michael Cohen. How much of it do you think it is about the legality and the really undermining this in the legal case? And how much is also steeped in the fact that Donald Trump wants himself defended, which is a theme of his public life?


He wants to be defended. And if he's not allowed to go after Michael Cohen because of the gag order, then his defense team damn sure is.

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN: You know, first of all, thank you for having me, Jake. Listen, a lot of this is -- there's a lot to go after with Cohen, and you're going to have multiple, you know, streams of information, whether it's revenge, whether it's, you know, you got to validate his times. But I think at the end of the day, the trial is going to be dependent and it's not going to be dependent on, you know, documentations, you know, that took place in a ledger. It's all dependent on whether Michael Cohen had this conversation with President Trump, you know, about the ledgers, about this, you know, alleged affair before the election.

And, you know, in my experience, you know, it's hard to put a lot of weight in anything Michael Cohen says. You know, I worked for him in 2016. We knew in the campaign we couldn't trust him. He caused a lot of problems for us, you know, and it just extended over the years. So, for me, it's very difficult to see how anybody can trust Michael Cohen, even if he claims to be reformed.

I said it on your air before, and I'll say it again today, I mean, this is a man who will lie in a confessional book. That's just who Michael Cohen is. He's lied to you, I suspect he's lied to you, and I suspect he's lied to you. So, why would it be different today?

TAPPER: It's interesting that you say that, but I don't think he takes confession. But it is interesting that you say that, because right now Todd Blanche is noting that he has lied under oath, Michael Cohen. And the oath doesn't change depending on the location, does it, Blanche says. We're told Trump in the courtroom is leaning back with his eyes closed. It's how he's reacted to a lot of the testimony, kind of just being mellow, taking it in, not reacting, what do you make of that?

LANZA: Yes, it calms them down. You know, it's much easier to absorb when you don't have to look somebody, you know, across when you're sort of lying about what's going on. You close your eyes. It's easier to absorb the information. You know, maybe it controls his angers. I think we both know President Trump, you know, can have a temper and I'd be angry in this situation. So, I think just closing your eyes, not acknowledging, not seeing Michael Cohen's face probably helps him keep him a lot calmer. I'm sure it'd do the same thing for me. I wouldn't want to see Michael in these circumstances.

TAPPER: In addition to being under oath and to actually like raising her hand and swearing that he wouldn't bear false witness, Michael Cohen is being reminded right now by Todd Blanche that, quote, each time you met with a federal agent, you were told that if you made a false statement that that was a felony, a federal crime, correct, Blanche asks? Yes, sir, says Cohen. So, I assume what they're going to do here is show all the times since 2017, when he was under oath behind closed doors in Congress, that Michael Cohen said things that did not line up with facts.

The defense says it might bring one witness earlier. Tim Parlatore, former Trump attorney, said that he thinks it might be Robert Costello. Who do you think that should be or will be?

PARLATORE: Yes. I think Robert could still be a good person. He can validate a lot of the stuff of, you know, sort of Michael Cohen being this dishonest character for a substantial period. He's interacted -- my understanding is he's interacted with Cohen in the past. And it'd be, you know, people that be -- he'd be validated with what the defense is saying, that just, you know, Michael is not somebody who can be trusted and to put the whole case on, you know, believing that Michael had this conversation, it's just, it's very tough for me to even think about it.

TAPPER: So, first of all, I invite all my colleagues here to bring Mr. Lanza in if they have questions for him specifically, just to recap what's going on in the courtroom. I did not know that this was going to happen, but Todd Blanche is actually starting exactly in 2017, where I suggested, to the 2017 House Intelligence Committee testimony behind closed doors when they were doing their investigation into the Trump campaigns 2016, alleged ties with Russia, and Cohen lied under oath there and was charged with perjury in 2018. Todd Blanche is asking Michael Cohen to recount the lies.

There were a couple different lies, he says. That's correct, Cohen says. When you stopped the Trump Tower Moscow project was a lie. Correct, Blanche asks -- Correct, Cohen says. Also, when he stopped talking to Trump about it is going to be another lie as well. But we're going to really have a lot to go through here about how, how many lies Michael Cohen has said.

COATES: We've already heard this too last week -- I mean, two days ago, when the defense -- when the prosecution did this.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I just want to add one thing that kind of ties it all together, which is as part of that line of questioning, Todd Blanche asked Michael Cohen about the oath that he took every time he lied and whether that was the same oath that Cohen took Monday morning in that courtroom. And Cohen said, yes, sir.

TAPPER: So, in addition, there are a couple different lies. When you stopped the Trump Tower Moscow project was a lie, Cohen had said it stopped in January. It actually was in June, I believe, in 2016. What was the other lie, Blanche asks? I don't recall. I think those were the two, Cohen says.

HUNT: Yes. I mean, look, I think this was honestly what -- like to your point, what we expected Blanche to do all the way along, right, is kind of go through all this. And we do have this update here, Blanche says, you knew you were lying, correct? And Cohen says, yes.


So, again, just trying to expose him for -- I mean, look, this is what he is, right? This is something that he did. It's something that he did prison time for. And I do think how they tied this together with saying that he's motivated for this accountability is really the thing that I'm interested to see how that plays with the jury.

COATES: But a jury is going to -- I mean, think about this. You're a juror. This man is telling you, yes, I'm a liar. That's why I lied with 34 different falsified business records and I did it not only for the benefit of the person who's sitting right in front of you, who's identified in court already, but he knew about it.

And you have to get to the point where the prosecution has tried to lay out this defendant as having known the intent to do all these things. If the defense is going to establish him as a liar, you know, solely, fine, but you have to make sure that you are undercutting the prosecution's claim that Donald Trump knew about what was going on, sanctioned it, and said, just do it.

BASH: So, how do we get to the point where -- the question is whether we get to the point where that's a Blanche question. How do we, how do we know that you are not lying right now when you said that Trump --

TAPPER: So, you knew you were lying, correct? Yes. You lied under oath, correct? Yes, sir.

COATES: That's why you have documents, right? That's why you've got the Allen Weisselberg handwritten notes.

TAPPER: I get it. But, Elie Honig, the point has been made before, that when -- and I'm not comparing Donald Trump to John Gotti, but when mobsters go to prison, it is the testimony of bad people who put them there. It's not priests and nuns who testify, he told me to whack this guy, it's other mobsters. You lied again when you met with the special counsel on August 7th, 2018, correct, Blanche asks Cohen.

HONIG: And that's Robert Mueller. Michael Cohen went in and told Robert Mueller the same lie about the Moscow project.

TAPPER: So, I definitely get the sense from you that had it been District Attorney Elie Honig, you would not have taken this case?

HONIG: Oh, charge it?

TAPPER: You mean you would have not charged this case based -- because of so much of it relying on Michael Cohen?


TAPPER: Is that fair?

HONIG: If it was up to me, I would look at this case pretty much the way the Southern District actually looked at it in early 2021, which is there is evidence enough to indict, that you can indict almost anything as a prosecutor, but in an exercise of discretion. I think that the evidence is too close to the line to warrant bringing this case. That's my overall assessment.

TAPPER: Because it relies too much on the word of somebody that is susceptible to this exact cross?

HONIG: That's a big part of it. I mean, the Southern District of New York, by the way, a famously aggressive prosecutor's office, arguably the most aggressive prosecutor's office in the country, made a decision, we are not willing to do what's happening right now, to put Michael Cohen on the stand, and ask a jury --

TAPPER: Which prosecutor you're talking about?

HONIG: The Southern District of New York. This is back in the --

TAPPER: So, Berman?

HONIG: It was after Berman left. It was during the transition period. The woman in charge was named Audrey Strauss, who's a lifer who, if anything, by the way, is a liberal who does not like Trump. I reported on all this in my book.

So, a non-political decision was made by the SDNY in 2021 not to charge Cohen. Fast forward a year and Alvin Bragg, an alum of that office, makes a contrary decision, but the key differentiator is Alvin Bragg is willing to bank on Michael Cohen. Maybe it'll work with the jury. I don't have any predictions here. What's happening right now is we are beginning the long walk through Michael Cohen's history of lying.

And Laura makes a good point, which is it's sort of baked in, right? Yes, he lied when he was --

TAPPER: Lying under oath, we should note.

HONIG: And that's the thing. There's two things I'm looking for. One, do Michael Cohen's lies, does the volume and breadth of them and seriousness of them get to a point where the jury just says, how can we believe him? I know it was all years ago --

HUNT: Which is his goal here.

HONIG: Right, but it's just so much.

And the other point is, is there something that departs from the narrative that Michael Cohen made a clean break from Donald Trump in 2018? Are there going to be lies after that? And are there going to be lies that get away from this narrative of all I ever lied for was Trump? There are instances where Cohen lies for himself.

TAPPER: If we could put up the Weisselberg memo, because I think that a lot of the prosecution's case ultimately is going to hinge on this. And, Bryan, you don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but this is what the prosecution is going to lean on. They're going to say, okay, you don't believe Michael Cohen, fine. But here is a document from the CFO that is outlining in detail this payment system. It's $420,000 that Michael Cohen's owed, $130,000 of which is Stormy Daniels related. And the falsification of the business records is dividing that $420,000 into 12 and giving him a 35,000 payment.

Coming to you in one second, but let me just note, you said you were accepting responsibility for those lies for lying to Congress, Blanche says. But, in fact, you repeatedly said, and even said this morning and even this week, that the reason why you lied was because of your loyalty to President Trump, Blanche asks. So, are you saying you're accepting responsibility or blaming the joint defense agreement, Blanche says. Accepting responsibility, I read it and I submitted it to the committee, Cohen says on the stand.

But, Bryan Lanza, you don't have -- you know, you're not his defense attorney, so you don't have to come up with an answer if you don't have one, but what's the explanation for the Weisselberg memo?

LANZA: You know, I look at that, you know, and I haven't followed all the case, but I look at that and sort of having my understanding with Michael Cohen and how he operates. I can certainly see a circumstance here, he's always eager to, at that point, to please, you know, then candidate Trump, CEO Trump, where Michael does this on his own, all this is going forward, and at the end, you know, goes to the boss.