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Any Minute: Cohen Back On Stand For Cross-Examination; Michael Cohen Back On The Stand For Cross-Examination; Trump Lawyer Cross- Examines Michael Cohen. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 11:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, if he -- if he indeed testifies.


TAPPER: We still don't know what the defense plans on doing. The trial is taking a brief break, so we're going to take one too. The cross- examination of Michael Cohen will likely get even more intense when we return. The defense keeps building on its all-out push to portray Michael Cohen as a serial liar. We'll be right back.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Right now, inside the Manhattan criminal courthouse that you're looking at here, Donald Trump's lead attorney has been moving deeper into his cross-examination of Michael Cohen, hammering away at the prosecution's star witness and its history of lying. The Trump hush money coverup trial right now is on a brief break. We do expect Michael Cohen to retake the witness stand soon.

We are told by reporters inside the room that he was breathing heavily as he left the room. He has to cross behind where Donald Trump is sitting at the defense table in order to leave the room. And then Donald Trump and his coterie of Republican allies who were seated in the rows behind him have also just left the room for this brief break.

Paula, right before they stopped for a break, it was a pretty critical moment where --


COLLINS: And it's not clear how this will affect the totality of the case. But Todd Blanche did get Michael Cohen to admit that years ago when he testified before Congress that he had never saw it and would not accept a pardon from Donald Trump. He said that his attorneys did explore pardon options with Donald Trump.

REID: Yes. And this is all coming out as a result of some testimony yesterday from Rob Costello. He is a longtime Trump-aligned lawyer. He represented Rudy Giuliani for many years. And for a brief period of time, he represented Michael Cohen. He was the only witness that the Trump defense a year ago put before the grand jury in this case. They're not calling in here. But some of his interactions with Cohen are coming in through this testimony about the pardon.

Now, the -- really, the key part of Rob Costello's testimony before Congress, and his story that he's told publicly many times is he said when he represented Michael Cohen, he repeatedly asked if he had any evidence of criminal conduct on the part of Donald Trump. Because, Costello said, that could help you -- because you are currently under investigation, that could potentially help you. Do you have anything? And Cohen according to Costello said that he "had nothing on President Trump and could not cooperate against him."

And Blanche just brought that up. And he said, did you say that that you had no evidence of allegedly criminal conduct? And Cohen got a little squishy. He said no.

Then Blanche followed up and said, well, do you mean you didn't say that, or you don't recall? And Cohen says I do not recall. So, that lends credibility to what Costello is saying that at least for a time, Cohen claimed to have no evidence of criminal conduct on Trump.

COLLINS: And Costello is important because before Trump got indicted, basically the Trump team sent him in because they were hoping he could make the case and counteract what Michael Cohen had been saying to the grand jury when he himself was testifying before the indictment. And I remember Trump at the time was saying, you know, Bob Costello undermined his entire case. That everything that Michael Cohen had said, he was able to undermine that. Still, Trump got indicted despite that.

REID: Yes. Rob Costello will tell you that, you know, the grand jury was wrapped by it -- wrapped by his testimony, clearly convinced of everything he said. Now, I've worked with Bob Costello, for -- gosh, I mean, almost a decade now. He's never told me anything that wasn't true. But he's definitely a character.

It's not clear that he would ever overcome the low standard for indictment. But his testimony -- even though he's not expected to be featured in the trial, it's unclear why, but it's still coming in what he learned from Michael Cohen. And now, it's up to the jury to assess it without ever hearing from Costello.

COLLINS: And in that moment, Kristen, where Michael Cohen did go before Congress, 2019, and he was asked about this question of whether or not he ever sought a pardon. I mean, you can hear him in his own words. They haven't played this for the jury but this is the moment that Todd Blanche was just asking Michael Cohen about.


MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER FIXER: And I have never asked for it, nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump. And by coming today, I have caused my family to be the target of personal scurrilous attacks by the president and his lawyer trying to intimidate me from appearing before this panel.


COLLINS: And what Michael Cohen was saying there, well, it was a confusing conversation, it was this. Todd Blanche said, no, no, that was your written statement to Congress that you were reading before you began testifying.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And again, this back and forth led to even more between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. It started -- Donald Trump started saying you asked me personally, you're a liar. Michael Cohen saying no, you're the liar. I mean, very mudslinging stuff that we've continued to see from both of them for the last several years.

But I do want to bring up something that happened when the prosecution was questioning Michael Cohen because I think that they were setting up for this moment knowing that some of this was going to come into context. And that was Michael Cohen talking about Costello, saying he was sketchy, saying that he was essentially at certain times, holding over him that he had this relationship with Giuliani, who was so close to the former president. They are clearly here trying to get at this line of questioning, which as you said, is critical, is the fact, is what Tom Blanche is going to say here, which is that you told Costello that you had nothing that you could cooperate against former president about.

COLLINS: That's a really good point because it seemed to kind of come out of nowhere. It was at the end. They started showing e-mails from Bob Costello to Michael Cohen, where he was clearly pressuring him to stay in the fold. And he was saying, I can be your attorney, I can be your backchannel to Donald Trump, my friend, referring to Rudy Giuliani, and my friend's client. If you have anything to pass along, let me know. So, the jury does have a sense of who this character is, even if he himself may not appear before them.


HOLMES: Exactly. And he's been a Trump world fixture for about a decade, but it's important to give an update on their relationship. He represented Rudy Giuliani for quite some time. He -- Giuliani racked up millions of dollars in legal bills. And both Rob Costello and Rudy Giuliani -- we reported. We broke the story.


HOLMES: That they went down to Mar-a-Lago and asked Trump for help with his bills. Now, he's signaled that he would help somehow, but as last time I checked in, Rob Costello has still not been paid. So, since he testified before the grand jury, there is a little bit of blood -- bad blood here.

Now, clearly Costello is team Trump and not team Cohen. So, he could still potentially be a defense witness. But it's notable that they're not calling him to undercut Michael Cohen's credibility. COLLINS: That was when Giuliani teared up. And Trump basically said he wasn't going to help cover up his legal expenses because he didn't win. He didn't prove election fraud that didn't exist, which is what Trump ultimately wanted from Rudy Giuliani.

REID: Yes. And as we understand he did one of those indirect promises to help a little bit and he did. If I remember correctly, he had lied that dinner. So, he did help Rudy Giuliani --

COLLINS: He did a fundraiser at that -- (INAUDIBLE)

REID: Yes. He helped Rudy Giuliani raise a little bit of money. But as I understand it, that did not go to the cost -- Costello balance. So, Costello is a bit of a character in the story for about a decade.

But what he has to say here, it is significant if true, and you know, Cohen's not exactly contradicting what Collins -- Costello said on the stand. He's just saying, I don't recall.

COLLINS: Trump's behavior during all of this has been notable as well, Kristen, because initially, he was doing what he typically has been doing throughout this trial where he closes his eyes for sustained periods of time. He's not always sleeping. It's just he's like pretending like the testimony is not happening. And he started to perk up and to pay attention and was watching as his final moments were the pardon talk, and Cohen saying it was confusing what happening.

And I should note. Judge Merchan is back on the bench. We do expect Michael Cohen to be back on the witness stand any moment.

HOLMES: Well, and remember, the first day of questioning was kind of all over the place. It was a lot of reading really nasty things that Michael Cohen had said about Donald Trump. And we were told that Donald Trump had been briefed multiple times not to have any sort of reaction.

If he was feeling like he was going to have a reaction, to keep a stone face, that they did not want Michael Cohen to feel like he was having the ability to get under Donald Trump's skin. However, the one correlation I will say here is once we start seeing or hearing from our court reporters that Michael Cohen's voice is getting more rapid, that he is starting to have to explain things, that he sounds a little bit less measured, that's where you're starting to see Donald Trump perk up. Remember Donald Trump wants to see Michael Cohen destroyed on the stand. It's not just Michael Cohen who hates Donald Trump, which we've obviously has been laid out in this case. It's also Donald Trump who hates Michael Cohen.

COLLINS: Yes. Safe to say, there's no love lost between the two of them. We also have Attorney Michael Van Der Veen Joining us now, who represented Donald Trump, I should note in his second impeachment trial. That was after January 6.

And, Michael, it's great to have you here. As you've been watching this, is there a point that you believe has been the most effective in this cross-examination of Michael Cohen? MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, I think it's right before the break. I think, you know, they're starting to get Cohen to admit to lies that the prosecution hadn't completely prepared the jury for. I think that it feels like from the reporting I'm getting for you, all that -- the cross is going pretty good.

It seems like Blanche has a pretty good rhythm going. There have not been a lot of objections. You know, I've been in front of this judge and with these prosecutors on a very similar case, and you know, their goal when you're on cross-examination is to stop the rhythm.

And they really haven't had a chance to do that. It seems like Blanche is asking questions that are right down the pipe. And he's got the answers he wants.

COLLINS: I mean, you know what it's like to represent Donald Trump. You did so in the impeachment hearing. But I mean, here in this trial, this is a test of Todd Blanche or for Todd Blanche today as well when it comes to Trump and Trump's confidence in his lead attorney.

VAN DER VEEN: You know, you've had some reporting that Trump was unhappy with Blanche a week or so back, but he seems to certainly, letting Blanche do this cross. It really gives an endorsement to that he's with a defense, he thinks the defense is going good, and they're going to stick to the original game plan that they had.

And I think that's really important, not only for the defense itself but for how it's perceived by the jury. You know, it'd be very difficult for the lead guy to come and halfway through the case, he no longer be around. The jury would pick up on those signals.


They -- you know, they're in that room every day feeling the vibe, not only from the witnesses but from the lawyers and from the judge. And it's really a 360-degree perspective that they're going to have. And so, Blanche seems to be having the client's confidence and it seems like he's earning it right now, frankly.

COLLINS: Yes. And just a quick scheduling note. There was a suggestion that they may actually have court next Wednesday as they are -- we're nearing the end of this trial. But Judge Merchan has just returned to the bench and indicated that the -- some of the jurors cannot actually come next Wednesday.

It's typically their off day. So, we'll see what that looks like. Michael Cohen is back on the witness stand.

And, Michael, as much as -- you know, obviously, we knew Trump's team wanted to say that Michael Cohen is a liar and to raise doubt in the juror's minds about whether or not they can trust him. But it seems like this is at a point where really the question for the jury will be, when can they start believing what Michael Cohen said, and can they believe what he said on the witness stand earlier this week? I mean, when as a defense attorney, do you know if you've achieved your goal? I mean, the jury doesn't really give much away. VAN DER VEEN: Well, that's a really good question. Really, I think the main goal of this cross-examination is to set up the closing argument, to answer that very question you just asked. That they're setting up the closing argument, and they're going to hit the jury instructions hard. They're going to hit the credibility of witnesses, oh, there's a wicked good jury instruction for the defense which is you are the --- you the jurors are the sole judges of credibility.

And then he's going to bank all of the things that were incredible in his past, and even in this trial. Faults in one, faults in all. They're going to argue -- and because the judge is going to instruct the jury, if you believe the witness testified falsely about any one thing in this case, you can believe all of the testimony was false. And then -- and it rolls right into guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is the linchpin of your case. And what -- this is what you're left with. You're left with a guy who's incredible, who lied to you before this trial, lied to you in this trial, and they haven't met that high burden of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There's daylights of doubt here with Cohen if they execute this cross right.

COLLINS: And the jury is now back in the courtroom, and it's really all going to come down to them, and what this looks like, as you were just saying, they're -- you know if they can successfully create that doubt. But I mean, is there a chance that they believe Michael Cohen and that they say, OK, yes, we do know and understand that he's lied a lot to multiple branches of government? But in this instance, you know, there's no angels inside -- in this story of how they're looking at this. No heroes. And so, how do they make the determination when it looks like that?

VAN DER VEEN: Well, you know, I think they're going -- to do that, they'd have to turn and listen to what the prosecutors are saying because the prosecutors are going to say, you know, we don't pick our witnesses. These are the guys that Donald Trump surrounded himself with. This is the guy that Donald Trump had as his lawyer -- his personal lawyer for a very, very long time. And if he was credible enough for him then, he's credible enough for them now.

But the problem is, the guy is loaded with bias. He's loaded with credibility problems for just sheer honesty. His inability to at really any point in his life that's been examined of is, to tell the truth. And that's been very difficult.

But the bias now and then the inability to tell the truth are going to be really strong for the defense argument that has kind of come out in this cross. The cross really has to finish and finish strong and consistent.

COLLINS: What's the one question you would ask Michael Cohen if you were at that cross-examination -- if you were at that lectern right now?

VAN DER VEEN: Well -- I mean, I would have -- I would have started -- and I give this to Adam Liggio, a young lawyer in my office. I really would have started with do you consider yourself an honest man. Because he's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't answer one way or the other.

COLLINS: It's so funny because another attorney I know texted me the same thing and said that would have been their first question for him. Michael Van Der Veen, great to have you. Thank you for joining us.

And my panel is back here with me. And Todd Blanche is now back at the podium to continue his cross-examination of Michael Cohen. I mean, it seems like they've covered some ground this morning.

REID: Yes.


COLLINS: But they're just getting started. They haven't actually gotten to the conversations about the documents. The closest they've gotten is the how Michael Cohen paid for this, and if he told his wife what was going on.

REID: They have it. And all that speaks to the timing, which we now really got a big clue about whether the jury will likely decide this case before or after Memorial Day because it was clear that the judge was trying to make them work, anticipating that they could potentially get the case on Wednesday and then have two days to deliberate. But now, that the jury can't meet next Wednesday, we expect Cohen will be on the stand until Monday. A brief defense case law to litigate some issues about instructions to the jury.

The big question is going to be when will they get this case. Will the judge give it to them and then let them go for a four-day weekend? This is a question that no one on any side of this case can answer. But the fact that they can't meet on Wednesday strongly suggests that we will not have a verdict in this case until after Memorial Day.

COLLINS: Can we talk about why that matters?

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: Because a lot of the timing is we don't fully know how the end of Michael Cohen goes, how long they want to redirect, and maybe Tood Blanche getting back up there. But also -- I mean, it would -- it could mean that the jury has an entire holiday weekend to think about this. They already have this Friday off because Trump is going to his son, Barron's high school graduation. They also have next Friday off because of the Memorial Day weekend. I mean, that's a lot of time for the jury to sit on a copious amount of information that they've gotten.

REID: Yes. Some sources have suggested to me, they think it might be good because the jury could potentially forget some things. Now, I don't know if that is the case. But giving them four days between the beginning of deliberations and the continuation of deliberations, I mean, that is something that I'm sure the judge is trying to avoid.

And maybe he might hold off and do closings the following week. Watching his strategy for when he gives the jury the case, that's going to be fascinating right now because we're in this unusual situation where the majority almost every single week except for one in this case, they've been three-day weeks. It's why this is getting stretched out.

COLLINS: It -- we just had a break and now they're back of the room. Obviously, Trump has a ton of Republican allies in there with him. I mean, he went from day one of this trial to basically having --

HOLMES: Like no one.

COLLINS: One aide sitting behind him.

HOLMES: Right.

COLLINS: And now, they can barely find enough seats. And our reporter said it's kind of causing a disruption as they're trying to find seats for all of them. I mean, they're the ones who have been coming out typically and going to the camera and kind of saying what Trump wishes he could say.

HOLMES: Yes. They are not under the same gag order that Donald Trump does. So, they are really serving the purpose to fight this in the court of public opinion. There's no one that Donald Trump wants to hit harder than Michael Cohen and really Stormy Daniels, two people that he can't touch on at all. He can really only go after Bragg and the judge and the case, overall. So, you're seeing these kinds of surrogates serving as his mouthpiece out there in front of the courthouse.

And remember part of this, and we reported this is, that Donald Trump felt like he didn't have enough support either inside of the courtroom or outside. You knew -- we know that he complained that there weren't more pro-Trump protesters in that area outside of the courtroom. There was only a handful -- five. Some points, only one. Some points, none at all.

He's obviously said which isn't true that they can't get there. But there is an actual siphoned-off area for pro-Trump protesters. It's just not filled.

So, part of this has been these various lawmakers seeking to please Donald Trump and show their support. We are told by a lot of them that they offered to come. And particularly as the ball started rolling, more and more of them offering to come.

COLLINS: And right now, Cohen is on the stand, agreeing it's correct that he has not served as cooperating witness in multiple investigations run by Robert Mueller, the Southern District of New York, the Attorney General's office here, and of course, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. All those Republicans, Kristen -- I mean, so, they all show up at Mar-a-Lago -- at Trump Tower. They ride the motorcade with him.

I mean, it's kind of a VP cabinet tryout, basically at this point for all of these officials. And Trump's clearly watching closely because he comes out and recites what they've said, Tim Scott -- Rick Scott. I mean, some of them are also missing work that is happening in Washington. That markup I read had to be rescheduled today because it's so many members of the House Oversight Committee sitting inside that courtroom.

HOLMES: Yes. I don't think it's kind of an audition. I think it truly is the audition. I mean, we know that some of the people who have shown up, J.D. Vance, Doug Burgum, these are people who are at the top of the shortlist for the former president. There are people that he talks about constantly when he's talking about who will be his potential vice president.

And then you have the slew of Republican lawmakers who want to be on the right side of Donald Trump if he is in fact to be elected again. They know how important it is to show their loyalty to the former president. Of course, all these things are a little bit ironic that we're having them attend or he's having them attend a trial, in which the person who is the most loyal to him is now the witness against him.

COLLINS: And, Jake, right now, Todd Blanche is pressing Michael Cohen on something we expected, which is after he left presented was under supervised release that he tried multiple times to get it ended early. And Cohen said correct, that none of those times have been successful, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. Blanche has gone through several investigations and asked Cohen if he met with those investigators, but -- and was never offered or served as a cooperating witness in the investigation -- the investigation. This includes the Mueller investigation, the Southern District of New York, the New York Attorney General, and the district attorney. Cohen agrees that it's correct, he's not a cooperating witness.


After you started supervised release, you have made efforts to have your supervised release terminated early, Blanche asks. Correct, Cohen says, noting none of them has been successful. Cohen has tried four times -- four times to end his supervised release early, he confirms. And I believe the rejection of that, Elie Honig, correct me if I'm wrong, is because at least one time, one of the judges said they don't believe that he has truly repentance because he's saying that he only pleaded guilty to the tax fraud, fraudulently. He was lying --


TAPPER: Laura, he was lying when he did that.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I mean, the idea of going through all the different instances of this track record of him being a not -- an unreliable narrator. They're trying to attack him because they don't want to focus on any of the pre-corroboration that has happened up until this point. Remember, the focus is on these falsified business records and about whether or not he has the unique insight as to whether Donald Trump was involved in it. If we go back to the $420,000 that we're talking about, that's the core of this issue.

TAPPER: Right.

COATES: All -- everything else is very important in terms of his credibility, and the jury has the right to do that and assess these things. But we need to focus on what it is the prosecution's burden of proof also is. And I just want to point out for people, there has been a lot of discussion about the payment and what evidence can be used to support the fact that Michael Cohen was aware and that Donald Trump may have been aware allegedly of these two things.

Remember who we don't have. We don't have a man named Allen Weisselberg.

TAPPER: Right.

COATES: We know that he is presently in Rikers. He is serving time. He is a -- has been a corporate loyalist to Donald Trump.

He is not on any witness list. He is not going to ever make an appearance here at all in this trial. But he has been referenced so many times.

There's two moments I want to point out to everyone. Let me go to the tablet for a second. There is the actual note of Allen Weisselberg here that you can see right here. His handwritten notes.

TAPPER: So, that's a -- that one is actually Weisselberg's handwriting --


TAPPER: As opposed to a graphic that was mistaken that we've been showing. But this is actually his handwriting -- Allen Weisselberg's handwriting.

COATES: Look right here in particular, where I know it's a little bit of chicken scratch, as they say, but you can vaguely make out the idea of 360 plus 60 to make 420,000. Why is that? Because remember, it's the breakdown. $130,000 of a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, plus the $50,000 to this Red Finch firm about poll ratings. Then you've got the $180,000 now multiplied by two to have the -- really, to have taxable income still lead you with this amount. And then the bonus.

Now, what's important here, we've also been seeing this a lot, has been this document from Mr. McConney. He was essentially the right- hand man of Allen Weisselberg, a subordinate to Allen Weisselberg, as well. We've seen this. He -- these are the notes that he wrote about.

TAPPER: So, this is -- this is McConney. This was the --


TAPPER: The controller of the Trump Organization.

COATES: Right. But you see -- yes. TAPPER: He -- and he did testify. The guy that wrote this memo did testify, and at -- but he was right-hand man for Allen Weisselberg who wrote the previous memo that you just showed. And so, was he -- what did McConney testify about this -- about this document?

COATES: So, McConney testified that these are the notes he took apparently from his conversation with Allen Weisselberg about the payment structure to Michael Cohen. And again, it matches up at that 150, the 180, the one at times two, adding up to a thing -- maybe he actually had a typo -- a typo in one respect or a misprint there. And then he actually goes back to talk about, you see here, $35,000 payments. Again, this lines up.

TAPPER: OK. How much -- so let's -- so, let's go back to the actual one in Weisselberg's handwriting.

COATES: Let's go back to it.

TAPPER: So, what does that show?

COATES: Now, we've got here again $180,000. Again, you've got this 360 plus the 60, times 420. You got this Red Finch, that's referenced. Again, to make this clearer to everyone, all these numbers line up to what you're looking down as his payment breakdown, we referenced already. A payment to Daniels of $50,000, to Red Finch $180, 000 -- (INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: OK. So, there's been some confusion about what exactly is the Weisselberg memo. One of them is actually written by Weisselberg One of them is written by Weisselberg's right-hand man. Both of them are pretty much in agreement as to the alleged scheme that the prosecution and Michael Cohen are saying happened that the Trump team is denying happened.

COATES: That's important because again, before Michael Cohen got on the stand, the jurors would have been privy already to the evidence and documents to support corroboration. For the reasons we've all been articulating. Because of the, let's call it baggage, that Michael Cohen brings in terms of his credibility and his lies, they had to pre-corroborate a lot of things that the jury would have the repetition of, I've seen these documents, here's the amount of money, but now they're here repetition about the fact that he's a liar.

TAPPER: All right. Let's go back to the trial right now because, inside court, Todd Blanche is trying to get to the point that Michael Cohen has tried to be a cooperating witness, but it has never happened. Blanche asks Cohen if he wants to be released early from prison because of his cooperation "But this whole time, all the meetings you had, you never -- you were never offered a cooperation agreement."