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Michael Cohen Faces Cross Examination From Trump Lawyers In New York Criminal Trial. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 12:30   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The judge realizes these are fake cases has a whole hearing about it. And we do have to say, though it's important. The judge found that it was an inadvertent, sloppy --


HONIG: -- inadvertent mistake by Michael Cohen. He wasn't trying to trick the judge with fake cases. He probably thought he was Googling but he was actually in Google Gemini or so.

TAPPER: So Blanche says as part of this application, you recall, there were fake legal cases, including in the letter in that application. Cohen tries to explain. When you say he says they were an accurate, you mean, when you say an accurate Blanche asks, you mean the cases didn't exist? Under that specific citation? That's correct. Cohen says, well as follows up the three cases that you gave to your attorney were not real cases. That's correct. Cohen concedes.

Then Blanche confirms with Cohen, he's -- had been disbarred and was no longer a lawyer at the time he provided his attorney with the fake cases. Kaitlan Collins, fascinating, bizarre, wild, wild stuff.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: I mean, who could have predicted it, except maybe all of us, Jake, and we're watching all of this as Todd Blanche's circling back with Michael Cohen, about the fact that he did want this job inside the White House, just how much he wanted that he now confirms with Cohen that he has been disbarred and is no longer a lawyer at the time. He was provided his attorneys with fake cases. That was obviously an embarrassing moment, Paula Reid, as this was happening, but it was just kind of this situation in the case where even a judge found, you know, he doesn't -- he wasn't doing it intentionally.

It just kind of speaks to what they're trying to do is embarrass Michael Cohen. They're trying to humiliate him.


COLLINS: They're bringing up the moment. But you know, also, I do wonder if the jury's hearing in that, that this is clearly someone who was loyal to Trump, and in so many ways tried to do so much for him. And Trump, you know, was fine with humiliating him, but did not feel the need to bring him into the White House when he rewarded a lot of other people with White House jobs that also weren't qualified for them.

REID: That is truly an interpretation. What I see on the screen right now, though, they're shifting to something arguably completely unrelated, which is Blanche is confronting Cohen about the logistics of how he called Keith Schiller and spoke to Trump to discuss the Stormy Daniels matter.

This is going to be a key point for the defense. This is one of their key objective today is to go back to this phone call that Cohen has testified and challenge his recollection of it and also challenge whether it was actually about Stormy Daniels.

And they believe this will be key to their defense of their client to undercut the Cohen said he called Keith Schiller and he wanted to talk about stormy Daniels, when in fact, they were going to present evidence that this was actually about something completely different. So here they are moving into what he testified on direct examination.

COLLINS: And the reason they did all of that before they got to this was they want to show the jury. This is a guy who lies, who lies again, who has trouble acknowledging his lies. So now we're going to ask him what's at the heart of this and that you are basically relying on just his interpretation, his recollection of these conversations with people like Trump's bodyguard, Keith Schiller, and Blanche.

Kristen, before you get into that, as he's leaning on the podium, as he's asking these questions, and asking Cohen how the call worked to Keith Schiller put Trump on speaker or did he take the call privately? I mean, he's going to try to question him on things he may not remember.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that was kind of the point that we saw Todd Blanche making on Tuesday, he was going back and forth asking Michael Cohen, do you remember this happening? Michael Cohen saying I don't recall. OK. Well, you recall so clearly specific conversations that you have now testified to, but you don't recall something that happened a year ago, or six months ago.

So this was part of that questioning there. Now, Cohen says both would occur in terms of Schiller either putting him on speakerphone or giving Trump the phone privately, he says he doesn't recall this specific call.

Now again, one thing to remind our viewers is that Donald Trump never really made calls himself, he always went through someone else who is near him. So it's not strange, that he would have to call Schiller in order to talk to Donald Trump, he often did that they would call the people who are around him.

But now they're getting into the details of this, likely, as Paula said, trying to catch him in alive.

REID: And also, this is the first time he's ever mentioned this, and they are going to seize on this. They're going to say wait a second, you've had how many interviews with law enforcement officials over the years and you're just now recalling specific details of a conversation you had in 2016 two days ago, when you testified in this trial.

This could be a real problem for Michael Cohen, depending on how he handles this.

COLLINS: And retired New York Supreme Court Judge Diane Kiesel is back with us. And Judge, you know, since we just lost focus, this testimony has gone on Blanche is now asking about a call on October 24 at 8:02 pm. He is going to get into the specifics here.

Clearly, they would like to trip Michael Cohen up on what exactly he remembers as he didn't testify to, you know, great precision about what Trump was communicating on these calls with them. How successful do you believe this line of questioning from the defense is so far?

DIANE KIESEL, FORMER NEW YORK SUPREME COURT JUDGE: Well, I think what the defense is doing obviously is trying to dirty up Michael Cohen as much as they could so that when they do get to the nitty-gritty it raises questions as to whether he is he is believable or not.


I mean, here's where the district attorney has a pretty heavy lift in terms of rehabilitating your witness. And I think of what I used to call my central casting speech when I was a DA, for 10 years in that office. And you know, you get up on summation, and you say, Look, you know, if I had gone to central casting for my star witness, would it be this guy? No, but I take my witnesses as they come, and then try and obviously ameliorate which lies are important and which lies are in other words, which lies are about tangential matters.

But you know the judge will also be telling the jury, I'm sure someone's going to ask for what's called an interested witness charge, since Michael Cohen did say that he has an interest in the outcome of this case. And the judge will say, look, you're not required to reject the testimony of an interested witness. But also you're not required to accept it either. The choice is yours.

So this gets down to the fact that all of this is really in the hands of the jury, what they want to accept, what they choose to reject.

COLLINS: How does the jury typically deal with inconsistencies because right now, Todd Blanche, just saying, OK, well, you remember that you had this phone call with Keith Schiller -- via Keith Schiller and with Donald Trump, all of a sudden, two days ago when you testified about that, but you hadn't brought it up to prosecutors before.

He's trying to bring up Michael Cohen's grand jury testimony here that ultimately got Trump indicted in this case, it's not clear if the judge is going to allow it because they've just approached the bench as prosecutors objected.

But if it's something that Michael Cohen didn't bring up before, but he is bringing up now, how does a jury see that?

KIESEL: Well, again, there's a jury instruction for everything. You know, there is a jury instruction that also tells jurors how to handle inconsistencies and consistencies internally and inconsistencies between witnesses. And the language, it goes something like, are they the kinds of inconsistencies that you would normally expect to exist over a course of time? Or are they major inconsistencies that go to the heart of the matter?

Again, I'm not using the exact words, but that's the general idea. And I think juries will sit down and parse out every single thing they've heard, and decide whether these inconsistencies matter or don't. That's why it's so important, in this case, for the prosecutor to have all of as much corroborating evidence as they can, because Michael Cohen does come with a lot of heavy baggage.

COLLINS: When the jury instructions, we've got a ways before that we as trial is wrapping up, Michael Collins, the last witness for the prosecution. But what's going to happen over the next few days is the jury is -- the courts off tomorrow. There is no court as there typically would be because Donald Trump is attending his high school son's graduation.

And so if the jury has left today, at 4:00 p.m., with Justice cross examination of Michael Cohen, how do you believe that sits with them over a long weekend before they're back on Monday, when prosecutors would have that chance to try to rehabilitate Michael Cohen, as he's saying he doesn't recall one way or the other, as Blanche is offering to call up this testimony?

KIESEL: Well, well, the judge is going to tell them, you know, try, don't think about this over the weekend, clear your heads, et cetera. Remember, they can't talk to one another. They can't talk to anybody else. Jurors are presumed to follow the instructions, the separation instructions of the court. It basically it's going to be spinning around in each of these 12 heads, right, or however many alternates there are as well. And they're going to be thinking about this.

I mean, this is, I think, a positive thing for the defense to have his testimony with all of its -- in all its glory, so to speak, the spinning around in their head. I do not know if the DA is going to get to the point where they're going to be able to do any rebuttal this afternoon. I think they're ending early. So I suspect that's going to have to wait until the jurors come back.

COLLINS: YEs. Judge Kiesel, a lot is hanging on this testimony. We'll see how it progresses over the next several hours.

And Paula Reed, you know, she mentioned the jury there, what's going to be in their heads and she just mentioned the alternates. There's four of them. Not one of them has had to step in here. It has been the same 12 original jurors, which is unusual, right?

REID: Yes. Yes, that is extraordinary, because we really thought at the beginning of this trial that this was going to be a bigger problem.


People just fearing for what it would mean for their lives if they were on this jury. We all know what happens if you come under the ire of the former president, it can mean threats for you, for your family. It's a lot for anyone to take on.

So the fact that this group has remained intact, and we did lose some folks early on, but we haven't lost anyone since they sat the jury, I think that's extraordinary.

Also, what is extraordinary is what Todd Blanche is doing right now. This is probably the most effective thing he has done. Up until this point, he's pointing out that Michael Cohen, for the first time, in all the investigations he has been involved with, suddenly recalled what could be a critical piece of evidence for the prosecution. Suddenly, we're calling this conversation.

And I believe that pretty -- in pretty short order, they're going to bring up some receipts that could show that this conversation was about something completely unrelated to Stormy Daniels, and if that is the path that they are going to walk here, this could be really damaging for Cohen.

COLLINS: And this is the October phone call that happened when the Stormy Daniels thing was resurfacing, Michael Cohen sounding the alarm as he portrayed it in his opening statement and that he was raising the concerns, getting through Keith Schiller, Trump's body man to get to Trump.

Keith Schiller, who we notably have not heard from, it is someone who is still very much considered to be loyal to Donald Trump, but also could have been a useful witness here.

HOLMES: Yes. There are quite a few people that we haven't heard from that could have been useful witnesses here, which will ultimately land on the prosecution to say why they didn't bring them Allen Weisselberg being one of them, Keith Schiller now being another. These are people who could have cooperated Michael Cohen's story.

Again, the one thing we have to keep going back to here is that the entire argument of the prosecution hinges on Michael Cohen, whether or not the jury believes him or not. So now after looking at the transcript of the meeting with prosecutors, Cohen says he does have a recollection of talking with them about the calls on October 24.

COLLINS: He may have testified during previous conversations that it was not about Stormy Daniels, and that he told them they talked about something. I assume we'll see it soon, Paula, but when you clearly see it -- they clearly seem to be saying that he was talking about something else.

REID: Yes. And there are now -- we're a little ahead in terms of the updates that we're getting inside. And I know from talking with sources around this time, Michael Cohen is being targeted by prank calls, and I believe that the defense is going to bring up that he had a conversation with an alleged prank -- pranker and then reached out for hear Blanche, ask Cohen about a number of harassing calls, Cohen was receiving around the same time that he has a conversation with a prank or threatens to get the Secret Service on them, and then reaches out to Keith Schiller about how he can get help from the Secret Service with this harassment that he is facing.

And if Todd Blanche can establish that, in fact, was the subject of his conversation with Keith Schiller, and not Karen McDougal and not Stormy Daniels, that would be a serious blow to the testimony that Michael Cohen has offered in this case, because that was again, one of the many conversations that he testified to about his efforts to suppress negative stories. So let's see where Blanche goes with this.

HOLMES: Well, and then again, just one last part of this. We remember, he spent the vast majority of this time cross-examining talking about how Michael Cohen is a liar and only wants to get something out of this trial. And now, you have him here.

REID: And the prank caller we believe, according to these accounts was 14 years old.

COLLINS: Jake, things have taken a bit of a turn. And now Blanche's they let me show you and beginning to cite a message from Michael Cohen on the witness stand.

TAPPER: Well, we knew Kaitlan Collins that they were going to be aggressive against Michael Cohen. And it seems that Mr. Blanche had a few tricks up his sleeve. Things we did not anticipate. We anticipated that he was going to ask Michael Cohen about a number of things that he had said under oath that he had since admitted were not true about contradictions he had made in terms of telling one judge that he was pleading guilty to a crime because he's guilty of it, telling another judge that he was never guilty of that crime then trying to get permission from another judge to have unsupervised release.

But now we're learning that he had even more than we knew. I want to bring in former Trump White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Alyssa, so Michael Cohen says he never sought a job at the White House. The prosecutors, I mean, Michael Cohen said he never sought a job at the White House. Brian Lanza here who worked on the 2016 campaign says that's not true. He recalls Michael Cohen wanting to be White House Counsel. We have some journalists on our panel here saying that's not true. They were calling Michael Cohen saying he was going to join the White House. He was very excited to do so.

According to Blanche, by the way, Cohen, this is about the harassing calls. Cohen said the person they would have to explain to the Secret Service the person replied, I'm 14 please don't do this. This is when Michael Cohen was getting harassing phone calls. There is a block feature on phones by the way if you're getting harassing phone calls, in any case, Alyssa Farah Griffin tell me what do you think?


ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So listen, I was working for a number of Republican lawmakers at that time, several of whom would go into the administration, including Mick Mulvaney as OMB director. And it was widely known and believed. Now Michael Cohen never told me firsthand, I'm going into the White

House, I want to, but it was widely discussed that he was angling for attorney general or to be White House Counsel. That's I mean, there's dozens and dozens of people around Washington who could corroborate that.

My jaw hit the floor when I heard him denying that, and as a practical matter, which is probably extraneous to this discussion, but I'll share anyway. He likely wouldn't have qualified for a job in the West Wing. You have to be able to get a top secret security clearance, they would have gone through his finances, frankly, this home equity line probably would have shown up, the payment that he got back likely would have shown up on a financial disclosure. But yes, that really struck me. And to be honest, I do not think this is going the way the prosecution had hoped.

TAPPER: So, one of the things going on right now in court, is that Mr. Cohen is being asked about the fact that he said that he had a conversation with President Trump on October 24, at 8:02 p.m., about the Stormy Daniels matter. And he is now walking Michael Cohen through the reality of the phone call of October 24 at 7:00 p.m. when he was getting harassing phone calls from somebody, and he says I got your number and the person replied, and I'm going to report you to the Secret Service and the person says, I'm 14 please don't.

Do you recall at 7:48 texting Keith Schiller, Trump's body guy, his security guy at that point, about this 14-year old Blanche asks, I don't recall Cohen said. He says Cohen, as to sheets you should speak to and Keith Schiller replies at 8:02, according to Blanche, telling Cohen column, Blanche is pulling up the call log.

This is a call that you testified about on Tuesday, that you had a conversation with President Trump that you called Keith Schiller, and it wasn't to talk to Keith Schiller was to talk to President Trump about the Stormy Daniels deal. And to move forward, it seems to me like Todd Blanche's effectively making the argument that this phone call was actually about a 14-year old who is making harassing phone calls with Michael Cohen.

We've talked to other prosecutors, former prosecutors here, Alyssa Farah Griffin, about whether or not given Michael Cohen's credibility issues, they would have brought this case and at least two have said no. As somebody who I know wants, in your words, Donald Trump to face accountability for his actions. What are your thoughts on this case?

GRIFFIN: Well, two things really what I was waiting to hear from Michael Cohen, specifically with him being this final sort of star witnesses. What is the moment in his definition that he broke with Trump? If you brought me up in one of these, I'd be able to say it was the lies around the election, it was the events that eventually led up to January 6, many of us who broke with him can point to something fundamental, that was a breaking point.

And that's not been as clear with him. So it's allowed the defense to kind of bloody him up with, you know, these are the lies you told, these are your motives and maybe money you are motivated or grievance. And I think that's very difficult.

But more broadly, this case, I don't think fundamentally matters the way some of the heavier ones do the mishandling of national security secrets, the investigate -- the trial around January 6, and the overturning of the election. And if he ends up getting off on this case, because it wasn't a strong one to begin with and it relied on a known liar to convict him, I think it really blurs in the public perception the seriousness of those other cases, it feeds this notion of he's a victim and it's a witch hunt.

I think this could be a disaster if this ends up being something that they can't prove it, it's a hung jury, or they actually ended up quitting in.

TAPPER: So the jury is not going to hear this. So don't worry. How would -- based on, well, you would never be accepted as a juror, you're too much bias, no offense, what you experienced with the defendant. But do you think that they are proving this case within with -- within -- without a reasonable doubt? I mean, like have they cleared the burden for you?

GRIFFIN: For me, even with my strong feelings about Donald Trump, my knowledge of how he behaves, I couldn't today convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Michael Cohen is just such a problematic figure. And in this own cross, I was just waiting to see somebody who was above board didn't step in it didn't lie didn't end up getting kind of hostile and pushing back in some of these challenges.

And it's hard for me to believe him when he's misrepresenting something as fundamental as having wanted a job in the White House.

TAPPER: Alyssa Farah Griffin, it's always good to have you on. Thank you so much, really appreciate it.

The jurors are now seeing the text exchange between Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen. We're not seeing it in the reporters in the in the jury -- in the courtroom because the phone numbers have not been redacted on the exhibit. Blanche reads a text that Cohen sent to Schiller right before the calls on October 24/

And Dana once again, this is brand new and seemingly hurtful testimony, damaging testimony Cohen's text Schiller who can I speak to regarding harassing calls to my cell and office the dope forgot to block his number.


TAPPER: Again, there is a block feature on cell phones but Schiller responds call me. So I mean, this is undermining the idea from two days ago when Michael Cohen testified that this very phone call that he made to Keith Schiller was actually him. Calling Keith, Keith gives the phone to Donald Trump and President Elect -- or about no, then private citizen Donald Trump, candidate Donald Trump. He picks up the phone and then they talk about the Stormy Daniels deal.

Todd Blanche says the tech show that it's 8:04 p.m. colon text to Schiller the phone number of the 14-year old prank calling him. This does seem to undermine what Michael Cohen said two days ago.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Yes, absolutely. In a big way. The question is whether or not Blanche is going to continue this line of questioning and say, when you and Schiller were actually on the phone, after this alleged prank call, and the boss was there, did you use that opportunity? Or did he use that opportunity to have a conversation about Stormy Daniels?

TAPPER: And that's something I guess that they'll bring up on redirect the prosecution trying to salvage this part of the testimony trying to salvage this witness will say, and then you talked about the Stormy Daniels deal after you took care of this meddling teenager?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, for many people, perhaps the jury, maybe in the audience as well, I think a 14-year old is that we're where we are in this moment in time. But remember, they are trying to discredit him not just as somebody who's a liar, but now somebody who is just a joke that they can say this is someone you should not take seriously and just not believe don't take him seriously.

But why that can play and maybe cut against them is because this is a documents case. Right? And I know that that including DACA (ph) is not the most exciting notion that people read the documents case. And so they had to pre-corroborate him, because they knew this was coming. They knew they were trying to discredit him, try to make him seem like he was somebody who was not to be taken seriously.

So every moment of those things is important. But for this effective cross they're trying to get across to the jury is that this person is someone you should not even have to listen to today because he's so unbelievable. And not to be believed.

TAPPER: Well, I think one of the things that they've accomplished today Blanche is raising his voice now, as he's asking Cohen to say that to -- asking Cohen if the call record show a conversation with Schiller about the harassment, not with Trump about Daniels.

So, what they're doing here Elie is they have I guess the effectiveness will be up to the jury. But Todd Blanche has now made the point. Not only has Michael Cohen lied before Congress, not only has he lied before, various judges, not only has he lied in any number of places he has lied before you today. Michael Cohen says part of it was the 14-year old this is about the -- witch of the call, what was the call about. Part of it was the 14 year old but I know Keith was with Mr. Trump at the time and there was more potentially than this, but potentially is kind of an interesting word.

Cohen is now saying I don't know that it's accurate. Blanche is pacing and flailing his arms. Were told.

HONIG: Yes. This is a really important moment, potentially, depending how it finishes up here. OK. Michael Cohen, on his direct testimony said I had this phone call in late October of 2016. I called Keith Schiller and he passed me through to Trump. I don't remember if he put me on speaker but I was speaking to the two of them. And I told them then that Stormy Daniels had been paid and the matter was resolved. Right. We've been asking when are they going to go at the core? This

is the core of the case. Blanche has raised two points. Number one, the text leading up to the call that day show that you are texting Keith Schiller, nothing about Stormy Daniels, but about this 14-year old right was harassing you.

TAPPER: Right. Let me interrupt one second. Cohen says well, part of it was the 14-year old.


TAPPER: I know that Keith was with Mr. Trump at the time, there's potentially more than this. Blanche says that was a lie. You did not talk to President Trump. You talk to Keith Schiller, you can admit it. And Cohen says no, sir. I don't know that it's accurate.

HONIG: And here's the problem. If Cohen story now was what we talked about both those things we talked about the 14-year old who was harassing me and Stormy Daniels. The problem is, it appears Michael Cohen has never mentioned this call being about Stormy Daniels in his prior grand jury testimony in his extensive prior statements that he's given to the DA. Todd Blanche open this line of questioning by saying you never mentioned this October call being about Stormy Daniels when you testified in the grand jury, when you spoke to the prosecutors.

If that's the case, it's a big problem. And it goes to the heart of this matter.

TAPPER: So Blanche is saying now your memory is you're testifying truthfully on Tuesday and Blanche continues a 1:36 phone call and you had enough time to update Schiller about all the problems you were having and also a meeting, I'm sorry --

HONIG: One minute and 36 seconds. Yes.

TAPPER: -- one minute and 36 second phone call. Sorry, we're getting shorthand from inside the courtroom, a one minute and 36 second phone call and you had enough time in that to update Schiller about all the problems you were having with his 14-year old and also update President Trump about the status of the Stormy Daniels situation because you had to keep him informed.


Cohen says, I always ran everything by the boss immediately. And in this case, it would have been saying everything's been taken care of. It's been resolved. Cohen is maintaining his composure. At this point, Ryan, none of this seems surprising to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it's the Michael I know from 2016 just has a huge struggle with the truth. It's just being extended here into 2024. And I suspect, you know, next year he'll be lying again, because that's what Michael Cohen does.

TAPPER: Is does seem pretty bad, though. KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: This this does seem I feel like there are a lot of questions that have been raised and we're going to have to see how they ultimately conclude this exchange to figure out how to answer any of them.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's devastating. He also has to go through Keith Schiller to call Donald Trump which we've known but I think it reminds jurors about how close was he, what is he up to.

TAPPER: Good. Cohen is maintaining his composure. CNN special live coverage of Donald Trump's Hush Money Coverup Trial continues after we squeezing this quick break. Stay with us.