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CNN Live Event/Special

Michael Cohen Testimony Continues. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Welcome to CNN's special coverage of former President Trump's hush money criminal trial. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington, with Kaitlan Collins, who is outside the courthouse in New York.

And, today, Trump's defense has pressed Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, about his history of lying under oath in an attempt to discredit him. The defense has also highlighted some of the various insults that he has lobbed against Trump over the years, painting him as a man out for revenge after their relationship fell apart.

At one point the defense played this clip from Cohen's podcast in October of 2020. Here it is.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I truly (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hope that this man ends up in prison. It won't bring back the year that I lost or the damage done to my family, but revenge is the dish best served cold.

And you better believe I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to me and my family.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: It only got crazier from there, with Cohen's credibility clearly on the line.

What Trump's defense attorney here, Todd Blanche, is trying to do is repeatedly using the word lie in his questioning as often as possible, forcing Michael Cohen to recall lies that he has told to Congress, the FBI and other branches of government.

With me now is the chief legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, and CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes.

Paula, it's getting weird in there, because, right before...


COLLINS: I mean, there's no other way to describe it, but what is happening...


COLLINS: Right, right. But, I mean, it was -- it's been weird.

But what was happening right before they just took the break for lunch is, Michael Cohen testified that he had this call in October 2016 with Keith Schiller. He said he was calling to get to Trump to pass on a message about the payment to Stormy Daniels.

Todd Blanche is trying to draw blood right now and say, actually, in that 90-second phone call, you were complaining to Trump's body man about getting harassing phone calls from a 14-year-old prank caller.


And the reason they're able to draw this out is because they have logs and records that show that Cohen had texted Keith Schiller about this 14-year-old pranker and said: "Who do I talk to about getting the Secret Service to help me with this?"

Now, Cohen had also threatened this 14-year-old, threatened him that he was going to sic the Secret Service on him. So you have this timeline that really raises questions about whether this next conversation with Keith Schiller and allegedly the president would have been about the pranker that you were just threatening and following up with Keith Schiller about how you can retaliate against the pranker or if it would have been about Stormy Daniels.

And this testimony that Cohen had previously given was significant for the prosecution, because it shows that Trump was aware of what was happening with the hush money payment. And if you undercut the credibility of that conversation, it's not game over for the prosecution, but it's definitely a blow to their key witness and one of the most important pieces of testimony that he gave to support the idea that Trump was behind this entire conspiracy.

COLLINS: Well, and, to be clear, we found out this person was 14 -- I guess they're of age now -- because Michael Cohen had said he was going to put the Secret Service on this. And the person said: "I'm 14. Please don't."

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not a great moment for Michael Cohen.

I mean, we were talking about the embarrassing things that Todd Blanche has tried to bring out, conversations with his daughter where he's trying to explain how he didn't get a job at the White House, his own daughter telling him, Donald Trump and all of his people are walking all over you right now, Michael Cohen agreeing.

But threatening a 14-year-old with Secret Service action seems to be one of the more embarrassing moments. But I think, particularly, this is critical, other than being embarrassing, because part of this has been what we have seen Todd Blanche doing, which is essentially lining up all up until this moment that Michael Cohen is somebody who would lie to get what he wanted out of this. And they have said that what Michael Cohen wants is for Donald Trump

to go to jail. Now they are trying to question what he actually said on the stand.

COLLINS: Well, and it doesn't -- what is has happened so far doesn't undermine that he was being paid for legal services that he didn't render, that it wasn't actually a retainer agreement when he was submitting these false invoices to Allen Weisselberg.

But what Michael -- what Todd Blanche is trying to do to Michael Cohen is to embarrass him and humiliate him and have the jury not trust him.


REID: Yes. And...

COLLINS: At least one juror not trust him.

REID: Yes, and this -- at least -- all they need is one, right, with reasonable doubt.

And this particular piece of evidence that he offered under direct was to support the idea that Trump was well aware of this alleged conspiracy to cover up a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels in the days ahead of the election.

But if jurors don't believe that Cohen actually had this conversation with him in late October 2016, that does hurt the prosecution's case, because they need each one of these little building blocks. It's all they have, largely, right, is the testimony of Michael Cohen to support the idea that Trump was creating or causing all of these documents to be falsified to cover up the hush money.

It's pretty well-established that this was all done to help Trump win the White House. We have multiple witnesses who can speak to that. But Michael Cohen is really the only one who can speak to Trump's role, direct role, in the conspiracy.

And if you start to chip away at what he said on direct, this is a huge problem for prosecutors.

COLLINS: But it also just raises the question, where is Keith Schiller?

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: I mean, Keith Schiller is the other person who has come up so much at this trial every single day. And he's not a witness. He's not expected to -- he is a witness, but he's not expected to be a witness here and be called to testify.

I mean, there are these key pieces. Allen Weisselberg, I understand, has pleaded to guilty to perjury, and he's in prison right now at Rikers. Keith Schiller is not.

HOLMES: He's not. But he is someone who is still considered a Trump loyalist. He left the White House on very good terms with the former president. He kind of just wanted to get out of the world.

I remember reporting at the time that he just didn't want to be in politics and in this line of work. But he is still considered an ally of the former president. So now we have two situations that we have seen that have been outlined in which there are three people who could potentially corroborate a story, Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, and a third party.

And in neither of these situations, the third party is being called.

COLLINS: And CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the White House -- or outside the courthouse.

And, Kara, you have just been in there watching as this cross- examination of Michael Cohen is happening, especially that key moment at the end. Tell us what you saw.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kaitlan, I mean, it started out as a calm back-and-forth, where he was challenging Michael Cohen with all of these past misstatements or lies, as Trump's lawyers were calling out Michael Cohen on several of them.

And then it just crescendoed at the end, with Trump's lawyer focusing in on a phone call that Michael Cohen said he had with Donald Trump in October of 2016. This was right around the decision to -- Michael Cohen made to pay Stormy Daniels the $130,000.

And so Trump's attorney is going back and forth with him about this call and the time stamp of it at 8:02 p.m. Well, he also showed Cohen that he was having text messages with Donald Trump's security office, or Keith Schiller. And that is who Michael Cohen testified just the other day that he had connected through Schiller to speak with Trump.

So what Todd Blanche, Trump's lawyer, did was show him that Cohen was exchanging a lot of messages with Keith Schiller about harassing phone calls he'd been getting, saying that now he knew who it was. It was a 14-year-old. And he asked Schiller what he should do. At 8:02, Schiller said, call me.

So it's at that point that Cohen has that phone call, according to the call logs, with Keith Schiller. Now, Cohen has testified that it was then that he talked to Donald Trump, updated him on Stormy Daniels, and said that it was going to be resolved.

So, Todd Blanche saying, in the one-minute-36-second phone call that these call records show, that is when you say that you talked to Keith Schiller and also spoke with Donald Trump. At this moment, Todd Blanche is now pacing in the court, flailing his arms up. He's raised his voice into high pitch.

And Cohen was maintaining then that he said that he was able to speak with him, to Trump, because he said he ran everything past Trump. Now, this whole time, Cohen has not broken his composure.

He has still been answering all of these questions and answering that question, while maintaining an even tone, but certainly the most dynamic moment of this cross-examination, because Todd Blanche also asking Cohen, if you only remembered this phone call when you were refreshed, your recollection was refreshed by documents from the prosecutors, does that mean you didn't remember any of these phone calls that you had in 2016?

So they're really trying to hone in here on Cohen's recollection of calls with Donald Trump. And that is because Michael Cohen is the only person that links Donald Trump directly to the hush money payments, decision to make those payments, and the reimbursement.

And that is the part of this case that prosecutors say was the crime, the falsification of the records. So, it sounds like they're still getting started. We're at the break here. The -- Trump's attorneys said they do expect to go the full day.

And so this session, aside from that last moment, otherwise, they have spent it really trying to point out different lies that Michael Cohen has given in the past, admitting that he lied under oath to a federal judge, among other things, so really, again, this theme of trying to undercut his credibility and suggest to the jury that they shouldn't believe Cohen's testimony -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, Kara, great reporting from inside that courtroom, watching all of this.

Brianna, a notable moment for Michael Cohen, as they just let the jury to kind of marinate over this during this lunch break before he returns to the stand.


KEILAR: Yes. No, it certainly is, Kaitlan.

We're here with our panel now to talk more about this.

Let's take a little bit of stock of this moment of where we are right now.

Elliot, where are we today?


And, big picture. I am having trouble seeing where the defense has really scored huge points today. Now, I understand they have had, I think, a better day than they have in the past. But, to step back, much of what the defense has gotten out today, the prosecution sort of laid the groundwork for.

Michael Cohen lies a lot and lied a lot. Michael Cohen has prior convictions. And Michael Cohen has a bias against the former president. Like, those things were all pretty well-established and laid out.

I think the most effective moment today by far was playing the sound of Michael Cohen's podcast for the jury. They hadn't heard him sounding incredibly shrill and incredibly pointed about the former president in a way that this measured witness on stage, who's done quite a good job sort of keeping his cool, I think. They haven't heard or seen that.

And far more than the particulars of any one lie he's told, I think that was the moment that people thought, wait a second. Who is this guy that we have been hearing all this stuff about?

KEILAR: So, how are we in the middle of talking about this 14-year- old business, Elie?

WILLIAMS: Ay yi yi.



KEILAR: And how problematic is that for the prosecution?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This matters a lot. Don't be distracted by the funny fact that Michael Cohen is getting into a war of texts with a 14-year-old, which is funny.


HONIG: But here's why it's really relevant.

Part of this cross-examination was completely expected. As Elliot said, we knew Michael Cohen has a long history of lying. He's having trouble embracing some of it. He's sort of denying that he's lying about some of the things he obviously lied about. We knew he's a liar. We know he's been convicted of crimes. We know he hates Donald Trump.

The story with the 14-year-old is so important because it goes to the heart of the allegations in this case. Here's how. On direct testimony, Michael Cohen said, crucial piece of testimony, in October -- I think it's the October 24th of 2016.

I had one of the key phone conversations in this whole case. I called Keith Schiller. He patched me through to Trump or he put me on speaker. Cohen doesn't remember. And I told them, Stormy's been paid, matter resolved. That goes to the heart of the case.

Well, now we're finding out on cross-exam that that day, actually, what Cohen was texting Schiller about all day leading up to that call was this 14-year-old is harassing me, sic the Secret Service on him.

And so Blanche said, well, that was actually what you called Keith Schiller about, not this Stormy Daniels thing. Cohen then retreated to, well, I talked about both, actually, the 14-year-old harassing me and Stormy Daniels.

The problem is, Michael Cohen did not tell the grand jury that this phone call in October 2016 was about Stormy Daniels. So, there are major questions about a core aspect of Michael Cohen's testimony that goes right to the heart of this case.

WILLIAMS: And the whole call is something like 82 seconds' long.

HONIG: One thirty six, a minute 36.


So, in that time, it's completely plausible that, yes, he raised hell about this 14-year-old or that he talked about Stormy Daniels, but it just defies logic that he had both of these major conversations with the White House or with Keith Schiller at that point.

BORGER: Wouldn't -- wouldn't a 14-year-old demand -- it needs a little explanation to it?

KEILAR: How many seconds of explanation, do you think, Gloria?




BORGER: Wouldn't it -- and if you were calling someone to say, just say matter resolved, that's -- that's a short conversation.

HONIG: Yes, exactly.

I think the Stormy Daniels part of that could be real quick.

BORGER: Yes, that's short.

HONIG: Right?

BORGER: But to explain that you're being harassed by a 14-year-old, and you want the Secret Service to get after this kid, and what -- that takes -- doesn't that take a little bit more time and energy and effort?

HONIG: Presumably, yes.

And the fact that Cohen didn't say in his grand jury testimony that the reason we had this call was Stormy Daniels, that's really a problem.

WILLIAMS: All of this to say all of these explanations are perfectly plausible, that they have two conversations, that they had one conversation about Stormy or one about a 14-year-old. Any one could work.

The problem is that it's all placing these little seeds of doubt in the jury about the witness' credibility.

KEILAR: Just in terms of the story that is being told and what is believable, I mean, what is your impression of these details?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, you asked for a step back. And I do think that it's interesting to hear you guys kind of talk about each one of these discrete anecdotes, which in the end is kind of a death by 1,000 cuts in terms of his credibility.

And how people speak, how they sound -- this is why the podcast is meaningful, right, that the juries are -- it's one thing to have heard about Michael Cohen all of those weeks. It's another thing to now be there and be confronted with the full force of his persona.

The only other thing I would add is that we're only in this place because, correct me if I'm wrong, there is not a piece of paper from the prosecution or some piece of evidence that said, cover this up, Michael, thanks, love with a heart, DJT.


CORNISH: Like, that didn't happen.

So they really are left with his word, which is why we can be showered with all of the ways his word is not exactly gospel.


BORGER: Well, and I think the question for the jury is -- or this would -- if I were sitting on the jury -- and I'm not -- my question would be, is -- is -- can we believe that Michael Cohen is having a courtroom conversion here, that he has, for some reason, turned from somebody who lied all the time every day in every way to somebody who is now a truth-teller?

And can people change like that? And is the motivation to change because he wants to see Donald Trump behind bars, obviously? But this kind of a conversion from one character into another, it's difficult to get to, I think.

KEILAR: Here's my question. Does he need to have had a conversion? Because if you look at the totality of some of this testimony here over the last few days, it has been established that -- I think it clear -- has been -- you correct me if I'm wrong here.

It's been clearly enough established that Donald Trump was aware of the pattern when it came to the Karen McDougal case of Michael Cohen establishing an LLC to take care of this with some kind of payment. Where -- where the money came from, obviously, may be a little bit different, but this idea of coming up with a company, making the payment, Donald Trump knows that's how it's done.

That's how it was done with Karen McDougal. Even if he hasn't had a conversion, is it so hard to believe that, well, of course that's how it was done again here and that Donald Trump would understand that?

HONIG: So this will be the prosecution argument at closing, for sure.

BORGER: Right.

HONIG: What I think the evidence has shown is, Donald Trump definitely knew they were being paid, McDougal and Stormy.

It's less clear to me that -- it's less clear, I think, in the evidence, that Donald Trump understood the accounting mechanisms, the use of the shell corporations, the structuring of the payments as retainers and all that.

CORNISH: Understood or was involved.

HONIG: Right, or both, right.


HONIG: But you're exactly right, Bri.

I mean, what the prosecution is going to say is, forget about all the ancillary stuff. This is about the accounting behind these payments. We have documents. We have handwritten notes. We have checks signed by Trump. You don't need to trust Michael Cohen in a vacuum. You need to trust Michael Cohen when put up against the supporting evidence.

That would be the argument.

WILLIAMS: And more important, he's under oath here. And the information that he has put before -- this is what the prosecution would say.

HONIG: Sure.

WILLIAMS: The information that he has put before you under oath in this proceeding is remarkably consistent with the documentary and other testimonial evidence.

Now, we have brought to your attention all of this baggage he has, and the defense sort of picked on it, but his story is straight. So, ladies and gentlemen, you can and, frankly, ought to reach a conviction here, based on what we presented.

BORGER: Does the defense just never get to the point that Donald Trump says, none of this ever happened?

HONIG: Well...

BORGER: Do you just sort of not pay attention to that part of it?

HONIG: He's not going to take the stand.

BORGER: Right. Right.

HONIG: I mean, that would be the only way that would -- that would happen.

BORGER: But he has said over and over again that this never happened.

HONIG: Well, this is kind of what they're doing right now. They're saying that October 2016 phone call where Cohen said, I told Trump, it's done, I paid her...

BORGER: Right.

HONIG: ... they are arguing that never happened.

And what if -- I will posit it to the group here, what if the jury says, I'm not so sure that phone call happened the way Michael Cohen told us? That's a big problem.

KEILAR: Let's hold that for our next discussion here.


KEILAR: We have so much more ahead to talk about.

But also ahead, Anderson Cooper has been in the courtroom all morning long. He's going to join us next to talk about what he observed.

Stay with us for that.



KEILAR: And we're back now with our breaking news coverage of former President Trump's hush money criminal trial, court in a lunch break now.

Anderson Cooper with us.

Anderson, how was court? You were there all morning.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I got to say, there was a lot of boring moments early on. There was a lot of kind of meandering cross- examination, or seemingly meandering cross-examination by Todd Blanche.

But the last 20 minutes of court today right before the lunch break, it was incredible. I mean, it was at -- Elie Honig on my program last night had talked about, on a cross-examination, lawyers want to kind of put the witness in a -- build a box around the witness and then slam it shut.

That's what Todd Blanche did to Michael Cohen. I mean, the story that Todd Blanche just methodically went through, this sequence of events of this phone conversation that alleged -- that Michael Cohen had testified to previously, that he had had this consequential phone conversation with Donald Trump, it was a 90-second phone conversation, I believe, was October 24 was the day it was testified to in -- around 8:00 p.m. or so at night.

But Todd Blanche, on his cross-examination today, went -- kind of looked at the transcript of text messages that Michael Cohen had received and sent before that time frame. And there had been this series, I guess, of crank calls that Michael Cohen had received.

It turned out to be from some 14-year-old. There was an exchange of messages between the alleged 14-year-old and Michael Cohen. And then Michael Cohen texts Keith Schiller at like 7:50-something or 7:48 p.m., saying, hey I have got -- some dope has been harassing me. I got the person's phone number. Who can I talk to?

Keith Schiller texts him back, saying, call me. And Michael Cohen calls Keith Schiller. This is the conversation that previously Michael Cohen had said he was calling to speak to Donald Trump to tell him that the Stormy -- he was going ahead with the Stormy Daniels arrangement and that Trump approved it, which was a -- a crucial -- crucial to Michael Cohen's whole raison d'etre for being on the stand.


He's the only person testifying to involvement by -- direct involvement by Donald Trump in the Stormy Daniels payments. But it -- according to, suddenly now, Michael Cohen's refreshed memory, he now says, oh, it was a call about this 14-year-old making crank phone calls to me, but also about the -- moving ahead on Stormy Daniels.

Todd Blanche was incredulous, his voice cracking, his voice raising up, moving around the courtroom, speaking, saying -- saying that what -- the jury doesn't want to hear him guessing. It wants to hear facts.

It was an extraordinary cross-examination by Todd Blanche. And Michael Cohen's -- throughout the day, Michael Cohen, when cornered in -- when he found himself in a corner, he does have a pattern of suddenly not understanding the question that's being asked, or seemingly kind of, I mean, one could say buying time to try to figure out what -- how he wants to answer.

But he definitely suddenly starts to have Todd Blanche repeat questions and say, I don't quite understand what you mean. I'm confused by the question. But, this time, Michael Cohen was cornered in what appeared to be a lie, I think, to many in the room, and had to adjust suddenly his memory that he had just testified to on Tuesday.

Elie, I mean, you pointed out just right before the commercial break, if jurors don't believe Michael Cohen, how significant that might be. He was -- I mean, it is hard to -- I wonder how prosecutors are going to redirect on this, because Todd Blanche also pointed out -- got Michael Cohen to admit that he had not seen these text messages in the prep by prosecutors.

So he had apparently had no memory of those text messages. And the implication is that he concocted -- he was shown that there was a phone call to Keith Schiller at this time by prosecutors in the prep. And the implication, certainly, by Todd Blanche is that he concocted this story of what that 90-second phone call was, not realizing that there were text messages right ahead that directly related it and right after that directly related it.

HONIG: So, Anderson, obviously, this resonated with you as a courtroom observer.

Did you happen to see anything in the jury box? Were you able to pick up on any reaction from the jurors?

COOPER: I mean, these jurors are not, as people -- a lot of people have said, and I have seen before, they are -- they do not show reaction.

But you could tell the import -- the import of the moment and everybody in the courtroom could tell. And if you were unaware of it, the clicking of every reporter in the room's typewriters, it was like a crescendo, because you -- the drama of the moment was so clear to everybody in the room.

But the jurors showed nothing on their faces, but they were watching incredibly intently. And Todd Blanche essentially stopped the cross- examination, said to the judge, this -- maybe this is a good time for lunch break. And the judge agreed.

So this is what the jurors are going to think to lunch. I was talking to Norm Eisen on the way out from court, who was saying, Todd Blanche should try to keep the cross-examination going all the way until -- through the afternoon, not allowing the prosecution to redirect, so that, for the next three days, jurors will just have Michael Cohen's testimony to mull over.

HONIG: Yes, that's a common tactic.

Anderson, let me ask you, if I can put you in the jury box. Having just witnessed that piece of cross-examination, do you have doubts that that conversation happened the way Michael Cohen testified on his direct examination...

COOPER: I think it's...

HONIG: ... that he called Trump and Schiller...

COOPER: I think it's -- I think it's dev -- absolutely, absolutely.

I think it's devastating, I mean, for Michael Cohen's credibility on this, I mean, on this one particular topic. Whether it's he just didn't -- I mean, it's hard to -- I don't know. Yes, I think, if I was a juror in this case, watching that, I would think this guy's making this up as he's going along, or he's making this particular story up.

Todd Blanche was pointing out, you were testifying just on Tuesday in this court. And all morning long, he's been pointing out inconsistencies in Michael Cohen's testimony, or at least questionable aspects of Michael Cohen's testimony, but nothing that you would necessarily as a juror think, OK, that's clearly a lie. Maybe that's just a mis -- he was misunderstanding, or he was bragging, or whatever.

This one, Todd Blanche clearly saved this to right before the lunch break, I'm assuming, because it was just so well crafted and just point by point walking through this story, which at first seemed, why -- why -- this seems like a ridiculous story.

HONIG: Right.

COOPER: Some 14-year-old is sending him, you know, nasty text messages.