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CNN Live Event/Special

Soon: Trump Defense Resumes Cross-Examination Of Michael Cohen; Stunning Moment With Michael Cohen In Trump Hush Money Trial. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 13:30   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: 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 -- you know, why -- why -- this seemed like a ridiculous story, some 14-year-old is sending him nasty text messages and he's going to call Keith Schiller about it.

And then you realize, you look at -- he showed the phone logs, that the prosecutor it had shown, and it's the phone call that -- that Michael Cohen had previously talked about.

I think it is severely damaging to Michael Cohen's testimony.

And I know, Kara Scannell, is with us.

Kara, you are there. What did you think?

We were sitting -- I was sitting in the opposite aisle. So I haven't been able to talk to you. But I found it just so exciting. It was - whatever -- whoever you believe, whatever side, it was just a remarkable moment in court.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It truly was. Because it was really just kind of this building crescendo with more of that more mundane questioning of just trying to see if Cohen did lie about multiple things, including whether he wanted a pardon or whether he was accepting responsibility for his guilty plea.

But then it built to that moment where Todd Blanche methodically went through the phone calls, the text messages. And as you were saying, kind of put Michael Cohen in the box and then shut the lid.

Because it was -- and Blanche added to it by being himself more theatrical about it. He's pacing, he's rubbing his head, he's swailling his arms. His voice is rising as he is being incredulous.

Saying to Cohen, are you -- do really expect me to believe that in that one-minute, 36-second phone call you talk to Keith Schiller about the harassing text messages and phone calls, and also to Donald Trump about Stormy Daniels where you told him it was resolved. So really just trying to undercut all of Cohen's credibility in that

moment. And Cohen, while he maintained his composure, he certainly didn't look like he had a lot of confidence in his answers there.

And he began even began more slowly by saying that -- asking Cohen, did you even talk about this phone call when you met with prosecutors? And Cohen couldn't remember if he did. He was trying to refresh his recollection. Didn't say that he did. So that was casting doubt.

And then he just built and built and built by showing those text messages, showing the call logs.

And then, at the end, where he left the jury with it after that big moment, he then said, you know, so I don't want what you think he remember. I want -- the jury needs to know what you know and what you definitely remember.

And then he left it hanging in the air, did -- was this true for all of the phone calls that Cohen recalled in 2016?

Because that gets to the broader questions of his credibility and whether the jury should maybe just doubt this one phone call or doubt all of Cohen's recollections of the phone calls that he had with Donald Trump.

COOPER: Right.

SCANNELL: Including some of these ones at the end, including his testimony about the Oval Office meeting, the Trump Tower meeting, where Trump allegedly approved and signed off on the reimbursement scheme that's at the heart of this case.

COOPER: Well, Kara, it would also just seem to -- I mean, strain -- to beggar belief, is that there's this consequential phone call that Michael Cohen needs to make to Donald Trump about this critical moment, I've got to check in with Trump immediately and let them know I'm going ahead with the Stormy Daniels payments. I want to get sign off from him.

But he's -- instead, the preamble to making that call is this exchange with this 14-year-old kid and telling him, I need to talk to your parents and the Secret Service is going to get involved.

So if Michael Cohen has in his head, oh, I got to talk to the boss about Stormy Daniels, it certainly seems odd that he's spending all this time before that phone call conversing with a 14-year-old crank caller.

And then bothering to text Keith Schiller, not about, hey, where's the boss, I've got to talk to the boss, but you know, there's this 14- year-old who has been harassing me. What can I do?

And Keith Schiller says, call me. And he calls. And then, we know, first thing in the morning, Michael Cohen follows up with Keith Schiller, you know, without, you know, about the 14-year-old and the call. So the idea that he started off the conversation with Keith Schiller, talking about this 14-year-old, and then it was like, oh, yes, hey, can I talk to the boss? I've got to tell him this consequential thing about Stormy Daniels in 90 seconds. Seems hard to imagine.

SCANNELL: And there's no mention in these text messages between Cohen and Schiller of, is Donald Trump there, I need to talk to the boss.

Yet, they are very focused on this 14- year-old, who has been texting him, saying that he's unearthed the number and the -- you know, who do I need to talk to, to make this stop? And Shiller says call me.

And then that is when Michael Cohen calls him. And then, as he pointed out, that the very next exchange, the next statements are still focused on the 14-year-old.

So there's no indication at all in this contemporaneous real-time documents that he was at all interested in talking to the boss. It's very much focused on these phone calls.

COOPER: It was interesting, after the lunch recess was called, I looked over to the cast of characters, who are from Washington, who were in attendance today.


And a lot of them or a number of them are sort of smirking, clearly feeling like this had been a good day for -- certainly for Donald Trump and for his attorney moving into this lunch break.

Again, there's going to be much more testimony coming up after the break.

We're going to take a short break, really just a remarkable close of this session in court.

We'll have much more of our coverage of the historic trial of Donald Trump, get the reaction from a judge who was in the courtroom today as well. That's after a quick break.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And you're back now with CNN's special coverage of former President Trump's criminal hush money trial.

Joining me now is retired New York criminal court judge, George Grasso.

Judge, you have been in court. Were you as stunned by this moment that happened as Anderson was? It sounds like it was quite a dramatic moment and could be pivotal. Was it to you?

GEORGE GRASSO, RETIRED JUDGE, QUEENS COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: Absolutely. We're talking about a one minute and 32 second phone call. The people put it in evidence on Monday through Michael Cohen, alluding to a conversation that he had October 24th at approximately 8:02 p.m. with Keith Schiller.

It was -- who is Trump's body man and would often be next to him and take his phone calls. It was originally presented as "the" phone call where Michael Cohen got the approval from Donald Trump to go ahead with the hush money scheme and basically use his own funds to get the hush money to Stormy Daniels.

That timeline, on its face, worked perfectly. Because the next day, the people presented evidence that, on October 25th, that Cohen was connecting with Allen Weisselberg and laying it all out.

And then October 26th, there he is at his bank transferring $130,000 from his HELOC and wiring it to Stormy he Daniels.

Now, what came out of the blue today -- this just started happening right before the lunch break. At first, I didn't know where -- where Todd Blanche was going with this.

He's talking to Michael Cohen about harassing phone calls, 14-year-old boy. And Michael Cohen says, well, you didn't block your number, I'm going to report you to the Secret Service.

The next thing, there's a phone record of Michael Cohen reaching out to Keith Schiller at approximately 7:48 p.m. That leads to a voicemail at 8:01 p.m. between Michael Cohen and Keith Schiller.

And then an 8:02 p.m. phone call with Michael Cohen and Keith Schiller, which apparently, in large part, had to do with Michael Cohen following up with Keith Schiller, based upon a previous 7:48 p.m. text to Keith Schiller about this call and wanting -- wanting some action taken.

Now, Cohen appeared totally -- caught totally flat-footed by this, flat-footed. But you know, you can't hide from the documentary evidence. And I emphasize this is documentary evidence put in by the people.

So now Cohen is trying to get the jury to believe that he could have done both things at the same time in a matter of one minute and 32 seconds.

Discuss the harassing phone call that he wanted Keith Schiller to attend to and possibly report to the Secret Service and brief Donald Trump on the decision to get the $130,000 to Stormy Daniels and get the approval.

Right now, from what I've seen, his testimony strains credibility on a very crucial piece of evidence, tying Donald Trump directly to the hush money pay off.

And then beyond that, if somehow Cohen doesn't come back in the afternoon and give them a more plausible explanation, or get rehabilitated in some way on redirect, the obvious thought process is, what else is he not being forthright about? KEILAR: But, Judge --

GRASSO: So I think it's a big moment. And -- yes?

KEILAR: I want to -- I want to ask you because the - obviously, the two other people who were privy or may have been privy to that phone call, now that there's a question about it, would be Keith Schiller and Donald Trump.

What about hearing from Keith Schiller? You know, what was the breakdown of how much, how long you talked to Donald Trump? And did he talk or help -- pardon me.

What was the breakdown of how long Keith Schiller talked to Michael Cohen? And did Michael Cohen talk to Donald Trump? Did you hand the phone over to Trump?

GRASSO: Well, that's what they're trying to testify to. The problem that -- that's what Michael Cohen appears to be trying to testify to. Those things could have happened at the same time.

I imagine that's where the D.A. is going to go. But how much can you do on such a weighty matter in one minute and 32 seconds? It's possible. It's not impossible.

But what's obvious is that Michael Cohen was -- at least to me, Michael Cohen was caught flat-footed by this. So apparently by that, it appears that the D.A. never even discussed this with him.

And you know, until now. I thought the D.A. was presenting a masterful strategy. I had spoken previously that about 95 percent of the case has been corroborated.


They put so many exhibits in evidence, so they could enhance the credibility of Michael Cohen, who has so many other credibility issues.

On this one, this particular exhibit, people's exhibit 341, appears to be an exploding cigar.

KEILAR: Wow. And there's no rehabbing this in your mind in any way that might convince a jury?

GRASSO: Well --


KEILAR: Do you think it just been too much --


KEILAR: And how would you do that?

GRASSO: I'm not going to say no way. You know, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying this is what -- when we left the courtroom for the lunch break at 1:00 p.m., that's where we were.

Michael Cohen has a lot of work to do. He's still on cross- examination. I'm sure they're going to keep swinging on this. We'll see how he pulls it together.

And then again, the district attorney has redirect. I imagine they may be working a little late tonight in the D.A.'s office to figure out how they might handle this one on redirect.

But they've got this shot. We'll see. I'm not saying no way, but I am saying, in my mind, this was a big, big moment for the defense case.

KEILAR: Yes, the prosecution clearly has their work cut out for them after this.

Judge, always great to get your insights as you were there in the court room being some eyes and ears for us. Thank you so much.

GRASSO: Thank you. Great talking to you as always, Brianna.

KEILAR: Great talking to you, sir.

And we are moments away from court resuming here in this hush money trial. Stay with CNN's special coverage.



KEILAR: And we're back now with our special coverage of former President Trump's hush money criminal trial. Court is scheduled to resume here in a matter of minutes.

But before the court broke for lunch, we saw what was potentially a critical moment play out in court. We are getting reports from our folks who are there inside the courtroom, a number of them all saying the same thing, that this was really a moment to behold.

Trump's attorneys were able to raise serious doubts about a roughly 90-second phone call that is at the heart of this case. This is the one in which Michael Cohen claims Donald Trump approved the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

I'm joined now by our panel of experts.

OK. So 90 seconds to approve the payment, but it turned out there are a number of text messages proceeding it that had to do with this 14- year-old prank caller who was harassing Michael Cohen.

And that was something that Cohen also addressed with Keith Schiller, the right-hand man there have Donald Trump, who Cohen had called. Why is this so problematic, Elie?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANLAYST: OK. Michael Cohen's testimony was this was the moment when I filled in Donald Trump, 8:02 p.m., October 24, 2016. I call Keith Schiller, who would handle the phone for Trump. I told him Stormy has been paid, matter resolved.

No mention of this 14-year-old text harasser. Turns out all of the texts between Michael Cohen and Keith Schiller, leading up to that 8:02 call had to do with, there's this 14-year-old who's bugging me. What should I do? Shiller says call me.

So the defense argument is Michael Cohen has just made up the fact that this was actually about Stormy Daniels. What it was about, as you can see from the text at the time, was really this 14-year-old text harasser.

Now what Cohen then retreated back to was, well, actually, we discuss both things. And we can have a debate about whether it's possible to layout both of those things in 92 seconds or not. I can sort of see that either way. It seems tough, but it's doable.

But the problem is Michael Cohen didn't say anything about this call being the call when we talked about Stormy Daniels when he was in the grand jury. He never said that before.

And so now the grand jury's thinking, I don't know whether that call had anything to do with Stormy Daniels. That might be something maybe that Michael Cohen just made up for purposes of this trial.

KEILAR: And the point is this came out in cross --


KEILAR: -- as the defense is asking Michael Cohen questions. It should have come out in direct examination if the prosecutors had figured it out.

Why then -- and do you believe then that the prosecution missed this? They didn't look at the texts leading up to the phone call?

WILLIAMS: I think it's an entirely plausible explanation that the prosecutors just missed it. Because -- we were talking about this a little bit in the break. They could have.

We've been talking a lot in this trial about how, as a prosecutor, you chum the water of sorts with the bad things about the defendant. You put them out there on the record so that they're not as bad when they come out in front of the defense.

This is a textbook example of something that the jury was not prepared to hear that came out for the first time out of the mouth of the defendant.

Now, if the prosecutors had simply asked the question, hey, what do you remember on that phone call? And he'd said, well, I think we talked about both Stormy Daniels and this punk 14-year-old that was harassing me, maybe implausible, but at least the jury would have been primed to -- to hear about this information.

Now, it really appears like a bit of a Perry Mason gotcha moment. That'll be hard for the -- for the prosecution to come back from. Now, they'll try and they're going to have another crack at him perhaps today, perhaps Monday. And they'll try to clean it up, saying, wait, don't you remember both?

But it's not good for the credibility of Cohen.


AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: It's also like a genuine moment of surprise, right, in a case that's been marked by -- everyone's been using this phrase documentary evidence.


CORNISH: But that also just means a long monotonous, like hours of testimony that have been about bookkeeping, that have been about phone records, that have been about office visits.

And it has come off as though the prosecution is very detail oriented in trying to build up what could be the links between Cohen and the former president.


And then, all of a sudden, in the middle of testimony, that seems like what we've been hearing, oh, this person called this one, this person called that one, it kind of explodes.

And people know --


AUDIE: -- people feel that tonal change.

WILLIAMS: I'll just say, note the remarkable consistency from every single person who was in the room, who is now


WILLIAMS: -- including Anderson Cooper, who tends not to be that level of --


KEILAR: Hair on fire.

WILLIAMS: Hair on fire.

But -- but -- but every single person who has said, I was in the room, said, my goodness, this was the moment, a moment in the trial of the first real shock and sort of exploding.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So if there's a Perry Mason moment, which this may be, was, how do you come back from it?

And obviously it -- well, it doesn't seem to me that Todd Blanche will go back to it. I think he's -- I think he's done his work. He doesn't need to gild the lily and go back to it anymore today.

But clearly, the prosecution has to figure out a way to go back at this and to make it sound like a completely plausible story about which Michael Cohen was not lying. And how do they -- how do they do that?

HONIG: OK. Two really important trial points. One, if you get a great piece of testimony, let it be. You don't -- don't go back and do a lot like you said, Gloria.


HONIG: I think the best prosecutors can do is where Michael Cohen wound up, which is, Mr. Cohen, in that call, did you discuss both things, the 14-year-old harasser and Stormy Daniels? He'll say, yes. They'll say, are you sure? He'll say absolutely, I remember it was both things.

But again, why didn't you say to the grand jury? Why didn't you say ?

It's -- I agree with Judge Grasso, George Grasso, who was just on. It's not over. Prosecutors have come back from worse setbacks than this. Let's see though.


HONIG: They've got a tough one now.


WILLIAMS: Moreover, just so get out of there.


WILLIAMS: Just ask the one or two questions and they can return to it in their closing statement, which I will remind you, will be in a week and a half or two weeks from now. The jury will remember it, but it's not going to be fresh in their minds like it is today.

In the closing, say, OK, you heard this, but here's what really happened and look at all of the other documents and the Allen Weisselberg handwriting and the checks. And just hope that the jury --


BORGER: But won't the jury want to know where Keith Schiller is? And why not hear from Keith Schiller?


WILLIAMS: -- for the next hour?




KEILAR: Stay with me for more on that.

Court resuming just minutes from now. We're here probably about 15 or so minutes out, after what has really been a surprising moment, an unexpected moment in court, working very much in favor of the former president.

We're going to break it all down after this quick break.