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Now: Trump Defense Shows Jury Text Exchange Between Cohen, 14- Year-Old Prankster; Cohen Acknowledges Trump's First Comment On Stormy Daniels Was That His Family Wouldn't Like It; Cohen Says He Has About 95 Secret Recordings On His Phone, Including "About 40" With Reporters. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 14:30   ET



KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Then after the call, he's texting him, the prankster's number.


HOLMES: So in that conversation, the urgency about the Stormy Daniels part is supposed to be in there along with the fact that there was a conversation about this prankster.

BURNETT: It certainly raises that -- we just finished talking and I'm following up with the number.

It raises that question.

I want to bring out the former Florida judge and criminal defense attorney, Jeff Swartz, into the conversation.

So, Jeff, is you hear Kristen and Paula analyzing this and giving this crucial context, this conversation and this exchange with this 14- year-old prankster and then the subsequent conversations with Keith Schiller that Cohen has said were about Stormy Daniels.

Does it, in your mind, if you're presenting this to a jury, does it raise a reasonable doubt that, in fact, it may have been about the 14- year-old prankster and not Stormy Daniels, and go right to the heart of Cohen's credibility?

JEFF SWARTZ, FORMER FLORIDA JUDGE: In and of itself, at this point, I don't think that it raises, quote, "reasonable doubt," close quote.

However, you have to remember that there's going to be redirect. And the real possibility is that that is going to get cleaned up in one form or another by redirect.

And that is you're going to hear Michael say what he said before, that was the call was to Schiller and he asked whether the boss was there, and when he heard the boss was there, he made about two, two or three- second statement to the boss that everything is taken care of with Daniels.

In other words, trying to reassure him.

I kind of anticipate that --


BURNETT: -- at the same time.

SWARTZ: (INAUDIBLE). They are going to clear it up somehow.

BURNETT: All right, so let me just ask you, Paula, as the judge is saying, what about Keith Schiller himself? He now becomes central because he would have a version of this conversation. Did that quick interjection about Stormy Daniels happen or did it not? But yet he's not called as a witness.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. First of all, I will note that under questioning from Todd Blanche, even Michael Cohen couldn't quite clean this up. And he started to say that he didn't recall this conversation. So prosecutors are going to have a lot of work ahead of them to clean this up.

But the mystery of Keith Schiller is one that's been hanging out there. He did, at one point, talk to instigators about conversations that he had with David Pecker, the head of AMI, someone we heard from early -- early in this case.

But Keith Schiller is not on the witness list and he's unexpected to be called, which is odd, because he is a key character. He's there.


REID: It's not alleged to be a part of the conspiracy, but possibly a witness who could corroborate or undercut --


BURNETT: Judge Swartz, what do you make of that? Why -- why not Keith Schiller? It would seem, by the way, in so much of this, from even standing outside the door with the Stormy Daniels alleged incident at Lake Tahoe. Now, to this crucial conversation. As Trump's consigliere, he's central. Why isn't he here?

SWARTZ: I can't answer why, other than they may -- may have tried to talk to them and they don't know exactly what Keith Schiller is going to say. His loyalty to Donald Trump is completely unadulterated. He obviously has made that clear.

The real problem is that if you don't put him on, he's another empty chair that goes along with Weisselberg. You know, these people know things. These people were part of things. Why didn't the state put them on? Why weren't they witnesses?

Not our obligation to put them on. That's what you're going to hear in closing arguments. So we now have two empty chairs that the state is going to have to come up with some reason to explain away.

BURNETT: Yes, Kristen, and then on the flip side of it, there's also the question from Trump's side.

HOLMES: Right.

BURNETT: It's not on their list either.

HOLMES: Right? Exactly. But I will say the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove this case. And if those two witnesses, particularly, say Allen Weisselberg and Keith Schiller were brought in, they could collaborate some of what Michael Cohen has said.

And knowing that this entire case hinges on Michael Cohen, why wouldn't you bring in two people who can apparently cooperate to very important parts of this.

One, Michael Cohen testifying that Allen Weisselberg was coming up with different ways to cover up the hush money payments. And, two, obviously, Keith Schiller now being part, central to this conversation.

BURNETT: So, Judge Swartz, right now, just to happening, sounds like Blanches doing what I heard the other day in the courtroom, going back to how Cohen worked with journalists to get positive stories planted about Trump, to suppress negative stories, or to push negative stories about his rivals.

What do you make of the strategy overall here with Blanche, the sort of non-linear nature with which he has attacked this cross- examination?

SWARTZ: There's -- there's both sides to this. Number one, you can lose the jury by not having something in a nice linear way. And going through it like the state did, step-by-step from beginning to end.

To the same extent, you can only pound on a subject so much and then you go off to something new and then come back to the first subject again.

So Blanche has tried to get as many shots at Michael Cohen as he possibly can on a lot of subjects but try to get the attention of the jury back.

Because earlier, I heard a report that the jury really was kind of lost after a couple of hours. They were looking around the room. They stopped taking notes. They'd heard enough of what Blanche was asking questions about.


So he's trying to get their attention back.

BURNETT: Which I'll say, as all of us who've been in that courtroom knows, it takes a lot to distract this jury. They pay very close attention. So a little tongue-in-cheek here. But it doesn't say much if you were able to make them bored.

All right. Thank you, all. Kristen and Paula are going to stay with me.

And much more of our special coverage is ahead. Cohen is now answering questions, as I said, about his relationship with the press and what sort of stories he was working to place and suppress.

More on the trial as Cohen continues to testify right now.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And welcome back now to our special coverage of former President Trump's hush money criminal trial. We are following all of the breaking details.

We have our panel of experts back with us.

And let's talk about what we have been seeing here just moments ago in court. Of course, this is a falsification of documents case in the commission of another crime. Not charged in this case, but an election crime, right?

So that's the clutch. That's important.


KEILAR: Because is it that Donald Trump didn't want the Stormy Daniels story out there because he was just worried what his wife would think, what his family would think, or was it because he was worried about the election.

And that's what a line of questioning that Todd Blanche is posing towards Michael Cohen just went to the heart of here.

It says -- and this is referring -- let's go way back, 2011, story about Stormy Daniels, Donald Trump, that Michael Cohen helped have removed. And he's saying that then Trump was actually worried about what his family would think and the brand.

And Michael Cohen also testified that he told law enforcement in February of 2021 that the first thing Trump had said was about the family being concerned. What do you think about that?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. So it's abundantly clear that he's concerned about both things. And I think both the effect on his family and the potential effect on the campaign.

KEILAR: At different times?

WILLIAMS: At different times.

And now what the defense is doing here is laying the groundwork for ambiguity in the jury's mind as to whatever instruction the judge gives as to how you weigh the two things against each other. That's going to be a complex little calculus now. I believe the law

will say that the substantial reason for falsifying the records had to be the campaign.

Well, what does substantial mean? And how do you weigh it against someone who clearly had a record of saying, at least according his testimony, that he was worried about what the effect would be on his family. So it's going to be just a jumble in the jury's mind.


AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: From earlier, what we're seeing is them moving on to a different issue.

WILLIAMS: Yes, yes.

CORNISH: They're not spending time talking about this very -- what we were all describing as like a pivotal moment, that were not hearing about this 14-year-old for another hour.

So it'll be interesting to see where this goes, right, because now we've seen -- we've witnessed them build up -- build up an angle.

KEILAR: Let's mention what we're seeing or what we're hearing is happening in court here, which is that Cohen is being asked about how many times he recorded conversations with reporters?

And he says it wasn't a lot, but he estimates it was 40, which is - that's a lot.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's -- on the scale of how often a person can record themselves talking to reporters, I think 40 is kind of high.

KEILAR: That's because --

HONIG: But --

CORNISH: But you're a lawyer, not a reporter. I mean, that -- that's possible.

HONIG: Yes. I mean, I'm really intrigued to see where this goes. It was led by a question about, do you have a relationship with Maggie Haberman, our colleague here at CNN, who is a "New York Times" reporter. Michael Cohen says, yes.

I suspect they're going to play a tape of something that Michael Cohen said to Maggie or other reporters pretty soon.

KEILAR: Adding to that, Maggie is in the courtroom. So there have been a number of names, obviously, that have come up in this. And here -- here's another one that is happening.

But so you expect that there's going to be a recording?

HONIG: Yes, I think so. Blanche asked Cohen to clarify that he didn't record calls with reporters in 2017 and '18, but he did in 2016.

Michael Cohen's use of recordings is another interesting issue here. Because remember, Michael Cohen recorded, let's say --


KEILAR: Cohen says he would have to check. And Blanche replies, "We'll check together."


HONIG: So he's got some documents he's got to show trying to --


KEILAR: He's trying to say I've got you.

HONIG: Yes, he's looking -- and you want the jury to be leaning in a little bit.

Michael Cohen also recorded Donald Trump, who was his client, when they were talking about the Karen McDougal payment. And I think they're going to get into that as well.

KEILAR: He is saying that he is -- and just to be clear -- and I mean, some people -- and I'll be curious what the jury says. Michael Cohen says that he was doing that, he was recording.

Are you talking about the David Pecker phone call?


KEILAR: He says he was doing it to make sure that David Pecker, the head of AMI at the time --


KEILAR: -- remained loyal. Now, if the jury is going to buy that, we will see. That is the story from Michael Cohen.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's see what these texts between Maggie and Cohen were about.

KEILAR: Yes, Trump has leaned forward and there are some texts here.

He says, Blanche says, by the way, did you tell people you were recording them? And Cohen said, no, sir. And let's just be very clear that is highly uncool, highly uncool.

WILLIAMS: Now, now --


WILLIAMS: In some states --

KEILAR: If it's a one party or if it's a two-party consent state. (CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: So what to me --


KEILAR: Ethically questionable, if it's not illegal.

WILLLIAMS: New York is one of about 30 states that it's a one-party consent state. So as long as one party consents to recording a phone conversation, you can do it. Doesn't mean you ought to. Doesn't mean people won't judge it if you do --


KEILAR: People probably won't appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: They will not appreciate it.

KEILAR: That just as a general understanding, we should know that --


WILLIAMS: And particularly if you're not, for instance, a journalist, you know, making a recording to supplement notes that you're taking by hand.


If you're just someone having either a social or casual conversation with someone, yes, people might react very strongly to knowing that they're being recorded.

BORGER: Well, my question is, did you record them to play them for someone else?

HONIG: Oh, well, if he's recording people and conversations for a reason --


BORGER: It was to play for Donald Trump, to play --


HONIG: Who knows? Who knows? This is --


KEILAR: -- I don't remember that specifically, but it's not illegal.

HONIG: The point is going to be that Michael Cohen taped people for a reason, as Gloria was saying. He wants to have leveraged. He wants to have something in his back pocket.

It's -- its even -- look, recording journalists, I don't recommend it. You're allowed to do it if it's a one-party state. But recording your client, as a lawyer, I mean, I've asked on air several defense lawyers who have been practicing for decades, have you ever done this?

And if you ask them that, they look at you like, why on earth? That would be wildly unethical and bizarre to do that.

WILLIAMS: Well, ethical, bizarre and just creating all kinds of extra materials that could be subpoenaed or whatever. I'll just -- don't do it. It just seems like a silly thing to do.

BORGER: Well, Donald Trump has said he didn't even like his lawyers to take notes --

HONIG: Right.

BORGER: -- much less record him, right?

KEILAR: And Michael Cohen testified that he was, in the case of this David Pecker recording, that he was holding the phone, but he wasn't aware of Donald -- Donald Trump didn't know he was being recorded.

That was --


KEILAR: -- very clear from this. So that is -- it would be one thing to say to your client, hey, is it cool, do you want me to hang onto this for something.

HONIG: Right.

KEILAR: But it wasn't done with consent. And that is usually --


CORNISH: My problem, I assume that Trump's attorney would be bringing this up if he thought there was something incriminating for his own client.


CORNISH: So obviously, they're going down this path for a reason.

KEILAR: All right. We have a lot to look at here. Things are continuing. We're going to keep an eye on that.

We're going to take a quick break. And we'll be going right back to New York. Our reporters are outside and inside the courthouse where this is all unfolding as the defense is asking Michael Cohen questions about him taping dozens of conversations with reporters. We'll have that next.


[14:51:24] BURNETT: Right now, the defense is continuing its cross-examination of Trump's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, asking Cohen about 95 secret recordings that Cohen kept on his phone, including some with reporters.

Kristen Holmes and Paula Reid are back with me.

All right. So, Paula, what do you think is the goal here? Obviously, they -- Blanche is making the point that Cohen recorded conversations without the other party knowing about them, which is allowed in New York. Although, of course, not a topic anybody would think is above board.

But he's making a point, there were a lot of them.

REID: Yes, and including conversations that he recorded of his own client, without his client's knowledge. And Blanche recalling something that Michael Cohen has previously testified to is that he surreptitiously recorded his client so that he could play it for a third-party, David Pecker, without his client's knowledge?


REID: Now, right now, Blanche is turning to the 2015 Trump Tower meeting with David Pecker.

But this speaks to Cohen's modus operandi. How dishonest or honest he is. I mean, that's really what I think what they were getting at here.


REID: Really focused less so on the conversations with journalists, but more so on the fact that you would record your own client and for this purpose.

BURNETT: Right. Now, of course Cohen has said, and I'm sure will say again, that the reason he did that was to show David Pecker Trump does intend to pay you back. It wasn't --

HOLMES: To protect Donald Trump.

BURNETT: -- to protect Donald Trump, which is the argument he makes.

But, Kristen, what do you think the point of this may be, or is there one? I guess, you know, when you wonder with Blanche as to why he was going through reporters, media executives, people that Cohen recorded?

HOLMES: Well, what we've seen from top lawyers so far is that all of these have come with receipts. So clearly, we're getting to something that he's trying to show that Michael Cohen maybe lied about in or misspoke about or is harder to prove during his -- the prosecutions questioning than where we are now.

And so we -- as Paula said, they're turning to this 2015 Trump Tower meeting with David Pecker. That is likely to then talk about this recording that came up. He never ended up playing the recording for David Pecker. He said, by

then, everything had been solved, they were fine.

But I do think also part of this is just to continue to paint Michael Cohen as unethical. And he, Blanche, asked Cohen about his previous testimony that the power of the "National Enquirer" was its placement in supermarkets.

So that's why I don't know where he's going with this, but clearly, he says, "Have you ever told anybody that before your testimony this week," Blanche asks.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, as to see what he's trying to build.

I will say, Paula, one thing in this whole recording part that is interesting is that, if Trump has, as Kristen is saying, if he eventually did -- did pay and that issue went away, the issues for which Cohen was recording the call to protect his client.

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: Then why didn't the recording go away?

REID: It's a great -- it's a great question, I think, right now, Blanche is trying to highlight how many things that Cohen has said in the course of this trial that he has never said before.

For some witnesses, that wouldn't be unusual, when you think of how many media interviews Cohen has done, how many times investigators have spoken with him, how many times he has spoken about this publicly.

This is a significant thing for the defense to highlight, that, wait a second, you had -- for years, you've were talking about this. This has happened eight years ago and you're only remembering this now?

Now, apparently, that Cohen is disputing Blanche's assertion that Michael Cohen testified about the power of the "National Enquirer" after David Pecker testified about the power of the "National Enquirer."

Cohen disputes this suggestion that he altered his testimony once he heard what David Pecker said. But this is not the first time that they're picking up on something he's never said before.

If he can continue and establish a pattern, that could go a long way towards undermining Cohen's credibility.

HOLMES: And one other part of this -- I spoke to a lawyer about this at the very beginning, so two days ago, whenever we started the cross- examination.

When they were asking Michael Cohen about whether or not he was following the trial closely, and wondering why we were talking about that. And part of this was, this lawyer told me --


HOLMES: Yes, exactly. That he could fill in the holes.


The questioning is, is this person so out to get Donald Trump that he would be watching the testimony so closely that then he could corroborate it and say things he's never said or change his testimony or fill in holes or gaps that these potential other witnesses didn't have.

And he shouldn't be, is what this lawyer was telling me. That there should be some kind of line here that he wouldn't be watching all this so closely. Now, of course, they can't stop him from watching what's going on with the trial.

But in some cases like this, witnesses are actually sequestered from hearing other witnesses or seeing the coverage. We just happen to be in such a high-profile case that we're covering everything that's coming out of the courtroom, right?


All right. Stay with us, of course, as this testimony continues. Much more of our special coverage of the Donald Trump hush money trial is straight ahead. We'll be back after a quick break.