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CNN Live Event/Special

Cohen Says He Has About 95 Secret Recordings On His Phone, Including "About 40" With Reporters; Trump Defense Resumes Cross- Examination Of Michael Cohen. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: This is CNN's special live coverage of the first criminal trial of a former president. I'm Brianna Keilar here in Washington. Erin Burnett is in New York outside the courthouse, and we're following all of the breaking details as Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, is back under cross-examination.

The defense continuing its effort to discredit the prosecution's star witness, raising questions about whether Michael Cohen answered truthfully about a call that he had in 2016 that's so important to the prosecution's case, when Cohen said he called Trump to update him on the Stormy Daniels hush money payment. Defense attorney, Todd Blanche, pressed Cohen about that call, alleging that the short conversation was really about a string of phone calls that Cohen had received from a teenage prankster, Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And which I know sounds so bizarre, Brianna. As you're saying it, I started to chuckle. But, of course, it is central to all of this.

And moments ago, there was another interesting moment in court when Cohen was questioned about dozens of times where he recorded phone conversations with reporters and people in the media, our team inside the court tells us that Trump turned to one of his attorneys and smiled during this line of questioning.

Okay, and as this is continuing, Paula, they're talking about calls. They're saying ...


BURNETT: ... Blanche says to Michael Cohen, how many calls did you receive a day. And I think he said a hundred. Blanche says, let's go with 50. So obviously, not being in the room, we can't interpret was that some sort of a snark. Well, whatever you say, I'm going to cut it in half because you're a serial liar or what point he's making. But they're still talking about these calls.

REID: I think the point he's trying to make, based on my understanding of the strategy, is how many calls, even conservatively, Michael Cohen was making in 2016 and 2017. And I think they came to 14,000 a year. And then Blanche asks how is it possible that you remember specific details, right? These phone calls are things that I've been talking about for the past six years, Cohen says in response to this question, calling them extremely important.

So Blanche is trying to call into question whether Cohen is able to accurately remember conversations he had with Trump or David Pecker eight years ago. Cohen is responding that these were important to me, which is why I remember them. And it's going to be up to the jury to decide which side of that story they believe.

BURNETT: Right. I guess that's the crucial thing. If you're getting that many calls, you remember some.

REID: Right.

BURNETT: But only a very specific small subset.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And also that we have reported that some of the calls or at least one of the calls that he has talked about in this trial were not things that he has been recalling ...

REID: Yes.

HOLMES: ... for the last six years or talking about for the six ...


HOLMES: ... the last six years. These are not something that he has repeated over and over again in various testimonies. They were new information that came out during this trial, and that's something that Cohen just said.

Now, the other part of this that we're hearing from our court reporters is that Cohen is speaking in an even, slow term - tone, at times haltingly like he is choosing his words very carefully. Remember, this is critical for Michael Cohen. This is critical for the case for the prosecution. The entire case hinges on him and now they're asking him about basically what he has said made the case, which is the phone call to Donald Trump linking him to all of this.

BURNETT: Right. And Paula, I mean, to this point about the way that Kristen's talking about how Cohen is presenting himself right now, he was quiet under direct the other day ...

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: ... and very subdued. Purposefully so, he doesn't want to look like a bombastic, angry person the way he's been portrayed, but also just a quiet voice, deferential, 'ma'am,' 'sir.' But interesting what Kristen's saying that now it appears even quieter and that he is well aware of the import of his words and trying to think, maybe to figure out what he is trying to do, to choose his words carefully.

REID: For a year he's been preparing for this, arguably maybe for about six or seven years, right? He's been mentally preparing for this, but he's been coached for a year of approximately a hundred different instances, hours where he has sat down with prosecutors. Now, right now, based upon the other documents that I was able to look at.

So here Cohen's just saying that sometimes they show him documents and that helps to jog his memory. But his demeanor is interesting. I mean, he's clearly been coached by prosecutors ...


REID: ... how to handle this. He knows this is going to be tough. They're trying to get to him. But even though they haven't gotten an emotional reaction out of him, they have landed some punches here and they have done some damage to the prosecutor's case, specifically by undercutting Cohen's credibility about key pieces of testimony.

BURNETT: Interesting the jury's reaction too, that we're hearing.


There's a time when they sort of appeared to lose the train of this and maybe get a little bored or distracted, which is saying something. And as I said, I know it sounds funny to say that, but even in times when other people have been maybe sleepy, that jury has never wavered in paying attention in that room, certainly that I've seen. So it does say something that maybe today they did lose the train of thought a bit.

HOLMES: Yes, there was some bouncing around, I think that we would all agree, that Todd Blanche has done lines of questioning and then gone back in time, gone forward in time, which I'm told by various attorneys is a normal way of handling it. But here's this Blanche quizzes Cohen on whether he recalls his lengthy conversation with Chris Cuomo in 2016 with Donald Trump. "What were you talking to Mr. Cuomo about," Blanche asks.

Now, this is probably going to go back to what we just saw, which was him saying, did you always brief Trump when you were going to talk to various reporters? Was it always about planting positive stories? Cohen says they were talking about his appearance and other issues related to it.

BURNETT: Right. I think Chris has actually talked about this particular conversation as well.

All right. Everyone staying with us as we're continuing to watch this. So this is an interesting exchange going on right now, Briana.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is, Erin.

Let's talk about this. As you see, Todd Blanche is sort of challenging Michael Cohen on his memory of phone calls, and Michael Cohen seems to be saying, hey, I don't remember the exact time that it was 8:02 PM, but I remember what we talked about in the call because it was important. I've thought about it and talked about it for six years. And Cohen is still challenged on that. He also said, based upon the other documents that I was able to look at, it jogs my memory. Talk to us a little bit about ...


KEILAR: ... this line of questioning.

WILLIAMS: All of that can be true that someone can remember having had a conversation but not remember it was it 8:02 or 8:04 or 8:06. I think what Todd Blanche is getting at here, though, and this is why he sort of what - had that back and forth about 50 calls a day versus a hundred calls a day, saying, you get 14,000 calls a year and you're going to come here and tell us that you have precise memories of one particular conversation. And by the way, wink wink, it also happens to be the one that incriminates the defendant here, but you don't have specific memories of 13,999 other calls over the course of the year. It just sort of - it's a - again, it's another credibility question.

KEILAR: Wait, and let - is it a credibility question or is it a human nature question? Because I would ask you, Audie ...


AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sounds like it's a context question given what was discussed earlier in the day about the texts and the kid, et cetera.

KEILAR: But can I ask ...

CORNISH: Trying to ...

KEILAR: Can I ask you about this? You get a lot - you talk to a lot of people, you get a lot of questions. I'm assuming there are some phone conversations over the course of the last years that you were totally going to forget.


KEILAR: But some that you remember vividly, would that be fair to say?

CORNISH: I would point to the testimony that we've heard where he says, I've been talking about this for six years straight. And I think he's trying to convey the idea that, like, this isn't just me saying this now, this is something I have been saying for a long time.

WILLIAMS: And I only say it's a credibility question insofar as it is - when you walk through someone's memories in front of a jury, even little things like, well, did you remember if it was 8:02 or 8:04 PM, speak to how much the jury can trust the witness. Now, common sense says, of course, he doesn't remember all that, but we're not jurors.

KEILAR: What about the, do you remember if you were talking about a 14-year-old prankster or not and if ...


KEILAR: ... you can make the case that, I mean, yes, I forgot about that, whatever.

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: Is that convincing?

BORGER: No, it's not convincing.

KEILAR: It's not convincing.

BORGER: Yes, I don't think it ...


KEILAR: It's too late.

BORGER: Yes. But what is - he said, I've been talking about this for six years. What's 'this'? Is this Stormy Daniels?

HONIG: I think that's what he means.


HONIG: It was ambiguous. Just to bring people up to speed with what's happening now. Now they've turned to this really important incident. When Michael Cohen records a conversation that he had in person with Donald Trump, now getting ready to pay Karen McDougal off. And Michael Cohen apparently takes out his cell phone, records this conversation with Trump, and then they talk for - it's a couple of minutes. We've all seen this call, it's now public ...

BORGER: Right.

HONIG: ... or not call - this recorded conversation, it's now public. And then Michael Cohen's cell phone, which he's using to record the conversation, receives an incoming call, cutting it off. What's really important about this recording, first of all, it was - as we were saying before, completely unethical. And in fact, Todd Blanche got Michael Cohen to acknowledge that. You don't record your own client.

And now Todd Blanche is attacking Michael Cohen's explanation for why he recorded that. What Michael Cohen said on his direct testimony is, I wanted to be able to play this recording for David Pecker to assure him that he would get paid.

That opens up a lot of questions that were - Todd's about to get into here.

KEILAR: I do want to get back to Erin in New York with some new details.

Erin, what can you tell us?

BURNETT: All right. Brianna, we have some breaking news here from Kristen and Paula. This is on a witness that the defense may call, Attorney Bob Costello. So you guys have worked on this together.

I guess, Paula, first, who is he and what is he going to - and why is he here?

REID: Yes, Bob Costello is a longtime Trump ally. He's represented Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani for a long time, and for a period he represented Michael Cohen.


Now, Bob Costello was the only witness that the Trump defense team put before the grand jury in this case last year before Trump was indicted, and they put him on to undercut Michael Cohen's credibility because he testify - Costello has testified repeatedly that when he was representing Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen repeatedly told him that he had no evidence of criminal conduct by Trump. There was nothing he could offer investigators. He has other instances that would undercut Cohen's credibility, and a big question so far has been: will he testify in this case.

Now, yesterday, he testified on Capitol Hill. A lot of Trump allies were very amped up about this appearance, and there were questions about whether that would prompt the Trump team to reach out to him. We've learned that there has been outreach. And now it's possible he'll testify even though, so far, he hasn't been on the witness list.

Kristen's been talking to her sources as well to learn more about what's going on with Costello.

BURNETT: Right. And what are you learning?

HOLMES: And his name has been circulating. They have not made any final decisions. This is still an ongoing conversation, but some of what he said yesterday is something that Donald Trump himself would be very fond of. Essentially, we talked about his former client, Michael Cohen. He said that virtually every statement that Cohen made on the stand about Costello was a lie. He also said that Cohen cherry-picks different parts of emails or conversations and that that's how he lies. So, he - clearly here is a witness that Trump's team might want to call to help them with Cohen.

REID: As of now, up until even yesterday before he testified, it didn't seem like he was going to be called. They're really not putting on much of a case.


REID: They're expected to call one expert witness, an election expert, very briefly, mostly to preserve some issues for appeal. So, if - big if - they call Costello, that would pretty much be their case. But it would be the same as it was for the grand jury. But ever since the witnesses started leaking out, we've been asking why isn't Costello on this list. He was the only person you put before the grand jury ...

BURNETT: Why not now.

REID: It wasn't clear.

BURNETT: Yes. REID: There were some theories, but as of our reporting now, it's something that is under - possibly under consideration, though it's far from certain that he'll take the stand.

HOLMES: Did you mention his relationship with Trump and how it soured? I - I'm sorry, I was reading through this right now, but ...

REID: Where did you get that?

HOLMES: ... Donald Trump and Costello had a relationship. Costello has been in Donald Trump's orbit for a very long time. He's very close to Rudy Giuliani. Again, as you noted, he was kind of the go-between during that time, but also the relationship soured when he didn't pay his bills - when Trump didn't pay Costello's bills.


HOLMES: We reported at the time ...


HOLMES: ... that Giuliani and Costello went together to Bedminster to essentially ask Donald Trump to pay the bills there, and Trump said no. He held a fundraiser for Giuliani.


HOLMES: But that means that Costello is still owed a significant amount of money. So, that was a lot of the kind of behind-the-scenes conversations of Donald Trump's team would want to bring that up again.

BURNETT: They do want to bring them.

HOLMES: Exactly.

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: And this all - it's - Brianna, it all adds such intrigue to this, but also shows the pressure that the defense may feel that they're under to at least put some sort of a case out on this.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly, and this will be very intriguing to see what may come of this if it materializes.

Erin, thank you so much for that.

I'm curious what you think as I look at what Costello has said in the past, in testimony before Congress. He's talked about how Michael Cohen, for reasons that he goes on to explain, waived the attorney- client privilege and the duty of loyalty of a lawyer to a client. So, he would be forthcoming, would be the expectation if he's on the stand.

HONIG: Yes. Costello said this in the very recent past, namely yesterday. The timing is interesting. If the defense is going to call Costello, it clearly will be to undercut Michael Cohen's testimony. We got a hint of what it might be with one specific line earlier this morning. This goes to Michael Cohen's testimony and claim that he never wanted or sought a pardon from Donald Trump.

Costello, who represented - it's a little bit disputed, was fully the lawyer or was just consulting. But had conversations with Michael Cohen, says apparently that Cohen absolutely was seeking and hoping for a pardon. So, to me ...

CORNISH: Despite what he said before Congress.

HONIG: Yes, yes, to me it goes to his credibility. It's not exactly a head shot or anything, but if they think it's going to score some points, then they know what they're doing, I suppose.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I'd agree with that. It - defense ought to always be cautious about calling witnesses because anytime the defense puts anybody on the stand, that subjects that witness to cross-examination. Bob Costello has got enough dirty stuff in his background, at least in terms of credibility questions and bias against the defendant, relationship with the defendant, he may just not want to put him on.

And given that the cross-examination has already undercut Michael Cohen's credibility a pretty significant amount, it's not clear what adding a whole witness just to do that would really do.

KEILAR: All right. Let's take a quick break as we continue to watch what is happening here with Michael Cohen's continued cross- examination. We are following all of the breaking details that are coming out of court in Manhattan. We'll be right back with more.



BURNETT: They're on a little break, so when this case ...

We are back with our breaking news coverage of Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial, and Kristen and Paula are with me.

So we were sitting here just talking about how they're on a brief break, and they take this afternoon break, but it's just a moment to say, okay, where are we. Todd Blanche had promised or threatened, depending on how you look at it, that he would continue the cross all the way - this would go into Monday.

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: And now it is first because of the recross and redirect. So, what does that mean?


REID: So I'm told to expect Cohen on the stand likely through lunch on Monday for not only Blanche to wrap up but also prosecutors to have another crack at him and defense attorneys. This is expected to be the last witness prosecutors call, so then it's the defense's turn.

As of now, we only expect one witness. As I said a short time ago, it'll be an election law expert. He'll be on very briefly. It's possible they could call Rob Costello, depending on whether plans change, but then the case itself, the presentation of the case, is pretty much over and all you have to do is your closings and then charge the jury.

There'll be a little bit of litigation over what the jury hears.


REID: But there next week, like most of the weeks in this case, there's only three days. So you get up to Thursday, and it's this question that no one can answer: will the judge give the jury the case before a four-day Memorial Day holiday? Because he was trying to get them earlier today to work on Wednesday - that's the day off - but he said you might have to work, but jurors couldn't do it.

And you could tell what he was trying to do. He was trying to get them the case Wednesday ...

BURNETT: He's trying to get it done, right.

REID: ... so they could get it Wednesday and Thursday and likely have a verdict. But as of right now ...


REID: ... it appears we likely won't have a verdict until after Memorial Day.


HOLMES: And right now, the judge asked for attorney from both sides to join him in the robing room because he wants them present - he wants them present to talk to a juror who said he or she has an appointment at 1:30 next Thursday. So, clearly an issue on timing if they were trying to give the case over right around then, so ...

BURNETT: Which - and by the way, I'm just going to say they have already gone through dates. They already gave off next Friday because the juror has a flight at 11:00 AM. I happened to be in the room for this, so I know the details.

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: So, you would have known about the 2:30 appointment ...

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: ... 1:30 appointment the day before.

REID: Right.

BURNETT: Oh, we'll see. All right, this is ... REID: And with all due respect ...

BURNETT: ... yes.

REID: ... because you have Wednesdays off, we've had most of these weeks have been three-day weeks.


REID: We fully understand people need to live their lives. But this could, to our point earlier, this could give the judge an out, and he says maybe no court Thursday and then do closings and give the jury the case the following week.

BURNETT: Right. Well, this is going to be fascinating.

All right. The former communications director for the Trump administration, Mike, he joins us now.

Mike, what do you make all of this - of all of this? I mean, it is going to be a crucial verdict, whatever it is, and ...


BURNETT: And the fact that it could come down to someone having an appointment one day and then a four-day weekend seems crazy, but yet that is the reality of it.

DUBKE: Well, as they say, the wheels of justice grind slowly. So I think that's what we're faced here with. But at the end of the day - I - the testimony today has just been revealing to me. We seem to have the prosecution resting all of their eggs in this one basket, and it's not working out for them.

BURNETT: And you're referring to the basket of the phone call?

DUBKE: I'm referring to Michael Cohen, frankly. I mean, it's ...

BURNETT: To Michael Cohen overall.

DUBKE: Overall, yes. He was a zealot in his defense of Donald Trump and he seems to be a zealot in his aggressiveness in getting the president convicted here. But, yes, this is - we're going to go an extra two weeks. We're going to have a presidential campaign again run out of a courtroom, and we're looking at the end of May before we get any resolution.

BURNETT: So, Mike, I presume you know Michael Cohen is something that you knew and interacted with. What do you make of his demeanor on the stand, which certainly I could say I saw the other day? And I know we're hearing now that he's even more subdued, but he's been very subdued, very under control. There have been no outbursts or anger or any of these things ...

DUBKE: Right.

BURNETT: ... which the defense has tried to portray him as being. We have not seen that at all on the stand.

DUBKE: It's very - it seems very out of character for Michael Cohen. I do not know him as well as other individuals like Hope Hicks and others who have testified in this case. I had some limited interaction with him. And my limited interaction with him years ago, he was not calm, cool and collected. This is a very different Michael Cohen on the stand.

BURNETT: And so in terms of Trump's reaction, Mike, what do you make of that? I'm just going to the point of, obviously, it's hard to see sometimes. His eyes are closed, and he's leaning back, not fully paying attention, but a lot of today he has been looking towards that witness stand clearly. And there was a moment when Todd Blanche was talking to Michael Cohen about how many times he had recorded phone conversations with journalists and others in the media. And Trump sort of smiled and tapped and looked at one of his attorneys. He was very engaged at that particular moment.

DUBKE: Right.

BURNETT: Does that mean anything to you?

DUBKE: Not anything beyond the fact that I'm sure that Donald Trump knew the line of questioning that they were going to proceed with today. I am sure that he has been active in his defense, and he was very curious to see at how Michael Cohen reacted. So, I think we are now getting to that stage of the testimony, that stage of the trial, where the president's feeling confident.

Donald Trump's feeling confident in the outcome of this, and he knows that Michael Cohen has kind of worked himself into a corner. I think that's what he was more or less paying attention to.


BURNETT: And I should say, Mike, right now we were just watching everybody. What has now become a very familiar cast of characters: Trump, whoever the Republicans of the day who were in the court to support him, Matt Gaetz was there right now along with the attorneys and associates who are supporting his main attorneys, who all just have gone right back into that courtroom.

Mike, I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

DUBKE: Yes, you're welcome. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right, Mike Dubke. And we've got much more of our special coverage ahead because they are now back in the courtroom. They're going to walk right up that aisle, sit down, jury seated and we will be back in business with Cohen on the stand.