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CNN Live Event/Special

Trump Lawyer Cross-Examines Michael Cohen; Defense Presses Cohen On All The Times He Lied Under Oath. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And we're back now with our breaking news coverage of former President Trump's Hush Money Trial. Back with our panel now. And court had taken a quick break. It has now resumed with Todd Blanche, Trump's lawyer up there at the podium and he's saying to Michael Cohen, I want to talk for a few minutes about the $130,000 payment that you made to Stormy Daniels. Of course we're curious where this is going.

I don't know if anyone has thoughts about that or if we should revisit what happened before lunch.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I have a guess. I think they're going to talk about the way Michael Cohen got that money. He drew down on his own home mortgage. He did not tell his wife about that. The banker who arranged that loan for Michael Cohen, Gary Farrow is his name I somehow remember, testified earlier in this trial and basically said Michael Cohen lied to me. He didn't tell me it had anything to do with what it had to do with, etc.

Also the theory -- there's no question Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000. The defense theory is going to be that's something that Michael Cohen did on his own and that either Trump didn't know about it or if Trump did know about it the argument will be he didn't understand the mechanics behind it which is really where the crime lies. Now there's documents that undercut that defense but that'll be the argument.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, the question is did Donald Trump know you were taking out a home equity loan to do this? Did he know the details or did he live up there and you were down here doing exactly what you felt you needed to do and therefore Trump can't be implicated in this because he knew nothing about it.

KEILAR: Even if say just Allen Weisselberg knew that Michael Cohen had taken out a HELOC and this is how he was paying it off and it needed to be 420 grand to cover the taxes, there was also some kind of bonus in there, some other stuff. Even if there's just the establishment of Weisselberg knowing all the ins and outs and Trump just saying all right got it because he trusts Weisselberg -- who by the way we have not heard from and don't expect to -- would that be enough to implicate Trump?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It depends how he said it and how the evidence of it gets into the record. Again as a matter of common sense absolutely it's really all a question of what's put in front of the jury. Again you know, I keep saying the words common sense because one of the attorneys will argue this in their closing saying ladies and gentlemen just trust your gut. Think about what you've seen and what you've been shown and you can plausibly believe that Donald Trump believed these things.

HONIG: Prosecutors want to get knowledge of the illegality here over to Weisselberg because Weisselberg is also close to Trump. If the proof is that all Trump knew was, yes, we're paying off Stormy Daniels, go ahead and I want to keep her quiet for the election, that's not enough. They have to impute some knowledge of the way it was structured, the accounting of it, in order to make Trump liable for again 34 counts of falsifying business records.

If you can get it to Weisselberg though you're a good step closer to that.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: I was just going to say this also brings to mind the testimony during the I think Hope Hicks cross-examination and also the prosecution about what his potential motivations might be. And there was commentary about how he probably would not have done something like this out of the goodness of his heart or loyalty etc. So there's some work here that the defense needs to do in helping people to understand what his motive may have been and how he handled this money.

KEILAR: As we take a step back just looking at the kind of day that it has been and who it has benefited, I do want to zero in on something that our Kara Scannell noted which was as they did just take a quick break in court you had Todd Blanche and Donald Trump walking back in she said side-by-side. Which was something that she really hasn't seen regularly in this. Normally Trump goes in front of his lawyers and Todd Blanche was laughing at something that was said between them.

We also saw another moment where Donald Trump sort of gave like a raised fist I think to show strength as he was a heading back into the courtroom after lunch. It just sort of speaks to what this moment before lunch has meant for this entire day and this entire trial.

BORGER: I think you could interpret that to Donald Trump giving an attaboy to Todd Blanche. You know, there have been stories that he thought that Blanche wasn't aggressive enough and today as we saw Blanche was quite aggressive against Michael Cohen. And that succeeded to a great degree when you talked about the 14-year-old prankster on that phone call and Keith Schiller etc.


CORNISH: A massive juxtaposition given what happened during the Stormy Daniels testimony which came off as a, you know, arguably embarrassing or humiliating for the former president and which his attorneys repeatedly demanded a mistrial for various reasons because of the things that came out of it. So you're right and I think that our folks who are in the courtroom and seeing this are seeing a tonal kind of shift and atmosphere shift. KEILAR: And he's engaged today watching. He's looking at this testimony. Things are going well for him. I just wonder how we got to this point and what you think. You've seen a lot of thing develop in court. You've seen a lot of trials. Have you ever seen something like this kind of a twist like this?

HONIG: I don't think I've ever seen a star cooperating witness get his knees chopped out quite as clearly and dramatically as what just happened with Michael Cohen. I've certainly seen very effective cross- examinations of cooperating witnesses. I've seen aspects of their story cut into and called into question but this goes to the heart of the allegation here.

That phone call on October 24th and it looks to the jury and to Anderson Cooper and Kara Scannell and Judge George Grasso, who are all in the in the courthouse, that that was a devastating moment. And there's also, I want to hear Elliot's view on that as well.

We're in an interesting moment right now. We're 25 minutes away from the end of the court day which ends at 4 today. I believe that Todd Blanche is going to keep his cross going so that when they come back into court four or five days from now on Monday, if he finds new stuff in the next four days, he will have the ability to continue the cross.

KEILAR: Yes, and keep it fresh in the mind of the jury. We should just let our viewers know this is a moment that has just played out in court which was -- there there's been this effort on the part of the defense to really portray Stormy Daniels and her counsel, former counsel as extortionists. And to that point you just had Todd Blanche before this bring up that.

Didn't you say something like that? And he said, yes, I did.

He did sort of refer to them as trying to extort Trump. And now referring to the Daniels statement, Blanche asking, make no mistake this was a completely legal binding contract and Cohen agreeing.

WILLIAMS: Hush money payments, legal contracts between consenting parties, legal even when they involve sex and porn stars and so on. And what the defense is getting at here is that -- and they use the term consideration earlier in the trial. Was this a contract with consideration a thing of value, exchange and then put on paper between parties? That's all this is. I think we're this is the defense's argument. Ladies and gentlemen don't get lost in all this minutiae about campaigns as people contracting with each other.

BORGER: Perfectly legal and even common.


WILLIAMS: What's shady but--

KEILAR: Maybe shady but as he said this happens all the time.

KEILAR: The non-disclosure agreement. Thank you all so much for walking through this day with us. Obviously, a very important one today in this criminal trial of former President Trump.

Ahead we're going to take you back to New York where our reporters are outside the courthouse, also inside watching all of this unfolding. We'll be right back.



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And welcome back. Right now, the defense is continuing its cross-examination of Trump's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. Kristen and Paula are with me.

And Paula, you know, for a few minutes, it was sort of a collective, where is Todd Blanche going? But right now, you think you know exactly the point he's trying to make about Michael Cohen, work he did for the Trump family, and how he was paid for it.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because when Cohen was on direct, he testified that he falsified invoices that said he was doing legal work, and that's why he was receiving the $35,000 checks. He said, he testified, that he was in fact not doing legal work for Trump. But what the defense is going to highlight here is they're going to say, wait a second, you were doing some legal work, maybe not directly for the then-president, but for people in and around him.

And Cohen had also testified that he did not have a formal retainer agreement, right, that these invoices were not being submitted pursuant to a retainer agreement. Now, a retainer agreement is just what you enter into with a lawyer. You give them a couple grand so you know that they are engaged in a relationship with you, they're going to work with you.

But here, Blanche is pointing out that from the day you went to work for Trump, you never had a retainer agreement, so in no way is that significant. That is the pun she is trying to land here.

BURNETT: Right. And that, obviously, Kristen, is very crucial to all of this, because it comes down to the accounting and the falsification of the actual payment itself.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, we saw a little bit of this two days ago with Blanche saying, you've done work outside of just for Trump, right? You've done legal work for Melania. He asked Cohen to say exactly who he had done legal work for.

He said Don Jr., Melania, perhaps even Eric Trump. Now Blanche is mentioning that he had done some legal work for The Apprentice. What the argument is going to end up being is that while Michael Cohen says he wasn't doing any legal work for Trump, was he actually doing legal work for the family or for the Trump entity at the time?

And we do know there was at least one contract that Michael Cohen has already testified that he had worked on involving Melania Trump and Madame Tussauds' agreement. Not sure exactly what the agreement was, the wax figure. But, again, this trial, there's so many different angles here.


HOLMES: Exactly. But we know at least one contract was negotiated by Michael Cohen at the time, not for Donald Trump, but for Melania Trump. Now the argument is going to be or the question is going to be whether or not there were other instances where Michael Cohen was actually doing some legal work, whether it's light work or not, that could have been those payments instead.


BURNETT: And what is the goal of this particular cross, at least as you can try to figure out what it is right now, with the jury? And he's obviously looking at the clock right now, realizing this day is going to end very soon, and he's not going to see this jury again till Monday, so this is where he's choosing to land for the end of this day.

REID: There's a little bit of me that thinks he might be filibustering to make sure that he is still on cross when this day ends, so that the jury will continue to think about this for the next three days, and then he'll be right back before them on Monday, because some of this does feel a little duplicative right now.

He's going through the letter that coincided to the FEC in response to concerns about that $130,000 payment, and we know from his direct, prosecutors tried to get out in front of this one, that he was not completely honest in his response. So this will be flagging another lie. But this whole argument about the retainer agreement, this speaks actually, we finally get to the falsifying business records.

The allegation is that Trump made these documents be falsified, right? He was in charge of this conspiracy that he forced this to happen, even if he didn't specifically direct it. That is the prosecutor's theory of the case.

So the defense is rebutting that by saying, well these were not false. You were doing legal services, you may have been submitting what you say are falsified invoices for legal services, but we argue that you were actually conducting legal services, so there was no conspiracy. Our client did not try to falsify anything.

HOLMES: And all of this is going to having to meet that burden of proof, right? Can you prove that Donald Trump was involved in this beyond a reasonable doubt? So some of this, even though it seems like it might not be connected, this is Todd Blanche trying to really needle Michael Cohen to make him an unreliable witness, because he is the only witness that can link Donald Trump to this.

And remember, they only need one sympathetic juror, one person to believe that Michael Cohen is a liar, that he was lying then, or that the case just can't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, because this is what the entire case hinges on.

So even in some of these lines of questioning where we're wondering where is he going with this, these are also just opportunities that Todd Blanche is taking to point out that this is not a reliable person, and you are supposed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is not lying just in this one instance.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you so much. And more of our special coverage continues as court is still in session right now.

And inside the room, how is the jury reacting to the testimony that Paula and Kristen are going through right now? A jury consultant is next.



KEILAR: And welcome back. As we follow former President Trump's hush money trial, we have got to talk about the jury perspective here. For that, let's bring in jury consultant and attorney Robert Hirschhorn.

And Robert, I wonder what you think about this kind of a defense bombshell that occurred just before the lunch break that really brings into question this approximately 90-minute phone call that Michael Cohen made to Keith Schiller -- kind of the right-hand man there of Donald Trump -- where he says that he was explaining to Trump the financial resolution of the Stormy Daniels deal. But now that's very much, you know, questionable. I wonder what the jury would be thinking about this.

ROBERT HIRSCHHORN, JURY CONSULTANT AND ATTORNEY: Oh, the jury is very clear, Brianna, that that was not honest testimony from Michael Cohen. You know, Michael spent a decade lying to help Trump. And the last couple of years, he's been practicing to hurt Trump.

And all his performance today did is accomplish that. He's what I call the gloat, the greatest liar of all time. And I'm telling you, Brianna, the jury saw that because that phone call was one of the foundations of the state's case. And that part of their house has just crumbled.

KEILAR: Yes, an approximately 90-second phone call. I think I may have said minute there. I wonder, as we are getting these updates, the judge is calling court for the day now. Cross-examination is not over, which means that the defense will continue.

This means, because there is no court tomorrow, Robert, this is what the court will sit with over the weekend. What is the effect of that? This is what the jury will sit with. What's the effect?

HIRSCHHORN: Yes, yes. No, I know. It's huge for the jury because the last thing, look, I think of everything that happened today, the only thing they're going to take away is that 90-second phone call with Keith.

And I'll tell you something else, Brianna. I've been coming on the show throughout this entire trial and I keep saying, you know, where's Alan? Where's Alan? State better call Alan -- because we know they're not. But now, now the question is, why doesn't the state call Keith? If Cohen's version of that phone call is true, that he talked about both of them, the state better call Keith as one of their witnesses in their case before they rest. Because if they don't, it's going to create a huge problem for this jury and a bigger problem for the state.

KEILAR: Yes, Alan Weisselberg, of course, who handled all financial matters for Donald Trump. What does the jury think when there's kind of this missing person, like an Alan Weisselberg, like a Keith Schiller, if the prosecution does not establish why they are not calling that person?

HIRSCHHORN: The jury is going to assume that the reason they didn't call him is because they wouldn't help the state's case. They would help the defendant's case. And, you know, the defendant -- look, to all the listeners, you would think, well, then why doesn't Trump call him?

I'll tell you why he doesn't call him because he has no burden of proof. The burden of proof is on the state to prove their case. They have the burden to call all the relevant witnesses. And here's two relevant witnesses I don't think they're going to call.


I don't think they're going to call Alan Weisselberg and I don't think they're going to call Keith.

KEILAR: Is there a way in the eyes of the jury that you think the prosecution can rehab from this moment with Michael Cohen?

HIRSCHHORN: So I've heard some pundits talking about that. I'm with juries all the time. I've been doing this over 30 years. I've picked hundreds and hundreds of juries. And all I can tell you is, no matter what his explanation at this point is, all it's going to do is reinforce for the jury that the man is making it up.

Because remember, Brianna, he's never said this before. He didn't say it to the grand jury. And here's the other thing. This is like the case of the century against the most famous person in the world. You would think the state would turn over every single stone. They would read every text message and email. How did they miss this one? OK. It's a big problem for them, huge.

So they can try to explain it when they come back next week after it's been sunk in the juror's mind all weekend, even though the judge is going to tell them, you know, don't think about this case, go on with your life.

But I'm telling you, Brianna, these jurors are going to think about that 90-second phone call, and those 90 seconds are going to really resonate for President Trump.

KEILAR: Yes, and that may be what breaks the case for the prosecution if they continue with this mindset. HIRSCHHORN: Can I just say one other thing, Brianna?

KEILAR: Robert, I'm so sorry, but we, Robert, we're completely out of time. And I still apologize. I want to hear what you have to say, but we're out of time. Robert Hirschhorn, really appreciate your input there.

And for much more of our special coverage of the Trump hush money trial ahead, stay tuned. That'll come after a quick break.



KEILAR: Welcome back to our special coverage. Court has just ended. Jurors are about to have a long weekend to think back on Michael Cohen's cross-examination and one potentially pivotal moment when the defense attorney Todd Blanche got Cohen to admit he didn't fully remember a key phone call that directly tied Donald Trump to a hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels.

Michael Cohen is going to be back on the stand Monday morning when cross examination continues, and the prosecution certainly has its work cut out for them.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.