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CNN Live Event/Special

Michael Cohen Admits To Stealing From Trump Organization; Iran: President Ebrahim Raisi Killed In Helicopter Crash; ICC Seeks Arrest Warrants For Hamas & Israeli Leaders. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 20, 2024 - 13:30   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And we're back now with our breaking news coverage of Donald Trump's hush money trial.

Before court broke just before lunch, prosecutors had begun questioning Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for a second time. In this redirect, they were trying to repair any additional damage that had been done to Cohen's credibility during the cross-examination.

Joining us now is a former communications director for Trump, the Trump administration, Mike Dubke. He's the founding partner of the Blackrock Group.

Mike, obviously, the goal of the defense was to really ding Michael Cohen yet again. They did it on several occasions. First, last week, when it came to that key call that he said he had had with Trump about the Stormy Daniels case.

And then the second time came today when they pointed out that he had stolen money from the Trump Organization. What do you think has been the impact on Cohen's, frankly, already pretty damaged credibility in this case?

MIKE DUBKE, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, he didn't -- he certainly didn't come into this case with the sterling reputation.

And I think the things that people have been saying about Michael Cohen for a long time are -- are really showing up on the stand.

There were two very strong points made by the -- by the defense. And I've got to assume that the Trump team is very happy with the corner that they've painted Michael Cohen in.

PHILLIP: One thing I want to ask you, though, about that, earlier in the hour, we had Judge -- a judge who was in the courtroom watching the proceedings.

And he pointed out that Michael Cohen's description of what this stolen payment was for also had the added effect of digging up Donald Trump as well. Trump wanted to basically fix a poll that he didn't like from CNBC.

Do you think that this is kind of everybody who's getting dirty in these proceedings as these questions are being placed to Michael Cohen and he's explaining both his bad motives, but also perhaps Donald Trump's as well?

DUBKE: Well, perhaps. I don't know. My one takeaway from that -- from that one communication was that, here's once again, Michael Cohen going out on his own and trying to pay Red Finch, I think was their name, for the work that was done?


DUBKE: It's a -- so I'm actually surprised that there hasn't been a follow-up about this question of whether or not Michael Cohen was acting on his own when he was arranging the payment to Stormy Daniels.

All this case, this case by the district attorney, is really -- he's manipulated it like a pretzel to turn a misdemeanor into a felony. And it all is wrapped around Michael Cohen.

And time and time again, we see that he's not -- not just not a credible witness. He's not a credible person when it comes to a lot of this.

So again, I -- I don't know that that really -- I don't know what the jurors are taking in, and I don't know what they knew about him before, but I can imagine they've got a good taste in their mouth after sitting for 16, 17 hours listening to his explanations.

PHILLIP: Yes, I've extremely lengthy questioning here of Michael Cohen.


PHILLIP: What do you thank is going on in Trump world right now as a result of just the last couple of hours of cross-examination and a little bit of the redirect from the prosecution?

DUBKE: Well, I suspect that what the Trump team is doing right now is they're looking at the end game of the legal battle and letting the lawyers handle that.

But they're also paying attention to what the American public is thinking about right now. You know, made -- we've talked about this before. There's two juries here. There's -- there's -- there's the jury in the courtroom and then there's the American public.

And I think what they're putting together now, if I was them, the Trump team is putting together talking points that you have Michael Cohen, who's stolen money from Trump, he -- no one else has, in this case, has pointed to Donald Trump knowing anything about this.

And he's -- you know the call, the infamous call, was about a 14-year- old bully. So I think what they're going to try to do is they're going to paint this is all on a former employee who is very upset at Donald Trump.


That the prosecution has built this case on it. It's a -- it's a political case from the beginning. They turned -- you know, the prosecutors turned away from grand larceny, $60,000 that Michael Cohen admitted to them he stole.

And now, you know, how do you view this as anything but a political - a political case, using the law to go after your political opponents? I think that's probably what they're talking about and what they're going to try to spin when this case is all over.

PHILLIP: So I was in the courtroom, in the overflow room, watching as Donald Trump was, frankly, at many occasions, nodding off during this testimony.

At certain points and then at other points, he was focused on Michael Cohen. But a lot of it, his eyes were closed. He was leaning back. He was drifting off into sleep at certain points.

What do you think is going through his mind as some of this testimony is going on? I mean, is some of this for show or is he truly bored by these proceedings where his liberty is in jeopardy?

DUBKE: I've got to imagine that he is, a, furious if he's finding out only now for the first time that Michael Cohen stole $60,000 from him.

And he's got to operate -- I would also imagine that he's going through his mind, thinking of how he presents himself to the jury since he's -- since he is on trial here.

I think we're making a lot about this nodding -- this nodding off or this closing of the eyes, the leaning back, that, you know, all-- all of this. I don't know that there's anything in particular that we can draw into that, frankly.

It's a long court case. It's been going on for weeks. And we're near the end. And I just think he's trying to present themselves in the best possible way to the jury.

PHILLIP: All right. Mike Dubke, good to see you. Thank you very much.

DUBKE: Thank you, Abby. Good to see you.

PHILLIP: And ahead, much more of our special coverage of the Trump hush money trial.

And another story that we are following very closely now, the death of the Iran's president after a helicopter crash. We will have a live report on that coming up next.


[13:41:50] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're also following new developments right now surrounding the death of the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The country's military has reportedly ordered an investigation into what caused Sunday's death deadly crashed.

President Raisi, his foreign minister and seven others were all killed when their helicopter went down in a remote mountainous region. There was very heavy fog at the time. Technical experts and other officials are expected to visit the crash site.

Meantime, the bodies of the victims will be transferred to President Raisi's hometown tomorrow, according to Iranian media.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann is covering these developments for us.

Oren, what are you hearing? What's the latest?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. is watching this very closely.

But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was the first senior us official to make comments on camera about the crash, was very careful in the words he chose in what he wanted to say about the crash of President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter.

He said the U.S. has no insights into what possibly caused this crash or what might have happened that led up to the events and the crash itself. He said the U.S. is watching this very closely.

But in terms of the investigation of what happened, he said, the U.S. will leave that to the Iranians and wait to see what information the Iranians put forward.

Of course, he was asked several times about this at a press conference that wrapped just a short time ago. And he said, look, there is no answer or cause that the U.S. has right now.

And he said it could be any number of things, from mechanical failure to pilot error or a number of other possibilities that could have led to this crash. The U.S., at this point, simply does not know.

He was asked, point blank, if the U.S. had any involvement or what the U.S. would do if Iran decided to blame it or Israel for being involved in this crash. And he said, very bluntly, that the U.S. had no part in this crash and that's a fact.

He made that one of the clearest statements throughout the course of the press conference that the U.S. was not involved in his crash.

We saw President Joe Biden was briefed on it in the hours afterwards. But even at that point yesterday, there was no public comment as the U.S. waited to see how this unfolded, what happened and what happened to those on board the accident -- onboard the helicopter.

At this point, Austin still keeping his distance and saying were watching what's happening, the U.S. is monitoring what's happening. But at this point, Wolf, no insight into what caused that helicopter crash on Sunday.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Oren, before I let you go, this was an old U.S.-made helicopter that had been provided to Iran when U.S.-Iranian relations were very strong during the regime of the shah, the late shah, right?

LIEBERMANN: From what we understand, that's correct. And that shouldn't be too much of a surprise, and that's because much of Iran's Air Force, including many of their fighter jets, are old U.S. fighter jets, F-4s, F-14s, F-5s.

These are fighter jets and aircraft, including helicopters, that the U.S. retired decades ago. And yet, Iran still uses them. And because of U.S. sanctions, it's difficult to get the necessary equipment and the necessary tools to keep these up-to-date.

Could that have played a part? Certainly. Do we know for sure? At this point, no. The U.S. waiting to see what Iranian investigators find before coming to its own conclusion -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So the U.S. sanctions against Iran right now prevent spare parts and other equipment from going to Iran. Is that right?


LIEBERMANN: Correct. The U.S. isn't going to help Iran from maintaining old U.S. fighter jets, even if they were originally American equipment. And I suspect that applies to helicopters as well.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right.

Oren Liebermann, at the Pentagon, thank you very, very much.

Abby, back to you.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Wolf.

And we are also following major developments in the Israel-Hamas war. Just moments ago, President Biden called the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant applications against Israeli leaders outrageous. He also pledged to stand with Israel.

The statement is coming after the ICC announced that it is seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas officials.

And that includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for the assault on Gaza.

Now the court is also seeking warrants for Hamas' top political and military leaders for crimes against humanity for the October 7th terrorist attack.

The courts' chief prosecutor discusses the warrants in an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARIM KHAN, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: The way I basically tried to do things is look at the evidence, look at the conduct, look at the victims and airbrush out the nationality. And if a crime has been committed, we should move forward.

Nobody is above the law. No people by dint to birth or passport, religion, nationality, or the color of their skin have a get-out-of- jail-free card, have a free pass to say, well, the law doesn't apply to us.

Israel has every right and, indeed, an obligation to get hostages back. But you must do so by complying with the law.

The fact that Hamas fighters need water doesn't justify denying water from all the civilian population of Gaza.


PHILLIP: Israeli and Hamas leaders have denounced the ICC arrest warrant applications. Netanyahu also has vowed to continue the war until, quote, "the hostages are released and Hamas is destroyed."

And up next for us, we'll return to our coverage of the Donald Trump hush money trial. The trial is expected to resume just a few minutes from now. We'll have much more ahead.



BLITZER: In less than half an hour, in a few minutes, indeed, court is expected to resume in Donald Trump's first criminal trial.

Just before the lunch break, attorneys were arguing over whether a photo showing Keith Schiller with Donald Trump on a key date could be admitted as evidence.

The picture is a screen grab from C-SPAN footage of Trump's Tampa rally on October 24, 2016. We looked through footage of that event. And someone who looks like Keith Schiller can be seen on stage as Trump walks off after the rally.

Our experts are with us once again.

Elie, what do you make of this? The date, the -- Schillers a top aide in the Oval Office to then-President Trump, the former charge of security at the Trump Organization.

A long relationship with Trump.

What do you make of this?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So this is a crucial phone call, a crucial moment in this trial. Michael Cohen testified on direct examination, being questioned by prosecutors, that on October 24, 2016, at 8:02 p.m., he was shown phone records.

I had this crucial call. I called Keith Schiller's cell phone. He was Donald Trump's right-hand man. And then Schiller put me on with Trump or put me on speaker. Cohen didn't remember. And I basically said to Trump, OK, Stormy Daniels' situation is resolved.

On cross-examination now, Donald Trump's lawyers got up and they confronted Michael Cohen with a series of texts. And if we look at the timeline, we can see they basically lead up to that 8:02 call and then after the 8:02 call.

And what they revealed is that you, Michael Cohen, were texting with Keith Schiller leading up to that 8:02 p.m. call about something totally different, about this 14-year-old who was harassing you with texts.

And then you had the call at 8:02. And then right after the call, Cohen sent the phone number of the 14-year-old to Keith Schiller. So they argued, what you were really doing was talking to Keith Schiller about the 14-year-old, not Donald Trump about the Stormy Daniels payment.

Now, to the photograph, prosecutors want to show this photograph, which is pulled off of C-SPAN, showing that, at 7:57, five minutes before this call, Donald Trump and Keith Schiller were physically together.

Because prosecutors want to argue Cohen could have talked to both of them at the same time, which is a good point for prosecutors. It doesn't really undo the effects of the cross-examination but it does give them a bit of a fallback.

I mean, I don't think Cohen would even argue with that. Like, he could have talked to them both at the same time. But prosecutors want to score this point. Schiller and Trump were physically together, could have talked to both of them about both the 14 and Stormy Daniels.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But it was a short phone call, right?

HONIG: It's a minute, 30 seconds.

BORGER: A minute, 30 seconds.

HONIG: Yes --


HONIG: The duration doesn't bother me. I don't have so much of a hard time understanding how they could have -- I think they easily could have talked about both things in a minute, 3o seconds.

The bigger problem was Michael Cohen said nothing about the 14-year- old on his direct testimony. He said nothing about this phone call at all in front of the grand jury.

And so the defense argument is this is something Cohen made up on the fly.

BLITZER: How do you think the judge is going to rule on this?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I have a hard time seeing how the judge keeps it out. It's important to look at what the basis might be for keeping evidence out. Is it hearsay? Is it not authenticated? Is it bad evidence? Is it fabricated, whatever else?

And certainly it speaks to a key point. It's relevant to the trial. It helps prove or disprove something that's an issue at trial, which is whether or when this conversation happened.

So I would think the judge would let it in. But again, it's a judgment call entirely up to the judge.


But the second, to Elie's points, it doesn't really change this question of what they talked about on the call but, sure, it helps the prosecution almost have a gotcha moment.

Saying, but look, here's a photograph of the two of them just five minutes before this phone call. Ladies and gentlemen, you ought to believe that they -- that they did speak --


BORGER: Well, it makes the case that Donald Trump was in the know about the money to Stormy, right?

Because what -- what Michael Cohen is testifying to that he basically said to him, done, it's done, it's a done deal. It doesn't take a lot of time to say that.

But it kind of draws him into this conspiracy.

WILLIAMS: It doesn't disprove the defense narrative --


WILLIAMS: -- but it helps the prosecution.

BORGER: Exactly.


BLITZER: -- to a certain degree.

How do -- how is the Trump world right now reacting to this cross- examination?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, they think, overall, they've been fairly happy, the advisers that I've spoken to about the entire testimony of Michael Cohen. Because this is something that his credibility is central now. It's been called into question. But again, we have no idea what the jurors think of this. And as the retired judge was just saying a few moments ago, Wolf, when you were speaking to him, he thought it fell flat in there when Michael Cohen said that he essentially stole money from the Trump Organization.

So it really doesn't matter what the Trump advisers think of it. It's more what their client thinks. And he probably was pleased at the fact that Michael Cohen has been embarrassed. He's been -- he's been outed as a -- as a fraud, a liar, a stealer.

But again, overall, the -- the question I guess hanging over this now as we head into this week, is Trump going to testify or not? Nothing that has happened, nothing that -- has indicated that that is going to happen.

His bluster of saying he's testifying, he's long stopped saying that. So that would be a true stunner. There's been some minor stunners but that would be a true stunner if he testifies. I can't imagine it.

BORGER: You know, the other point that the judge made, which I thought was interesting and valid, is that this whole exchange about Red Finch fixing the poll shows Donald Trump to be a cheater.

And that's not good for Donald Trump, someone who complains about stolen elections, et cetera, et cetera. That it's not good for him, his reputation, either.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, standby.

There's a lot more we're following right now. The action in the courtroom is about to resume. Much more on the Donald Trump hush money trial after a quick break.