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CNN Live Event/Special

Trump's Hush Money Trial; Both Side Rests in Hush Money Trial. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 21, 2024 - 10:30   ET




JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Are with this jury. It's extraordinary that they're still in place. So, will something happen over the next week to out someone or whatnot? Let's hope not.

But at the end of the day, just listening to all the legal discussion here, it explains why the politics of this also are so unclear. And if there's any political fallout for the former president, the defendant, or not, he'll be speaking this weekend at a libertarian conference here in Washington, trying to make his case. But otherwise, he doesn't have any campaign stops on his schedule. But the politics of this, as we sit here today, are still just as unclear as the verdict is.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, the defense rests, the presentation of evidence in the historic hush money cover-up trial is now complete. The prosecution says they will not have any rebuttal witnesses. The jury has been dismissed until next Tuesday, a week from today. And that's when closing arguments are slated to start. Much more CNN Special Live Coverage. After this quick break.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: The case against Donald Trump now headed for a dramatic conclusion, as both the prosecution and the defense have finished with their respective witnesses. Up next, closing arguments will give each side a chance to lay out the facts, as they have been told, to the jury to kind of tie everything that we've heard over these last six weeks together.

On the line is the former president and the presumptive Republican nominee's freedom. We are looking at all of this as we are watching the court. Trump has just left the courtroom. He offered a fist bump as he was exiting and we have two excellent legal experts who are now joining us to walk through everything that we just saw and what could come next, because court has just broken for the day.

We have two former federal prosecutors here with us. Alyse Adamson is back with us from yesterday. Now, Alyse, let me start with you before I get Gene's take on everything that just happened, but, Alyse, as we were looking at what happened today, I mean, no one is surprised, but Donald Trump walked out of that courtroom without answering a question about why he did not testify here after he had kind of teased this idea that he was considering it, that he might and then, of course, ultimately, did not take the witness stand himself?

ALYSE ADAMSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. Well, it's actually very common for a defendant not to testify in a criminal case. I think that going into the trial, the former president probably wanted to testify. We saw him testify to civil fraud trial. We know he has a lot to say, but I am sure his attorneys ran down the risk of putting him on the stand, which would open him up to all sorts of cross- examination.

He's also kind of an uncontrollable witness. So, he could have gone into areas that were not meant for direct examination and then other evidence could have come in. So, it was just too risky.

Why he didn't comment on it? I don't know. I don't want to speculate. Maybe he doesn't want to explain why he ultimately did not want to exercise his right. But it is his right not to testify. And the jury will also be instructed that they can't make any -- take any negative inferences that he decided to not testify in his own defense here.

COLLINS: Well -- and, Gene, you know, they're taking a break now. The jury will not be back in the room until next Tuesday when the summations of this will begin. Do you think the defense ultimately made a mistake by putting Robert Costello on the witness stand and having him be the final witness instead of it being Michael Cohen yesterday, acknowledging that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from the Trump Organization?

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR AND FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA: Kaitlan, you hit the nail on the head. Instead of focusing on Michael Cohen as a thief and a liar, they made a huge mistake. And I want to talk about primacy and recency, and Alyse knows what I'm talking about.

You always start off strong, because you only get one chance at a first impression, and people always remember your last act. By calling Mr. Costello as their last witness, actually, their only witness, they had a minor one, they left with the jury the following. Michael Cohen said, I really didn't trust Mr. Costello. I essentially thought he was a little sleazy and that he was working for Giuliani and Trump. So, I didn't want to give him anything that's going to hurt me in the end. So, that's very understandable.

And when Costello took the stand, Kaitlan, and he acted the way he did, in my 30, 35 years of practicing law as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I've never seen that. He insulted the judge. And frankly, Kaitlan, he insulted the jury. They may not have heard the sidebar. But remember, Kaitlan and Alyse, there are two attorneys on that jury and they figured out why the judge had him leave the room and it was because of the decorum. The defense ended on a horrible, horrible note, and it washed away everything they were trying to do with Michael Cohen. And here's the kicker, they actually rehabilitated Michael Cohen because Mr. Costello did come across as a little bit unsavory.

COLLINS: Alyse, you're shaking your head yes. Do you agree with Gene?

ADAMSON: I couldn't agree with Gene more. I mean, Michael Cohen testified that he didn't trust Costello. And now, the jury got a front row seat as to why. Gene is exactly right. His attitude on the stand was just kind of inexplicable. It was performative. And the jury does not check their common sense at the door.


I'm sure that they could infer from that behavior that Costello was hostile toward the prosecution, hostile toward Cohen and the jury can take demeanor into account when assessing a witness's credibility. He essentially, through his behavior, and then later through the e-mails that were introduced on cross-examination, he played right into Michael Cohen's account, why Michael Cohen didn't trust him enough to tell him that he had this material on Trump, that he had this information, because he was going to run and he was loyal to Trump. And he demonstrated that loyalty for the jury, really bad move, really bad way to end the defense, especially when they had had such a strong day before.

COLLINS: Yes. And they had seen all these e-mails previously in the testimony, they just were resurrected today with Bob Costello was on the stand.

And, Gene, you know, the jury is done until next Tuesday. They're going to have all of this, you know, on their minds as they are waiting for what next Tuesday is going to look like, but the attorneys will be back in there, the parties back in there this afternoon to talk about what, you know, in the moment is not going to be as captivating as the judge, clearing the courtroom and scolding Bob Costello, but it is going to be highly consequential because it is going to deal with the jury instructions and what that's going to look like. And that is something that both sides here have been incredibly invested in, which is what the judge is going to say to the jury before they take the case and make the ultimate decision here.

ROSSI: Kaitlan, I tried a lot of cases and I lost a lot of cases because of appeal issues, bad jury instruction, and there is nothing more painful than convicting somebody. It goes up on appeal and it's reversed because of a bad jury instruction.

And the reason it's painful is it's my fault. I got greedy. I didn't listen to the judge or respect the law or I didn't follow the law. These charging conferences, the jury instruction discussions, if you will, in this case, this could decide whether Donald Trump is convicted, whether we have a hung jury or acquittal, but more important, if he is convicted, on appeal, the jury instructions, if they are fatally flawed, we will have a reversal and we're not going to have a re-trial. I don't think America could take another six weeks of this circus. OK. So, if we have a reversal, the case will be over. But the jury instruction conference today at 2:30 is where the rubber meets the road because we got to know what crime are you alleging was trying -- you were trying to hide. Was it taxes? Was it election at the state level? Was it election at the federal level? We got to know that. And we really are not clear about that, but the jury instructions will help.

The last thing I want to say is the missing witness instruction, if the defense gets that for either Weisselberg or Schiller, the bodyguard, that could be very important for the defense.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. That's a great point. I'm glad you brought that up because Keith Schiller and Allen Weisselberg have hung over this entire trial. And obviously, we know why, at least one of them is not being called, Keith Schiller. It's not totally clear. Obviously, they don't think it would be favorable to the prosecution.

And obviously, Donald Trump has made clear, appeal is on his mind. He's mentioned it twice before going into the courtroom. It's as if he's already looking ahead to what that's going to be regardless, you know, the jury deliberations that are still yet to happen.

Stand by, Alyse and Gene, because that was great analysis of how this morning has played out. But CNN's Kara Scannell was inside the courthouse this morning, she's been in there the entire trial.

And, Kara, just -- can you just walk us through what it was like in the room this morning? I mean, you were in there yesterday in that really dramatic moment with Robert Costello. What was it like when Robert Costello got back on the stand this morning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kaitlan, it was a different energy entirely today. It was very calm. And Costello came in, the judge greeted him good morning, reminded him that he was under oath, and then the prosecutor began her cross-examination, picking up where she left off yesterday.

She was trying to confront Costello with some statements he had made that he wasn't trying to pressure Michael Cohen, and the big question over whether he was representing Cohen or not, because the defense has wanted to show that Cohen was lying. They're trying to undermine his credibility.

And so, what Susan Hoffinger, the prosecutor, was doing is she would ask Costello questions and then confront him with an e-mail that he had sent and then use a phrase Costello had used yesterday in his testimony saying to him, the e-mail speaks for itself, right? And after she did that about two or three times, I did see two of the jurors kind of smirk and smile at each other. They were -- it elicited laughs in the courtroom too and in the overflow room because it was just her turning her -- his words on him.


But for the most part, I mean, that was just about 45 minutes. Pretty quick. Not a lot of fight -- well, not any fireworks at all over this, but just as they're trying to go back and forth over these e-mails, over what Costello meant and whether or not he was pressuring Michael Cohen and whether he was undercutting Cohen's testimony. That was really the focus of it.

But the big news of today, of course, is the defense rests and they didn't call Donald Trump to the witness stand. Trump not testifying in his defense, something that he had floated. We'd seen him testify in these civil trials, but in criminal trials, obviously the stakes are a lot higher and a lot different, and Trump not taking the stand.

So, we are now at the end of this trial. We're taking a break. I will be back inside at 2:15 for this conference on the jury instructions. And as you were talking, I mean, this is very important. It's going to be key about how the jurors are told what is legal, what is not illegal. And this morning the judge said he had thanked both sides for coming together and sending in some suggestions that -- of how they would phrase some of these charges. This came up yesterday. And he asked both the prosecution and Trump's legal team to talk together and see if they could work out exactly what they would phrase about this second element of this crime. What makes it a felony? What are they looking to conceal?

And that is something that he asked them to work on. He thanked them for sending in their submissions. He said it was helpful. He also asked them to use this time now, these couple of hours before we're back in there to work on some of the other language so they can find a meeting ground. So, he said he could redline it and then give them their final instruction. So, it's going to be a technical conference, but a very important conference this afternoon.

COLLINS: Yes. Incredibly important. I know you'll be there watching it all, Kara Scannell. Thank you for that. Because as Kara noted minutes ago in that courtroom, the court wrapped up. It's says the defense arrested its case. But the prosecution rested their case yesterday.

We're tracking this all closely, including that all important meeting this afternoon. You are watching CNN's Special Live Coverage.



COLLINS: Welcome back to CNN's Special Live Coverage. I'm Kaitlan Collins in New York. The case against the former president of the United States is now close to the finish line. The presentation of evidence took weeks, and the prosecution ultimately called 20 witnesses over 19 days, totaling 50 hours of testimony.

The defense called two witnesses over two days, totaling less than two hours of testimony, but it still had its impact. One witness we did not hear from, who said he wanted initially to testify here, was the defendant himself, Donald Trump.

CNN's Dana Bash is also tracking all of this from Washington. Dana, I don't think anyone is surprised that Trump did not ultimately get on the witness stand here.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, nobody is surprised at all. And Elie Honig here is very happy because somehow he ended up promising to shave his head if Donald Trump did -- under duress, did testify.

We want to -- as we sort of digest the fact that this is very shortly -- well, in a week, but, you know, is now in the hands ultimately of the jury after they hear the closing statements, go back to some of what we heard from the most important witness in this case, and that's Michael Cohen.

And this particular part that I'm going to read is about one of the core questions that the prosecution want the jury to believe, which is that these hush money payments were done in order to benefit Donald Trump's campaign and that Donald Trump was very involved in it. So, this is Hoffinger, Susan Hoffinger. She is a prosecutor. Did you call Mr. Trump before you went and set up the account to make a transfer? Cohen, yes. Hoffinger, what in substance did you discuss with him on these two calls? Cohen, I wanted to ensure that, once again, he approved what I was doing because I required approval from him on all of this. Hoffinger, would you have made that payment to Stormy Daniels without getting sign off from Mr. Trump? Cohen, no. Hoffinger, why not? Cohen, because everything required Mr. Trump's sign off. On top of that, I wanted the money back.

I'm going to start with you, Bill, because I want you to kind of dissect that from the perspective of you're in Donald Trump's shoes, you're the defense, you're the defense attorney watching this moment, maybe watching the jury that the way that they took this in. How critical was this moment?

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP PAYROLL CORP. ATTORNEY AND CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, if you dissect that statement, Dana, there's a lot of mumbo jumbo in there. He's saying on the one hand, this was of crucial importance to Donald Trump. He needed Donald Trump's involvement, Donald Trump's approval, but he's got to go out behind his wife's back and get a home equity loan to pay it.

Why don't you just go say to the guy who's so concerned about this, it's of such crucial, high-ranking priority, hey, how about the 130 grand? You know, let's have it so I can pay it. It doesn't jive. And then when you plug in now, you know, Lanny Davis, who I have tremendous affection and respect for, has been harping on this alleged Weisselberg document, that's the smoking gun, that's what does it.


We learned yesterday that that document is on its face, not what it appears to be. Because Mr. Cohen stole $30,000 or $60,000, because he was allegedly ginned up for the taxes, from his client. So, now, again, we have what appears to be mutually exclusive. The prosecution took great pains to have that author come on and say, Donald Trump worries about every 50 -- he cashes 50 cent checks, he just got clipped for 60 grand by his counsel. There's a lot to work with there on closing. ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Dana, I think the excerpt that you showed us of the transcript is a perfect example of what Michael Cohen means to this trial, why he's so important. Because he is the only one who, through his testimony, can directly tie Donald Trump to not just the payments, but also the accounting behind the payments.

Now, he's corroborated. And if we look at that example you just gave us, there are phone records showing that there was indeed a phone call, two phone calls actually, between Cohen and Trump right before he made that first withdrawal. So, this is what the prosecution is doing. They're taking as much evidence as they can and then Cohen is trying to fill it in.

BASH: OK. Everybody standby. We have a lot more to discuss. We have to take a quick break. Just a reminder, the defense just rested and they did it without playing the trump card. You're watching CNN Special Live Coverage of the former president's hush money trial. Don't go anywhere.