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CNN Live Event/Special

Both Sides Rest in Trump Hush Money Trial. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 21, 2024 - 11:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: A notable morning in court during the historic hush money trial happening right here behind me in Manhattan.

This is CNN's special live coverage. And headline number one this morning, the defense has rested. That sets up a dramatic tilt next week between the prosecution and the defense during their closing arguments, which is really their final chance to convince the jury to convict or, for the defense, to acquit the former president of the United States.

Headline number two, Donald Trump did not testify, despite a "Will he/won't he?" debate that was mostly "Won't he?" that has been going on throughout the duration of this trial, as he said at the beginning that he wanted to testify. Of course, we saw that he ultimately did not. No one really expected him to take the witness stand.

But they did put one witness on the stand at the end, Robert Costello, that they believed would help undermine Michael Cohen's credibility, though he may have done more damage to his own in the brief two hours that he was ultimately on that witness stand, as the jury was sitting right there to his left watching him face cross-examination from the prosecution this morning, and the -- then again the defense having their chance to question Robert Costello.

He was the last witness that the jury heard from and that they will hear from for the next week. They are not going to be back in the courtroom until next Tuesday. That is when those closing arguments will begin. And the judge said today he does expect the case to be in their hands by next Wednesday.

CNN's John Berman and Kristen Holmes are here with me.

And, Kristen, we have been watching this will he, won't he bring Bob Costello to the stand? And there were people in Trump's team who did not want Robert Costello to testify. But now that is the final taste left in the jury's mouth for an entire week, really.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, ultimately, what we all know is that, while it is hard to be Donald Trump's lawyer anyway, it's particularly hard with a client like Donald Trump.

And we know that he was pleased with Costello's testimony before Congress, which was part of the reason that they ended up calling Costello to the stand. Donald Trump wanted to hear somebody on the stand call Michael Cohen a liar and no other terms.

And that was exactly what Costello did. Now, he obviously, as you said, did more than that. But I am told that Donald Trump overall is feeling a couple of things. One, when it comes to what the verdict is going to be, he fundamentally believes that he's going to be convicted in some way, because he does believe that the jury is unfair.

He surrounds himself in kind of an echo chamber. He has heard, he has decided that the jury is left-leaning and that they will ultimately likely convict him.

However, when it comes to whether or not he is happy with what his lawyers did out there, I am told that he was feeling very good after the cross-examination of Michael Cohen, particularly that moment when Cohen admitted that he had stolen from the Trump Organization.

In Trump's mind, that was a clear deciding factor that showed that Michael Cohen was lying, and it also made him very happy with his legal team, which, as you know, is not always the case.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Look, I wonder how he will feel about his legal team by the end of today or tomorrow...

HOLMES: Of course.

BERMAN: ... when there are more reviews in about what happened with Robert Costello on the stand.

I'm trying to figure out if this was a minor flub and a distraction or something that could have lasting implications. If your last guy on the stand in this entire case is a guy who implodes, which he basically did yesterday, and the jury saw at least some of it...


BERMAN: ... how good can that be if you then disappear for a week, and that it wasn't just a performance either?

Susan Hoffinger, the prosecutor, on cross was able to go after Costello and at least plant the seed of this pressure campaign from Rudy Giuliani and others and Trump world on Michael Cohen in those days in 2018 when Michael Cohen was talking with Robert Costello.

It just raises so many questions maybe for the jury, depending on how closely they're watching this, that they're going to sit on for six days. I mean, they're going into this period.

First of all, I don't quite understand how anyone can go -- you know, what is today? Today's Tuesday? Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday without Googling anything on this case? Aren't they human beings?


I mean, it's going to be hard for them to stay completely quiet. I'm very curious to see what they're thinking about most. COLLINS: Yes, the judge tells them every time that they leave the

room not to talk to one another about the case, not to research it, not to read into it.

But, I mean, it's 2024. It's obviously hard. They're not sequestered. It's a hard thing for them to do, especially it's Memorial Day weekend. You're going to want to be talking to people.

But on the sense of calling Bob Costello as the final witness, it seems to be revealing just a larger thing with Trump, where he thinks one thing is the right answer, but, legally and strategically speaking, his attorneys can think something else.

But, ultimately, they go with what the boss wants.

HOLMES: Well, they have to, because, at the end of the day, they want to please their client.

And he is a demanding client. One of the things that we see often while he's been sitting through this trial is him elbowing his lawyers, passing them notes. We also know it's not just Trump who is talking to his lawyers.

He has a cadre of different family members, as well as Republican lawmakers, as well as legal advisers, and I'm putting that in loose quotes, people who are around him who might have law degrees, but are not currently representing him in this case, who are also giving their opinions to both the boss, Donald Trump, and to their lawyers.

And it really depends on what Donald Trump wants to hear. And that is how he projects to the lawyers who are actually hearing the case.

COLLINS: He's also...

BERMAN: Don Jr. -- Don Jr. came today.

I'm sorry.


BERMAN: For the first and only day, apparently, Don Jr. shows up. He picked the shortest day.


COLLINS: Yes, I think he caught about 90 minutes in the courtroom.

BERMAN: Eric had to sit through long, long days. Don Jr. only had to sit through about an hour in the...


HOLMES: Eric was playing the long game.



HOLMES: He's still playing the long game.

COLLINS: The Hells Angels guy was also there, so don't forget him.

And speaking of people who know what it's like to represent Donald Trump, we have former Trump attorney Jim Trusty here.

And, Jim, obviously, you have been inside those moments where Donald Trump has -- wants his clients to do one thing, not always what the attorneys want to do. That's not just him, but we have seen that with other people as well being represented.

But if you were representing Donald Trump and he told you he wanted you to put Robert Costello on the witness stand, what would you have done?

JIM TRUSTY, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Well, I -- look, I don't have the benefit of having sat down and prepped Costello, but I would probably put him on.

I mean, look, the battleground here is still Cohen's credibility. Remember, Costello got on the stand on direct and said, look, I asked this guy 20 times if he had any dirt. He said no.

And the reversal, if you believe that the cross-examination just destroyed Costello, the defense to that is, no, no, no, I was also lying to Costello, like, literally like the 10,000th lie exposed about Michael Cohen.

So you're still playing in the right battlefield, which is Cohen's credibility. I would -- I -- look, if I was prepping Costello, I would say like, don't -- don't do the whole fight the judge thing. That's not going to help us.

But, at the end of the day, the substance of the testimony is still very damaging, if believed. And if you don't believe it, then you're still right back to Cohen's credibility as a whole, which is irredeemable at this point.

I mean, let's be -- let's be real. Michael Cohen is probably one of the worst witnesses we have seen in modern times when it comes to every bit of incredibility as you can imagine, bias, failed cooperator, inconsistent statements, hatred of President Trump, cashing in.

I mean, it was an incredibly rich area to cross-examine. And I think Todd navigated it reasonably well.

COLLINS: Jim, there are two attorneys on this jury. I mean, haven't you ever met with a potential client who's not your client yet that doesn't fully disclose everything to you?

TRUSTY: Yes, I mean, look, it's commonplace, particularly in white- collar, where executives can be really good at rationalizing. I'm in the gray. I'm in the gray. And you have to meet with them a few times and say, no, you actually weren't in the gray.


TRUSTY: So it's not uncommon to have kind of an evolving story from a client or in terms of their own self-assessment of what they did.

Look, I do think having two attorneys on the jury is a crazy wild card here. I mean, they're going to be the ones that probably the other jurors look to, to interpret fuzzy areas of the jury instructions.

But they can also be the types of attorneys that go, look, I'm used to preponderance of evidence. Is my burden proved? And the government has to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very different thing.

So I'm not in love with the idea of having attorneys on a jury, because I think they tend to make it more cohesive, that they're going to take 12 people from Manhattan and may -- and that probably doesn't bode well for President Trump.

But they could look at these instructions and say, beyond a reasonable doubt is a big thing when Michael Cohen is your linchpin.

COLLINS: You know, one thing that people attacked Michael Cohen over was his memory of that call on October 24, 2016.

And Todd Blanche had brought up text messages that showed he was also concerned about a 14-year-old prank caller who had been harassing him. And it was seen as a strong moment for the defense.


But the defense didn't finish with Michael Cohen last Thursday. And that allowed the prosecution to have the entire weekend to really talk about what they were going to do when they were questioning Michael Cohen again.

And they found a video of Donald Trump and Keith Schiller, Trump's body man, from a rally in Tampa that night where they are walking off stage together four minutes before Michael Cohen says that he called Keith Schiller and was put on the phone with Donald Trump.

I mean, do you think that that will be effective with the jury in showing that, yes, Keith Schiller and Donald Trump were together moments before Michael Cohen said that they were?

TRUSTY: Well, with a Manhattan jury, I'm not making any predictions in terms of what's effective or what's not.

But, look, it's not a mystery that Schiller was in President Trump's presence a lot of the time. But, remember, on direct exam, what Cohen said was nothing about, oh, we might have talked about this 14-year- old also. He was definitive in his statement that this was the conversation.

It was only on cross and redirect that he had to start backtracking. And, again, the guy's credibility is just pathetic. I mean, I don't know that any reasonable jury outside of Manhattan would ever latch on to Cohen as being a truth-teller in this trial.

COLLINS: Well, I mean, we don't know what the jury is thinking. I don't think it's -- you can say whether it's reasonable or not. It's up to the 12 jurors. And there are two attorneys there.

Jim, Trump said he was going to testify. And he ultimately didn't testify. Are you surprised?

TRUSTY: No, I mean, I wish I had bet a head shave like Elie on that.


TRUSTY: But, no, I mean, look, the bottom line is, there was preliminary -- there's a number of reasons not to do it.

The first is, preliminary rulings by the judge made it clear that a lot of stuff from President Trump's life was going to be in play, including the E. Jean Carroll case. That's harmful -- it may be collateral, but it was going to be harmful stuff to come out in front of a jury.

But, again, the whole strategy here should be -- and I think it played out reasonably well this way -- make it all about corrupt Cohen. If you don't believe enough in Michael Cohen, you can't convict. And I think, if you put President Trump on the stand, you're just inviting a comparison game. You're actually watering down the effectiveness of your cross against Cohen.

So, right decision. Whether or not the president fought it behind scenes, I don't know, and I never will. But it was the right decision to say, let's focus on Cohen and the sufficiency of the government's case.

COLLINS: Yes, we will see what Robert Costello did and whether or not he ultimately achieved what the defense was trying to do.

Jim Trusty, thank you for joining us.

We have got John Berman and Kristen Holmes back here.

And, John, obviously, their goal going into putting Robert Costello on the stand was to undermine Michael Cohen's credibility.

BERMAN: Right.

COLLINS: And, while Jim Trusty is arguing that he thinks he did that effectively in that case, it's not clear. We don't know how the jury sees it, so we can't project on them.

But it's not clear that he in any way was able to undermine Michael Cohen.

BERMAN: No, look -- and, again, I think Jim's absolutely right that the defense strategy, and probably a really good strategy, was trying to put Michael Cohen on trial here, make this Trump versus Cohen. Who do you believe more? And you're only really hearing from Michael Cohen here, and if he's not believable, this case goes away.

That may be a good defense strategy, but I'm just not sure Robert Costello helps that, because, as we said before, in a way, then, you're also putting up someone to compare Michael Cohen to in Robert Costello. Who do you like less here?

And Costello gave Cohen a run for his money, at least in his behavior on the stand, at least in the representation of some of those e-mails too, where Susan Hoffinger caught him a few times not knowing something or denying something, and then showing him the e-mail, and he was having to reverse it.

So, to an extent, it gave the prosecution a chance to put -- to put Costello on mini-trial, as it were. I get it. He's a minor player in this. But if you can make someone look bad in comparison to Michael Cohen, you're winning, if you're the prosecution.

COLLINS: Yes, he's the lasting impression for them.

HOLMES: He certainly is.

But I will just remind us all of what the jury has seen since the beginning, which is sleazy underbelly of society over and over again.


HOLMES: I mean, it has been one witness after another who are negotiating backroom deals, an alleged affair with a porn star, people trying to extort people for money.

I mean, this is one witness after another. Somebody who has testified that they have been convicted of lying before is their main witness. I mean, I don't know what the jury walks away with this from, other than what we actually hear from them and how they determine the case.

But, that being said, does Costello just go into that same category, regardless if it's the last or not, of kind of, this is the kind of society that these people were operating in?


And the defense has now rested, though Donald Trump said he himself won't be rested. We will see. The presentation of evidence is done on day 20 of Donald Trump's trial.

You have been watching CNN's special live coverage, as we are waiting for a pivotal meeting this afternoon inside that courtroom.



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage. The case against Donald Trump may come down to a single question: Did

the jury believe Michael Cohen?

I want to bring in Michael Cohen's former attorney and friend Lanny Davis.

Thank you so much for being here.


BASH: So, now that we're going to have some time, next week, the attorneys on either side of the case are going to give their closing arguments.

And the question is going to be, as I said, what does the jury believe? How do you feel the case went as it headed into the end of the witness phase?


DAVIS: Well, except for the media making this case as if Michael Cohen is indicted and it's his credibility at issue -- and I don't just say all my friends at CNN, but across the board -- I think the case in the jury room has gone very well, because it's about facts.

It's not about Michael Cohen. The facts speak for themselves. So there are only two issues, Dana, the jury has to decide, as opposed to people on television, including me. Fact number one, was the money paid to Stormy Daniels primarily politically motivated?

And it seems to me there's strong evidence for the jury beyond a reasonable doubt to say yes. You have David Pecker. You have certainly a loyalist to Donald Trump, well-known loyalist, Hope Hicks, saying, yes, it was about the campaign. So that issue is over. It doesn't matter what Michael Cohen is or isn't. That issue is evidence that the jury will consider.

The second issue, more difficult, is, did Donald Trump lie when he's called them publicly legal fees, when, in fact, the Weisselberg document speaks for itself in his own handwriting? That's Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer, very close to Donald Trump, in his own handwriting described three buckets of money reimbursed, that's the word, reimbursed, not legal fees, to Michael Cohen.

And one of those buckets was $130,000, politically motivated, as I said earlier, hush money. That number was multiplied by two to be $420,000 divided by 12. It was multiplied by two to make Michael whole from a standpoint of income taxes.

Divided by 12 equals $35,000. Voila -- $35,000 is the amount of the checks written by a sitting president in the Oval Office to reimburse -- reimburse is the word, not legal fees -- Michael Cohen. That's a factual question for the jury. So those are the two questions.

You notice I didn't mention Michael Cohen's credibility, because neither of those facts need Michael Cohen to be credible. So that's my viewpoint.

The other point I would make is that, to allow a Trump lawyer to describe a Manhattan jury as if we don't believe in the due process system of justice that relies on jurors following instructions to make a decision on the evidence, and to allow that without somebody rebutting, what do you mean by a Manhattan jury?

They're a jury that will follow the law whether they're Democrats or Republicans.

BASH: I'm not sure what you're referring to.

DAVIS: Just recently, Mr. Trusty referred to...


DAVIS: ... to the Manhattan jury as if that was an issue.

BASH: OK, can I -- can -- well, we have...

DAVIS: So, I'm just respectfully suggesting the rule of law will apply.

BASH: OK. Well, that's why -- that's why we have you on after Mr. Trusty was on.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BASH: First, a couple things to go through, several things.

First, just to the most recent point that you were making about Allen Weisselberg and the charge that this was done in order to help his campaign, we have that document, and you talked about the fact that the check was written in the Oval Office. This is a document that it's Allen Weisselberg's handwriting.

It's sort of scratching on the left. But the bottom line is -- and this is the document that you were referring to, so our viewers understand, what you believe is what jurors are going to take away as proof when they decide that this whole scheme was, in fact, to help the former president or then just the candidate in his campaign, and not -- and not -- and not...


DAVIS: No, no. I'm sorry, Dana.

BASH: Please, go ahead.

DAVIS: No, no. I'm sorry, Dana. It's not about helping the campaign. That's the first issue. That's whether it was politically motivated.

BASH: Politically motivated.

DAVIS: This document proves that it was not -- this document proves something else. I'm sorry, Dana. BASH: That it was -- that he cooked the books. I understand. Thank

you for...

DAVIS: It -- it's -- no, no, it's not -- it's -- let me say it in my own words.

BASH: Please.

DAVIS: The document shows that the math has nothing to do with legal fees.

If the jury believes that Donald Trump lied when he called it legal fees...

BASH: Mm-hmm.

DAVIS: ... then he's able to be convicted. And that document proves there's nothing about legal fees. It's purely math by Weisselberg, dividing 420 by 12 to get $35,000.

BASH: Got it. Thank you. Thank you for clarifying that.

I do want to go back to where you started with this, which is that Michael Cohen is not on trial. That is true. But Michael Cohen is a very important witness here. And you from the very beginning, even before this case came -- came to trial, have said over and over again what you just repeated here, which, is it is beyond the question of what Michael Cohen testifies to.

It is the documentation, the receipts, all the other information that you believe is going to be beneficial to the prosecution's...


DAVIS: And witnesses.


BASH: And -- and witnesses.

DAVIS: And witnesses.

BASH: So, you just -- you just made that argument.


BASH: Having said all of that, when you are an attorney, and you're a -- you know, a prosecutor, and you understand that the jury takes in everything that they have before them, and one of the things that they did take in is the following.

I'm just going to read what happened in the courtroom yesterday. Todd Blanche, the attorney for the former president: "You never gave the $30,000 that was owned to the guy that owed Red -- owned Red Finch, did you?"

"No, no, sir," Michael Cohen said.

Blanche: "So you stole from the Trump Organization, right?"

Cohen: "Yes, sir."

Blanche: "And you didn't just steal $30,000, right? It was actually, because it was grossed up, it was $60,000?"

Cohen: "Yes, sir."

Again, he is not being prosecuted for that. I completely take your point here. But his credibility, what you're saying is that this notion of him admitting on the stand that he stole from Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, you think that's going to have absolutely no impact on the jury?

DAVIS: I can't predict absolutely no impact. That's an extreme way of expressing it. No, I wouldn't use that extreme language.

I would say the jury has common sense. Unlike Mr. Trusty, I believe in the jury system. I wouldn't say an Alabama jury versus a Manhattan jury. So the juries have to decide factually two questions. Was the money primarily politically motivated? The testimony of Ms. Hicks and David Pecker and Keith Alexander (sic), her lawyer, say it was campaign-oriented.

Don't need to care about that particular problem of Michael Cohen to decide that. Second, more important, is the Weisselberg document -- again, let me be clear, Dana -- proves that Donald Trump lied about legal fees. It was not legal fees. It was about the math, nothing to do with legal fees.

And if the jury agrees with that by looking at the document, they will convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, it's up to the jury to decide whether that is true. But my view of that document is, you don't need to believe Michael Cohen on the document speaking for itself.

And so those moments that you just addressed are embarrassing to Michael Cohen. He has his own defense as to what happened. I'm not even going to address that, other than to say, we don't need Michael Cohen, other than to confirm what is already evidence and fact.

And he is the confirming narrator. You don't have to believe him. He can say, believe your lying eyes of what Weisselberg wrote as math that led to $35,000 in reimbursements, not legal fees. Trump lied about calling them legal fees, and that could lead to a conviction.



BASH: Robert Costel -- Robert Costello, who was the last witness before the end of the trial today, said that Cohen told him Trump knew nothing about that $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in 2016.

(LAUGHTER) BASH: You're laughing. You think he just got on the stand and didn't tell the truth?

DAVIS: Yes, I'm laughing because you're -- you're giving credence to a statement by Mr. Costello. And it isn't even worth...

BASH: He was under oath. I'm asking you.

DAVIS: Well, I know he was under oath, and I know that Mr. Costello forgot to tell everyone that he sent a legal bill to Michael Cohen where there was no engagement letter.

He was part of a Rudy Giuliani conduit to Mr. Trump because he referred to the big guy taking care of you. It was all about bringing Michael and keeping him in the tent. Mr. Costello's testimony is what it is.

But to refer to Mr. Costello's testimony as having credibility, and then challenge Michael Cohen's credibility, when he's corroborated by the two legal issues...


BASH: Lanny, Lanny, I'm not giving anybody credibility. I'm -- I'm reporting to you what happened in the courtroom.


BASH: And I'm asking you to respond to it. This is -- that is a fact that happened.

DAVIS: All right. Well, excuse me.

I -- you have a right to ask the question. And thank you. I will answer it by saying that Mr. Costello doesn't have a lot of credibility, in light of the fact that he never had an engagement letter, sent Michael a bill, and was working for Rudy Giuliani.

So, in my opinion -- and I could be wrong -- I don't believe Mr. Costello will have a lot of weight in the jury room, compared to the documents speaking for themselves, testimony being what it is. You don't have Michael Cohen's credibility that changes that testimony or those documents.

BASH: Lanny Davis, thanks for your time this morning. Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you, Dana. Thank you for letting me speak. Thank you.

BASH: Let's talk more about -- well, let's just start with that and talk generally about that fundamental question, which is, I mean, we have all heard from Michael Cohen, from Lanny Davis, from others, as I mentioned to him, for a very long time that, regardless of what we see and hear on the stand, it -- it is those documents that they are banking on the jury coming away with and saying, aha, he's guilty of these two counts or these two issues.