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CNN Live Event/Special

Closing Arguments in Trump's Hush Money Trial Today. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 28, 2024 - 09:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Trump's family that we have seen present with him at court.

Still two people who never made appearances at this trial, Ivanka Trump, and more importantly Melania Trump. No one expected the former first lady to show up here. This is a case that personally infuriated her I'm told during this trial, but also when it was first becoming reported out about what happened. Michael Cohen admitted that he lied to Melania Trump about what happened with the Stormy Daniels payoff. But it does make an interesting point because even though she's not there, you know, we know why she's not there. It's a question of whether the jury is curious about it, because what Trump's attorneys had been arguing, and what they'll likely reiterate when these closing arguments get underway today, is that what Trump did was at the benefit of his relationship with Melania Trump and that he was trying to protect her and protect his family, not his candidacy and his potential political runs and what he was undertaking at the moment.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We should also point out, he continues to deny any relationship took place.


I do want to take issue with one thing that Ron said, and that is that it Todd Blanche's closing is going to be for an audience of one. Nothing in my reporting indicates that.

And throughout the course of this trial, Todd Blanche has not fallen into that trap that we've seen with a lot of Trump lawyers, specifically Alina Habba and others, who do a lot of performative things in court to appeal to their client that doesn't always help him in the long run. In fact, one of the things they're going to argue today, that they have to argue, is that this was not part of a conspiracy to help Trump win the election. Now, that's one of their tougher arguments given the evidence, right? This is why this is charged as a felony. But they're not going to even touch the argument that they often make in the court of public opinion that these charges were brought to help, you know, Trump lose, basically to help Biden in the course of the presidential election, they're not going to make those arguments. And that's something that they acknowledged their client would love to hear in a courtroom. That's not going to happen today. So, I disagree with the idea that this is going to be for an audience of one. We haven't seen that so far. And nothing in my reporting indicates that.

COLLINS: Well, and just to note one other thing. You know, when we look at who is in the courtroom with Trump, we've seen all these Republican lawmakers coming, including missing hearings and key moments on Capitol Hill and having to change his schedule because they're here in support of Donald Trump at his trial.

Bob Good, the Virginia congressman and Freedom Caucus chair, who was here two weeks ago and came out and spoke in support of Donald Trump, his primary opponent rode in the motorcade with Trump. Trump just endorsed his primary opponent on Truth Social on the way to the courthouse right now for the first time and saying that Bob Good is bad for America and trashing him, even though Bob Good was sitting in the same seats that the family is sitting in right now in support of him.

COOPER: Wow. It's all about loyalty.

Donald Trump's defense is about to begin its final pitch to juries. But first, we're going to take a quick break. Back in a moment.




And we are back with CNN's special live coverage of Donald Trump's hush money cover-up trial at a climactic moment. Closing arguments or about to get underway any minute. The defense will lead off in accordance with New York state law.

The jury is now entering the courtroom.

And let me just bring you all up to speed as to what's been going on inside the courtroom in the last few minutes. So, obviously, all the players are there in the aisle. From the aisle we see the president's family, the former president's family. Tiffany, Lara Trump, Eric Trump, and Don Junior, all seated in that order in the row behind him. So, a big representation of his family there supporting him. In addition, Susie Wiles, who helped run his campaign, and Alina Habba, his attorney for other cases.

Right now Todd Blanche, the attorney, the defense attorney for Mr. Trump, said he expects to go two-and-a-half hours for his summary, for his closing arguments. And he goes first.

Joshua Steinglass, who is with the prosecutor's office, says he estimates he needs four to four-and-a-half hours. So that's about seven hours total, assuming they keep to those parameters.

Judge Merchan says he's going to ask the jury to stay later to four -- than 4:30, because that's what -- this would require to fill it all in. They've been adjourning basically between 4:00 and 4:30 every day.

But Judge Merchan says, I'm going to leave it up to them. So, if the jury decides they're going to plow through and hit 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, whatever is needed, they'll do that. But if they have, for instance, if a juror has a childcare issue, they will adjourn. We'll find out what they're going to do.

Judge Merchan advises the attorneys, Steinglass and Blanche, please do not go into the law. Stay away from the law. Do not explain the law. That will be my job. I'll take care of that.

Members of the jury, you will now hear the summations of the lawyers, Judge Merchan tells the jury. Under our law, defense counsel must sum up first and then the prosecutor must follow, Judge Merchan says. The lawyers may not speak to you after that.

So, this is a pretty huge moment.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It is everything. This is showtime. These jurors have not heard much of this evidence for all -- for more than almost a week at this point.

You also have the judge saying, the conclusions are reasonable, logical and some evidence that you may adopt those inferences in conclusion. So inferences, very, very important here because a lot of the case has been circumstantial evidence without having that third man in the room, Allen Weisselberg, with having Michael Cohen with credibility issues as well.

But keep in mind, this has been over four weeks now maybe in total. These jurists, from the time they were actually put into this jury box till now, they're going to have to revisit all the very key, important moments. It's up to the defense counsel and the prosecution to highlight for them what those important moments are going to be.


And the defense now has to front what they think the prosecution will highlight. We got a chance for rebuttal. They're going to have to choose their bite at the apple very carefully and make sure the jury is riveted. And this will be the time to lean in, to have the emphasis, to have some of the theatrical. You also have the jury being reminded, nothing the lawyers say at any time is evidence. So, nothing the lawyers say in summation is evidence. They'll have their notebooks though, the jurors, to remind themselves, and their memory will control.

TAPPER: So, and, Elie, you think -- and, Karen, I think you agree, that this case, for the prosecution, is really reliant on these closing arguments more so than the average case.

The judge just told the jury, it is your own recollection, understanding, and evaluation of the evidence. Again, you and you alone are the judges of the facts in this case.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. TAPPER: Why do you think closing arguments for the prosecution are so important?

HONIG: So, every trial is a closing trial, right? Closing is by far the most important moments. But, two reasons. First of all, this trial has taken a long time. Think back to when David Pecker was on the stand, when Keith Davidson, when Rhona Graff, how much do we even remember about what they said? A couple snippets.

TAPPER: Right.

HONIG: The second reason is, this is a complicated charge here. It's actually a three-step. It's basically, falsified business records is step one. To break New York state law is step two, which would incorporate breaking federal campaign law or tax fraud or other falsifying business records. It's a little wacky if you asked me. But you have to walk the jury through those three steps. It's complicated.

That said, four hours is way too long. It is a mistake if the DA, Steinglass, takes four to four-and-a-half hours to give a closing. I mean I gave a closing in a three defendant, five murder case. The judge asked how long I needed. I said three hours. He laughed at me. He said, you have 90 minutes. I gave it in 90 minutes. It was the best jury address I ever gave. For hours is too long. He's going to lose the jury.


HONIG: I did. Yes. I don't win them all, but I did win that one.

TAPPER: I'm amazed he didn't tell us that.

BASH: I know.

TAPPER: And I won the case.


KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's important in a white collar case, in particular the summation for the prosecution, because unlike a violent crime, for example, a witness testifies, it's very clear what the crime is. In a white-collar case, it's less clear exactly which pieces of evidence support the crime. And so the prosecution has to tell that story and weave it all together for the jury. And that's why I think it's really important. For both sides summation I think is really critical.

TAPPER: And this is -- we have to admit, I'm going to turn to my fellow jurors, we four are the -- these are the attorneys. We four are the jurors.

BASH: I thought I -- where's your hat (ph).

TAPPER: So but like --


TAPPER: They -- they -- I mean the legal theory of this case is an interesting one, a challenging one.

By the way, the defense attorney has started. He tells the jury, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. He thanks them for their service on the jury. And we will continue to bring you updates. And I apologize ahead of time to you and to them for interrupting.

By the way, this is a good opportunity for me to say, hey, New York, you should have cameras in the courtroom. This is ridiculous. This is a former president of the United States being tried criminally. We, as the people, have a right to see it. It's crazy that we have to do it this way.

Todd Blanche, every one of you has been on time. We see you paying close attention to the evidence all day, every day, and we really appreciate that.

Indeed we do, jurors.

So, the idea that this is a misdemeanor, the -- falsifying the business records allegedly is a misdemeanor. But the fact that it is in service to a different crime, this election interference theory is a complicated one. And I'm not sure that every American, or even every juror, although they're smarter than us, I'm sure, at this point, understands exactly how it works. And so the prosecution is going to have to explain that.

GANGEL: What are you looking at me for? Now --

TAPPER: You're the forewoman.

GANGEL: What -- what --


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: You're our complicated questions juror.

TAPPER: You're a forewoman as a -- and your mom was a judge.

GANGEL: So -- thank you.

So, I do want to remind everyone what we've said along, there are two lawyers on this jury. We do not know whether they will have an outsized influence. We don't even know whether the other jurors know what everybody does for a living. But if they do know they're lawyers, some of this interpretation and explanation may come out.

I just go to the end of the day to common sense. And for the question of, you know, this next step, does Donald Trump have a motive? Obviously, we have the defense on here. We don't know the prosecutor. But this happened in October, two weeks before the election.

TAPPER: Of 2016. GANGEL: Of 2016. Donald Trump, there is testimony that he said women will hate me. There is testimony from Stormy Daniels that he didn't care what his wife would think about something like this.


There is testimony that he was suggesting, let's wait to pay till after the election because then it won't matter.

So, my question is, does testimony like that, put together with testimony from friendly witnesses, people like Hope Hicks, Rhona Graff, David Pecker, give the jury the common sense to support what the prosecutors say, versus what's the defense going to say, Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen.

BASH: Or -- I agree. Or, I think, one of the points that you were trying to get at is whether or not the jury is going to say, come on, this is -- this is really a crime? This is really -- or is any of -- any of these (INAUDIBLE) --

TAPPER: Todd Blanche just said, it's as true right now as it was on April 22nd, he's referring to the fact that everybody's paying close attention, and that is that Donald Trump is innocent. President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. The evidence is all in.

He did not commit any crimes. The district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period. The evidence is all in, Blanche says.

I'm sorry.

BASH: Yes. No, I mean, and I'm guessing that after that, Blanche --

TAPPER: The evidence should leave you wanting more. You should want and expect more than the testimony of Michael Cohen.

BASH: Yes.

And this is -- this is all going to go along the same lines, which is, not only that they -- the prosecution, he's arguing, didn't meet the burden of proof --

TAPPER: You should demand more than the testimony of Keith Davidson, an attorney who really was just trying to extort money from Trump before the election.

So, yes, he's introducing this "Star Wars" cantina scene of witnesses that --

BASH: Right.

TAPPER: The -- that the prosecution has brought out. Not --

HUNT: People that surrounded Donald Trump, let's just say. That's why the prosecution brought them.

BASH: Yes. But I do think --

TAPPER: Well, Keith Davidson, I think, is --

BASH: This case is about documents. It's a paper case.

HUNT: Yes.

BASH: This case is not about an encounter with Stormy Daniels 18 years ago.

Before we get to the next one, let me just get the point out that I was trying to make because this does make it, which is, he is going to argue to the jury that this is a prosecution in search of a crime.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

HUNT: Yes.

TAPPER: Well, it's interesting that he says, this case is not about an encounter with Stormy Daniels 18 years ago, because one of the other arguments that the defense has been making, both in court and also in the court of public opinion is, nothing happened. There -- there was no encounter. An encounter the President Trump has unequivocally and repeatedly denied occurred.

BASH: There you go.

TAPPER: But, you know what's interesting here is, Todd Blanche is -- he's not saying it. He's saying Donald Trump -- it seems like he's basically introducing, like, look, we don't even know.

BASH: Right.

TAPPER: Mr. Trump says it didn't happen. He's unequivocally and repeatedly denied that this occurred. And it's not even relevant because it's not even a crime.

But Donald Trump, I think over the weekend, was saying something along the lines of -- at one of his rallies, you know, just because there was a picture of me at the -- with this person at -- talking about Stormy Daniels -- at a golf tournament doesn't mean anything. I take thousands of pictures with people. So, he's still denying the fundamental rendezvous as it were.

HUNT: Right. Right. And I mean I think that the question here, I mean clearly this is the argument that Todd Blanche has to make. The question is going to be, because I do think, based on the way these complicated crimes are laid out, it is actually relevant whether or not the encounter with Stormy. Daniels happened, or certainly whether he was trying to cover up something in service of winning the election, even if it never happened, trying to prevent claims that she was going to make because, as Mitt Romney has said, like, who pays $130,000 to somebody if they didn't have sex with them, right? Like, they had -- they do actually -- the jury does have to grapple with all of this. And it strikes me too, and -- because I keep thinking about this, kind of going back and forth between where we are in the case and where we are in the country in terms of whether or not this, you know, matters big picture. And I mean there are some political elements to the way he's setting up this argument already.

I am curious how much of that -- I realized that the jury has been selected to not think about those things. I just wonder how possible it is to sit in a political vacuum today, even as a juror.

TAPPER: Yes. No, absolutely.


COOPER: Jake, thanks very much.

We are continuing to monitor what is coming out of the court. Nothing new from our correspondents inside. Just Todd Blanche telling the jury, last we heard, that President Trump, as an equivalent, denied the encounter, obviously, with Stormy Daniels. Blanche says the jury must decide if Trump had anything to do with how payments to Michael Cohen were accounted for.

Paula, you and I were just talking about whether, while the jury's deliberating, whether the former president actually has to remain in the courthouse. Todd Blanche says the bookings were accurate and there was absolutely no intent to defraud.

REID: And this is the crux of the argument, right, the documents were not falsified.

So, yes, we were talking about, well, will Trump be in court while they're deliberating? And I was just informed that he's actually required to be here.


So, he will be here throughout deliberations as the case --

COOPER: No matter how long deliberations take.

REID: Exactly. As Kaitlan reported before, he's already not happy that they're not getting the last word. He's going to be like a caged tiger in there.

Look, this courthouse is not nice. We've all been inside of it.

Now the bookings, of course, they're saying were accurate and there's absolutely no intent to defraud. I think we just -- we just covered this. And this is an important point because this is a paperwork case at its core and they're arguing, look, these were invoices for Michael Cohen's legal services. He was the then president's personal attorney at the time. There is no crime. We're going to hear that repeatedly.

But I think its notable that he's going to be in there for deliberations. He will not, absolutely not, be happy about that because it could go for days.

COOPER: What we are likely also to hear from Todd Blanche, I mean, him saying that the bookings were accurate and there was no intent to defraud. Really the person who, for the prosecution, who has spoken to a knowledge of the defraud is Michael Cohen. That is what the prosecution, Blanche says, what Cohen's testimony, they were lies, pure and simple, trying to attack Michael Cohen. The only person who can really testify to or did testify to, to the intent of Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Well, and that's what is clearly going to be a major part of this is, Todd Blanche is keeping his closing argument much shorter than the prosecution is, is attacking the witnesses that the jury did hear from, and also raising questions about the ones that they did not hear from because it won't make the defense look bad necessarily because the burden of proof is not on them to convince this jury of Trump's innocence. They don't have to put up any defense at all. It's on the prosecution, obviously, to meet that burden of proof. And so right now he is going after Michael Cohen. That's a surprise to no one. That is going to be a key staple of Todd Blanche's closing. And they really do think that's one of their most effective arguments.

And Blanche is saying that Michael Cohen had key interactions with Dylan Howard, Keith Schiller, and Allen Weisselberg. You'll notice, those are three names that we've heard repeatedly during this trial. They have not shown up at this trial. Dylan Howard worked at "The National Enquirer." He has some spine issue and is living in Australia. Keith Schiller, obviously we believe is still in Florida, someone who also left and partnered with Trump on good terms from the White House, also wasn't called in this case. And as we know, Allen Weisselberg is in jail.

COOPER: And Allen Weisselberg also got a quite nice severance agreement --

COLLINS: $2 million.

COOPER: $2 million.

COLLINS: And condition that he not voluntarily cooperate with any investigation. He would have to be compelled by a subpoena. Obviously, you can't ignore that.

COOPER: These are remarkable (ph) clause in a goodbye contract to give somebody $2 million and say, oh, by the way, you cannot voluntarily tell the truth in front of a jury unless you are forced to testify.

COLLINS: It says a lot. And, obviously, the jury's not going to hear about that agreement. That is something that came up earlier on in this.

And, see, there's Blanche saying, those are important. Keith Schiller, Dylan Howard, and Allen Weisselberg were not jurors in this trial -- or not witnesses in this trial.

COOPER: Blanche goes on to say, in order to convict, jurors would have to determine there were false entries in the paperwork and that Trump had intent to defraud. And, of course, this is really at the heart of the case. REID: It is. And it's their strongest argument, the idea that Trump

was then the leader of the free world, he wasn't paying attention to how things were being invoiced. Remember the testimony from the two accountants, Jeff McConney, Deb Tarasoff, you know, they just said they received these invoices from Michael Cohen. They clicked the boxes and, boom, a check went out.

Now Blanche is saying the invoices were prepared by Cohen. The vouchers were prepared by Trump Organization employee Deb Tarasoff. And the checks were auto-generated. Remember that testimony from the accountants, even though they were called by the prosecutors, this is their strongest argument. And the danger for Blanche is not diluting this, not getting away from this, because this is the alleged crime. Michael Cohen's credibility also very significant.

But he also, earlier, at the beginning of his argument, he reminded everyone that Trump denies the encounter with Stormy Daniels. Now, I think for a lot of people that strains credulity. They're also going to argue that this wasn't done to help him win the election. That's not the most important thing. The most important thing is to focus on falsifying business records. And that's what he's doing here. The challenges, again, not to get too distracted with these other things, that don't make or break the case, and the jurors may not believe.

COOPER: It's interesting. You know, you were saying the idea that, you know, this man was the leader of the -- of the free world. He was president of the United States. He's not going to be paying attention to these -- these mundane, small, tiny details. Michael Cohen, of course, had testified that when Michael Cohen was finally invited by Trump to the White House and being shown around the White House, Donald Trump actually went into great detail about the -- how Federal Express packages take time to wind their way through the White House system and that there might be a little delay in getting the checks to Michael Cohen.

Also, there's been repeated testimony about how the -- what a micromanager Donald Trump was when it came to money.

REID: Yes. And then I go back to the testimony of Jeff McConney, who said that was true. He was interested in everything down to the paper clips until 2017. Then he became president. There were efforts to put a wall between the White House and the Trump Organization. I don't know if jurors will believe Jeff McConney over Michael Cohen, but that is a key -- I think a key thing to bring back.

Now Blanche has a graphic up that shows an invoice, a voucher, and a check and a check stub. Again, not the most exciting evidence that you'll see, but this is the heart of the case. Each one of these, this is what makes up the 34 counts of falsifying business records. This -- this makes or breaks the case depending on what the jurors think of Trump's role in creating the invoices, the vouchers, the checks themselves.


COLLINS: The other interesting aspect of this is, you know, obviously we have no idea what the jury is thinking. We have all watched them as we've been in that courtroom. They give almost nothing away. And Todd Blanche is showing them a slideshow that shows the invoice created by Michael Cohen that was sent to the Trump Organization. He acknowledges the -- Deb Tarasoff testimony that she stapled invoices to check that were signed by Donald Trump. Todd Blanche, the most familiarity this jury has with him is his cross-examination of Michael Cohen. He didn't really cross-examine many other major witnesses. A few of the ones who testified about the books and what Trump's quotes were that he wrote there. This is really, you know, them seeing Todd Blanche in a fuller sense that's not cross-examination. It's the first time we've really seen that. And also in -- there's then to your -- to your point earlier, remember David Pecker though, the very first witness to testify that this jury heard from, talked about how when he also went to the White House, Trump, you know, was not as concerned with running the country. He was also inquiring about the status of Karen McDougal and how she was doing.

COOPER: Right.

COLLINS: So, the idea that Trump is not a micromanager, for anyone who's covered him, and for this jury and what they've heard, it does also belie belief.

COOPER: And Todd Blanche says to the jury, general practice is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors were actually shown when David Pecker was on the stand a black and white photo of David Pecker and Donald Trump walking by the Rose Garden, I believe, down the hall of the White House, and David Pecker actually testified that the moment that photo was taken in that scene, it -- it looks like a photo we've seen of many presidents walking, making that famous walk.

COLLINS: Like prime ministers.

COOPER: Meeting with people, talking about world events and crises. Donald Trump, according to David Pecker, had turned to David Pecker and said something to the words of the effect of, how's our girl Karen doing? How's Karen doing? So, even as president, he was concerned about Karen McDougal and maintaining her silence according to David Pecker.

REID: And very much aware of these hush money payments that were made. Hope Hicks testified to this as well. He was aware of these were being made. He was aware of how they were being made. Michael Cohen, obviously, facilitating the payment to Stormy Daniels. What was charged here again is the falsifying business records. And that's what Todd's goal is here, is what separation between the defendant and the production and creation of these documents? It's a challenge.

Now, Cohen apparently attached an invoice and asked Weisselberg to call to discuss the last open foundation matter, suggesting he worked for Trump in 2017 while he was paid. Now, in talking with sources, this document, this is a key piece of evidence for the defense. They believe that this email, this -- this particular piece of evidence, this is critical to their case. And also once again they'll highlight, OK, well, if these two discussed it, why didn't you call Weisselberg? They'll also argue that this underscores that Cohen was actually doing

legal work. That's what he discussed with Weisselberg. And you can't believe that Cohen says it was something else.

COOPER: Yes, I want to bring in trial attorney, jury consultant, Renato Stabile.

Renato, it's good to have you with us while Todd Blanche is making closing arguments.

As we talk, Renato, I just want to warn our audience, I may just have to jump in and give updates from our folks in the courtroom about what is happening. Please don't --


COOPER: I apologize in advance, Renato.

What do you make, first of all, of what you were hearing so far from Todd Blanche, I mean this is just getting started. According to Paula Reid's reporting, he may go to three hours or so.

What are you expecting from his closing arguments?

STABILE: Yes, no, this is everything that everybody has been expecting. I agree with what everybody's been saying. He has to go hard after Michael Cohen.

I -- I am really surprised at the length of these closing arguments. I know we budgeted a day for this. The court budgeted a day. But, you know, three hours and four-and-a-half hours, those are very, very long closing arguments.

Remember, these are e felonies. This is the lowest level felony. These might be the longest closing arguments we've ever heard in e felonies ever. But, you know, there's -- they want to march through everything. They want to be careful.

I think the big thing that I'm listening for from Todd Blanche is, what was the legal work? That is what he opened on. He said that real legal work was done. Donald Trump thought that real legal work was doing. He's going to have to explain that now in his summation or the prosecution is going to call him out on it.

COOPER: You are renown as a jury consultant, advising attorneys on the makeup of juries. Do you think a longer closing -- I mean a four-and- a-half hour closing argument, can that turn a jury off?

STABILE: You know, I think they're definitely going to lose interest. I mean I think, you know, you want to keep your closings to an hour- and-a-half, two hours. Once you start to go beyond that, you're really going to lose them, especially, you know, the prosecution has a strong case. They might be overdoing it here. That's one of the dangers of a long break. I think you probably had your closing set up and then now you have seven days to tinker with it. Maybe the prosecution over tinkered with it in this case. COOPER: Renato, we had Ron Kuby on, a well-known defense attorney, who was saying that while closing arguments are very important for the lawyer who's making the closing arguments and they can bring themselves to tears with their impassioned arguments, that he doesn't believe, for jurors, that they have the same -- necessarily have the same impact.