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Now: Trump's Defense Making Closing Argument; Judge Denies Request For Trump Gag Order In Classified Docs Case; Soon: Closing Arguments Resume In Trump Trial. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 28, 2024 - 11:30   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Stormy Daniels' story coming out right on the election would not have made an impact because In Touch Magazine wrote something about it in 2011. And that's just --


COOPER: A specious argument.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also, Keith Davidson talked about the efforts they went to get things pulled down that were in not well- populated blogs. I'll just say one other thing about, you know, the outcome of this trial is far from assured. We have no idea how the 12 jurors in that room are taking Todd Blanche's closing arguments as he is getting out -- he's about hitting the two-hour mark. And he said he expected you to go about two and a half hours or so when they spoke to the judge earlier. So, he is in the homestretch of his argument.

I will say we do expect President Biden to weigh in himself, not just his campaign surrogates and allies on this verdict once the jury has reached it. That will be a really notable moment as well because regardless of the outcome of this, it is going to have some kind of political impact. We just don't know which way.

COOPER: Yes. Jake, let's get back to you in DC.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, thanks so much. Right now, there is more breaking legal news involving former President Donald Trump this time in a different case, the classified documents case in Florida. A federal judge has rejected the request from Special Counsel Jack Smith. He requested a gag order against Donald Trump. Let's bring in CNN's Katelyn Polantz. Katelyn, tell us more about this ruling, which came just moments ago.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Jake. So, prosecutors from the Special Counsel's Office at the Justice Department are not going to be able to limit Donald Trump's speech about law enforcement, who were part of that Mar-a-Lago search in August of 2022 at this time because they didn't follow the proper procedure. That's what Judge Aileen Cannon just said moments ago.

The prosecutors had gone to her on Friday, in the evening, right before the holiday week, asking her to put limitations on what Donald Trump could say because he was out there talking misleadingly about the FBI policies around the use of deadly force, a policy that was standard and in place for that search of the resort in Florida. But Trump was trying to say that he was in danger because of it. That was not true.

So, the prosecutors wanted to protect the proceedings, protect their own officers, and have a gag order. They felt that it was a very dangerous situation, so they went to the judge. Trump's team though, took issue with this because they said they didn't have enough time to think about this and to respond and meaningfully work with the prosecutors to provide some sort of meet and confer, that's what they say, in court. And so, Judge Cannon today agreed with Trump's team.

She said this was professional -- unprofessional and not courteous in the way that the Justice Department went about this coming to her with the gag order request that anything in the future, they need to have more time given to the defense team. And so, she's denying. They could always try again. But as of now, no gag order for Trump in the Florida case.

TAPPER: All right. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much. Let's discuss this for a second. So, I know that there is concern among people in the Special Counsel's Office and the Justice Department that Donald Trump and his allies, saying -- suggesting inaccurately that his life was at risk during this raid. I don't even think he was on the grounds at Mar-a-Lago.


TAPPER: But there had been some sort of standard cut-and-paste procedure for what kind of deadly force the FBI is allowed to use. But because of that, they are turning this into -- Trump and his allies into look, Joe Biden was trying to kill me, which is not true. Is that why he sought this special gag order?

HONIG: Yes, that's exactly why. So, this all springs from Donald Trump's preposterous false, ridiculous BS claim that there was some effort to assassinate him. There's a document -- a standard piece of a search warrant that says, hey, federal law enforcement agents, when you're executing this search bar, there are very, very limited circumstances where you can use lethal force.

It's the correct statement of law. It's in every search warrant. And Donald Trump wasn't even there that day. So, DOJ now --

TAPPER: I just --


TAPPER: We just to quickly interject. I thought I saw a Washington Post story that said, it was the same exact rules and procedures when they searched --

HONIG: It was.

TAPPER: President Biden's house. HONIG: It was. That's correct because it's a standard --

TAPPER: Who also was not there at the time?

HONIG: Exactly.


HONIG: Jack Smith now went to Judge Cannon in the -- in the classified documents case in Florida and said, we'd like a gag order to stop Donald Trump from saying these kinds of crazy incorrect, potentially inflammatory things. And what Judge Cannon has just said is you haven't done this correctly -- procedurally, Jack Smith, because there's a requirement known as meet and confer. Meaning, you just have to do the prosecutor, you have to call up the defense lawyer and try to work out amongst yourself some meaningful exchange of ideas. And Judge Cannon said, well, you didn't do that so go back and give them a call.

It's quite clear Donald -- where Donald Trump's team is at, right? They're not going to agree to anything. So, technically, Jack Smith's team just needs to make a couple of calls to Donald Trump's team say, do you agree to any gag order? Trump's team will say no. And then Jack Smith can go back to Judge Cannon and say now we need the gag order.

TAPPER: All right. Let's go back to the case at hand where Todd Blanche right now is being -- is summarizing the case -- it's closing arguments today. First, the defense goes then the prosecution will go. Todd Blanche is the chief attorney for Donald Trump in his defense and he's suggesting because the story is -- was already out there, this has to do with the Stormy Daniels' story, how could the suppression of it have anything to do with election interference?


Blanche turns to Stormy Daniels. He notes that the story that took place allegedly in 2006, 18 years ago, Trump and Daniels have repeatedly denied that it happened. It was already published in 2011. How could it influence the election if had already been out there?

There's no -- and then he talked about Cohen paying this without Trump knowing. And he -- then the narrative that Todd Blanche is trying to create is that Michael Cohen did a lot of things to try to get credit, to try to curry favor with Donald Trump. Blanche says Cohen paid this money to Stormy Daniels without Trump knowing. is another way to get credit from him.

"People were not happy with him on the campaign, so he made this decision. The only person who suggests otherwise until he's you. President Trump knew everything about this is Michael Cohen himself. That's it.

There's no other proof of that. There's no way that you can find President Trump knew about this payment at the time it was made without believing the words of Michael Cohen period. And you cannot -- you cannot believe his words," Todd Blanche says. The public was aware of them. This is because of the 2011 story that In Touch Magazine did about Stormy Daniels. Blanche says that because the story is already out there in 2011, it wasn't election interference and did not cause panic in the Trump campaign. The public was aware of them. So again, the idea that when Miss Daniels surfaced in 2016, it caused some sort of panic amongst everybody is not true. It's just not true.

Blanche refreshes the jury on text messages they saw between Dylan Howard, that's the editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer, and then Stormy Daniels' manager Gina Rodriguez about selling the Trump story in April 2016. If there really was a catch-and-kill conspiratorial relationship, Blanche asks, then why did everybody ignore the story in April? Why did it not go anywhere for months and months and months?

Blanche says you didn't hear from Dylan Howard, and you did not hear from Gina Rodriguez. So really, it's speculation. Daniels and Rodriguez were more aggressively trying to sell her story, Blanche says. Mr. Howard is willing to help them. He wants to help Miss Daniels and Miss Rodriguez get money.

That's not a conspiracy involving Mr. Pecker, President Trump, and Michael Cohen. And the jury is taking a brief morning break as is Judge Merchan. So once again, Karen, an attempt to undermine Michael Cohen's entire testimony and also the prosecution's entire theory of the case.

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The problem is Todd Blanche is literally throwing softballs to the prosecution. I mean, these making arguments that easily, if I'm the prosecutor, I'm writing down saying, OK, you say, where is Allen Weisselberg? Where is -- why didn't he testify? Where is Mr. Schiller? Why didn't he testify?

If I'm the prosecution I'd say, these are people who are friendly to Donald Trump. If they had anything to say that was positive, then you would expect that Donald Trump would call them as a witness. And he did it again just now when he -- when he made this argument is why weren't they buying the story in April? What was happening? Why did it take so long?

Well, that just buys into the whole prosecution theory because it wasn't until right before the election that they cared. That makes it criminal, right, because it's about the election. And so, I think they just are really kind of missing what their strong arguments are and making arguments that the prosecution I think has a much better explanation for. And it really just plays into the whole prosecution theory.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And don't forget, Access Hollywood is still this elephant in the room. I mean, the timing of all this, what would have been the straw that broke the political camel's back? The defense wants the jury to look at all this in a vacuum. That's virtually impossible to do because there's evidence it's already come in and these people were all living in the real world around probably the same time this is happening. So, you have these issues about the softballs that Karen spoke about, but also, they're trying to plant the seeds of doubt. It is very reasonable for the defense to say, here's who you did not hear from. You didn't hear from Allen Weisselberg. You didn't hear from Mr. Schiller. You didn't hear from Dylan Howard. Why not?

They want that lingering question as to why not to suggest that the prosecution could not have made their case without them and did not. But they went to such great lengths throughout the duration of this trial to pre-corroborate the testimony of Michael Cohen. The prosecution kept there and said this was not coming down to just the testimony of Michael Cohen.

It's coming down to all the documents that supported it in advance those who are friendly to Trump, those who are not friendly to Trump. They all had some bite at the apple to try to corroborate Michael Cohen's testimony. And so, when you come back and the -- and the prospect doesn't have to do something about this, they can say it didn't -- it never came down Michael Cohen.

It came down to all of the different people who testified in advance of his testimony about why you should believe him. It can't just be the documents -- it can't just be him. It's the documents.

TAPPER: All right. Donald Trump's attorney will soon resume his pitch to jurors continuing to make the case that the prosecution has failed to meet its burden of proof. He said he was going to talk for about two hours -- two and a half hours. He's talked for one hour and 54 minutes.


Right now, the court is taking a quick morning break and then the defense attorney will continue presenting its case. We are also going to take a quick break and pick back up with closing arguments on the other side. We'll squeeze in one quick break. Stay with us.



COOPER: It is a marathon day of closing arguments in Donald Trump's historic criminal trial. They're taking a brief break right now. The court will resume shortly.

When they do resume, the former president's lead attorney Todd Blanche is going to keep his closing arguments continuing. He's been telling jurors that the client did not commit any crimes and that Michael Cohen's testimony against Mr. Trump was all lies. Welcome back to our live coverage of the hush money cover-up trial, now in the final stretch.

I want to bring in Criminal Defense Attorney Bill Brennan. He represented Donald Trump's payroll Corporation in a tax fraud trial and Trump himself in his second impeachment trial. Bill, it's good to see you this morning. I'm wondering what you make of Todd Blanche's closing arguments so far.

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP PAYROLL CORP. ATTORNEY: Good morning, Anderson. Well, he's in a tough spot because he's got a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short amount of time. I think he said he's going to try to keep it down to two and a half.

And, you know, when you think of the length of this trial and the number of witnesses, that's really not a lot of time. The lion's share, if you're doing say, an eight-slice pizza pie, six of those slices should probably be reserved for Michael Cohen. So, he's got to cram in all those other witnesses into slices so to speak.

COOPER: Do you think he's spent enough time on Michael Cohen because I -- Karen Friedman Agnifilo was on earlier who was saying she might have spent a full hour just going through how many different people and -- in trials and under oath, Michael Cohen has lied.

BRENNAN: You know, I heard Karen say that earlier this morning, and was nodding my head in agreement. You could spend days on Michael Cohen, but you reach a point of diminishing returns. And at some point, you're beating a dead horse.

But I think you have to really make it all about him because that's what the prosecution chose to do. There's really no nexus between all of the allegations and the defendant other than Cohen. And Cohen is a polluted source, so, I -- you know, you can't really quantify in time how much, but I would spend the lion's share of the argument on Cohen.

COOPER: The -- Todd Blanche has raised, you know, witnesses who were not there, but he's not really sort of hammered at the fact that Allen Weisselberg is critical -- could potentially have been a critical witness, depending on what he said, for either side. But Allen Weisselberg was the only other person in some of these meetings according to the testimony of Michael Cohen. Do you expect Todd Blanche in the time left to him that he takes to really focus on raising questions on why wasn't Allen Weisselberg put on the stand?

BRENNAN: Well, you know, Anderson, you raise a very interesting question here because there is no burden shifting in a criminal case. The defense has no burden to call any witnesses, although they opted to call a couple in this case, Costello and the statistician. But if they -- if he hammers hard on it and the judge rules against him and allows the prosecution to say, well, they could have called them too, I mean, I think that would be the rolling, rolling, but he opens himself up to a landmine.

But it is important to remember. Unlike a civil case, there's absolutely no obligation for the defense to do anything. So, I think it's smart to hammer as hard as you can, where's Weisselberg? Why didn't hear from Weisselberg? There's all this talk of this document with these numbers on it allegedly written by Weisselberg, why didn't the prosecution put him up here?

And then you -- if you could tie that into Cohen's admitted testimony that he stole $60,000 from his client, which is noted on that document, that testimony may not have eviscerated the document, but it certainly tainted. So, I think there are important points to make, and he seems to be making them.

COOPER: What do you expect from the prosecution? And we've heard that, you know, prosecution may take as long as four and a half hours for their closing argument.

BRENNAN: That's a long time. I mean, you know, rule on these cases as a jury by the number of witnesses, one side puts one versus another but -- or the length of closing arguments, but they've got a bit of an advantage here in New York because they're listening to the defense's argument, I'm sure.

I know Mr. Steinglass. I've worked against him and Miss Hollinger. They're good lawyers and good prosecutors. I'm sure they're writing notes for their response as we sit here and discuss this now. But I think that four and a half hours or four hours is really pushing the envelope. It's a lot to cover. But if you can't do it in two or two and a half, I think that it's probably a point of no return after that, my personal thinking at least.


TAPPER: Well, Bill -- and Bill, we're just hearing Todd Blanche has told the judge that he thinks he has about half an hour left in his closing and the judge is saying that they're going to go late tonight. They want to finish up closing arguments saying the jury might need a snack run. And they seem to like that.

So, about half an hour left for Todd Blanche, according to Todd Blanche to make his final arguments. What do you expect, Bill, finally in this half -- last half hour? What do -- what is he going to do?

BRENNAN: I think it's similar, Anderson, to the way he buried the lead in closing. He -- you know, the armchair experts said he was meandering. He was disjointed. That he came home strong with that call about the 14-year-old child, the column one to seek the Secret Service.

COOPER: Right.

BRENNAN: And then there was the weekend break. And he came back in about the theft from his client. I mean, I think he does the same thing in closing.

I think, you know, he had a lot of ground to cover, and not a lot of time to do it. I'm sure he was check -- ticking off all his boxes. And I think the last half hour will be a barnburner.

COOPER: Bill Brennan, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: The jury is back in the courtroom after the morning break. We're back with Paula Reid and Kaitlan Collins. So, a half an hour Todd Blanche says left.

COLLINS: Well, it seems to suggest that they may finish the closing arguments today.

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: I think that's a question of how long the prosecution goes because Todd Blanche is back at the lectern. He has about half an hour left to go. He's done about two hours of speaking so far. So, we'll see what his -- if it is a barnburner, what his closing stretch looks like.

And then the judge said that the jury had agreed to stay late. It's not clear how late they've agreed to stay and whether or not that will be sufficient time for the prosecution to go. But that would be notable because it would mean they would start fresh tomorrow with the hour-long jury instructions from Judge Merchan, and closing arguments will be finished today.

COOPER: Todd Blanche is picking up back with Stormy Daniels back in 2016.

REID: It's clear this judge wants this case done and out of his courtroom by the end of the week. So, trying to move forward as quickly as he can, undermine people that in the courtroom today is Alvin Bragg, the district attorney who brought this case. I mean these closing arguments shortly mean an enormous amount for the defendant, for former President Trump.

But this is also career-making or breaking for Alvin Bragg. A lot of folks were surprised when he brought up this case. Has he written the check he cannot cash by bringing this case, a long-dormant case that he was under a lot of political pressure to move forward?

We haven't seen him very often in this case inside the courtroom. He showed up when two paralegals from his office had to testify. He also showed up for a portion of Michael Cohen's time on the stand.

But we also don't hear from him going in and out of the courtroom. He has chosen to keep a very low profile, more traditional prosecutorial approach to this. Unlike, for example, the state attorney general in New York Letitia James, almost every day when Trump was in court in her civil cases. She would hit the mics on the way and hit the mics on the way out.

We haven't heard from Alvin Bragg. So, it's notable that he's showing up today. He understands that this is a very significant day in the course of this trial.

COLLINS: Well, so much of -- for Alvin Bragg and Todd Blanche hinges on this trial.

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: I mean, it's pretty -- I mean, obviously Alvin Bragg is an elected official. He's the district attorney here. This is one of his first major cases, though. You know, he's not there because he's working on other cases as well. They say he often doesn't, you know, show up to -- when a witness is testifying. He's there if it's a victim in the courtroom, often according to the district attorney's office. But Todd Blanche also has an enormous amount weighing on on this the next 30 minutes. And the outcome of this trial --

COPPER: He left his -- this partnership on his firm.

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: He left -- he started his own law firm. We saw one of the witnesses that testified there who put together the call logs is actually working at Todd Blanche's law firm and has been in the courtroom every day. But he is someone who you know, was once registered as a Democrat to vote, and worked for this high-powered law firm here in New York. And here he is now taking something that we've seen has been perilous for so many other attorneys, which is to represent Donald Trump.

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: Key on point, Michael Cohen, though it's a bit of a different story there. But it is -- you know, there's a lot riding on this not just for Todd Blanche, but also for the district attorney here.

REID: Yes, and Todd Blanche remains confident that he can get a mistrial here, a hung jury. They don't believe that they're actually going to get an acquittal. They believe that this whole thing is stacked against them.

People know their client, know his history and look, he has a reputation, specifically a reputation for lying. So, they expect that there's unlikely there'll be an acquittal, but he does think that this was a winnable case in terms of at least maybe getting a mistrial or a hung jury. So, that's part of why he chose to represent the former president in this case.

COOPER: We've all been in the courtroom. We've all looked at those jurors. It is very hard to read what they are thinking, whose side they may, and what determination that they may or may not have already made.

REID: Yes. Great poker faces on them, I will say. I'm sure you guys have seen this too in court, incredibly attentive.


REID: Even the most deadly boring testimony when you're looking at a pay stub -- another pay stub or check stub, they're paying attention to every single document. They're incredibly attentive throughout this process. It's been seven weeks. Put a large portion of their life during that seven weeks.


And you know, you got to commend them for sticking with it. We thought we would see more jurors may be backing out of this assignment not willing to take this on. But these are folks who show up every day. They're attentive, they're listening, but I don't think anyone, certainly none of the sources I've spoken with on either side of this case, have any idea how this going to end.

COOPER: And none have dropped out, which --

REID: Yes.

COOPER: A lot of jurors -- justices here are surprised by. It says a lot. Blanche says the government wants you to believe statements were coerced. Ms. Daniels has denied -- Todd Blanche has said repeatedly that talked about Stormy Daniels has denied that there was any sexual encounter. She had done that previously. She had signed documents to that effect. Obviously, she now says that is -- that is no longer -- that was not true when she was signing those documents.

COLLINS: Well -- I mean, she even talked to you about that when you interviewed her --


COLLINS: Which is why she said something at one time and why she said something else at another time. She had signed a nondisclosure agreement, the same nondisclosure agreement that they're not even disputing that she struck with Michael Cohen and with Donald Trump. That is why she said she did not speak out publicly. She was not allowed to speak out publicly.

And we also watched how closely between the testimony from Keith Davidson, the attorney on her behalf who negotiated that agreement, and Michael Cohen about just how closely they were coordinating. Michael Cohen who was booking Stormy Daniels on Trump -- one of Trump's favorite shows on Fox News, Sean Hannity show. It was ultimately canceled, and she did not go. But they were coordinating how she was speaking, what she was saying publicly.

They talked about how they were all kind of in a tizzy when she was going to go on Jimmy Kimmel's Late-Night Show. And she put out a new denial that day that she and Jimmy Kimmel spoke about in the interview. But it was at the close coordination of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.

Donald Trump was furious when all of these stories were becoming public and was calling Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen was then in turn calling Keith Davidson. And so, they have a long history. The jury at least knows why that happened.

COOPER: Blanche questions Daniels' statements saying she was threatened in 2011 that's why she went public. Stormy Daniels maintains that in 2011, she was in a parking lot, I believe was outside of a fitness studio in Las Vegas. She says a man approached her making a threat.

Things change in 2018, according to Blanche. What happened is something that was worth a lot more than $130,000, Blanche says. So, that's -- the threat is this what Stormy Daniels has said about somebody approaching her when she was in the car with her -- with her child making a threat. Not clear who that person was if that person exists.

REID: Once again, unclear why Blanche is using up so much oxygen on Stormy Daniels, on her story, and on things that she said. They did the same thing on our cross-examination. They're falling into a trap here. They're getting lost in the weeds. This is not material to the actual criminal allegations.

He appears to be spending way too much time on this. So, the risk here is you're going to lose the jury and they're going to forget about some of his more potent arguments about the credibility of Michael Cohen and, you know, the lack of direct evidence linking the defendant to the falsified records.

COOPER: Yes. And, Jake, Todd Blanche had told Judge Merchan before he began again that he'd be going for about 30 more minutes. So, he is -- he's close to the end.

TAPPER: All right. Anderson, thanks so much. Let's talk more about this because right now, Todd Blanche, the attorney for Donald Trump is saying -- picking back up with Stormy Daniels. "Ms. Daniels has denied that there was ever any sex with President Trump in 2018 and earlier, but the government wants you to believe those statements were coerced."

Blanche questions Daniels' statements saying she was threatened in 2011 and that's why she went public. Blanche is now playing more of the recordings between Davidson and Cohen where Keith Davidson, who was the attorney for Stormy Daniels said that sometimes people get settler's remorse. Todd Blanche says at the end of the day, what really happened is that somebody offered more money to Ms. Daniels.

So, Kasie, what's going on here is he is providing an alternate theory of the case about whether or not Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump actually had some sort of rendezvous in that hotel room in Nevada in 2006. Todd Blanche, somebody offered her to pay her legal fees if she got out of the NDA she signed with Mr. Cohen.

And again-- and this is not unusual. I know the attorneys are going to tell me this. But like when you have a rogue's gallery of unreliable narrators, each one of whom you know cannot -- have been -- you know, hasn't always told the truth. Stormy Daniels has signed at least two documents saying she did not have a rendezvous with Donald Trump. It's tough to -- it's tough to stake a case on it.

He's saying right now. This started as an extortion, Todd Blanche says. There's no doubt about that. And it ended very well for Ms. Daniels, financially speaking, Blanche said.

Trump has turned his chair 90 degrees, so he is facing Blanche, and the jury which we're told is unusual. Their goal was to make as much money as possible off of President Trump, Blanche says.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, this feels to me like the spaghetti at the wall theory of reasonable doubt.