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CNN Live Event/Special

Soon: Prosecution Delivers Closing Arguments; Defense Calls Michael Cohen's Testimony "Lies, Pure And Simple". Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 28, 2024 - 13:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Kristen, notably, right, as we are speaking, Don Jr, one of Trump's adult sons, he's at the microphone, he's speaking. They were in court today, sitting behind their father, Don Jr, Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump, a surprising addition.

What do you make of children who have showed up here? Notably, not Ivanka Trump?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, (INAUDIBLE) you're seeing because the reasonably showed up to court days, plus because he was recovering from knee surgery.

We know that Donald Trump Jr has his own show on Rumble and he has been talking about the case incessantly. So that's our kind of defense for it.

It is surprising to see Tiffany Trump, who usually tries to stay away from this stuff there with her husband.

But notably, as you said, no imagery, nothing from Jared and Ivanka. Now, this is not that surprising given the fact that Ivanka said, in 2022, right before Donald Trump announced that he will be running again, essentially, said that she was not going to be involved.

She cited her children. She said that this was not something that she wanted to be a part of. And they have really stuck with that.

Now behind the scenes, Jared Kushner has done some stuff with the Trump campaign. But I'm told that, one, she is really focusing on her children. And, two, she and Jared were really ostracized from their social life after she left the White House, something that matters them.

Remember, they moved down to Florida. They don't really want to relive that at this point.

PHILLIP: That's so interesting, and especially given they both worked in the White House, they were the two family members who were perhaps the most involved in the politics at this time, at this very period that we are talking about in this case.

But, Paula, I want to talk to you about something that you and I thought was really extraordinary. I would argue this was the weakest moment for Todd Blanche today.

This is where he's talking about the impact of the "National Enquirer" and what a bad story or good story might do for Donald Trump is it showed up in that paper.

Here's what he says. "The idea, even if there was something wrong with it, the idea that sophisticated if people like President Trump and David Pecker believed that positive stories in the "National Enquirer" could influence the 2016 election is preposterous."

I mean, frankly, it's preposterous to think that just the idea that a "National Enquirer" story in and of itself is about how many people are picking up the "National Enquirer." This is the age of the Internet.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. In the digital age, specifically in 2016, positive stories about Trump, negative stories about his adversaries, political opponents were being amplified on social media.

This was before really anyone had a lot of awareness about disinformation campaigns. There was also an army of Russian bots that was trying to help him, pumping these out.

Particularly negative stories about Hillary Clinton. I remember that those, anything would just be amplified again and again and again.

So even if your magazine only has a circulation of a few hundred thousand, I mean, those stories could be seen by millions and millions of people.

PHILLIP: But even Trump believed in the power of the "Enquirer." He -- he planted stories about his police political opponents in the primary, Ted Cruz and others.

HOLMES: Right, obviously. And Donald Trump has long been a fan of the "Enquirer" and believed that it had an enormous reach, despite the fact that maybe 50,000. But particularly, as he said in 2016, it wasn't 350,000, maybe circulating. But online, everything was being amplified.

I will note that Melania Trump also, at the time, read the "National Enquirer." So it was somewhat of a family affair in more ways than one.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, they love their New Yorkers through and through. They Trump believed and believes in the power of the tabloid.

But let's get a jury consultant on what the jury might have thought of all of these arguments.

Alan Tuerkheimer is with us.

Alan, you know, Todd Blanche was trying to get the jury on multiple fronts, trying to undermine the central premise that there was a conspiracy, that this was about the election, that Michael Cohen ought to be believed.

What do you think that they took away from all those different points being thrown at them in one two-and-a-half-hour session?

ALAN TUERKHEIMER, JURY CONSULTANT: I think it was a bit of an overreach by the defense during the closing. I think they -- they shot too high. And I think it was a good closing with the emphasis on Michael Cohen's credibility. But it was a little scattershot. I think jurors probably picked up on that.

In a closing, you want to be very concise. You want to hit your main themes. I think it was too gimmicky, with the top-10 list and some of the slogans that were used about greatest liar of all time and MVP of liars. Jurors don't usually like that type of characterization.

And I also think about an hour would have been a nice amount of time, maybe a little more, to give your closing argument. I think that exceeding that probably cause some jurors to tune out a little bit and become distracted.

PHILLIP: He seemed to also be playing on the jury's desire, perhaps, to get the heck out of there. I mean, they've been out of court for about a week probably enjoying their lives, spending time with their families.

He repeated to them, this should be easy. You should be able to come to a quick conclusion on this.

Is that too much pressure or the right amount of pressure to put on the jury to get to maybe the conclusion that he thinks might be the easiest for them to reach? He wants it to be not guilty.


TUERKHEIMER: He's giving an invitation to some of the jurors to be done with this quickly. But they can just as easily be given -- give a guilty verdict in the same fashion.

So I think it's something defense lawyer say. And I think, at this point, it's really about advocacy in the deliberation. Closings are not really about persuasion, but trying to get those few jurors that are on your side, once at the end of the deliberation, then you want them to make those arguments to try to convince other jurors. And I think that's what's ultimately going to happen here.

I think they missed the mark on a few opportunities to do to do that. But it was -- it was somewhat effective. I think he did a good job. It was not stellar. It wasn't outstanding. But he did what he had to do.

PHILLIP: If you were doing this and consulting with this defense team, what would you have advised them to focus on the most? What do you think is their best opportunity to convince this jury that there is reasonable doubt? That's all they need at this point.

TUERKHEIMER: Right. I would have gone through the actual verdict questions. And I think the prosecution should do the same. Because sometimes jurors come into the deliberation, they're -- they're leaning a certain way. But then when they look at the questions, they really scrutinize them.

And I would have gone through them. And I would -- would've said this is why, at each -- at each word or each sentence, why you have to say not guilty.

But I do think that the Michael Cohen trashing was what they had to do, and I think they did that. It's just they introduced all these other elements that I think might be distracting for the jurors as they set out to deliberate.

It's much easier to just focus on one thing, peace to save (ph), make your arguments, and then let the jury take it from there.

PHILLIP: And to the frustration of the defendant, Donald Trump, the prosecution is going to have their opportunity to basically redirect the jury, refocus their minds. And that's how New York law works but that is what's going to happen in this afternoon session that we are anticipating.

Alan Tuerkheimer, thanks very much for all those insights.

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

PHILLIP: And our coverage of the closing arguments in the criminal hush money trial of Donald Trump is back after a quick break. We're waiting for the prosecution to enter their final arguments. Stay with us.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Closing arguments of Donald Trump's historic criminal hush money trial will resume after the court returns from a lunch break. Prosecutors are expected to take around four hours.

My experts are back with us right now.

And let me start, Elie, with you.

What do think by the length of time, at least so far, we've heard from the Trump defense team, they're closing arguments, and now were going to hear several hours from the prosecution.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Too long and way too long.


HONIG: Todd Blanche took almost three hours this morning. Did not need it. Could have easily cut out the middle portion, the middle hour or so. Juries are human beings. They start to lose focus, even with the mid-morning break. You cannot lose their attention.

You don't need three hours to close on the defense side. Four hours, maybe four-and-a-half, Steinglass said on the D.A.'s side. I think is a big mistake.

If I was him right now, I would be cutting down. I know it hurts. We prosecutors get attached to our evidence. We fall in love with the things that we want to say. But man, trust me, if he cuts out the weakest one hour of that closing, it will be better.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: A good way to think about it is think about the last time you went to the movies and watched a three- hour film. It just doesn't happen. And those are entertaining shows about -- whether it's monsters or aliens or spaceships, are the kinds of films that I want to watch.

Four hours is a very long time to keep people's attention, particularly after lunch. They can do it and it's a complex case in some regards, itself.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: I just want to jump in somehow. It's just like a normal --


CORNISH: -- which is three hours long.

Remember, you're also conveying an atmosphere in a story around a narrative. And because we're not in there, we can't actually get a sense of how he is carrying them along that story. May not feel like three hours.

We were talking during the break about the idea of bulleted reasons not to trust Michael Cohen. That was one point of Blanche's closing arguments.

And you guys were saying 10 is too many. And I was like bullets are helpful when you're taking notes.

So it's one caveat to think about is, we don't actually have right here in this moment an understanding of how he's using his voice.

Whether he is able to carry the story, whether he's punctuating certain things that he wants to stick in their mind, and whether part of it is a very typical Trump aura defense of all things, which is to kind of flood the zone with information and try to make the things you want to stick, stick.

BLITZER: What do you think the political impact will be from the verdict, whatever the verdict, is guilty, not guilty, hung jury. The political impact for Trump's reelection bid, for example?

CORNISH: I mean, one way to think about it is it's not the '90s. This isn't the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The idea that we're going to have some big national moment over this is probably a bit of a stretch. The numbers just don't show that people are even paying attention to this trial on that same scale.

And therefore, I think we should temper our expectations about what that means in terms of political consequences. In fact, what we'll probably end up doing is looking at specific voter groups to see if it affects their decision one way or another.

But I don't think this is the kind of moment -- you know, I grew up, like we watched trials, Rodney King, et cetera in class. I don't think this is what this is.

BLITZER: What do you think?

WILLIAMS: In terms of which aspect of it, though?

BLITZER: In terms of a verdict. Whatever the verdict is, will it impact Trump's reelection bid?


WILLIAMS: Oh, I don't know. Again, it's hard to say. I only in that most people seem somewhat locked in about their opinions about Donald Trump, whether it's folks for and folks against.

It remains a really open question as to how many folks there are in that undecided middle, if you want to call it that, who might be swayed one way or another.

BLITZER: Very quickly. I'll ask you what I asked Judge Swartz, 34 state criminal charges, felony criminal charges are -- have been leveled against Trump for falsifying business records, falsifying business documents.

Did the prosecution make the case 34 felony criminal charges?

HONIG: Yes. There's enough evidence there from which a reasonable jury could absolutely come back guilty. I'm not saying they will or should. But had they cleared the bar, the prosecutors, that they need to get this case to the jury, absolutely.

The defense is trying to just take out one of the legs of the stool, create some reasonable doubt. But, yes, the prosecution has carried its burden and a reasonable jury could come out either way in this. We just don't know.

CORNISH: Can I ask one other question?


CORNISH: You said prosecutors have met their bar, but has the defense created --

HONIG: Well --

CORNISH: -- enough doubt, just conceptually doubt.

HONIG: I'll give the same answer. I think there's enough in the defense case in closing where a reasonable juror could say, I don't trust Michael Cohen. That's it. Game over.

So we're within the realm of reasonable outcomes, either way here.

BLITZER: You agree?

WILLIAMS: I do. And one of the -- there's an open question as to how the judge might rule on a motion for essentially directing the verdict, saying that there is so little evidence in the record that I ought to move out to just put an acquittal here.

Judges can do that. That's highly unlikely here, for the reasons that that lie sort of pointed out here. There is evidence in the record. Now, again, the jury does not have to believe all of it.

And to Audie's question, certainly there's doubt poked about the integrity of the evidence they even questioned the integrity of a recording, the credibility of Michael Cohen.

So it could go either way. But there's a completely plausible outcome in either direction if there's an acquittal on jury or a conviction.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody standby.

We're -- right now, we're less than 15 minutes away from the prosecutions start of its closing arguments. Our special live coverage of the criminal hush money trial of Donald Trump is back after a quick break.



PHILLIP: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the Donald Trump hush money criminal trial where closing arguments are set to resume in just a few moments.

Moments ago, though, some of Donald Trump's older children spoke out outside of the courthouse.


DONALD TRUMP JR, SON OF DONALD TRUMP: And I want to say sorry to the jury that's in there. This has been the greatest colossal waste of time.

LARA TRUMP, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF DONALD TRUMP: And to the jury, when they realize these people who have wasted five weeks of their time in there, that they have been part of a political game, as New Yorkers, I'm pretty sure they're going to be upset about it.


PHILLIP: Here to discuss this now as CNN's presidential historian, Tim Naftali.

Tim, great to see you.

This is another historic moment for Donald Trump, and one that actually is quite sad, honestly, for the country to have a former president sitting in a criminal trial. When you take stock of the consequences of this trial, regardless of the verdict that the jury will reach, how do you see it?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I'm abroad at the moment and I've been thinking about the effect on our position in the world.

If he's a convicted felon, if the president, former president's found guilty, and the American people reelect him, what kind of signal that would send around the world about the state of our institutions.

It might send the signal that, in this United States, corruption is king and the king is corrupt.

So if the former president is found guilty, I think that'll have a negative, very negative effect on our ability to act as a source of stability around the world, should he read turn to the White House.

PHILLIP: And there's also the issue of Donald Trump's conduct throughout this trial. His comments about the case, about the judge, about the judicial system. What impact has that had on this country's history of respecting, frankly, the rule of law?

NAFTALI: Again, just as the verdict may affect our ability to act around the world in a positive way, the verdict may affect our institutions at home.

If Donald Trump is, in any way, sanctioned or penalized for his behavior, his behavior back in 2016 and 2017, then people will take the lesson that you should not act that way. You should not disrespect our judicial system.

On the other hand, should former President Trump be acquitted or more likely there be a hung jury, people might say, you know, it doesn't matter. You should act that way in America.

And others will learn. Because many people do learn from those in powerful positions. And then we can expect more people to disrespect our judicial hello system. And for it to weaken over the next few years.


PHILLIP: You alluded to this a little earlier, but I think the whole country should now, this week, start to come to terms with the fact that it is possible that there could be a convicted felon running for office.

It is also possible that that person could be elected president of the United States.

How -- if voters are waking up to that reality, tell us how you think that they should think through that and think about impact that that will have on American history, frankly?

NAFTALI: I'd like to handle that in two different ways. I don't want to tell the American people how to vote. It's not up to me. But what I'd like the American - I'd like fellow Americans to think

about the conduct you want from the person who could be representing our country once again in January, who is -- who would be our head of state, our commander-in-chief.

Who is not everything in our country. The president isn't everything. But who, to some extent, embodies us. And so I think Americans should think about whether they care about the conduct of that person.

So the trial, in many ways, is an opportunity to revisit some elements of the former president's persona. He may be acquitted of the connection between the election and the hush money. But the evidence is very strong that there was a hush money conspiracy.

So regardless of the outcome of the trial, Americans have to take into consideration that one of two men who could possibly be president next year was involved in a conspiracy to hush up -- to hush up a sexual adventure.

PHILLIP: Tim Naftali, we appreciate your perspective, your historic perspective on all of this. Thank you very much.

And stay with us. The prosecution will present their closing arguments any moment now. Our coverage of the criminal hush money trial of Donald Trump is back after this quick break.