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CNN Live Event/Special

Closing Arguments Underway in the Trump Hush Money Trial. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 28, 2024 - 15:30   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But they're focusing correctly to say that their motivation is not important. McDougal's is not important. What's important is the defendant's motivation.

They also talk about how Donald Trump has essentially deputized Michael Cohen to David Pecker. Why that's important is because, you remember from the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen and how Trump intimates things, does not say things, we've all been wondering about the trial, how would he prove that Donald Trump had his fingerprints on something.

They are talking about a moment when Trump essentially says to Pecker, I'm paraphrasing here, speak to Cohen about these issues, which is why now you're hearing him talk about him being the fixer. By deputizing, so to speak, Michael Cohen, it gives the link to say this was all at the behest of Donald Trump. And remember, one important jury instruction here could be to include that the defendant is guilty for the behavior of somebody else if they essentially sanctioned that conduct.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And it's true, and correct me if you think I'm wrong, that over the years, Michael Cohen was certainly one of, if not the most trusted aide that Trump had. They were both involved in all sorts of stuff.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things. One, I would never think you're wrong, Wolf, so let's just put that on the record.

So, you know, a couple things to Michael Cohen's credibility. And certainly the fact that he served the former president for a long time works to his benefit, I think, as a witness. I think this idea of how much does someone's credibility issues hurt them as a witness, I don't believe that there is any witness who is so incredible or uncredible that they're going to tank an entire case.

Anyone who has ever tried a homicide or gang or drug or mob case knows that witnesses come in with tremendous baggage. And often jurors will think, OK, you know, that's not great. However, considering that this person was under oath, considering the other evidence in the record, this is quite credible.

Joshua Steinglass, just a few moments ago, to this point about how we look at motivations and credibility did sort of pick up on Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels saying their motivations are not relevant. What is relevant are the behaviors of the defendant and any co- conspirators with him. And if the jury can believe those things, the fact that Michael Cohen has credibility issues and prior convictions and lies in his past don't help him, but certainly don't sink the case.

BLITZER: In his summation or closing arguments, the prosecutor, Steinglass, David, told jurors, and I'm quoting him now.

This scheme cooked up by these men at this time could very well be what got President Trump elected.

You're a political director. Does that ring true?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I mean, I don't know. Joshua Steinglass is a much better lawyer than I could ever be. I'm not one. But as a political analyst, I'm not sure if that's actually true that Trump would not have gotten elected absent this.

BLITZER: If this jury had come out, would he have still gotten elected?

CHALIAN: He very well could have been elected. I mean, we don't know that. I don't, as Audie was saying before.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND HOST, THE ASSIGNMENT WITH AUDIE CORNISH: You're being very generous. I think we can't ever know that. There's so many things that go into winning an election.

CHALIAN: You said earlier, you know, the whole world thought that the Access Hollywood tape was going to be a killer of his campaign, and it wasn't. This on top of that, with that, we don't, it's a not knowable thing.

So I'm not sure, I mean, I can understand why Steinglass wants to include that in his summation here of describing what the scheme is as a bit of political analysis. I'm not sure it's totally accurate.

BLITZER: Audie, go ahead.

CORNISH: Oh, I was just going to add, I think it's interesting that Steinglass is also referring to Cohen over and over again as the fixer and not his attorney. I was wondering if you guys could kind of underscore why that's important because I thought there was this whole debate about whether he was on retainer or not, and talking about him not as a lawyer, but as a fixer seems to be a very pointed way of doing it in a close.

COATES: Well, one, I think that it helps to not think of him as an attorney because that recorded conversation between himself and what would have been his client. That, I think, could ruffle some feathers to suggest that he is all the more untrustworthy, or perhaps that he had some nefarious intent, other than the innocent explanation that he provided, which was, I wanted to send this to David Pecker to show him, there's nothing to worry about, he's going to pay you your money. Here, I have proof, and I never actually showed that.

I just want to go back to one point David mentioned about the idea of why it's not knowable, and both of you have confirmed that it wasn't knowable. This is why it was likely a mistake by the defense to focus so much time on somebody like Stormy Daniels. I mean, hours on the stand because they thought was that jurors were going to clutch their pearls because, she's an adult films actress. She was a director as well. She was not backing down from actually saying that she, in fact, had sex, and owned that her name was not Stephanie, it was Stormy Daniels.

For that reason, I think, the reasons you can't assume that he would have lost because of Access Hollywood or because this information is why you have to be careful about trying to, I think the phrase was slut shame her, they were attempting to do during her testimony because jurors want to know why they're here, 34 counts of falsified business records, and what you can do to prove it.


Not that you want to have me be perceiving this person as a problem. There is nothing wrong with her profession. She talked about it as such, but they wanted to rake her over the coals for that reason, and for that very notion, to bank on pearl clutching, a problem.

WILLIAMS: I'd add to this, this notion of why you're calling him a fixer versus not. Were he referred to as Donald Trump's attorney? Yes, prosecutors could make a compelling case that records were still falsified and claimed to be legal services.

If you call him a fixer, it's a hard jump to say that, you know, you're putting legal services in the ledgers by a guy that's a fixer. It gets back to the point we were talking about --

BLITZER: If you call him a lawyer, there's attorney client privileges too.

WILLIAMS: All of that as well. It also gets back to the point we were talking about where you called the defendant the defendant, not Mr. Jones, and will you call the fixer the fixer, not attorney Cohen.

BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're coming up to. We're following all the details in this trial.

Stay with our special coverage. We'll be right back.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And welcome back to our special live coverage of the Hush Money criminal trial of the former President Donald Trump. I'm back now with our Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid and National Correspondent, Kristen Holmes.

All right, so here we are waiting and they're listening. They're in there listening. Just a couple of points to make from this as this is about to go to the jury. Your sources in Trump world are telling you sort of how they see this going.

When they get optimistic about how the jury will come out, when they start to believe it, what are you hearing?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so this is all a matter of time, right? So they believe, and again, this is just some of the sources close to the campaigns and the senior advisors who have told me this. So, and they know just about as much as anybody. So this is kind of just speculation.

But they believe that there are some options here. One is that the jury comes back and it comes back quickly, 45 minutes, and that it is a conviction and they move from there.

The next part of this is that every kind of interim after that, any five minute period even, gets closer and closer to it being potentially a hung jury. And that is when they start to get more optimistic about it. The longer the time the jury is out, the better that they feel about the case.

Now, just a reminder that I have spoken to almost no one who believes that Donald Trump, at least on his team, is being acquitted.

They believe that there's two options here, that he's going to be convicted or that there's going to be a hung jury. They're hoping, obviously, that they turned at least one jury, made one jury sympathetic in this case.

BURNETT: And you know, it's interesting, Paula, in all of this is it comes down to how one defines the word reasonable. And which is really amazing, right? Such a subjective thing. It's not beyond a doubt. It's beyond a reasonable doubt. And that word carries all the weight of that charge.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It does, and there's a concern, obviously, in Trump world and also legal experts that this becomes a war shock test for how you feel about the former president. And that's not what the legal system is supposed to be. We don't want to open that Pandora's box for people to succumb to political pressure, bring charges in districts that are not unfriendly to a certain politician, former politician.

This needs to be the facts presented, the evidence presented, match the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. And right now we see prosecutors walking through, now chronologically, their case. Right now they're really focused on the conspiracy because they charged this as a felony, arguing that these business records were falsified to help Trump win in 2016.

So they've spent the better part of an hour focusing on that part, the helping Trump win in 2016.

BURNETT: And that is obviously at the core of it. How much time, Kristen, when you look at this, are they spending on sort of the underlying motive, the kind of did he or he didn't he, which I know is not relevant to it, whether or not he had the affair with Stormy Daniels, but obviously Trump has tried to make it at the core of it. He's tried to say, I didn't, and someone tried to extort me, and what would you have done?

HOLMES: Yes, and I think it was interesting just to see the defense go over the Stormy Daniels portion of this, saying over and over again during their closing, that didn't even happen, essentially. You know, pointing out that now it's something that they want, that they know that their client wants to hear. They want a continual denial of this alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, something that Donald Trump has done.

But regardless, I think what we're seeing back and forth here now, and what we've been watching, is they're talking about the fact that the prosecution, or excuse me, the defense was trying to muddy up the tape about Karen McDougal and about Michael Cohen opening up a bank account. You hear Trump on the tape, they're trying to say that the defense was trying to say that it was edited in some way, give me a break. Going through each of these various parts.

But again, I really do have to go back to the fact that a lot of the reason why they have to do this enormous amount of cleanup and going through these facts is because they seem to know that their main witness is a bit unreliable.

BURNETT: And they said, what was the line just a few moments ago, as Steinglass was speaking? He said, I've almost never, or I'm not exactly sure what the exact wording was, but that was the concept. Seen a case that has this much corroboration.

REID: Well, that's a very generous assessment of his own case. I think, again, legal experts across the board all acknowledge that they only called Michael Cohen because they had to, and ultimately, he is the direct link between the defendant and the alleged criminal conduct. There are certainly receipts, there are documents, they're saying he's the tour guide to walk you through that.

Well, he is more than that, which is why they spent about an hour trying to bolster his credibility. So I think Steinglass, maybe he's trying to amp himself up, but that's just not true.


BURNETT: And then, obviously, this could go late tonight or into the evening, right? I mean, they have four hours allotted, then it gets, the judge will talk to the jury, right? I mean, this is going to go longer than any day we've had so far.

HOLMES: Right, they have to kind of parse this out and decide how exactly they want to handle it. They, being the judge here, has to say, you know, are you guys, are we close here? Are we going to wrap? Do we want to actually carry this over until tomorrow?

I believe you had some reporting this morning about the fact that they, Todd Blanche had seen, specifically wanted, and that's the defense, specifically wanted it to be two to three hours to kind of force the prosecution into a time period of the day. REID: Exactly, it seemed like the judge was aligned. They didn't want the prosecution to leave because they have no time limit. Clearly, they have no time limit.

To leave, you know, an extra 30 minutes and get that extra crack at the jury right before they went to deliberations. But here's what the judge is on board. It's just why they're going to stay late today.

BURNETT: I don't know, sometimes I say, you know, for a best man or best woman speech, you know, shorter is often better. All right, they are taking a brief break, though, in the courtroom, so we're going to take a brief break as well. We'll be back.

Our coverage of the trial is back after that. We'll be speaking with a jury expert to hear how the closing arguments may be playing with the jury right now. We'll be back.



BLITZER: A jury of seven men and five women will ultimately decide, is Donald Trump guilty? Joining me now, jury consultant Melissa Gomez. And Melissa, thanks so much for joining us.

We just heard moments ago that Judge Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, says he's only about a third of the way through his summation. We've heard that the number one rule is thou shalt not bore the jury. But are both teams in danger of breaking that rule with these hours-long summations?

MELISSA GOMEZ, JURY CONSULTANT: Yes, there could be some trouble with that. One of the most important rules of speaking to a jury is to make sure you maintain their attention because jurors are not going to remember, they're not going to be compelled something that they were asleep during. So it is really important that when giving a summation that you're clear, that you're concise.

And I think that also gives some credibility to how confident you are in the evidence. You don't need to go through every single witness and every single piece of evidence in closing. Everybody was there.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Jury deliberations begin this week after both sides finish their closing arguments. Take us inside that room. What will those deliberations be like?

GOMEZ: Different juries deliberate in different ways. It depends on the constellation of characters. There are going to be people who are more vocal, people who are quieter. But that doesn't necessarily mean the people who are more vocal will have more pull.

I've seen many juries deliberate, mock juries and talk to folks after deliberating in real juries. And it's really more about how compelling the evidence is and who can best articulate their position when debating the issues.

BLITZER: In your experience, Melissa, how important are these closing arguments for helping the jury make a decision?

GOMEZ: So they're very important for a couple of reasons and some may be surprising. So usually by the point of closing, each jury, like I said, they've been there the whole time. They already have a perspective of what they think.

And so the closings provide, number one, give the contextual story of what that evidence means. It also is supposed to provide a roadmap for the jurors between the evidence they heard and the actual questions on the verdict form.

And finally, what's really important about closing argument is for each side to understand that they're not necessarily at the point where they need to convince someone who's on the other side.

What they need to do is use that closing argument to provide the ammunition, to provide the argument for those jurors who already believe in their side. So that once the jurors are back in that deliberation room, lawyers can't have any more influence. They've already closed, they've already said everything they have to say.

They need to make sure that they've provided the jurors who believe in their side of the case what they need to fight for them in the deliberation room.

BLITZER: Melissa, how important is the jury's view of Michael Cohen's credibility likely to be when they're determining a verdict?

GOMEZ: You know, like a lot of evidence, I think that's going to be in the eye of the beholder. So I think both sides, and this is something the prosecution has done wisely, both sides have embraced his lack of credibility. The defense has embraced it in terms of, hey, if you don't believe Michael Cohen, that means the prosecution can't prove their case.

And what the prosecution has done is tried to steal the thunder of that. Yes, Michael Cohen is a convicted felon, he is a liar, and he is the person that Donald Trump chose. So they're trying to align that aspect of him, the aspect that is the weakest part of their case, in order to try to bolster, well, yes, he's a liar, that's why he was chosen by Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Melissa Gomez, jury consultant, thank you very much for your expertise. The trial right now is on a very brief break. The closing arguments by the prosecution will resume in just a few moments. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Donald Trump seen just walking back moments ago into the courtroom. We're watching the final arguments from the prosecution continue. Jurors are about to return from a quick break as well.

Prosecution is nearing another two full hours of closing arguments in this hush money criminal trial of the former president. And so far, the prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, has been pivoting away from the defense's arguments that Michael Cohen's testimony can't be trusted. In fact, he's trying to show that his testimony wasn't needed at all to prove that the former president knew about the payments to reimburse his former fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen, and knew about the scheme to silence the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels.


This morning, we also heard the defense claim Trump was actually a victim of extortion. They also tried to discredit Michael Cohen, referring to him as, quote, the greatest liar of all time.

The jury was told from the start of today's hearings that they would be long, and they said they were prepared to stay longer than normal.

I'll be back in two hours, 6 p.m. Eastern, in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Stay with CNN. Our special live coverage of this truly historic criminal trial continues right now on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper.