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Judge Re-Read Instructions to Jury; Jury Requests Review of Pecker and Cohen's Testimony. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 30, 2024 - 10:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Anything negative about Mr. Trump and that he wouldn't be able to help us know in advance what was coming out and try to stop it from coming out. Prosecutor Hoffinger, and who did he say he would get in touch with if his -- if he was able to identify those types of substories? Cohen, the answer was me. Mr. Trump also. Knowing my relationship with David Pecker, the tabloid king, the two of you should work together. And anything negative that comes out, you let Michael know and we'll handle it. That's Michael Cohen quoting Donald Trump.

Now, a lot of this has been corroborated by David Pecker's testimony. What does it tell you that the jury requested this? Because if I recall correctly, the prosecutor -- the other prosecutor, Steinglass said in his summary, that that Trump Tower meeting was a really important meeting to view this entire case through an important lens.

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: So, what you can glean from that note is that at least one juror, you can't necessarily generalize against the whole jury.

TAPPER: Right. The other 11 couldn't care less, possibly, yes.

AGNIFILO: But at least one juror is interested in learning and rehearing the theory of the prosecution's case, which is that at that is the meeting where the criminal intent was formulated, the conspiracy was formulated. The other thing that happened at that meeting that I think is significant is that is where, according to Pecker now, not just Michael Cohen, because so much of Trump's involvement depends on the words of Michael Cohen, this is where Pecker is saying, Trump literally deputized Michael Cohen to be the guy that Pecker should work with in executing this criminal plan.

So, at least one juror heard what Josh Steinglass, the prosecutor, said in his summation about this and wants to rehear it. I think that's about all you can glean from this. But that's what I think it is.

TAPPER: Does Donald Trump -- does the defense, Elie, did they deny that this meeting took place?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: No, they don't. I mean, they -- on the cross-examination they tried to undercut it. They tried to say Michael Cohen and David Pecker's recollection of the meeting is not exactly the same. But how could it be? It never is.

My view is the testimony of Pecker and Cohen overlaps substantially enough that it's mutually reinforcing. It's mutually corroborating. And Kasie's right, what you said before, trying to understand what the jury's thinking is the pseudoscience of all pseudosciences. However, we can still draw inferences.

And one inference that I think we can draw about the jury is they're approaching this in a perfectly logical, chronological manner. The D.A. tried to tell the story in closing. This meeting is chapter one. This meeting is page one. It makes perfect sense that the jury's starting there and it's a solid starting point for the prosecution.

TAPPER: So, just to go where the jury is right now inside the courtroom, right now, the first excerpt is being read, and that's not the excerpt I just read. It is a different one. And it's about a phone call between David Pecker and Donald Trump. And just to give you some color as to what's going on in the courtroom, the court reporter is reading the questions while a different court reporter sitting in the witness seat is going to read the answers to the questions. So, two different court reporters are re-enacting this transcript being re- read, so as to make it easier for the jury to understand as to who's saying what.

And we should note that they are told when they re-read it to not be going from the Stanislavski or Stella Adler School of Acting. They are supposed to read it rather expressionlessly, not emphasizing words, not trying to recreate the moment, just trying to deliver the words.

They're both women. They're both reading. And I'm told they both have classic New York accents, although I don't know if that means Queens, Bronx, Staten Island, Manhattan Adirondacks, I don't know, but let's assume it's a little Brooklyn. And then Donald Trump is leaning over to speak to Beauvais after they read -- one of his attorneys, after they read this first excerpt.

So, this first excerpt, I'm not going to read you the whole thing, but I do want to read you a part of it to get at what's going on here. This has to do with a phone call between David Pecker, this tabloid king, and Donald Trump, and I believe this is in 2016. Josh Steinglass, the prosecutor, is interviewing David Pecker. And this is the testimony from April 25th.

And at one point, Steinglass says, so, when the subject of Karen McDougal came up, Donald Trump described her as a nice girl. This is Karen McDougal as the 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year who alleges she had a 10- or 11-month long romantic and sexual relationship with Donald Trump. Donald Trump described her as a nice girl. David Pecker, yes. Steinglass, based on your conversation with Mr. Trump, did you have an understanding as to whether he was aware of the specifics of Karen McDougal's description of the affair? Pecker, yes, I did. Steinglass, what made you come to such an understanding? Pecker, I think that Michael Cohen gave him the -- I think Michael Cohen spoke to Donald Trump, which he said he was going to, which -- excuse me, which Donald Trump said on the phone that I spoke to Michael. And I believe that when Mr. Trump said that to me over the phone that she was a nice girl, I believe that he knew who she was.


Steinglass, why would you recommend to Donald Trump purchasing this story? Pecker, I believed the story was true. I think that it would have been very embarrassing to himself and also to his campaign. Now, that's not the entire excerpt, but that is some of the excerpt that was read.

And Elliot Williams, I'm wondering, Donald Trump is not charged with anything having to do with Karen McDougal.


TAPPER: Why is this being re-read?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. It's a few things. So, number one it's -- this is further evidence of this catch and kill process, whatever you want to call it, just to help --


TAPPER: Catch and kill --


TAPPER: And just to just to re-explain, catch and kill is this idea of someone, in this case, David Pecker and the tabloid enterprise, buying a story from somebody like Karen McDougal, not to run it, but to kill it.


TAPPER: Is that illegal?

WILLIAMS: Not on its face, not unless you're doing it to commit or conceal another crime.

TAPPER: OK. Is it illegal to do that for a candidate for office to help their campaign without declaring that as a contribution to their campaign?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And that is why --

TAPPER: That is illegal?

WILLIAMS: That is illegal. And that's why that question came in, did it help to benefit the campaign? Now again, he is not charged with that conduct. What prosecutors are doing is saying that on prior occasions, the same conduct or at least substantially similar conduct to what we have charged here played out. Now, perhaps defense could have objected by saying that you're bringing in these ancillary matters that aren't charged here. They did not, I believe. And correct me, lawyers, if that's incorrect.

TAPPER: Did they object?

WILLIAMS: I don't think so.


HONIG: Well, they -- the prosecutors wanted to prevent McDougal from taking the stand -- excuse me. The Trump's team wanted to keep McDougal off the stand. Prosecutors argued, we really do want to call her. Judge said, you can call her. And then the prosecutors during the trial said, actually, we're not going to call her. So yes, Trump's team tried to keep McDougal out of this trial.

TAPPER: Unsuccessfully.

WILLIAMS: So -- and then, number one, so it establishes a catch and kill, also campaign ties that play and come up again very explicitly in the context of the Stormy Daniels story, which is actually charged with.

TAPPER: And Karen McDougal, we should note, she was paid $150,000. And it was for a column she was going to write for one of these magazines. I think it was like fitness magazine or something like that, that AMI owned. She never actually wrote any columns, but she was paid $150,000. David Pecker, according to his testimony, ate the cost of that. He thought he was going to be repaid by Donald Trump. He was not repaid.

Do we think, since he had an immunity deal, David Pecker, to testify, that they could have -- the prosecutors could have charged him with an illegal campaign contribution, because he's saying he did this? Is -- it would have been embarrassing to campaign. He's saying explicitly he did this to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump's campaign. Do we think that that was part of the deal? We're not -- this is a big election fundraising crime, but we're not going to charge you in exchange for your testimony.

HONIG: So that's the argument, right? David Pecker, clearly in prosecutors' eyes, had some criminal exposure because they gave him this non-prosecution deal. If you just have a witness who did nothing wrong, a person standing on a corner who witnesses carjacking, that person does not need a non-prosecution agreement.

The only time a person needs a non-prosecution agreement is if they're at least in the margins of a criminal charge. Now, that's a deal prosecutors make all the time. I made many of those deals. And the calculation that they made was his involvement was small enough, the crime was insignificant enough and his testimony is valuable enough that we'll make this deal. And prosecutors were very explicit and open about that deal with the jury.

TAPPER: And, Karen, what's your take on this testimony from David Pecker that they're having re-read?

AGNIFILO: Yes, I think exactly what -- what's being said here is they're trying to, I think, really parse out and see how much corroboration there is of Michael Cohen. Because this is what everybody and -- especially the prosecutor has said, is -- there is corroboration of Michael Cohen. Yes, he's a flawed witness, but you don't have to rely on him enough.

And so, I think they are going back and really seeing what is corroborated, what does depend on Michael Cohen. This whole thing of waiting for a jury verdict and reading -- trying to read the tea leaves from notes is what all the lawyers in the courtroom are doing too, by the way. The prosecutors are talking to their supervisors, they're talking to Alvin Bragg, they're all trying to figure that out, same with the defense attorneys.

It's a torturous process and it's -- sometimes it can be very misleading what the notes say as opposed to -- it's not always a reflection of what's going on in the room, it really can be misleading. And so you, you really have to take it with a grain of salt in terms of gleaning what is happening and where they're leaning.


TAPPER: Right. It could be, theoretically, even though they are asking for parts of the prosecution's case. And we should note also they did ask for an excerpt of the cross-examination of David Pecker by Trump's team as well, and I'll read that in a second. But it could be 11 people think this case is nonsense and one person thinks, no, well, there's one part of it that I think is interesting and they just ask for it. It doesn't --

AGNIFILO: Exactly. So, you really don't know. And so, I think anyone who says, oh, this is great for the prosecution or this is terrible for the defense, whatever, I think really needs to -- that person does not know what's going on in there yet.

TAPPER: So, they're -- they've -- or moved on to this -- the second request. But before we get to that, I just want to note that they also read some of the cross-examination of David Pecker about that excerpt about Karen McDougal story in which David Pecker acknowledges that he told then private citizen Donald Trump in 2016. It's my understanding that Karen McDougal does not want her story published for that part, and they read that as well.

Now, they're on the second part of the request from the jury for an excerpt. This, again, has to do with David Pecker. And it is from testimony from April 25th. And it is, again, the prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, talking to David Pecker, the tabloid magnate.

Steinglass, now, even though this agreement was signed, was it ever actually executed? This is about -- still about Karen McDougal. No, it wasn't, Pecker said. Question, now, again, I'm going to ask you to be very careful here without revealing any privileged conversations with your legal counsel or your general counsel. Did you come to the decision -- did you have a conversation with your general counsel? Pecker, I did. Question, and based on that conversation, did you co- angry me? Is that a word? What is -- maybe this is a miss -- and based on the coverage, did you come to the decision that you no longer wanted to be reimbursed for the money that AMI had laid out to acquire Ms. McDougal's lifetime rights. Yes, that's correct, Pecker said. Sorry, there's a typo in my transcript here. Question, did you communicate that decision to Michael Cohen? Pecker, yes. And then, a few lines later, Pecker goes on to say, I called Michael Cohen and I said to him that the agreement, the assignment deal is off. This is -- again, this is the deal with Karen McDougal. The assignment deal is off. Quote, "I'm not going to forward, it is a bad idea, and I want you to rip up the agreement." Now, Michael Cohen, Pecker says, was very, very angry, very upset, screaming basically at me, and I said, I'm not going to forward -- I'm not going forward with this agreement. Rip it up.

And he said, excuse me, Michael Cohen said, the boss, meaning Donald Trump is going to be very angry. I said, I am sorry. I'm not going forward. The deal is off. And he said, I can't believe it. I am a lawyer. I am your friend. I don't understand why you are so concerned. I said, I'm very concerned and I'm not going forward, period. And I said, are you going to rip it up or not? And he said, I will take care of it. The prosecutor says, to be clear, Mr. Pecker, did AMI ever get reimbursed for the money? And the answer was no.

HONIG: OK. I can explain that.

TAPPER: Elie, why is this important?

HONIG: This is the beginning of the falling out, the divorce, the parting of ways, between AMI, David Pecker, National Enquirer, on the one hand, Trump, Trump Organization, and Michael Cohen on the other.

The deal heading into the Karen McDougal payoff was basically AMI National Enquirer was going to pay her $150,000 in order to catch and kill her story. And then they would assign the rights that they had to control the story. They would essentially sell it over to Trump and Cohen. What Pecker is saying here is we ended up not getting reimbursed from them, not selling the rights back over to Cohen and Trump because I talked to my lawyer.

Now, he wasn't allowed to say what the lawyer told him, but it's quite clear the lawyer said to Pecker, hang on, this is getting into the shady area. You don't want to continue with this deal, and that's why Pecker ended up buying the story on his own. And by the way, real quick, when it jumps ahead a couple months to Stormy Daniels, David Pecker says, I'm out. I'm not being part of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, I am not a bank.

HONIG: I'm not a bank. Right, and we're in this legal gray area. And that's why Cohen ends up paying Stormy Daniels directly.

TAPPER: Very, very interesting. Let me throw it back to Kaitlan Collins in New York.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Thanks, Jake. And of course, as we were watching this, the court reporters have now started reading David Pecker's direct examination by the prosecutor here. That is Joshua Steinglass, who was the one who also made the closing argument and emphasized David Pecker's testimony, calling it damning and utterly devastating to Donald Trump, saying it all tied back to what they say is the overarching theme of their allegations here, which is that this was all done to influence the 2016 election.

It's notable that that's the part that the jury has asked to rehear as they are having the court reporters literally read it back to them in the courtroom. Trump, according to our reporters in the room, is looking toward the court reporters as they are reading back this testimony. He's seated to the left. The court reporter sits in the witness box, in the witness stand, where that is.


And, Paula Reid, now they're moving on to the David Pecker testimony about the Trump Tower meeting. And this is incredibly important because it was that August 2015 meeting where David Pecker says he was invited. It was Donald Trump and Michael Cohen's idea to have this tabloid king come into Trump Tower, the 25th floor -- 26th floor, and have this meeting where Trump and Michael Cohen asked him what can you do for the campaign, and he was the one who responded that he could help with negative stories about women that came forward, which ultimately did happen.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is really critical to the entire case because when prosecutors laid out their theory of the case, they said that they believe that this conspiracy that they've charged Trump with began during this meeting. And this was a conspiracy to help Trump win the White House in 2016 by suppressing negative stories and amplifying ones that can help him.

So, it's interesting that they've not only asked for David Pecker's testimony about this, they also asked for Michael Cohen's testimony about this, because one of the questions they're going to have to ask is, what was Trump's role in this meeting? What was his role in what prosecutors allege was the first step in this conspiracy?

So, when you come to the overarching, right, narrative of this case, this is a critical moment. And it's probably important for them to rehear this testimony because David Pecker, they haven't heard from him in weeks, he is the first witness they heard from. So, they're going to hear this back. They're also going to hear Michael Cohen's version of events. And this will be a very important piece of evidence as they continue their deliberations.

COLLINS: And this is the meeting where David Pecker testified that Hope Hicks was in and out of that meeting. She testified that she didn't recall any conversations of this, but if she was, you know, in and out briefly.

Emil Bove, Trump's attorney, tried to turn it on David Pecker, saying that he misremembered when exactly the meeting was. I believe when he misremembered the exact date, Trump was at a debate, a Republican primary debate, actually, during that time period. But after that, in -- when the prosecution had the chance to question David Pecker again, they said, OK, we just misremembered the exact date, but you do know that you were in Trump Tower on this day. This meeting did happen. It was widely reported about when Trump was actually president, but long before David Pecker actually testified about it.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and part of what the defense was doing there was trying to question his memory. They kept saying, it wasn't just about the time, but they were saying, has your brain filled in some of the gaps because it was 10 years ago? Because they were looking back at a deposition that he had given or a testimony he had given to a grand jury and saying, you said a little bit different stuff during this time period than you're saying now and basically chalking it up to the fact that it was years ago, so you're not going to remember every single thing that was said in chronological order. And Pecker said, likely, but this is how I recollected to the best of my ability.

Now, again, a lot of this is also going to go to election interference because part of that conversation was how can you help us with the campaign. And Pecker saying, well, I can be your eyes and ears on the ground. You know, I'm not going to work for the campaign, but I can let you know if there's anything out there and potentially handle it for you.

Now, the question, of course, the jury is going to have to answer is, is this part of a conspiracy to impact the election or was it just someone helping them out.

COLLINS: And David Picker himself, for people who aren't, you know, super familiar with him or don't remember him because he was the first witness in this, I mean, he is someone who has no axe to grind against Donald Trump. He was friends with Trump for decades.

REID: Yes.

COLLINS: There was actually this interesting moment where he -- in recent weeks, he and Michael Cohen ran into each other in New York after both of them had finished their testimony, as they're both still these kind of central players in New York. And he's someone -- you know, he spoke glowingly of Donald Trump. He wanted to see Donald Trump be elected president.

REID: He's a good witness. He's a credible witness. As you said, he doesn't have an axe to grind. He's not making a living off of attacking Trump. He doesn't have any personal grievance. We are talking about events that were nine years ago, nearly, but he was a good first witness for the prosecution because you have no reason not to believe him.

He does not, like Michael Cohen, have a lot of the issues and the convictions around lying, the vendetta against Trump. He's a really good witness for the prosecution as they try to argue against that this was -- again, this was all done intentionally as part of a conspiracy to help Trump win the White House and not just someone trying to protect their family and then someone who had no idea how Michael Cohen was paid back.

HOLMES: Well, because he was such a good witness, I think that's why it's important to note that they are asking for both his testimony and Michael Cohen's because we know that Michael Cohen was obviously not as strong of a witness. So, if you're going to corroborate any of Michael Cohen's testimony, you'd want to do it with someone who was a good witness.

COLLINS: And just a reminder of how -- Trump was smiling during David Pecker's testimony. He told you that he was a nice person, I believe, when you --

HOLMES: He's doing a great job. He was a nice person.

COLLINS: Well, you asked Trump. Well, here's probably why. Because the question was about how, you know, they were worried about women in particular. Not just negative stories about anything, but women in particular. And David Pecker said, in a presidential campaign, I was one who thought that there would be a lot of women who came forward with their stories. He described Trump as the -- well-known as the most eligible bachelor who dated beautiful women.


And he said it was clear that based on my past experience, because we know the National Enquirer did this for other elected officials and candidates, that when someone is running for a public office, that it is very common for women to call up a magazine like the National Enquirer, David Pecker testified, to try to sell their stories.

And he's -- the question was, did you have or express any ideas about how you may be able to help kind of deal with those stories? And he said, all I said is I would notify Michael Cohen.

REID: And they go on to talk about how he was also going to amplify story -- negative stories about the Clintons. And this is what prosecutors hope elevate this case beyond a paperwork case to election interference. They hate it when we refer to it as the hush money case. They say, no, this is about something much more significant. This is about keeping critical information from voters ahead of the 2016 contest.

Now, do you think intelligent minds can disagree about whether people already knew Trump was an adulterer, a serial adulterer, and whether this really was material information that voters didn't have? But that's how prosecutors have tried to frame it. They believe that all of this, everything that David Pecker talked about, the role of the National Enquirer, is what makes this case worth bringing, that this was about interfering with the democratic process.

COLLINS: And what's important to note here, as the jury is hearing this for a second time. I mean, they first heard it six weeks ago, but when he was cross-examined, the prosecution -- or the defense tried to really drive home that David Pecker also benefited from this, that it did help sell magazines at the National Enquirer when it was negative stories on Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton and when it came to Trump's Republican rivals. And they really tried to drive home this idea for the jury that this wasn't just for Trump, that the National Enquirer also benefited.

HOLMES: Yes, and that was one of the questions that they asked. You were already running negative stories about Bill and Hillary Clinton, is that correct? And David Pecker said yes. They said that was something that people picked up off the shelves if it was negative about the Clintons. So, that was one of the things that Pecker said. But then they went on because when we get to the part about the primary and the Republicans that he was planting stories on, that was not something that he was doing ahead of time.

We talk about that Ted Cruz story in which the National Enquirer said, linked Ted Cruz's father to the assassination of JFK.

COLLINS: They mashed up a photo of two people to make it look like Rafael Cruz, his father. I talked to Ted Cruz about this last week. Ted Cruz was surging in popularity in the Republican primary at this time. You know, and I was asking him, do you think that your campaign would have done better? Do you think Donald Trump still would have been the nominee without these tactics? And he kind of described it as a rough and tumble campaign. But we saw how the National Enquirer was really doing its best to help --

HOLMES: Yes, I mean, rough and tumble is one thing, but planting stories about your father being part of the assassination of JFK is a little bit more aggressive than a rough and tumble. I mean, they were using a national outlet to essentially, you know, attack someone's family. And it wasn't just his father. He -- they had different points gone after Ted Cruz's family and his wife as well.

COLLINS: And then, Trump would go on TV and amplify them. You know, when Todd Blanche tried to downplay the publication and how many people are -- the subscription power of the National Enquirer, I mean, Trump, I remember, went on Fox and Friends and said well, have you heard this story? You know, he hasn't denied this story. I have no idea where the story came from. And Trump denied being part of it and he was going and using it to his advantage.

HOLMES: Yes. And keep in mind, this was also an election in which Twitter was completely skyrocketing. I mean, everybody was following news on Twitter. It was just likely one of the biggest elections that Twitter has been a part of. And we know a lot of those people were trying to influence the election now.

So, despite the fact that the National Enquirer only had, what, 350,000 readership and why would that matter anyway, I mean, that's just neither here nor there, given what we know about that time period and what we know about now with social media, and how all of that was being amplified. And as you said, by the former president himself.

REID: And the disinformation effort by Russia, right? The Justice Department subsequently charged people involved in trying to amplify, through an army of bots, negative stories about Hillary Clinton, positive ones about Trump, to influence the election. So, again, the power of the National Enquirer at this moment in time was enormous. And it's not just to bolster someone's reputation, it's to win the White House.

And prosecutors really hope that that elevates this case in the mind of the jury, but also in the mind of the public, because obviously they've taken a lot of heat for bringing it, where succumb into political pressure. Is this really worthy of the time, the resources potentially convicting a former president? And every time I talked to them about that, they always say, this isn't about hush money, this isn't just about paperwork, this is about election interference and subverting democracy.

COLLINS: Yes, and they are now on the third section of this, what the jury thought was important to have read back to them by a court reporter who is there in the room. There is one more part of the testimony that they have asked to hear about, that is from Michael Cohen as well. So, we are standing by as we are waiting as this jury is continuing its deliberations. Now, they are inside the jury box listening to this court reporter read this back.


This is CNN's Special Live Coverage. We're continuing to cover all the developments from inside the courtroom here behind me.


TAPPER: Good morning and welcome to CNN Special Coverage of the Trump hush money trial. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington with my colleague Kaitlan Collins in New York, right outside the courthouse.

Right this minute, the jury in Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial is back to work. They're currently having testimony from former National Enquirer chief David Pecker and former witness Michael Cohen.