Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Trump Speaks After Being Convicted Of 34 Felonies; Trump Finishes Post-Conviction Speech Without Taking Questions; Trump Doubles Down On Claims Around His Trial. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 31, 2024 - 11:30   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Generally testifying about their knowledge, only to actually say guilt or innocence. That's the job of the jury. And finally, just think about this moment in history where we at -- were at. A former president of the United States is talking as if he is not running to be the head of the executive branch. Under that umbrella is the Department of Justice.

He in these statements is trying to have the American people believe that the justice system in America is so deeply flawed, not because of the experience of anyone else besides himself. And I'm wondering if he's aware of the org chart, Nia, when you look at this issue of the executive branch, and who they actually oversee because he's cutting off his nose to spite the political democratic face.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and listen, this was probably Trump's biggest audience, right, in many, many months. So many Americans know about this verdict and want to hear him give some kind of statement. And here he is rambling. He looks awfully tired. He's beleaguered.

To follow his train of thought, you'd really have to be sort of knee- deep in MAGA-ism, you'd have to be knee-deep in the goings on of this trial, which most Americans are not. So here he is. I think there was an opportunity here. You know, you always sort of have to go into Trump's statement with sort of low expectations.

I think he met those low expectations and sort of surpassed them with this very rambling, tangential speech, completely self-involved. It did have shades of I think, 2015 when he talked about you know, immigrants coming over in -- you know, from different regions, from Africa and Asia. So, there had -- there were flashes of that.

But this was a real, I think blown opportunity for him. And a real reminder of how much he's aged, and how much he sort, of I think, off his game. He doesn't really seem very strong in this. He seems very tired and beleaguered.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Can I -- can I just jump in a little bit of news here because I just heard back from Michael Cohen, who I asked about what we're seeing happened here and we were talking about whether he violated the gag order. So, Cohen says to me, "Trump's press conference was nothing shy of a butt- S.H.T. Crazy avalanche of broken brain word manure." So, I don't know if we have gone back into the back and forth, they would nullify this in terms of the judge. But I thought that might be --

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Seems like they're firmly in a -- in a -- not exactly -- not exactly the exchange.

HENDERSON: And I think to that point, I think that's what Americans are seeing who haven't seen Trump in this way in quite a long time. I think that --


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me just bring Karen into this because you're a legal analyst. He really went after Judge Merchan in very, very brutal ways. And something nobody's ever seen anything like this before. He may look like an angel, but he's a devil. This is a rigged trial. Totally unfair.

This is Judge Merchan, who's going to have to decide on July 11 the sentence that Trump is going to get. Does Trump not realize that in going after Judge Merchan like that, he potentially is only hurting himself, he may get a more severe sentence as a result of this?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the judge is somebody who is only going to take into consideration the factors that he's permitted to take into consideration. And he's going to make sure that it's not personal to him. That's the kind of guy Judge Merchan is.

And he has thick skin. He's going to hear these things. And he's going to make it a point to not allow those types of comments to factor into any personal feelings that are animus to factor into his sentence. But what he will take into consideration is Trump's lack of remorse, and lack of acceptance of responsibility for what he has done, and that is what he continues to do here. He's also going to take into consideration the fact that he violated the gag order 10 times during the course of the trial.

A gag order, it's a court order. And being held in contempt means he defied the court. He didn't listen to the judge. And I think finally too, he's going to look at the fact that Donald Trump is continuing even -- if it's technically not a violation of the gag order, he's going after witnesses in the case.

He hasn't crossed the bright red line yet of the jury. That would be I think, where the third rail would be for Judge Merchan right now, even after the verdict because these are just 12 ordinary people who did their civic duty and served on jury duty. And that is what the judge is going to want to protect at all costs.

BLITZER: Yes. I think you're a hundred percent right. Erin, back to you.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf. All right. So, I want to keep going through some of the things here, Wolf, that Trump said. One of them, Paula, he made a point of saying this entire case is political. It's driven by the Biden White House, by the Biden administration, by the Department of Justice, right, this deep state ultimate corruption point.


BURNETT: Obviously, that is completely and utterly false.

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: And even on the base of it, because why?

REID: Well, first of all, there's no evidence that there is a connection, right? This is a state-level prosecution. But also, speaking of sources over the course of the past year and around the White House and the Justice Department, they don't like this case.


REID: It has repeatedly been referred to as "The runt of the litter," right, the less significant of the four that he faces.


REID: And there was always a concern that this could help Trump politically. So, there is a lot of frustration with Bragg for bringing this up. By no means are they behind this, by no means do they think this is a good thing that helps Biden.


BURNETT: Yes, and which is a really important point, and especially after the DOJ didn't -- did not bring this case.


BURNETT: They could have and did not. Yes.

BERMAN: Look, I admire you trying to go point by point through what Donald Trump has said here because I think it's completely incoherence.

BURNETT: Yes. It's hard, yes.

BERMAN: I think what he's saying here -- what's clear is his frustration and his rage. That I get.


BERMAN: His words, completely incoherent unless you have a glossary over what's taking place inside this courtroom over the last several months. Largely what he sounds like is Humphrey Bogart in "The Cain Mutiny," Captain Queeg. Like, ah, the strawberries. I mean, that's the vibe that's coming off here from the podium.

BURNETT: Yes. BERMAN: With even his hands there. It's -- Nia-Malika, I think is exactly right. There's an -- there was an opportunity here. This is a big political stage that Donald Trump has right now. The same political stage he launched his presidency -- his candidacy in 2015.

BURNETT: Right. Coming down that escalator.

BERMAN: This does not match that. I mean, this is something which is very, very different than that picture.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: This is what Trump's advisors often do. They defer to the candidate. Donald Trump wants to operate in a particular way. He thinks he's the best strategist. He thinks he's the best communicator, the best communication strategist for his own campaign.

He thinks he's the best lawyer. You heard Todd Blanche basically say that last night. Donald Trump wanted to be up there arguing his own case. But this is where Trump's instincts are -- he's very attuned again to the base.

All of that stream of consciousness, you need a glass of glossary if you are not clued into the right-wing media ecosystem. But for the right-wing media ecosystem, they know what he's talking about because he's been seeding these lines of attack for weeks and weeks and weeks since even before this trial started. So, you always have to see Trump through this lens of the different audiences that he's speaking to. We have yet to see Trump pivot to a message for the broader electorate from just from a political perspective.

And I suspect you may not see him do that because you heard him here today. He said, I'm leading. I'm winning. And from his perspective, what he is doing is working. He doesn't need to change.

But I just want to caution everybody. We are in the end of May. There's a long way to go in this election. Most Americans are not plugged in yet. And there is going to come a time when this is not going to be enough to reach the voters who really matter here who want to know more than just Trump's grievances every day.

BURNETT: All right. And we're -- he's still speaking. So, as I said, everyone should understand, we wanted to give you that analysis because there were so many falsehoods that were being spewed there by Trump. But we will go back in when we think appropriate. So, we are continuing to monitor it.

Jen, let me ask you though. When you hear what he's saying completely unscripted, and you realize this isn't a process of somebody who is -- could potentially be facing a jail sentence. Sentencing is coming, an appeal process, and he's going off the cuff down various coldest acts that are not necessarily connected about the case. What do you hear as -- his attorneys?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, yes. I think Todd Blanche in there, they got the white knuckles going right now, right? Because they're just hoping that he doesn't say anything that will hurt him too much. But, you know, this is how it's been. And there's no question that he's not going to show any remorse if he's going to continue to attack the judge. And the judge has been great about it.

The judge has not been holding it against him in the rulings or in the demeanor in court. The judge is not going to hold it against him at sentencing. I think the judge will hold against him the lack of remorse, but not the personal attacks.

So, they can pretty much let him go until and unless he basically cuts off some of their means of appeal by saying something that undercuts an appeal argument, which he hasn't done quite yet. So, we'll see what happens about it.


PHILLIP: Erin, I think it's also hard when Michael Cohen is literally as Trump is speaking, responding.


PHILLIP: I mean, I don't know that the judge is going to be like, well, Trump, you got to shut up because Michael Cohen keeps talking. He's been on TV.


PHILLIP: He will be on TV. It makes it very difficult.

REID: Right.

RODGERS: Yes. I mean --

REID: Abby makes a critical point there because if you notice in the litigation over gag order violations, the judge let some related to Cohen slide, noting that look, yes, he -- you do have a right to respond. So yes, if Michael Cohen could have kept in -- his thoughts to himself, it would have made a stronger case for prosecutors, that perhaps this was a gag order violation.

But I sort of compared Trump to like the Raptors in Jurassic Park. Like, testing the fence for weaknesses.


REID: This is what he's been doing with the gag order. He knows if he attacks Michael Cohen, the judge will likely let it slide. But you won't hear him attacking the jury or the judge's daughter because he knows that's not going to fly.

BURNETT: He was careful on that. And yes, maybe because it's off the cuff and it's a stream-of-consciousness presentation that we're saying, he can attack the judge. He could bring up the judge's donations to Biden. He did not do that.

BERMAN: He improved the judge's donation -- BURNETT: Well, he could have right now -- (INAUDIBLE)

BERMAN: He called the judge the devil, which --

BURNETT: Well --

BERMAN: You know, is one of the less nice things you can say about somebody. But I just want to point out, people have been paying attention. One of the questions is oh, is any of this going to matter now --

BURNETT: Let me just -- let me just interrupt you for one second, John. He's done. And he did not take questions.

REID: What?

BURNETT: So, I want -- right. So, let's just say --



BURNETT: I just want everyone to understand. Our anticipation -- and Trump's going to do what he's going to do. But our anticipation was that this would be about an hour, and he might take questions. So, it was 40 minutes, and he took no questions. That's actually interesting, John.

BERMAN: It's funny --

BURNETT: Unlike him.

BERMAN: It's a set piece. He went out there. He said what he wanted to say. We will let people decide whether or not it was effective, what he said there. And he's leaving, and he doesn't want to be questioned on it.

And just the one point I was going to make is whether people are paying attention or not. However, Harry Enten points out that in the hour after the verdict searches -- Google searches for Trump were up 3200 percent. 3200 percent in that hour.


BERMAN: So, this is a moment where what you say matters.

BURNETT: They raised $35 million in those hours, they say.

REID: But the fact that he didn't take questions. I mean, Abby, you and I, we were both at the White House. Then-President Trump would come out any day to answer questions about anything.




REID: So, the fact that he's not willing to take questions follow-ups about what he said about this case, that's surprising and suggests that maybe he doesn't have a lot of answers.

BURNETT: Well, I mean, it is -- it is -- it is very unlike him.

REID: Yes.

BURNETT: Extremely unlike him. And, Wolf, let me just pass it back to you.

BLITZER: Erin, thanks very much. I did the checking a split for about 33 -- 34 minutes, maybe a little bit more than half an hour. They were billing it could go on for an hour, and that they called it a news conference. And just to be precise, a news conference is when reporters are allowed to ask questions following an opening statement.

No questions were allowed to be asked. He didn't answer any questions. So, it really wasn't a news conference. It was simply a statement or a speech by Donald Trump.

But it was interesting, David Chalian. He started as if it was a campaign speech going after Biden and the immigration issue.


BLITZER: The economic issues. he wasn't talking, at least at the beginning, about the case.

CHALIAN: Yes. I actually thought when -- other than that opening line of this could happen to you if it happened to me kind of thing, and then he went right into the immigration piece. And I thought, oh, he's going to use this opportunity to pivot now from the courtroom to the -- pivot is such a dangerous word. But Donald Trump, I realized.

But to move from the courtroom to the campaign trail in a substantial way, and that's not at all what happened. What happened was a venting session for the defendant in this case who's now a convicted felon 34 times over to just air all the ramblings through his mind about his grievances from this case. And we've heard pieces of it every day when he would go before the cameras in the courthouse. We -- you can string together where these grievances are at each step of this case.

But instead of using this to do that, to make the case on immigration, on inflation, on crime, on these issues that are top-of-mind issues for American voters, he chose not to do that. He chose actually to step into the Biden campaign frame of Donald Trump's candidacy. They say time and again -- Mitch Landrieu said it on our air this morning, their argument is Donald Trump is making this 2024 campaign all about him, and not about you. And that is precisely what he did at this rambling -- I don't even know what to call it, just this venting session before cameras.

BLITZER: Yes, he opened with a very, very blistering attack against President Biden, basically suggesting he's the worst president in the history of the United States. He can't speak. He can't put two sentences together.


BLITZER: He was going on and on about the Democratic President of the United States.

HENDERSON: Yes. And then he went on for 45 minutes to show that he can't really speak or put two sentences together. You know, it was I think, surprisingly incoherent, surprisingly, all over the place. He wants to make this argument about age against Biden, but here he was looking, you know, kind of like an old man who was just ranting and raving in a self-involved way, to your point, David Chalian, into the campaign's going as well.

And so, again, I -- this wasn't a great outing for him. I think it was probably smart of him not to answer questions, given where he has been so far in this speech. And if you look at the times he has answered questions, he gets himself in trouble on any number of issues.

You think about the Time Magazine of that cover story, he sounded terrible there, and in terms of issues around the Department of Justice, around abortion, as well. And so, listen. We're probably going to hear more of campaign Trump. And if this is a preview of it, I think the Biden team probably feels pretty good.

HUNT: I also think the fact that he didn't take questions is sort of telling in terms of his state of mind because it actually is typically something certainly during the Trump administration that he thrived on, right? He loves the back-and-forth with reporters. I guarantee you he looked out and saw faces in that crowd that he knew personally, and any of us who've ever been in those crowds.

I would do it quite a bit. I mean, you came up when I was the Capitol Hill correspondent, I had covered the campaign, and he would find you and point to you. That is him in his element. And the fact that he decided that he was going to do what he did and then walk away, I actually find to be a telling reality. And I think, again, it's telling his advisers -- the campaign wants to keep him on a teleprompter.


They see the polls. They know he could win this race. And the key to winning this race is to prevent a reminder to Americans of the chaos that a lot of people felt in the Trump administration. And quite frankly, this event was a reminder.



CHALIAN: And a telling piece of not taking questions or so because I totally agree with your assessment of that is he uses that back-and- forth to reporters -- or has, to shape the narrative. And he's so skilled at that. That's actually like one of Trump's real superpowers as a political persona on the stage for now, a decade in American politics nearly.

And he uses that back-and-forth with reporters when he wants to strategically shape a narrative. And he clearly didn't have that. He wants to just air his grievances.

That's what his goal was today. He wasn't trying to get a narrative about his campaign and the strong position that he's in, in this campaign solidified in people's minds. That's not what he chose to do.

HENDERSON: And it's not clear that he can still do that, right? I mean, I think part of it, are we seeing you know that Trump isn't the Trump of 2015, 2016 and -- of the presidency. And listen, everyone ages. He even mentioned this, right, in his speech there. He said, you know, I'm 77 but I don't really feel 77, which is exactly what people over 77 were saying, right?

HUNT: One question for the lawyers at the table, too -- because what I see in the -- in the political decisions that were just on display there was someone who's not listening to those around him who say, we know what you should do here. And it does seem like there's some criticism in the wake of this just across-the-board guilty verdict of the way his defense team operated, perhaps because they were being forced to listen to him.

COATES: Well, I saw a parallel of his option decision not to take questions just now, similar to weigh down the stand. He did not testify. Donald Trump has been known as his own best spokesperson. He, from the get-go, managed expectations among the American public to suggest that even Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. Mother Teresa would not have been charged with these allegations, by the way.


COATES: When it -- and when it happened, even if it didn't, I'm sure she could probably beat him. But you think about his decision not to actually testify in the trial as well because for the very reasons, likely, politically speaking, he said that he would not be able to win. So, one would say it would not have been a fool's errand to get his narrative out there knowing how much it would have been covered, etcetera.

He chose not to, for whatever his own personal reasons. And the defense counsel last night speaking to Kaitlan Collins. Todd Blanche said that he has never told a client not to testify, but they had made decisions together about why he likely should not in this instance.

And yet again, even without the framing of a prosecution team going after him for how many hours it would have been, he still chose not to do so. You could look at this as him saying the narrative or the defense you could raise in the court of public opinion, otherwise is not plausible.

BLITZER: Elie, when he said I would have loved to have testified, I wanted to testify, but he then gave this excuse. So, let's talk a little bit about that.


BLITZER: The excuse was the judge would have allowed them to go into everything I have ever been involved in.

HONIG: Inaccurate. Incorrect. Of course, Donald Trump, like any defendant would have had the option to testify without reservation if he wanted to do so. He chose not to.

Now, the judge made a ruling before the trial started that if he takes the stand, there are certain things outside the scope of the indictment that he could be cross-examined on because they would go to his credibility, his truthfulness. But the judge also said there are other things the DA wanted to ask him about. The judge said, no, those are no good. Those are out of bounds.

It's the same determination that a judge makes in every -- in any case. He said some things are in play. Other things are out of play.

And just real quick. Every word Donald Trump says from here on out, if I was Donald Trump's lawyer, would make me cringe. But for specific reasons, you still have sentencing ahead. It's all relevant for sentencing. You still have a gag order in place. It all could go to that.

And you have an appeal. And there are certain things that you can say that could actually compromise your ability to make certain arguments on appeal. I know you can't get Donald Trump to be quiet, but it's not great for him legally to be making speeches like that.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, I think the same excuses he gave for not testifying, the same excuses for not answering reporters' questions today --


BLITZER: Even though they build it as a "News conference," a press conference, and while in news conference is when reporters ask questions, it's not a speech.

HONIG: Right.

BLITZER: Simply they can be an opening statement, but then reporters ask questions. That's a news conference -- a press conference if you will. I may be a journalistic nerd if it comes --


BLITZER: I've always been sensitive ever since my years covering the White House. I've always been sensitive. Either the president's going to make a statement or he's going to answer reporters' questions, and so we'll watch it.

CHALIAN: Solidarity, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's bring in -- let's bring in Kristen Holmes. She's over there inside Trump Tower. Give us your thoughts, Kristen. KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I actually want to piggyback off something that David said about being surprised after he quickly, Donald Trump, pivoted from immigration back to airing his grievances for nearly 45 minutes. I would argue that this is his campaign strategy, at least for the next several weeks. His team says that he is going to be doubling down on this messaging that they have started to see some Republicans who are on the fence, calling Donald Trump and calling them, that donors and allies called last night, that they raised this $38.4 million in small-dollar donations, of course, we will have to verify that with the F.E.C., this is the campaign's claim and that this is actually going to propel him forward.


We do know one thing. Donald Trump's base is angry. And so, his team is using this trial as part of the political campaign. And I would venture to guess that this is the point that he will be hammering home over and over again, trying to tie this trial to President Joe Biden.

Again, there is no indication at all -- no evidence that this is tied to Joe Biden. This is brought by the state of New York. But again, that is something that Donald Trump will continue to do.

Now, we talk a lot about him not taking questions. This was him trying to take control of the narrative knowing that -- and I imagine, I've been here inside of Trump Tower, so I'm not sure that every single TV station would likely take the top of his remarks so that he would get to say what he wanted to say to respond to this verdict in his own element here.

Now, of course, in that sense, he's not going to take questions. We shouted at them. He could hear us. He was making eye contact with us. I'm not sure who on your panel was saying that that's something he does.

He knew and decided actively not to take questions from the press, and just to make this, as David said, an airing of his own grievances trying to get out his own messaging. And the other part of this is that this is really the only time that he's going to appear for at least the next week in front of cameras, in front of reporters. This man is still running a campaign and he is not scheduled to have an event for a very long stretch of time.

Now, that's possible to change. That could change. We know he's going to a fundraising swing on the West Coast starting Thursday of next week. So, whether or not they add any campaign events.

But right now, this campaign is centered around this trial. His schedule has been almost a shell of unconfirmed dates as they await the verdict on this. And now that the verdict is out, you are hearing from his senior advisors, you are hearing from the team around him who say they want to capitalize on this as much as they possibly can politically and financially.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Kristen. Thank you very much. And, Karen, let's talk a little bit about one other thing that Trump said. He thought that he potentially could be sentenced to more than a hundred years in prison, which is totally false.

AGNIFILO: That's totally false because there is a statute that specifically says when you are convicted of consecutive -- crimes that you can run consecutively at a certain point, you can't just add them all up to 187, or whatever the high number is, and it merges, and it all comes together. And at the maximum actually is 20 years. Even if the judge were to do that and run them all consecutive, the law would actually limit it to 20 years.

But I don't think he's going to get anything close to that. It would -- I don't know that prison time for him is even in the cards. It might be, but there's a wide range of sentencing options that he could get.

He could get community service, for example, where he has to pick up trash on the subways. He could get probation. He could get a fine. He could get weekends in jail. He could get no jail at all.

And so -- up to four years for each count. So, there's a whole wide sentencing range, but to exaggerate and say that he could be sentenced to 187 years is just -- it's false legally, and it's false practically.

COATES: And I want to just elaborate a little bit. I think people have this notion that you are entitled to your presumption of innocence, and you can maintain your innocence. When the second the jury finds you guilty, then you have to change your tune completely and then say OK, you got me. I actually did it.

That's not what so-called allocution means. Allocation of time for you to add sentencing, accept responsibility, and the judge's ruling in order. It does not require you to suddenly change your stance from being an innocent person to being a guilty person, but it does require you in terms of showing remorse or accountability for the judge's eyes to hear you talk about accepting the verdict as is -- (INAUDIBLE) the system of justice that has put you in this position and your behavior that led up to that moment.

So, Donald Trump cannot be under the impression or misimpression and try to just create a narrative that suggests now I have to pretend that I am not -- that I am, in fact guilty. A lot of defendants maintain their innocence throughout their appeals process while in prison and beyond. That's not the requirement.

But he cannot come out, and he continues to do so, and suggest that the entire system of justice is rigged because 12 jurors found him such. And talk about the amount of political aspects of it, the voting habits of Manhattan more broadly, we sitting here today do not know that voir dire did not require that information to know how these jurors voted, or whether it had any impact on their ruling in this case. In fact, if you remember him following the jury and paneling, he spoke about the alternates, he spoke about the jury process, kind of the best you could get in Manhattan, and almost fainted a little bit surprised about where we were. So, I want to be very clear. He does not have to suddenly say that he is guilty. But he does have to respect the process.


BLITZER: I mean, he has to respect the United States of America. He says we're living in a fascist state. That is so obnoxious. That is so, so awful. He says, the United States of America, we are living in a fascist state. And everybody who was involved in this trial against him, these are all bad people. These are all sick people. Those are his words.

HONIG: Wolf, and -- he has said this 10,000 times and we've corrected it 10,000 times the claim that this is a Biden prosecution. Can I just explain why that's false?

BLITZER: Very quickly.

HONIG: This is brought by the Manhattan DA. The Manhattan DA has nothing to do with the federal government, nothing to do with the executive branch. The Manhattan DA actually reports to nobody, not even the governor of New York, not even the AG of New York. He's completely independent and separate.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to assess. We're watching history unfold right now, right here in the United States of America.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage coming up right after this.