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Transcripts Just Released Of Testimony, Opening Statements In Trump Trial; Tabloid Executive David Pecker Resumes Testimony In Trump Trial Tomorrow; FBI Interview Notes, Trump Co-Defendant in Documents Case Was Told He'd Be Pardoned In A Second Term; Testimony Begins In Trump's First Criminal Trial As His Legal Bills Are Draining His Leadership PAC; Biden Campaigns As Testimony Begins In Trump's Criminal Trial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 22, 2024 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'm not usually one that defends Yankees, but still.


Taylor Swift's new album became the most streamed album on its first day across Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. On Friday, the Tortured Poets Department got nearly 300 million streams on Spotify alone.

Before we sign off, this programming note, CNN will have special coverage again tomorrow for another big day in the New York hush money cover up trial against Donald Trump. Former tabloid publisher David Pecker will be back on the stand. CNN's special coverage begins just before court resumes at 11:00 A.M.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight, the Trump trial testimony begins. And the official transcript was just released. For the next hour, we'll take you inside the courtroom from gavel to gavel, as this historic hush money criminal case unfolds. The prosecution's first key witness takes the stand after both sides start to lay out their cases in opening statements.

Our reporters and experts are standing by to break down all of today's most important developments and look ahead to what's next.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer with a special report in The Situation Room, Trump Trial Today.

Let's get right to the breaking news on the opening statements and testimony in this, the first criminal trial of a former president of the United States, Donald Trump, at the defense table as prosecutors and his lawyers began cutting to the heart of the hush money case against him.

CNN's Kara Scannell is joining us live from New York, where she was inside the courtroom today. Kara, we now have the first official court transcript.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are no cameras in the courtroom, but the public interest in this case is insatiable. So, the chief administrative judge here took an extraordinary step. And so they would make the transcript public every day. So, anyone can look word for word to see what is happening inside the courtroom behind me, this is as the day when prosecutors laid out the evidence they hope to prove in this case, and Trump's lawyers said what his defense would be, saying that he was not guilty of these crimes as opening statements got underway.


SCANNELL (voice over): Opening statements and the first witness, a former tabloid executive, front and center Monday as the first criminal trial of Donald Trump officially got underway.

REPORTER: President Trump, how are you doing today?


SCANNELL: Prosecutors said the case boils down to a conspiracy and cover up, that Trump orchestrated a scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election and covered it up by lying in his business records. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo saying it was election fraud, pure and simple.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued the former president is innocent. The payments made were legal. Blanche also claimed there is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election.

In his remarks, Colangelo, a lead prosecutor on the case, said the alleged crimes began at an August 2015 meeting between Trump, Cohen, and ex-National Enquirer Publisher David Pecker, the first witness to testify in the trial on Monday.

Colangelo said the three formed a conspiracy at that meeting to influence the presidential election by concealing negative information about Mr. Trump in order to help him get elected. The prosecution said Pecker agreed to help buy damaging information on Trump to make it go away, a move known as catch and kill.

At the center of the case, a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels just weeks before Election Day in 2016. The prosecution said a sexual infidelity, especially with a porn star on the heels of the Access Hollywood tape, would have been devastating to his campaign. So, at Trump's direction, Cohen negotiated the deal to buy Daniels' story to prevent it from becoming public before the election.

Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels. Prosecutors said Trump did not want to write the check himself, so Cohen put up the money. Colangelo argued Trump, Cohen, and former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg agreed Cohen would be paid back in monthly installments through fake invoices to the Trump Organization. Prosecutors said key witnesses like Cohen have made mistakes in the past and encouraged the jury to keep an open mind and carefully evaluate all of the evidence that corroborates Michael Cohen's testimony.

Then it was Trump's attorney's turn. Blanche said the D.A.'s office should never have brought this case. He said the prosecution's story is not true and the jury will find plenty of reasonable doubt. He pivoted to paint Trump as a husband and father, saying he's a person just like you and just like me. Trump's team suggested the payments Trump made to Cohen were not a payback for funds paid to Stormy Daniels, but instead payments to his personal attorney.


Trump defended himself against these charges after court on Monday.

TRUMP: He puts in an invoice or whatever, a bill, and they pay and they call it a legal expense. I got indicted for that.

SCANNELL: Blanche shifted blame to Cohen, saying the reality is Mr. Trump is not on the hook, is not criminally responsible for something Mr. Cohen may have done years after the fact. Blanche said the prosecution's outline of a supposed catch and kill deal with Pecker was not a scheme, but completely irrelevant and not illegal.

In the afternoon, as Pecker briefly took the stand, he did not look at Trump, but Trump looked directly at him as he testified.


SCANNELL (on camera): Now, David Pecker was on the stand for about 20 minutes today. He was explaining to the jury how the National Enquirer operates, saying that they did pay for certain stories. He testified, on the celebrity side of the magazine industry, at least on the tabloid side, we used checkbook journalism and we paid for stories.

He also said that any story that required a payment of more than 10,000, required his approval, and he testified that he had two email addresses at AMI, one that he used for general businesses that his assistant often looked at, and one that he kept confidentially.

Now, before Pecker left the room, he walked past Donald Trump's table, said hello to the table, It wasn't clear if Donald Trump had responded. We couldn't get a good vantage point of that. But Pecker will be back on the stand tomorrow where he will get into what the prosecutors say is the core of this testimony. These catch and kill deals and the conspiracy they say was hatched at Trump Tower in 2015. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Kara Scannell outside the courthouse in New York, thank you very much.

I want to dig deeper right now into the legal strategy on both sides. CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams is with me here at the magic wall. Elliot, walk us through what you think are the key points in the prosecution's opening arguments.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. And everything in criminal prosecution starts with the law. Prosecutors have to establish elements of an offense, and we flagged the important one points here today, falsifying business records, that's the crime, with an intent to defraud. But here's the thing, and most important in this case, is for the purpose of committing another crime, or aiding or concealing, covering up a crime. And you heard the prosecutors today literally call it a conspiracy and a cover up. So, that's what we're talking about here, this aid or conceal.

Now, this Kara talked about this August 2015 meeting, and this is critical for prosecutors' efforts to establish an intent to defraud on the part of the defendant, Donald Trump. What they're saying is that these three people got together at this August 2015 meeting and didn't just agree to falsify records, but agreed to falsify records for the purpose of helping the former president's campaign chances. The crime is the cover up of the campaign in 2016.

Now, you also have to establish that records are falsified, and remember, the jurors know none of this. You and I might, many viewers might, but jurors don't. And so they have to establish how business records were kept within the Trump Organization. And you have these three employees, Jeff McConney, Rhona Graff and Deborah Tarasoff, who can actually testify as to what happened within the Trump Organization, how they falsified records or allegedly falsified records, put them together and what they did.

Now, what was the purpose of all of this, and Kara touched on this a little bit, we all remember 2016 swirling around the Trump campaign were questions perhaps about this personal misconduct that they might have, and this is the allegation on the part of the prosecutors, it's collaborated to benefit the president's campaign by essentially shushing these personal intimate relationships.

BLITZER: What were some of the key points in Trump's defense team's opening statement that stand out to you?

WILLIAMS: And it's important that we call them opening statements, not arguments. They're just saying what they think the evidence is going to be. And they went hard after Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels on credibility, witness credibility. Number one, Michael Cohen with he has criminal convictions in his record. Stormy Daniels might have had a reason for moving forward with this. She came forward with the story.

And finally, Wolf, really important here, two big points made by the defense, using the term President Trump is innocent. That's not something that prosecutors have to establish, this idea of innocence versus not guilty. They said he's innocent, they swung for the fences here. And most importantly, they are attacking the very heart of the charge here by saying that there's nothing wrong with attempting to influence an election. It's called democracy.

Now, look, a core part of the case is this allegation that Trump should not have been influencing an election. The defense went right after that here, attacked Trump on it. You're going to hear more about this over the course of this trial.

BLITZER: Very important, very interesting. Elliot, stand by as we bring in more legal and political experts into our conversation. And, Andrew McCabe, the defense says they will find, in their words, plenty of reasonable doubt. How do prosecutors overcome that?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's really interesting, Wolf. The prosecution and the defense have two very different jobs, right?


The prosecution has to essentially build a house. And they do it the way they -- they start with that the way they did today. They put the foundation down with their opening statement and the first witness, and then they start to bring in more witnesses, they enter evidence to prove every element of the crime.

The defense simply has to tear that house down. They do that by insinuating doubt. They do that by attacking witnesses. They do that by attacking the evidence. And so they have much less of a kind of coherent, broad theory. It's just more one shot after another, one shot after another. And you will see the main witnesses take those shots very directly.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, David Chalian, you're our political director. Prosecutors are framing this story as a 2016 election interference case. Potentially, that could be illegal. A phrase Trump very regularly spins, including outside the court earlier today after the session, listen to this.


TRUMP: This is done as election interference. Everybody knows it. I'm here instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania and Georgia and lots of other places campaigning. And it's very unfair.


BLITZER: David, what do you make of that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, this is an argument we're hearing from him on a daily basis now, and it's not an argument that's going to be in court. This is not -- this is the difference between inside the courtroom and what jurors can actually use to adjudicate his guilt or innocence in this case, whether he's guilty or not guilty, versus what happens outside the courtroom when he's free to make a political grievance argument as he's doing here, but it has nothing to do with what the case will be decided on. That is an argument he's making to a political case to the American people rather than actually trying to improve his standing as a defendant in the case.

And I think the distinction is key to understand because this is part of why the jurors are instructed not to consume media around this case, not to be on social media. It's exactly because this will happen in that space and it shouldn't go into their calculations.

Will the American people buy that Donald Trump is being sidelined in this campaign in some way by Joe Biden, who has absolutely nothing to do with this Manhattan D.A.'s case? We'll see. I mean, the American people have bought other untruths of Donald Trump. So, we'll see if they buy this one, but this is something we're going to hear on a daily basis.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right.

Gloria Borger is with us as well. As you know, Gloria, Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, said this today, and I'm quoting him. There's nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It is called democracy. It's a pretty stunning argument.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is a stunning argument, and one man's democracy is another person's conspiracy, and that's what we were hearing in the court today. He said what Donald Trump did was perfectly legal and normal, that he was effectively just paying his attorney for services rendered, period, and you're allowed to do that. And as a candidate, you're allowed to try and get people to vote for you. That's what elections are about.

Now, the other side is saying, wait a minute, no, no, no, this was a conspiracy. He was trying to hide, you know, the paperwork and that they were trying to dupe the American public because they didn't want the news about Stormy Daniels out. So, you have two sides of the coin here.

BLITZER: It was interesting. Yes, go ahead.

MCCABE: I think that theory that Todd Blanche put out today is going to run into some trouble, because they're going to hear from the prosecutors that it is actually a crime in New York State to promote or prevent an election. It's part of the New York State election laws. And it is specifically, you know, addresses a conspiracy between two people who try to either promote or prevent an election through unlawful means. So, that is something they are going to hear the prosecutors come back to time and time again.

BORGER: And Blanche says it was perfectly lawful and perfectly legal, but that's the problem. That's the issue.

MCCABE: Sure, that gets you right back to the underlying charge, which is, of course, the falsification of the business record.

I think that they have, in some ways, I think, logically painted themselves into a bit of a corner on the defense side today by putting both of these defenses out, one, that he basically didn't know what the payments were for, that he wasn't involved in making those ledger entries and those fraudulent entries, but on the other hand saying, well, he did what he did not to influence the election. He did it to protect his family and to spare them the embarrassment.

I think those two things are fundamentally contradictory. If you knew that you were protecting your family, you knew what the payments were for.

BLITZER: You know, Elliot, it was interesting, David Pecker of the National Enquirer, it came out today that he had a separate work email when he didn't want any of his assistants at the National Enquirer to see that private, separate work email. How significant is his testimony in this case overall and given the fact that he has immunity?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, it's critical because of the fact that he was in that August 2015 meeting that we talked about over at the magic wall, that he can speak first hand to conversations he had with the defendant and that's always valuable testimony.


Now, the evidence about the email account is the kind of thing that doesn't need to be brought up at trial, it doesn't help to establish any given fact, but you plant that seed in jurors heads and it just seems a little off and a little, why does this man have a second email address?

And it's the kind of thing, that little detail that prosecutors can get in, just sort of make people raise an eyebrow and think, wait a second, something doesn't smell quite right here.

BLITZER: Well, it's interesting, David, the court released the full transcript today of what happened in the court proceeding, about a thousand pages.

Now there's a difference --

CHALIAN: Today was a short day.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, if you go through it and it's long, it keeps on going and going and going. I see over here, page 953, 959. So, there's a lot of pages that were released today. But there's a difference between reading all these pages and watching it, a video of what was going on. There's no cameras allowed in the courtroom. That will have a significant impact, you know, pro and con, on this case.

CHALIAN: Well, it undoubtedly will have a significant impact in how Americans are consuming the information out of this case. It will not be through memorable sound bites or the ways in which, you know, a Instagram video gets consumed now for many American voters.

I don't think it means necessarily, Wolf, that Americans won't be paying attention. We'll see. But a first ever criminal case against a former president who is also the current Republican nominee will undoubtedly be of interest if not every single day of the trial for people, certainly news junkies like us, will be gripped by it, but there will be big moments, days of big witnesses or as a verdict is approaching where you can easily imagine, even without the video and audio coming out of the courtroom of Americans tuning in to learn what happened and make their own judgments and all of it.

WILLIAMS: But all of this is a reminder of how slow the legal system is, how slow the process is and, frankly, how boring a lot of things are. And I think people -- this is a very sort of salacious trial with some details that are of interest to a great number of people. But the world is going to see it takes a long time to try a case sometimes.

BORGER: But, you know, the characters in this case are so interesting. I mean, you have Michael Cohen, you have Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal. I mean, I think the American public will tune in just because of the salacious nature of it, and also because it involves a former president of the United States. And it's an embarrassing case. And so even though you can't witness what's going on in court, you can certainly read about it, even if you're not reading every word of those thousand page transcripts every day. Yes.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very, very much. We'll continue this conversation.

Just ahead, we'll have more on today's opening statements and the first day of witness testimony. A lawyer who used to represent the former president is standing by.

But, first, a closer look at the first witness, the prosecution in the criminal case brought forward against Donald Trump. Why David Pecker is a key player and how the catch and kill scheme fits into the case.



BLITZER: The first key witness in Donald Trump's hush money trial is set to return to the stand tomorrow morning. CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at former tabloid executive David Pecker and his testimony.

Brian, Pecker is a central player in this alleged hush money scheme.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prosecutors believe he knows many of the details, Wolf. It is also David Pecker's longstanding friendship with Donald Trump and his familiarity with the tactics of the tabloids that make him such a compelling witness in this trial.


TODD (voice over): 72-year-old David Pecker told the court today that when he was president and CEO of American Media Incorporated, which published The National Enquirer, he, quote, had the final say on which stories would get published, and that, quote, on the celebrity side of the magazine industry, at least on the tabloid side, we used checkbook journalism, and he said they paid for stories.

That practice was just part of what prosecutors say were plans between Pecker, Donald Trump and Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay women who alleged they'd had affairs with Trump to keep quiet.

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Why Mr. Pecker is important is, he can talk about the plan to execute the scheme, and this is also important. This election interference case doesn't involve just Stormy Daniels. It involves Karen McDougal.

TODD: Karen McDougal is a former Playboy model who the New Yorker Magazine first reported had an affair with Trump. Prosecutors say Pecker and the Enquirer were part of a scheme to pay McDougal and Stormy Daniels for their stories about their alleged affairs with Trump, and then to bury those stories.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR: It was called catch and kill as an approach, stories and episodes that might be incredibly embarrassing or damaging to Donald Trump as he ran for president might be acquired by the National Enquirer and never see the light of day.

TODD: Trump has denied having affairs with both McDougal and Daniels. Prosecutors have given David Pecker immunity in exchange for his testimony. His former company, American Media, has signed a non- prosecution agreement with prosecutors.

Born in the Bronx, Pecker didn't start his career with the tabloids, but was gradually drawn to that world.

FOLKENFLIK: I believe he's an accountant, he had worked in book publishing. But he saw an opportunity, he thought, in tabloid news with American Media to really capitalize on America's thirst for gossip and celebrity focus.

TODD: One former employee of Pecker's has told CNN Pecker is known for taking care of his friends and that Donald Trump was definitely in that category.

STU ZAKIM, FORMER SENIOR V.P. OF COMMUNICATIONS, AMERICAN MEDIA INC.: Pecker and Trump have been friends since magazines really ruled the roost in New York City in the 90s.


You got to remember David Pecker Kaunched George Magazine with JFK Jr.

So, at that time when Trump was on the rise as a real estate mogul in New York City, logically, he went after a media owner who's going to help advance his career. The two hit it off.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say former President Trump's lawyers could try to tear down David Pecker's credibility by simply calling attention to the kinds of sordid stories that his tabloids would run.

But it's really not clear at this point what strategy Trump's lawyers will use to deal with David Pecker's testimony. They haven't indicated they're going to come after him with guns blazing, Wolf, but they might.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. He's going to be back there tomorrow. We'll see what happens. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Coming up, we'll go inside the defense strategy, including what it's like to have Donald Trump as a client. One of Trump's former lawyers is here. We'll discuss.



BLITZER: We're back with our special report on what happened to Donald Trump's criminal trial today. His lawyers kicked off their opening statements by insisting that the former president is innocent and did not commit any crimes.

Let's bring in CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, what does that opening statement reveal about how they'll approach this case?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, it's really the two sides arguing their view of what is at the center of this, these documents, these allegations, and it's basically the prosecution saying it was election interference and Trump's team coming out and trying to undercut that and downplay it by saying, it's really just bookkeeping and you can't prove that Trump knew about it, that he was involved in it.

They said the extent of his involvement was signing checks. We'll see how the jurors feel about whether or not that said enough about Trump's involvement and what he knew was happening. They made arguments about Trump not easily parting ways with his money, talking about him being frugal, turning an argument that you saw the prosecution tried to use on its head, and they also, Wolf, talked about the witnesses here.

Almost immediately, right out of the gate, Trump's defense attorney, Todd Blanche, started talking about Michael Cohen, and essentially saying that he is not to be believed.

Of course, we know Michael Cohen is going to be a central witness to this case, because he is someone who had direct conversations about this with Trump. He was in the room in August 2015 with David Pecker, the first witness today, and Donald Trump, and he was at the center of all of these efforts to kill these bad stories and the negative stories about Trump and to keep them from coming out. So, that very clearly is going to be a target of theirs.

And, really, what they're overall trying to do, Wolf, here is just create doubt among the jurors about the extent of Trump's involvement in all of this.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, I understand you're also getting some new information on another criminal case facing Trump, the classified documents case. What can you tell us about that?

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf. This is interesting. Of course, that is the case where Trump has been indicted for taking those classified documents to Mar-a-Lago out of the White House, refusing to give them back to the government, and standing in the way of the government's efforts to retrieve them. And now we're learning that, allegedly, one witness in the classified documents investigation told investigators that Trump offered to pardon his co-defendant and his valet, Walt Nauta, in this case, if he was charged with lying to the FBI when Trump is re-elected in 2024.

Now, of course, there are a lot of caveats there, but this is really notable because it's coming from this redacted interview that we're getting. We don't know who which witness it is in the classified documents investigation who is saying that Trump did offer to pardon Walt Nauta, who, of course, we know was subsequently charged with lying to the FBI in this case.

And the reason we still have a lot of questions about this is because this is someone who said that they have not spoken to Walt Nauta since Donald Trump left the White House, but they did go to Mar-a-Lago several times throughout the course after he left the White House, and they spoke to him about the classified documents. And according to this interview, they told him to essentially make sure he returned them to the National Archives or otherwise warned that he would give the Justice Department a reason to indict him, something that we do know later happened.

It's not clear why this was not part of the charges that was brought against Donald Trump. I think there're still a lot of questions, but it does have a witness who is, you know, did not want to be recorded in this interview because they feared backlash in Trump's orbit, saying that he did offer to pardon someone who was later charged for lying to the FBI.

BLITZER: Potentially very significant. Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, Kaitlan, of course, will be back later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern, to anchor her show, The Source. We'll be watching.

And joining us now, a former attorney for Donald Trump, Jim Trusty. Jim, thanks very much for coming in. Let me get your reaction to what Kaitlan just reported about this cooperating witness in the classified documents case. I understand you were once helping Trump in that case. What's your reaction to that?

JIM TRUSTY, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I mean, it's super speculative right now to say there's some reference by some witness about some sort of pardon conversation.

Let me just say, Walt Nauta was always like this talisman for the government, where they would do almost anything to try to trip him up thinking he's the keys to the kingdom. He's going to get them to Donald Trump and Donald Trump's intent. So, anything that circles around Nauta, including the you know the leak campaign with the Washington post that DOJ did at his expense, I take it with a grain of salt.

BLITZER: Well, how much potential damage, legal damage would this cause Trump if, in fact, what, this allegation is true?

TRUSTY: Yes, I don't think much. I mean, honestly, you know the president had the remnants of the king, is that you have this pardon power. We've had all sorts of controversial pardons over the years going back at least to Bill Clinton, maybe going back to Gerald Ford, I suppose. And so, you know, the idea that he's talking about something that he would have authority to do is not particularly stunning or shocking.


And, obviously, it's contextual. We're saying is he trying to mold testimony or shape somebody's cooperation or non-cooperation? I just think it's too speculative to take a nugget out of a report and say that there's anything that's proven at this point.

BLITZER: I want to play this clip of what Trump said after the trial today. Listen to this.



TRUMP: The things he got in trouble for were things that had nothing to do with me. He got in trouble, he went to jail. This had nothing to do with me. This had to do with the taxicab company that he owned. And when are they going to look at all the lies that Cohen did in the last trial? He got caught lying in the last trial. So, he got caught lying, pure lying.


BLITZER: As you know, the gag order that Trump is under prevents Trump from attacking witnesses, potential witnesses, in this case. And Michael Cohen is a witness that's going to be called upon. Did he violate the gag order?

TRUSTY: Well, we'll find out tomorrow morning. Obviously, the court is going to have a hearing about this at 9:30. I mean, look, he's talking about Cohen. Cohen is talking about him every day.

And to me, the shock there is that as a prosecutor, the last thing you want is a guy with a perjury conviction, a guy that's a failed cooperator, running around and still telling television how much he hates Donald Trump. He's only adding to the cross-examination.

BLITZER: But here's the difference. Trump is under a gag order from the judge. Cohen is not under any gag order.

TRUSTY: Right. I mean, he should be under an informal one where the prosecutors are like controlling himself.

BLITZER: But he's not under any gag order. He can say what he wants.

TRUSTY: I understand. I know he can. It's just not helping his case or the government's case.

But, look, we'll see if the balance is there, if the judge looks at it tomorrow morning and says, I think you have violated my gag order, how much he'll care about the fact that the chief recipient of that violation is going on T.V. daily and nightly and saying the same types of things. BLITZER: Michael Cohen responded on X, formerly known as Twitter, today writing this, and I'm quoting him. Your attacks of me stink of desperation. We are all hoping that you take the stand in your defense. What do you think about that?

TRUSTY: It feels like I'm rubber and you're glue. I mean, it's kind of childish. I mean, look, at the end of the day, Cohen is his own person and he is helping the defense in a sense here make him the centerpiece of this whole prosecution.

That should be the strategy, and I think we saw a lot of that from the opening statement today, make it all about a referendum on his credibility. If you do that from the defense perspective, you got a chance. And the prosecution of course was distancing themselves, saying, well, everybody's got a past, he may have a history, but this is about corroboration and schemes and other witnesses.

So, they're walking away from the importance of Cohen while the defense is pushing hard. I think, if anything, Cohen going on T.V. and saying these things, probably, maybe a little bit, helps the defense.

BLITZER: Interesting. Judge Merchan, he ruled today that some of Trump's past legal problems can be brought up during cross- examination, and now I'm quoting from him, including the verdict in the New York civil fraud trial, his violations of the gag order in that case, the two verdicts against Trump in the civil suits brought by E. Jean Carroll and the 2018 settlement dissolving Trump's charity. How does that impact the likelihood that Trump will do what he says he's ready to do, namely testify?

TRUSTY: Yes. Look, I think from the beginning, even before that ruling from the court about all these other little individual moments that they think reflect on credibility, I think it's a bad idea. I think you want the entire focus of this jury on Cohen's credibility.

And I know President Trump probably thinks that he could go out there and change the day by having his opportunity to address the jury. I get the frustration. This is kind of true in the white collar sphere all the time. You know, C-suite executives, guys that are used to controlling things.

BLITZER: So, basically what I hear you saying is if you were Trump's lawyer today, you would tell him to shut up?

TRUSTY: Well, I don't know about shut up, because there's a political lane you can't avoid. The guy is running for president. But in terms of testifying on the witness stand, I'd say, look, let's make this about Michael Cohen and nothing else.

BLITZER: So, he shouldn't testify?

TRUSTY: I would say, no, but it's going to -- but it's one of those things the client ultimately has control of that. The lawyers can only woodshed you so long and, and push, so we'll see.

BLITZER: As you know, prosecutors are calling this whole case a scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. But Trump's attorney today said this, and I'm quoting him, there is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It's called democracy. What do you make of that argument?

TRUSTY: Well, I get the point. I don't know that I would have worded it exactly like that because now everyone gets a chance to pick at it and say, you know, what are you saying, that there's no boundaries, there's no illegalities that could ever accommodate pushing for an election. But I get the point. The point is, this is misdemeanor bookkeeping crimes.

BLITZER: But election interference is a major crime.

TRUSTY: Well, show me the statute that it's charged here. I mean, we're talking the crimes in the indictment. It's not a speaking indictment. It's 34 pages kind of bare bones -- 34 counts of bare bones charges. It is literally bookkeeping entries.

And so, yes, they're using the criminal intent aspect to try to elevate misdemeanors to felonies. That's where the battleground is going to be in this trial when it comes to a jury verdict. But at the end of the day, you know, I don't -- the evidence is going to be riding on the shoulders of two or three people, and Cohen being one of them.


You've got to just go -- you've got to hammer that every second you can as a defense attorney.

BLITZER: And I assume that defense team will do that. That's coming up.

All right, Jim Trusty, thanks very much for coming in.

TRUSTY: Sure, good to see you.

BLITZER: I appreciate it.

Just ahead, we'll go live once again to outside the court in New York and get the viewpoint from one of our correspondents who was in the room on this, the first day of witness testimony.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on Donald Trump's hush money trial now in the testimony phase. We're getting new insights right now from a just released court transcript, lengthy indeed, and from our reporter who was inside the courtroom throughout the entire session today. Kara Scannell is back with us.

Kara, so what stood out the most to you about what happened inside the courtroom?

SCANNELL: Well, Wolf, when Donald Trump enters the courtroom, he usually walks down the center aisle scanning the rows of reporters that are sitting there.


But today, when he walked in, he was speaking pretty intensely to his lead attorney, Todd Blanche, as they walked to their seats at the defense table, when prosecutors give their opening statements, Trump was looking straight ahead, not really engaging with the jury, but he was passing a number of notes to his lawyers, especially when prosecutors had mentioned Michael Cohen.

But when his attorney, Todd Blanche, had given his opening, Trump had turned, he was watching the jury, paying close attention to the opening statement as his lawyer was urging the jury to find Trump not guilty.

Now, we also we saw that the jurors were paying close attention to all of the attorneys as they spoke and to the judge when he was laying out how this case would unfold and what the jury first should evaluate any evidence. More than half of them raise their hand when asked if they wanted a notebook and pens to take notes during this trial, and we saw them all have them handed hand, as this opening statements got underway, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Kara, because tomorrow before witness testimony begins, the judge will hold a hearing to determine if Trump violated the gag order. Tell us about that.

SCANNELL: Right. So prosecutors say that the former president has violated this gag order at least ten times and they want the judge to find him $1,000 for each violation and to warn Donald Trump, that he could be put in jail if he continues to violate the gag order.

And Trump's lawyers have said that Michael Cohen, the one of the people that Trump is accused of violating a gag order for statement he's made about saying that he is someone that should be treated differently than the other witnesses in this case because he continuously and almost daily makes comments about the former president. They're also saying that they want some clarity on what Trump can repost from other people, saying that they weren't sure if that was covered by this gag order.

So this hearing is expected to date place before testimony resumes tomorrow. And we'll see if the judge makes the determination in the morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kara Scannell outside the courthouse in New York, excellent reporting. Thank you very much.

Coming up, new filings reveal just how much money Trump world is spending on legal fees and who that money is coming from as he tries to make -- make up a cash deficit just ahead of the general election.


[18:51:19] BLITZER: Tonight as testimony has begun in Donald Trump's first criminal trial, there's new evidence that is huge legal bills are draining millions of dollars from his so-called Leadership PAC, money that could have been spent on Trump's presidential campaign.

Brian Todd is back with us. We're here at the magic wall.

Break down the new campaign finance report for us, Brian, and what it reveals.

Well, Wolf, the former president and presumptive GOP's excuse me, legal expenses pardon me. are really racking up as his first criminal trial gets underway. And that's just one of the many legal challenges he is facing.

His Save America Political Action Committee fronts the vast majority of the cost of these legal issues. And that's becoming a big drain on Trump. Let's take a look at Save America at their legal expenses, expenses in just in March.

According to a new filing from the Federal Election Commission, Save America spent nearly 3.7 million on legal related expenses just in March. That -- pardon me -- that is nearly three out of every four dollars that it collected al together.

Save America has spent more than $77 million on legal fees for Trump and his associates since the start of 2021, when spending shifted from his 2020 campaign to his current bid for the White House. At the same time, these legal expenses are draining, Trump's coffers, President Biden, and the Democratic Party, are seriously expected their war chest, just take a look at the disparity here.

Heading into April, Biden's campaign reports $85.5 million in cash on hand, that is nearly double the Trump campaign with $45.1 million, pardon me, Looking at the Democratic National Committee versus the Republican national committee, you see the same pattern, the DNC has $45.2 million in cash on hand, the RNC, just $21.6 billion. That is a major early fundraising advantage, that is money that Trump and his political action committees could be spending on advertising, polling, and field offices.

They're instead going to these mounting legal fees and that could be an issue for Trump is special officially as we head into that stretch run of the election season, Wolf. The conventions coming up and all of that, they've got real money problems on their hand because of these trials.

BLITZER: It's a huge issue indeed. Brian, thanks very much for that report.

Coming up, the 2024 split-screen on full display once again today with President Biden on the road in Virginia, while Donald Trump sits on trial in New York.



BLITZER: While Donald Trump was on trial in the New York courthouse, President Biden was out on the campaign trail once again today.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Kayla Tausche.

Kayla, how are the president and his campaign for that matter seizing this moment?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden and his advisers are seeking to stay above the fray, focusing on issues of policy and substance and declining to wait in and comment on Trump's legal issues. You'll see today, President Biden was in Virginia highlighting $7 billion in clean energy investments. Vice President Harris, for her part one was in battleground, Wisconsin, highlighting Trump's role in the overturning of Roe. Biden is expected to do more of the same tomorrow, he heads to Florida, Trump's figurative backyard.

And when you look at just the schedule for the first two weeks of this trial, Wolf, President Biden would have been on a swing through Pennsylvania. He's going to Upstate New York later this week and campaign and White House officials say, expect his schedule to stay incredibly robust as Trump is kept in court through June.

Now, advisers tell me that they're using this time with Trump in court and off the trail to essentially hunker down and craft strategy and plans for the months to come. But publicly, the campaign has wasted no time trying to rib the former president, their new and now opponent in the 2024 race, with some sharply worded missives. Strategically using language like Sleepy Don, Stormy, and Hush, and sort of oblique reference to the trial in those statements.

But despite and all of that, I'm told by both campaign and White House officials, Wolf, that there's no formalized effort to monitor the daily developments of the trial. There's no war room, there are no daily memos, there are no individual staffers who are tasked with reporting up to campaign and White House brass on what happens each day. I'm told they're getting their information like the rest of us its watching the proceedings on TV -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche at the White House, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. To all our viewers celebrating Passover, have a happy Passover.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.