Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Explosive Testimony In Trump Trial After Judge Clashes With Defense; Tabloid Executive David Pecker Testifies How He Helped Trump's Campaign; Pecker Says Agreed During 2015 Meeting With Cohen And Trump To Be Eyes And Ears For Trump' Campaign; Renowned Presidential Historian On Trump's Unprecedented Trial; As Trump Faces Trial, Biden Unleashes New Attack On Him In Florida. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 23, 2024 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Next month ahead of her 11th season in the WNBA.


You can follow on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, and on the TikTok @jaketapper. You can also follow the show on X @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show, all two hours, whence you get your podcasts.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in a place I'd like to call The Situation Room.

I will see you tomorrow. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight, explosive, new testimony in the Trump trial, after heating clashes between the judge and the former president's lawyer. For the next hour, we'll take you inside the courtroom from gavel-to-gavel as the historic hush money criminal case unfolds.

Tabloid executive David Pecker has wrapped up a second day on the stand as were awaiting the judge's ruling on whether Trump violated his gag order.

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, the Trump Trial Today.

In our trial coverage tonight, former National Enquirer Executive David Pecker details his efforts to, quote, catch and kill negative stories about Donald Trump with the expressed goal of helping Trumps first presidential campaign, the testimony getting to the heart of the prosecutions argument that Trump illegally conspired to influence the 2016 election.

CNN's Kara Scannell has all of breaking news from inside the courtroom. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Explosive witness testimony from a tabloid executive in former president Donald Trump's hush money trial on Tuesday. Ex-National Enquirer Publisher David Pecker described acting as the eyes and ears of Trumps 2016 campaign, notifying Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, about any negatives stories to help get them killed in the lead-up to the election.

Pecker is a key player involved in the crux of the prosecution's case, an alleged scheme to pay off adult film star Stormy Daniels to cover up her alleged affair with Trump to influence the 2016 election, questioning centered on an August 2015 meeting between Pecker, Cohen and Trump, where the alleged conspiracy was hatched.

Pecker, who ran the National Enquirer, testified that after meeting, I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents. He additionally offered, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen, as I did over the last several years. And Michael Cohen then, he would be able to have them killed another magazine or have them not published, or somebody would have to purchase them.

Trump stared at Pecker as he described, the 25-minute meeting, but he did not react. Pecker said, after the meeting, he told the Enquirer's editor-in-chief about the mutually beneficial agreement. He said, were going to try to help the campaign and to do that, I want to keep this as quiet as possible.

Joshua Steinglass then asked Pecker about a specific catch and kill incident, where a negative Trump story was bought and buried. Pecker testified he found Trumps doorman was selling a story that he fathered a child with someone other than his wife, and he immediately alerted Cohen. Pecker said his colleague negotiated to purchase the story for $30,000. And when he called Cohen to tell him, Cohen responded, the boss would be very pleased.

Even though the allegation was disproven, he testified, I made the decision to purchase the story because of the potential embarrassment it would have to the campaign and Mr. Trump.

Steinglass also asked Pecker about another catch and kill scheme, buying former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story about an alleged year long relationship with Trump. Pecker described a phone call he had with Trump after his colleague interviewed McDougal. Pecker said, I told him, I think you should buy it, and Trump responded saying, anytime you do anything like this, it always gets out. He said he would think about it and Pecker would hear from Cohen. Trump denies having an affair with McDougal.

The morning started with a contentious hearing to determine if Trump violated a gag order not to talk about jurors or witnesses, after he did so in social media posts almost a dozen times.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a gag order, which to me is totally constitutional.

SCANNELL: Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, said the order was not clear about reposts, and he tried to argue that the former president was actually trying to comply with the order.

Judge Juan Merchan exasperated with Blanches' argument, scolded him and said, you're losing all credibility with the court.



SCANNELL (on camera): Now, the judge has not ruled yet on whether Donald Trump violated the gag order in this case. There's no court tomorrow, but court is back in session on Thursday. David Pecker will be back on the witness stand and he is expected to continue to testify about this pattern of hush money payments, including the $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels that's at the center of this case. Wolf?

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

That 2015 meeting involving Donald Trump, Michael Cohen and David Pecker is certainly central to the prosecution's case against Trump and it's a claim of a criminal conspiracy.

CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson is taking a closer look for us. Joey, lets dive into the so-called agreement among friends -- that was what they called it, an agreement among friends -- that David Pecker testified about?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, without question, Wolf. And so when looking at this, when looking at the prosecution's case, remember the theory, and you noted it, conspiracy and cover up, let's take you into what that looks like.

This is the August 2015 meeting, and for conspiracy not that that's what's charge, but that's the essence of the claim, that Donald Trump was the ring leader of this conspiracy of these people to bring together this election interference leading to the fraud and leading to the intent.

Now, what do we have here at the meeting, Wolf? What we have is we have Pecker, we have Trump and we have Michael Cohen. These are the participants. Catch and kill is born. Why? Because the intention with respect to what they're going to do, they're going to catch these stories by paying for them. They're going to kill them by suppressing them. They own the rights. And as a result of that, they could get rid of the story. But, when it comes to favorable things for the president, that something -- not then-president, person running for president, that's something that they would otherwise do.

Now, so take a look at that. Those are the principal participants, Michael Cohen being the middle person. Let's go and let's take a look at the state of mind. Now, this is significant, Wolf, because this is specific testimony today. Why is this relevant? Let's start here. What we're looking at is the issue of the presidential campaign, the concern about women, that National Enquirer.

So, what does he say in court today? In a presidential campaign, I was the person that thought there would be a lot of women who would come to try to sell their stories because Mr. Trump was well-known as the most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful women. And it was clear that based on my past experience that when someone is running for public office like this, it is very common for these women to call up a magazine, like the National Enquirer, to try to sell their stories, very important with respect to intent, state of mind, and the issue of election interference, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Joey, David Pecker testified about Michael Cohen's role in that so-called agreement. How did that translate into what tabloids actually published?

JACKSON: Yes. So, that's very critical. Let's take a look at that.

So, now when we look at this again, taking you into these specific testimony, this is Pecker's testimony, Michael Cohen, again, a central figure. We're going to take a look at the negative articles, right, and about embellishments.

So, here's how it played, testimony directly from Pecker in court today, Michael Cohen would call me and say, we would like you to run a negative article on a certain, let's say, for arguments sake, on, and these are the enemies right at the particular time, Ted Cruz, right? Michael Cohen then would send information about Ted Cruz or Ben Carson and Marco Rubio. And that was the basis for our story, and then we would embellish from there.

Last point, that is you have the positive stories as it relates to Trump, right, Trump taking charge there. You have the negative story, Ted Cruz, father linked to JFK assassination. That's the basis, the essence of it and that's testimony that we heard today.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Joey Jackson, thanks very much.

Let's break all of this down with our legal and political experts. And, Katelyn Polantz, you've been doing excellent reporting on all of this. Explain why prosecutors spend so much time establishing how catch and kill, that theory of catch and kill worked in coordination with Michael Cohen, the former president's fixer and lawyer.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. Wolf, this charts the ark of what leads to Trump allegedly falsifying these dozens of business records, his checks to Michael Cohen. And what David Pecker is doing on the stand yesterday and today is he's laying out the scheme, the catch and kill scheme. He's also establishing the network around Trump.

It's not just that he's in the room with Trump having conversations with him, there's also Michael Cohen in that network, and others in the political sphere from Trumps campaign at the time. And then he's underlining the motivation. He says, over and over again on the stand today to that jury, that he wanted to protect the campaign and Donald Trump from embarrassment from these stories coming out.


So, he's putting those pieces together. They're going to work as building blocks as the trial goes on, where other witnesses will illuminate different aspects.

He also had a very important point that he made on the stand, that it was Donald Trump himself, and Pecker witness this, who would review invoices and sign his checks when they were brought to him by an assistant, another building plot. We're very likely to be hearing about that again, with other witnesses.

BLITZER: I suspect we'll be hearing more and more about that. Ankush Khardori, you're a former federal prosecutor. I want to read a key exchange from today. Prosecutors asked Pecker this, and I'm quoting now, prior to the August 2015 meeting, had you ever purchased a story to not print it about Mr. Trump? Pecker responded, ah no. So, how does that help bolster the case that this was potentially criminal interference in the presidential election?

ANKUSH KHARDORI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. Well, the timing of that particular meeting helps do it because there'll be right around the time. We would expect that Trump would be contemplating his run gearing up for the run, worried about potential negative press.

And I completely agree with Katelyn here. This is the start of a story that is really going to be extending throughout this trial. It's not actually the crux of the criminal case. The crux of the criminal case concerns how and why Stormy Daniels was paid through Michael Cohen. That's going to be the main event for the jurors but this as all crucial context with the juries to understand everything that leads up to that.

BLITZER: Interesting. Michael Moore is with us as well, a former U.S. attorney. Michael, let's talk a little bit about Pecker's testimony. He said Trump was, quote, frugal in his approach to money, frugal a direct quote, personally reviewing all expenses. What is the significance of that?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, I'm glad to be with you. We expect that there's going to be a tape coming out with Michael Cohen where he taped Trump at some point. And there's some allegations or at least some statements in the tape that appears that Trump is relying on what Weisselberg and Cohen were doing, and saying, look, I don't really know. Just tell me what to do. What's the amount of money?

There may be getting ready to refute some of that by saying, no, he's actually very much in control of his business, he is very much in control of his finances, he's not somebody who just signs off on a check or an invoice that somebody places in front of him. And so my guess is that the prosecution is trying to prepare for that. The witnesses today, were like -- well, a trial is like a book. And the witnesses today were like blank pages that they're sticking into the book. And throughout the trial, they will be filling in these bits and pieces, chapter-by-chapter. And one of the chapters, I think, is going to be, at least from the defense, Trump really wasn't the man in charge, it's Michael Cohen, as we saw, even from some of the things in the clips we looked at earlier.

BLITZER: Let me ask you, you know Trump well. You were his campaign press secretary. You understand where he's coming from. We're all right now awaiting the judge's decision, did Trump violate the gag order that had been imposed. And if he did, what's going to be the penalty? And as I say, you know, Trump well. Do you think no matter what the penalty will be, whether it's a few thousand dollars or something else, do you think Trump is going to honor that?

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It's going to be hard to imagine that he will honor it. I mean, look, he's already violated it more than a dozen times, I believe. And right now, I believe the fine if they do end up finding him is $1,000. That's like chump change --

BLITZER: For each time.

MATTHEWS: -- for each violation, exactly. And that's like chump change to him.

And so until I think there's an actual threat of maybe jail time, I believe it can be 30 days in jail is what could happen if they decided to escalate it. I don't know if I foresee the judge going as far as that. But at the same time, how do you keep Donald Trump in check? Because as he's complaining that he's totally gagged, and it's ironic because he's complaining about it while addressing the press outside of the courtroom.

And he's not gagged. He can talk about the judge. He can talk about the prosecutor. He can talk about how he thinks this case is unfair. What he can't do, though, is go after innocent people, like the jurors, the witnesses, and the staff of the courtroom, and their family members.

And, look, a gag order like this is necessary for someone with Donald Trump's megaphone because he could do some serious harm by putting a target on these people's backs and harassing them and kind of making it a message then to his followers, hey, go after these people, target them, harass them. And that draws serious security concerns.

And so I do think it's necessary for this gag order to be in place because Donald Trump has shown that he does not care about the security of those that he goes after.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All right, guys, everybody standby. Thanks to all of you.

Coming up, there's breaking news on planning for how to respond if Donald Trump is sent to jail. Details on that, a former New York judge is here with her perspective.

Stand by. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in Donald Trump's hush money trial, awaiting the judge's ruling on whether the former president of the United States violated his gag order. Judge Juan Merchan repeatedly showed his frustration with Trump Attorney Todd Blanche during the hearing, even raising his voice when he felt Blanche was dodging his questions.

Merchan telling Blanche, and I'm quoting now, I'm going to be the one who decides whether your client is in contempt. I keep asking you over and over again for a specific answer and I'm not getting an answer. The judges exasperated, kept building until he finally said this to Blanche, you're losing all credibility with the court, a direct quote.

Joining us now, to put these clashes and perspective, the former U.S. district court judge, Shira Scheindlin. Judge Scheindlin, thank you so much for joining us.

How rare is it for a judge to get exasperated like this? What would you have done in the situation like this?

SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: Well, I think it's not a good idea to be exasperated on the second day of a six-week trial and to say to the lawyer, you've lost all credibility with me. That's a very judgmental statement on the second day of six weeks.


I can see that after three weeks or four weeks when the lawyer has really tested your patience, but I don't think it's a good look to say you've lost all credibility upfront. So, I probably wouldn't have made that particular comment. And I know he repeatedly said, you haven't shown me anything. You haven't given me anything to help decide this. But I don't know if that's fair.

Again, the lawyers is there to make an argument on behalf of his client. His argument is my client is running for president of the United States. He needs to answer these attacks. These are political. I'm not saying the judge should buy that argument but it's an argument that a lawyer, in my opinion, can credibly make.

He's also still attacking the gag order itself. But he's saying, reposting, what's so bad about reposting? It's already in the New York Post. People can already read, everyone can read about Michael Cohen and what folks are saying about him. So, reposting means yes, President Trump is also saying it. But what else would you expect?

So, I understand it's technically, probably a violation. Whether it warrants harsh reprisal, I don't know. BLITZER: In the gag order issue, ten of Trumps posts are now under scrutiny, including one quoting a baseless allegation that some jurors are liberal activists. All together, the maximum fine would be about $10,000. How do you expect, Judge Merchan to rule and would anything deter Trump?

SCHEINDLIN: Two good questions. I would expect him initially to impose fines. I don't think he's going to go right to incarceration. I don't think any judge would do that. He's going to impose fines and he's going to give him a stern warning, saying, now, look, I have fined you and I can find you again. But if you don't stop this, I have the power to incarcerate you. And that's what's going to happen if you violate my court orders.

So, I think he's going to give them a stern talking to and I think he's going to impose these fairly minimal fines of $1,000 per violation. That's what I would expect.

BLITZER: That's not much money for Trump. Judge Scheindlin, CNN is just learning now that the U.S. Secret Service court officers and even the New York City Department of Corrections have been quietly discussing what to do if Trump does end up being jailed for contempt of court. If you were presiding over this case, at what point would you be prepared to actually jail the former president of the United States?

SCHEINDLIN: I wouldn't be anxious to do that. I think it makes him appear to be a victim. It only helps his narrative of this being a witch hunt. I would try to do everything I could not to incarcerate him. It's going to be difficult. There's going to have to be 24/7 Secret Service protection. I read somewhere that it might be Rikers, which would be a terrible environment. So, I would hope that it never came to that and I don't expect it to.

BLITZER: Yes, interesting. Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, as you know, is a very reputable trial attorney. What do you make of him seeming to be unprepared at this hearing? How could this impact the judge's view of Todd Blanche for the rest of the trial?

SCHEINDLIN: Well, that's what I said earlier. I don't buy criticism that he was unprepared. He only has so many arguments he can make. You can't make up facts that don't exist. So, he can re argue the breadth of the gag order itself and saying, what's wrong with reposting, everybody has all read it, already read it in the New York post or Fox News. So, there's nothing wrong with that. You shouldn't have included reposting. He can also make the argument that I summarized before about he's in a political campaign, has a right to respond to political attacks. What more can you do?

So, the judge was, as I said, was a little harsh on him, saying, you've lost all credibility with me and you've given me nothing. He can't expect a man to make up facts and evidence that don't exist.

BLITZER: Interesting. Thanks for your expertise, Judge Shira Scheindlin, we appreciate it very, very much. And coming up, the very public break up between Donald Trump and his onetime lawyer, Michael Cohen, is on full display right now. We're taking a closer look at how it all broke down. And we will discuss with someone who's known Trump for more than three decades.



BLITZER: We're back with our special report on Donald Trump's first criminal trial, former tabloid executive David Pecker making it clear in his testimony today, that longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen was a central player in efforts to buy and kill negative stories about Trump.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more on Cohen's relationship with Trump and how it all unraveled.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands together and receive him as he comes, my friend, Mr. Michael Cohen.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A picture of better times for Donald Trump and his attorney, Michael Cohen

MICHAEL COHEN, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: He's a good man. He's a man who cares deeply about this country.

FOREMAN: And a snapshot of bitter times now.

TRUMP: He got in trouble and went to jail. This had nothing to do with me.

FOREMAN: The two native New Yorkers met in 2006. Cohen bought a condo in the Trump building and, by most accounts, they bonded quickly over their shared values and sharp elbows. Soon, Cohen was handling real estate deals, helping run some companies.

COHEN: They say, I'm Mr. Trump's pitbull, that I am his right-hand man.

FOREMAN: When Trump's campaign lit up, Cohen sharpened his teeth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys are down and it makes that there would --

COHEN: Says who?


REPORTER: Most of them, all of them.

FOREMAN: And Trump returned the favor.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He's a good lawyer in my firm.

FOREMAN: As claims of improper hush money emerged, Trump initially included Cohen and his denials of any wrongdoing.

TRUMP: Like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me. And from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong.

FOREMAN: When headlines warn that Cohen might help prosecutors. Trump posted, I don't see Michael doing that. And he ripped the FBI raids on his lawyer's home and office.

TRUMP: It's an attack when our country in a true sense, it's an attack on what we all stand for.

FOREMAN: Later, CNN obtained audio of Cohen and Trump discussing payment to silence Playboy Model Karen McDougal's story of an affair with Trump, which Trump denied.

COHEN: When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: What was that, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay (INAUDIBLE) No, no, no. I got it. No, no, no.

FOREMAN: Then Cohen pled guilty to crimes, including campaign finance violations linked to those payments. He went to jail and he came out saying he should have never trusted Trump.

COHEN: I am ashamed. Because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist, he is a conman and he is a cheat.

FOREMAN: Trump has called Cohen a liar, a loser, and so much more. It's all just a warm up to the former president and his former fixer, these former friends facing off in court.


FOREMAN (on camera): It really will be an absolutely fascinating model when you think about how long Michael Cohen lived at the direction of Donald Trump, following everything Donald Trump wanted, under the thumb of Donald Trump. And now it is Michael Cohen who has a chance to apply pressure to the former president. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very good report. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman, working the story for us.

Joining us now, the investigative journalist, David Cay Johnston, who wrote a 2016 biography about Donald Trump. David, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, better than all of us, this is a very complicated relationship. Does that make it complicated for jurors to weigh Cohen's expected testimony?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, not -- I don't think so. Many, many times, prosecutors have used criminals, career criminals, to convict other people of crimes. So, the issue here will be not just Michael Cohen's credibility, but the tape recordings he has of his conversations with Trump and the documents that will tend to support his story.

And, of course, it's important Wolf to keep in mind that Donald Trump hired Michael Cohen and employed him because he it would menace people and he would lie for Trump when he wanted. Once they broke, from everything. I've seen, including my conversations with Michael Cohen, he has been very carefully and precisely accurate in what he said.

BLITZER: Interesting. David Pecker testified today that Trump was very detail-oriented. He said one time Trumps office, Trump was given invoices and checks to sign and Pecker, quote, noticed that he, referring to Trump, review the invoice and looked at the check and he would sign them. How key is that testimony, you think, David, to proving these charges against Trump?

JOHNSTON: Well, Trump's insistence is I had nothing to do with this. Michael Cohen, he's the one who went and did this deal. And the fact that there are the audio recordings that were made by Michael Cohen, and in Pecker's testimony, Pecker is not been charged with any crime. He has immunity so long as he tells the truth, he will not be charged with any crime, so he has a great deal of weight to the documents and the audio recordings.

BLITZER: David, you've covered Trump extensively over these many, many years and you say he's not a strong internal person. What sort of impact could days and weeks of trial have on his mindset?

JOHNSTON: Well, I think we're already seeing the difficulty Donald is having -- dealing with having to be in court, having to sit in a chair for hours at a time and not being able to speak or object in any way. And you notice when he came out to complain yesterday after the hearing, he instead of being the great communicator is. Donald is very good at taking complex issues and reducing them to a slogan, a simple message to people. He got totally lost in the weeds. I mean, I had trouble following what he was trying to say. I follow everything he does.

BLITZER: Very interesting. You mentioned the documents. This case is about falsifying business records. How do prosecutors use the documents, the emails, the agreements, how do they bring them to life to build their case?


JOHNSTON: Well, the key element in this, in presenting the evidence to the jury is to show that this wasn't some casual one-off where you weren't thinking or you did something dumb. There are 34 separate actions that were taken. And you get David Pecker first to lay out the broad scheme that the prosecution says was a conspiracy to corrupt, under New York law, the election.

Then you present these documents to show they really did it, the money was transferred here and there and they lied and covered up about it. And then you use Michael Cohen and those audio recordings to seal the deal along with the testimony. I expect we're going to hear from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

BLITZER: David Cay Johnston, thanks for your expertise. I appreciate a very, very much.

And just ahead, a front row seat to Donald Trump's criminal trial, the artist bringing you the powerful pictures from inside the court is here live.



BLITZER: Vivid courtroom sketches are giving us a window into Donald Trump's first criminal trial since cameras aren't allowed inside, were relying on these images and first-hand accounts to capture the substance and the color of the trial.

We're joined now by the veteran courtroom sketch artist, Christine Cornell, who has been inside the Trump trial covering it for CNN. Christine, thanks very much for joining us.

You're one of only three artists who can actually show us what's happening in the court. We're looking at your sketch of David Pecker's testimony today. Can you take us a little bit inside the room during this moment?

CHRISTINE CORNELL, SKETCH ARTIST AT TRUMP TRIAL: Well, Mr. Pecker is a very interesting witness. It's quite fascinating to hear about how they conspired to say awful things about anybody who was challenging Donald Trump for the presidency.

He went after it Mr. Rubio, he went after Ted Cruz. They were all sexual scandals. I think there was zero concerned about what was true or not true. They were just having a hot (ph) which makes it kind of poetic justice that he's having to deal with this right now.

BLITZER: Interesting. I know you sketch Trump in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial and his New York civil fraud trial as well. And you say he seems to have lost a lot of his bravado since then. Tell us more about Trumps demeanor in this courtroom from what you have observed over the past few days.

CORNELL: I mean, Trump is basically still being treated like royalty. He has a procession that, you know, of Secret Service, who follow him in and all of us are like being tamped down. The press didn't allow to stand up from their seat, move at all when Trump is present. And we're very restricted by his moves, you know? So, we're suffering a little bit, kind of being treated like naughty schoolchildren because they're very, very protective of this man.

As far as how he's bearing up, it's hard for him have to be in a spot where he can't speak. Anything out of his mouth, it turns into a fine and a scolding. And I see him sort of slightly deflated from the early days of his showing up in court. He's less bravado --

BLITZER: Interesting, go ahead. CORTNELL: And less of that feeling like, oh, lucky you, you get to see me, you know? Now, he's like, oh, I'm still here, you know, and you're still here. He'd rather be anywhere in the world.

BLITZER: We're looking at your sketch, Christine, of this morning is very tense gag order hearing. How high did emotions run inside the room?

CORNELL: Well, I found it interesting that they had charged him, the government, with ten breaches of the gag order. And they said, oh, well, he breached it so many more times than that. You never said anything. So, maybe we thought -- maybe he thought it was okay, which is a heck of a peculiar defense.

They did assert that Mr. Trump do exactly what the rules were. So, he's been deliberately pushing it to get a response. I mean, the government said that's what he was doing and I think it's pretty clear that that's what he's doing.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Christine Cornell, I was just going to say thank you very much.

CORNELL: He wants to turn it into an issue.

BLITZER: Well, thank you for finishing that sentence. I appreciate it very, very much. And thanks for all your good work, very important to see those sketches.

Coming up, an in-depth interview with one of Americas most acclaim presidential historians, how Author Doris Kearns Goodwin views that this trial as part of the country's history and future.



BLITZER: History is truly unfolding inside the New York courtroom where Donald Trump is the first former U.S. president to face a criminal trial.

We're joined now by the renowned presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

She's written a really important brand new book entitled "An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s".

And really is, Doris, a great, great book. Congratulations.


BLITZER: I know its going to be a huge, huge bestseller as it should be, especially for those of us who lived through the 1960s and can relate to everything you're writing in here. Let's talk about what's going on right now. History is unfolding with this trial, as you know, give us your sense of why this is a remarkable -- potentially a remarkable moment in American history. GOODWIN: I think the most important thing is that its a test of the

rule of law is any man above the law? I think about poor Al Gore, who had to go through that terrible race in 2000. And he gave a concession speech that was so dignified and he talked about the rule of law, what he said was that he was so disappointed with the decision, but the court had made the decision and that was the law.

And then he said in the law means makes me want to have responsibility to honor the president-elect. Every other president in history has done that and he was able to talk about the rule of law. That's what we're talking about right now. It may be in most important thing than we've ever seen a president sitting in a criminal trial. But it's the rule of law that matters.

BLITZER: As you know, this trial highlights a lot of the very, very deep divisions in our country right now. Are there some parallels, some historic precedence that you see? What you worry about is in the 1850s, you had two different kinds of media.


The South and the North would -- just distancing themselves from each other. And an event like for example, when Charles Sumner, the Massachusetts senator, was bludgeoned by this senator -- by this -- by the South Carolinian guy, Preston Brooks.

And it was seen in the North that he was a hero, Sumner. This guy in the South was considered a here on the South. The same event viewed in different ways.

I think the real answer to what's going to happen with this trial, more important even than whether the jury renders what verdict for one is whether the country accepts it.

That's -- public sentiment is what matters in the country. Lincoln said, it was more important than laws, more important than Supreme Court decisions, because if the public decide something and it says settled feeling, not just public opinion. So I think the real challenge is going to be, what does the public except about this decision and what does that mean going forward? So how does the country heal now, given that so many Americans actually believe Trump, Trumps claims about this being that he's being persecuted in all of that? How does the country heal from the historic perspective?

GOODWIN: I wish I knew that, but I think what happens is that over a period of time, as I say, a settled feeling comes in and if people really do feel that he was given the justice that he deserved, and that accountability was met and more people feel that that's finally it. And then we go on to other things.

But I think there's a chance that we can do it. It seems really hard. Now, we've lived through hard times before. This is as hard a time as I've lived, through, except for the '60s, we had a tough time when we were in the '60s, think about what happened then. You had assassinations of Martin Luther King, of Robert Kennedy, of John Kennedy. You had riots in the cities. You had campus violence. And somehow we thought well never going to live through this. And here

we are. We've been healed. So history tells us, history provide solace. History provides perspective. That's why I love it so much.

BLITZER: Yeah, I'm an optimist. I'm sure the country will heal as a result of all of this. How our friends and allies around on the world viewing what's going on in our country right now?

GOODWIN: That's what you worry about. I mean, you want us to be the proud country I -- that's why I loved living through World War II. It's crazy. I mean, living through it as an historian because you knew that we were beacon of hope to people around the world that we were able to help those allies win a war that had to be fought. I'm proud to have lived through the civil war, even though it was such a tough war, it ended with emancipation secured and the union restored.

We don't know how this is going to end, but somehow history tells us that before we live through really tough times and somehow the people didn't know how it was going to end. That's the thing. We're anxious. We don't know how this is going to end.

But somehow, history is going to tell a hundred years how it ended and hopefully it will have ended in a way that we can feel that we came through this with honor. We restored that sense of being an American and feeling good about citizenry.

Teddy Roosevelt warned that democracy would be at issue if people in different regions, sections and parties viewed each other as the other rather than as common American citizens.

Something's got to bring back that feeling that we are Americans and that we have more in common than we know -- how naive it sounds, but you got to believe it. You've got no chance.

BLITZER: And I hope you'll be writing that book down the road years from now, how the country healed up. But let's talk about this excellent new book you've written, an unfinished love story, a personal history of the 1960s. Why is it so personal?

GOODWIN: Because my husband had kept 300 boxes that really weren't time capsule of the '60s through his entire life. And he was everywhere. He's Zelig in the '60s, JFK, Bobby Kennedy later, Eugene McCarthy and New Hampshire, and LBJ, with all the great civil rights stuff.

But he didn't want to open it until he turned 80. And then he figured, if I don't do it now, it's never because they '60s, it ended so sadly. So we lived together the '60s, we started at the beginning, pretending that we didn't know what was going to happen later.

And as a result, we live the excitement of the '60s, the excitement of John Kennedy, the early days of the civil rights movement. It was an era, as you know, having lived through it, when young people were impelled by the decision that somehow they were going to do something larger than the sales. They'd feel fulfilled by it when they marched against segregation, when they marched for the denial of the vote, when they were in the Peace Corps, when they launched the women's movement, the gay rights movements.

So much of that feeling of conviction that you can make a difference in people's lives. I'll never forget being at the march on Washington in 1963, I felt this joy, a sense of being part of something larger, carrying a sign, Catholics, Jews, and Cat -- and protestants united for civil rights reliving that decade, I'm hoping that young people can see that.

I'm hoping that grandparents who went through it like us can tell our grandchildren what it was like, and that stories can be told. That's what you need from history. You have to tell stories of the people who lived before.

BLITZER: And that's what you have done in an unfinished love story, personal history of the 1960s.

Doris, thank you so much for writing this book. It means so much.

GOODWIN: Thank you. Thank you so much it meant so much to me. It kept -- kept my husband alive and kept that America that believed in its ideals alive.

BLITZER: Congratulations.

GOODWIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Terrific, terrific work.

And we'll be right back with more news.



BLITZER: As Donald Trump was on trial in New York today, President Biden was going after him in Trump's own backyard.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is joining us from Tampa, Florida, right now.

So, Priscilla, what is President Biden saying?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, President Biden tried to leverage a restrictive abortion law that essentially ban most abortions after six weeks it's set to take effect next week and try to use that to put the state in play for Democrats time, the unpopular abortion bans nationwide, his Republican rival, Donald Trump.

Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A person responsible with this nightmare, and he's acknowledged and he brags about it, Donald Trump.



ALVAREZ: Now because of this law, Democrats are putting renewed focus on the scene and what they think is a politically salient issue. But there's no doubt it's going to be an uphill challenge, especially in a state like Florida that voted Republican in the past two presidential elections. And one where the president has a wider gap against his Republican rival -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Priscilla Alvarez in Tampa for us, Priscilla, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.