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First Testimony On Trump's Ties To Adult Film Star Stormy Daniels; Justices Seem Skeptical About Trump's Bid For Absolute Immunity; Trump Trial Wraps For The Day Amid Double Courtroom Drama; Justice Thomas Hears Trump Immunity Case Despite Calls For His Recusal. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 25, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tune in tonight to get up to speed on what played out in the case today. It's a special A.C. 360, in which A.C., Anderson Cooper, will go through the major moments in the hush money cover up trial. That's tonight at 8:00 only here on CNN.

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

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, tonight, double courtroom drama in the Trump trial and at the U.S. Supreme Court. In New York, sensational testimony against Donald Trump just wrapped up for the day, focusing for the first time on the hush money deal with adult film star Stormy Daniels that's central to the case.

And here in Washington Trump's historic bid for criminal immunity has played out before the nation's highest court and the justices offered some clues about how they may rule.

For the next hour, we'll take you inside both of Trump's high-stakes court cases. 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.

We begin with all the breaking news on the Trump hush money criminal trial. The defense cross-examination of key witness David Pecker is expected to resume tomorrow after the former National Enquirer publisher addressed some very salacious topics in his testimony today.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is outside the courthouse in New York for us. Brynn, the testimony is getting closer and closer to the heart of the case against Trump.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's right. Defense attorneys really started their cross examination of Pecker going after those catch and kill stories, getting him to admit that buying and burying stories about a lot of celebrities was actually just common practice, that they did it quite often, it was part of their business model and that, in fact, they had been doing it for Donald Trump even 17 years before the 2016 election.

This is after the prosecution spent more than six hours over the last couple of days questioning Pecker about the inner workings of those catch and kill stories and how many of them benefited Trump.


GINGRAS (voice over): Cross-examination of David Pecker got underway in the criminal case against Donald Trump. 17 years of providing President Trump with a heads up about potentially negative publicity? Yes, the former publisher of the National Enquirer testified.

Trump's lawyers trying to show that catch and kill schemes, buying negative stories to make them disappear, was not uncommon. We didn't want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign.

One such scheme at the crux of the D.A's case against Trump, Stormy Daniels. Months before the 2016 election, the adult film star and director tried to sell her story of a sexual relationship with Trump to the Enquirer for $120, 000, but Pecker testified he wouldn't buy it. Pecker said he later learned Trump's then-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen paid Daniels out of his own funds.

At one point, Pecker testified Trump called him, saying Daniels violated the agreement and owed him $24 million for doing this interview.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And you had sex with him?


COOPER: You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?


GINGRAS: Pecker didn't pay Daniels because he wasn't reimbursed for an earlier catch and kill for Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As the night ended, we were intimate.

GINGRAS: Karen McDougal tried to sell her story of a year-long affair with Trump, which he denies. I think you should buy the story and take it off the market, Pecker testified, he told Trump. Pecker hatched a plan with Cohen as previous recordings show.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: So, we're funding -- yes. GINGRAS: Trump would pay him back in exchange for signing the story over, Pecker said Cohen assured him. Don't worry, I'm your friend. The boss will take care of it. McDougal's story was purchased but never published. In the end, Trump didn't reimburse the Enquirer.

COOPER: Did Donald Trump ever say to you that he loved you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the time. He always told me he loved me.

GINGRAS: Pecker testified after this interview in 2018, Trump called upset. I thought you had and we had an agreement with Karen McDougal that she can't give any interviews, Pecker recalled the then-president saying. But Pecker testified the company's agreement with McDougal was altered and allowed her to speak.

If a negative story was coming out with respect to Donald Trump, he was concerned about what the family may hear or say about it, not saying whether it was true or not, Pecker testified.


After Trump's campaign was announced, Pecker said Trump's concern shifted. It was basically what the impact would be to the campaign and the election, Pecker said.


GINGRAS (on camera): And, Wolf, we started the day wondering if the judge was going to make a decision about that recent gag order hearing. He didn't. But prosecutors brought forward four more examples. They say Trump violated that gag order over the last several days. So, now a new hearing is set for next Wednesday. Trump has campaign events, but he is ordered to be here in court as of now.

Tomorrow, cross-examination picks back up with David Pecker on the stand. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brynn Gingras outside the courthouse in New York, thanks very much.

I want to bring in our legal and political experts for some analysis right now. You know, it was interesting, Elliot. Did the prosecution accomplish what they needed to accomplish to get the case going and to try to prove that Trump's actions were criminally election interference?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's important to know what the prosecution's goal is with any one witness. This was not. No one is going to be convicted on the basis of the testimony they've seen thus far. But what they had to do is number one, establish the existence of some kind of scheme between David Pecker, Michael Cohen, and Donald Trump to facilitate these payments and cover them up.

And for the purposes of just, was it useful testimony with no obvious -- at least from where we sit, no obvious wounds to the prosecution, absolutely, they did what they needed to do. It's important to note, though, Cross-examination is starting now. We have not seen this witness get beat up yet, and he will, because that's the whole, that's the whole point of the game.

BLITZER: That's the nature of the business right now. John King, I want you and our viewers to listen to what Trump said as he emerged from the trial today and spoke to reporters. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was breathtaking and amazing testimony. This is a trial that should have never happened. This is a case that should have never been filed. And it was really an incredible day.

Open your eyes. And we can't let this continue to happen to our country. On another matter, you know, the economy has just been reported to be doing very badly. The stock market is way down.


BLITZER: So, from the trial to the economy, sort of in the same breath.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: His political advisers have been urging him to not attack judges, not attack jurors, not try to talk about the process so much when he has these public comments, to try to be a candidate. Since you're not on the campaign trail, talk about the economy, make a case against President Biden.

So, the last part might fail the fact-check machine about the stock market being down. And one day, today it was down, because of a GDP report, but overall it's up. But that is what the political advisers wanted to do.

But I'm struck with the, it was breathtaking, it was amazing, A friend of his, a man he has acknowledged as a friend, and a witness who said he thinks he's still Donald Trump's friend, even though they still don't talk, talked about capturing and killing stories about alleged Donald Trump affairs that David Pecker said he believed were true, to help the presidential campaign.

I'm not a lawyer, I don't know whether that's illegal or not, but it's not exactly, you know, hey kids, gather around, let me tell you a story about my life that you kind of want out there in the public domain. So, I don't know how that's amazing or breathtaking.

WILLIAMS: And I think a big point in this is, how do 12 ordinary people who are watching this, how do they regard this?

Now, it is their job to put aside their emotions and feelings about porn stars and payments and so on, but when they hear about this type of payment and this type of behavior, what were these folks talking about in that room?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And that was very clearly what Trump's team was trying to do when they started with a chance to cross-examine Mr. Pecker was they were trying to bring up other examples of people doing similar things to this. People who are not, you know, necessarily running for president of the United States, but they did cite at least one person, Arnold Schwarzenegger, talking about his run for governor of California. And so they're essentially trying to muddy the waters and say that this is kind of just something that you see people do. Whether or not that works with the jury is going to be a big question.

But I do think they'll continue drilling down and trying to question David Pecker's memory. I was told by one source that they do believe it's going to be about maybe three to four hours of cross-examination of David Pecker. So, we'll see. We could see a second witness begin to take the stand even tomorrow afternoon.

WILLIAMS: Even better, one of the first questions they asked or comments was, So, AMI isn't a charity organization, is it? You're making a profit off of all of this, really making him seem like this is about greed, and that's all to get the jury thinking that they don't like this person.

BLITZER: Yes, important point. It was interesting, I thought, Kaitlan, that David Pecker testified about a call with two top White House staffers at the time, Hope Hicks and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What did that reveal?

COLLINS: As someone who covered the White House and remembers Sarah Sanders being at the White House briefing room, where obviously all three of us have sat, at one point, she had to deny allegations about Karen McDougal, citing conversations that she had with Donald Trump.

To hear that revealed today, that there was a call with the National Enquirer tabloid king, Hope Hicks and Sarah Sanders, while they were taxpayer funded White House officials, and talking where David Pecker was asking them if he should extend Karen McDougal's contract was absolutely stunning.


And it really showed you that all of this that has been happening is not something that just happened in 2015 and 2016. This happened well into when Donald Trump was in the White House. David Pecker, the National Enquirer, was on the phone with White House officials asking them for their advice on how they should handle burying troublesome stories about the president of the United States.

That just struck me so much. I asked Sarah Sanders team if she's going to have a comment on this. They haven't said whether or not she's going to weigh in. But it's quite remarkable that Trump put David Pecker on the phone with two taxpayer funded White House officials.

KING: But this is what he does. When Michael Cohen fell out of favor, he needed new people to be his enforcers. And Michael Cohen, at that point, I think, was on the cusp of falling out of favor, if you go back, I don't have the timeline in front of me. But this has been a constant. Donald Trump finds loyal lieutenants who will do his business, which is why I think Pecker is important yesterday, I believe it was, when he said Donald Trump was deeply involved, was frugal, didn't like to throw away money, so was always involved in the financial decisions.

So, that Trump's team is not going to be able to say, well, Trump said make it go away, he didn't say do anything illegal, or he didn't say write checks, that, that's what they're trying to build, that Trump knew what was happening.

BLITZER: It seems to me, Kaitlan, that the defense team of Trump is now going to try to muddy the waters a bit, following the prosecution's opening witness, David Pecker. What are you hearing about how Trump and his legal team are going to start dealing with all of this tomorrow?

COLLINS: I think the question is really how do they distance Donald Trump from David Pecker? Because what the prosecution has been doing over the last several days is really putting the two of them together, talking about how often they spoke on the phone, how that ramped up the closer Donald Trump got to the White House.

And Donald Trump inviting David Pecker to, you know, we learned yesterday -- two days ago that he invited him to when his presidential announcement, they invited him to the presidential inauguration. He came to the White House. He was in the Oval Office. He had dinner at the White House and brought business associates because his wife didn't want to come.

They'll go after him on the timeline and his memory and what he said now. The question of how successfully they can distance himself from Donald Trump is a big one, I assume.

BLITZER: It was billed as a thank you dinner at the White House, very interesting indeed.

All right, everybody stand by. There's a lot more we need to discuss, including the other consequential court case for Donald Trump. We have a breakdown of today's U.S. Supreme Court arguments over presidential immunity. How the justices appear ready to rule against the former president while also potentially preventing a trial before Election Day.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: A very busy day of breaking news for the criminal defendant, Donald Trump. While the former president attended his hush money trial in New York, his lawyer was arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court pressing Trump's historic claim of sweeping immunity from prosecution in the January 6th federal case.

Here's CNN's Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The high court hearing perhaps its most consequential case of the year, whether former President Trump gets immunity from criminal prosecution for acts committed while in office, D. John Sauer arguing for Trump, claiming, without immunity, there can be no presidency as we know it.

D. JOH SAUER, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If a president can be charged, put on trial, and imprisoned for his most controversial decisions as soon as he leaves office, that looming threat will distort the president's decision-making precisely when bold and fearless action is most needed.

REID: Michael Dreeben, arguing for special counsel Jack Smith, countered, claiming that absolute immunity would allow a president to commit any and all crimes at will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His novel theory would immunize former presidents for criminal liability for bribery, treason, sedition, murder, and here, conspiring to use fraud to overturn the results of an election and perpetuate himself in power.

REID: The justices pressing both litigants about when a president can't be prosecuted and posing several scenarios.


SAUER: If it's an official act, it's --

KAGAN: Is it an official act?

SAUER: on the way you've described that hypothetical, it could well be.

REID: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raising concerns about presidential power without limits.

JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT: You seem to be worried about the president being chilled. I think that we would have a really significant opposite problem if the president wasn't chilled. I'm trying to understand what the disincentive is from turning the Oval Office into, you know, the seat of criminal activity in this country.

REID: And asking, why then did former President Nixon need a pardon after he left office?

JACKSON: What was up with the pardon for President Nixon? I think that if everybody thought that presidents couldn't be prosecuted, then what was that about?

REID: Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who could be a swing vote that decides the case, getting Trump's attorney to concede that some of Trump's alleged actions were not part of his duties as president and would not be protected under an immunity claim.

JUSTICE AMY CONEY BARRETT, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I want to know if you agree or disagree about the characterization of these acts as private. Petitioner turned to a private attorney, was willing to spread knowingly false claims of election fraud to spearhead his challenges to the election results. Private?

SAUER: As alleged, I mean, we dispute the allegation, but that sounds private.

REID: Other justices seemed wary of opening the door to prosecuting future presidents after leaving office.

JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I'm not concerned about this case, but I am concerned about future uses of the criminal law to target political opponents based on accusations about their motives.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Will that not lead us into a cycle that destabilizes the functioning of our country as a democracy? And we can look around the world and find countries where we have seen this process, where the loser gets thrown in jail.



REID (on camera): The justices appear poised to send this case back down to the lower courts for additional litigation. This point is unclear how long it will take the Supreme Court to make public its decision and how long additional litigation could take. So as of now, it's not clear if the former president would go to trial before November. Wolf?

BLITZER: Paula Reid reporting for us, Paula, thank you.

Our legal and political experts are back with us. And, Kaitlan, as you know, Trump spoke about the Supreme Court oral arguments today outside the Manhattan courthouse just a little while ago and said this. Listen.


TRUMP: I heard the meeting was quite amazing, quite amazing, and the justices were on their game. So, let's see how that all turns out. But, again, I say presidential immunity, very powerful presidential immunity is imperative.


BLITZER: How much do these two very monumental cases in New York and here at the Supreme Court in Washington weigh on Trump right now?

COLLINS: It's interesting because they weigh on him in different ways. The New York case is so deeply personal. I mean, he's watching friends, confidants, and potentially people that he's allegedly slept with going to get on the witness stand in front of him in Manhattan. In Washington, this case that he said he wanted to be there today watching it, it's of more grave importance to him because it determines whether or not a trial that would include his former top aides and cabinet officials potentially taking the witness stand from going to trial. That's the big question of the Supreme Court decision today.

The Trump team and people I've been speaking with say they feel pretty good about how the arguments went today. They're actually shocked. They never expected to win on the merits of full immunity. But the justices seemed so convinced that limiting the scope of what Jack Smith could actually try here, that they walked away feeling pretty good about it, even though there were some really remarkable moments in there, as Paula just pointed out, where his attorneys were making big concessions that we've never heard them make before.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. You know, and it's interesting, Elliot, that the court seemed prepared to hand Trump a delay and to move this case back to a lower court right now. That would be a win for Trump, presumably, because he wants to delay as much as possible.

WILLIAMS: It would be a practical win, not a legal win, right? There's not a majority of the Supreme Court that is going to rule that the former president is absolutely immune from criminal lawsuit, criminal prosecution. That's clear.

Now they may send it -- it seemed likely that there's a majority of the court that wants to send it back down to lower courts for more litigation and hearings. That's a win for Donald Trump. It delays the trial.

Now, the Supreme Court can say that, well, we did the institutionally proper thing and ensured that this question of what constitutes an official act gets the proper hearing it deserves. But to be clear, Wolf, they could have resolved this back in December. That is when they first got this. That's when it was first briefed to the Supreme Court and they could have issued a ruling right then and sent this to trial. And so some of this is the Supreme Court doing a, you know, punches pilot, washing their hands and saying they want nothing to do with it.

BLITZER: How do you see the implications of all of this for the country, John?

KING: Well, the delay part, it's 193 days until election day. People start voting even a couple months before that with early voting and all that. So if this is not resolved, it's another giant question mark.

About 20 percent of Republicans in polls say that they would view Trump as unfit to be president if he is convicted. Will they view the Manhattan case that way? Maybe not because it's a Democratic prosecutor. Trump has been very successful with a lot of help from his allies of saying, you know, that one's more political. So, it helps Trump if he can keep these bigger cases. This is about stealing the country. This is about overturning a Democratic election. If he can keep that from happening before the election, it certainly helps him.

I'm fascinated by where the court ends up because it was interesting to hear Justice Alito and Justice Gorsuch saying, let's not really talk about Trump, let's talk about the future. Well, the allegations against Trump are pretty consequential that he essentially tried to stage coup, he tried to stay in power, tried to block the Congress from certifying Joe Biden's win.

But beyond that, I was struck by Justice Coney Barrett's. You're always looking for the maverick, right? This is a 6-3 conservative majority. So, you're looking for somebody who's going to tip the balance. And her questions, to Elliot's point, sounded like she wants to send it back down, which will help Donald Trump with the delay.

But it also sounded like she was very clear that, to me, a lot of this actually should be settled in a trial. That's why we have trials. Maybe some of it's an official act, but she seemed pretty clear that she thought a lot of them were damning allegations, still allegations but let's let a trial judge do this. We're not going to throw this away.

WILLIAMS: I'm sorry.

COLLINS: Well, I was just going to say the question -- you know, we're dealing with these theoretical questions and it all came from Judge Pan in the circuit court of when they were hearing those arguments and they said, okay, well, if the president tells SEAL Team 6 to assassinate his political opponent, is that considered an official act? And Trump's attorney's response was, yes. And today, that version of the question was, well, can the president instruct the military to carry out a coup and is that considered an official act? And Trump's attorney said, it depends on the circumstances.

And to hear that in the Supreme Court was kind of -- you know, we have a lot of moments where it's like, did that really just happen? And that was one of --

WILLIAMS: It's almost laughable, Kaitlan. It really is that they couldn't look the Supreme Court justice in the eye and say, no, that is unimaginable in the United States.


This is all an introduction for America to the idea that the Supreme Court very rarely just rules up and down on things. It's almost not what you say. It's how you say it. And they write these long opinions explaining the nuances of these issues. It's not somebody wins and somebody loses. And I think we're going to see an opinion here where there's winners and losers.

COLLINS: It seemed like they barely addressed the question that they set out to address, which was, does the president enjoy immunity, and if so, to what extent? They basically, to your point -- the conservatives, largely, it seemed like, ignored that question.

KING: They almost made clear they didn't want to answer it, that they wanted to send it back down. They didn't want to --

COLLINS: It was their question.

KING: It was the question sent to them by the appellate court, but it's clear they want to send it back to the trial court and hope it doesn't come back, but it probably will.

WILLIAMS: That's literally the most Supreme Court thing ever. I know I mean that, though, to avoid making factual definitive findings and send it back down to lower courts to sort things out.

BLITZER: They could delay, delay, delay. That's what Trump wants. All right, everybody, thank you very, very much.

A note to our viewers, Kaitlan will be back later tonight, 8:00 P.M. Eastern, anchoring more of our special coverage alongside CNN's Anderson Cooper.

And coming up, a brand new CNN poll debuting this hour with numbers on Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial, including how seriously voters see the charges against him and if a conviction would change anything among his supporters.



BLITZER: The breaking news continues with CNN's exclusive new poll asking Americans about Donald Trump's criminal trial. It's being released for the first time right now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN Political Director David Chalian is here to reveal the results. Take us through the numbers, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Sure, Wolf. We have this brand new poll conducted by SSRS, and I want you to look here and we are seeing a really interesting development. Americans compared to last August are more likely to say across all four of Donald Trump's criminal trials here that if the charges are true, it's irrelevant to his fitness for office.

And take a look where that is most acute. It's in the hush money payment trial. So, back in August, it was 39 percent of Americans in our poll that said, indeed, if these charges are true, for which he's on trial for in New York, that it would be irrelevant to Donald Trump's fitness for office. That's grown. Now, 45 percent say it's irrelevant.

And what you see is across efforts to overturn the 2020 election, across the classified documents case, across the January 6th attack on the Capitol, you see growth for the position that these charges, if true, are irrelevant to his fitness for office. That's welcome news for the Trump campaign. There's no doubt about that. Now, this issue of the gag order in this hush money trial, 42 percent of Americans in our poll, the plurality, say Trump's behavior during this trial, Wolf, is inappropriate. It has been mostly inappropriate. Only a quarter say it's been appropriate. About a third say they have no opinion. Obviously, you'd imagine there's a big partisan split behind these numbers, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, you know, a quick question, David. What does the polls show when CNN asked Trump supporters if they would continue their support for Trump, even if he were convicted?

CHALIAN: Yes. So, this is a question we asked not just about this hush money trial but convicted of any crime. And as you noted, this is among people who in this poll tell us they're supporting Donald Trump in the 2024 election.

So, among the Trump supporters in this poll, three quarters of them, 76 percent say they're going to support him no matter what, even if he's a convicted criminal, but a quarter, 24 percent of Trump supporters say they might reconsider their support if indeed he's convicted of a crime.

Now, I just want to note this 24 percent, about eight in ten of them say they would never considering voting for Joe Biden. So, just reconsidering support for Trump doesn't necessarily mean that's a vote for Joe Biden.

But we wanted to dig in and find out what is behind this 24 percent. What does this group of perhaps softer Trump supporters, what does it look like? And so we broke it down here demographically. And I just want to show you here, Wolf. This side here is among those, the 24 percent that would reconsider among Trump supporters if indeed he was convicted of a crime. Nearly two thirds of them are younger. They're under the age of 50. Half of them are people of color.

63 percent, nearly two thirds, believe Biden legitimately won the election, not election deniers, half or political independents or moderates. This is not what you call the Trump base. And that's why they are in the reconsider category. They are softer Trump supporters.

Compare that to the three quarters of Trump supporters in this poll who say they're staying with them no matter what. That looks like the Trump coalition, you know, which is that they're older, they're whiter. Only 22 percent of them think Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. So, this coalition is really interesting to look at what that is, that quarter of Trump support that might reconsider if he is convicted, Wolf.

BLITZER: David Chalian, thank you very much for that exclusive new poll result.

I want to bring in our CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman, who was inside the Trump trial in New York earlier today. Maggie, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you've been watching this trial up close inside the courtroom on an almost daily basis. What did you observe about Trump's demeanor today? And where is his head at right now?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. So, Wolf, he shook his head several times as David Pecker was testifying. It's actually among the most animated we have seen him. It's the kind of reactions that he had during, say, the E. Jean Carroll trial, although he was much more pronounced there, in January earlier this year.


But this was uncomfortable testimony from David Pecker walking the jury through a narrative about engaging with Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about killing stories, about Trump's involvement with two women. And in particular, Pecker told stories about engaging with Trump while Trump was president and having a conversation that related to one of these women.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. We're just getting the exhibits shown in court today, Maggie, including a photo of Trump and Pecker at the White House. This is where Pecker testified Trump asked him how Karen McDougal is doing. How significant is that?

HABERMAN: Well, I think it could be very significant, Wolf. I mean, I think that you're seeing right now, earlier today, we saw Trump's lawyers trying to suggest that David Pecker's memory was faulty, asking questions about contradictory answers he had given in different interviews with prosecutors. And I think that you will see that as a theme.

But to your point about that picture, there's documentation that backs up what the story that Pecker is telling. There were a lot of references to text messages, to emails. And so the fact that Pecker -- and those are supposed to speak to Pecker's credibility, the fact that Pecker is saying that he, you know, had this conversation with Trump, where Trump was knowledgeable enough about Karen McDougal to ask, you know, how is she doing, I think, could end up being significant.

They also elicited the prosecutor's, Wolf, from, from David Pecker, an answer about essentially his motivations, where it was, you know, do you have animus for Trump? And David Pecker's answer was he was my mentor. I'm paraphrasing, but it, he used the word mentor. And he was, you know, doing sort of in sorrow as opposed to in anger.

It's notable because the defense lawyers in their opening statements suggested Michael Cohen, who is a key witness in this case, is acting out of personal grievance and they're trying to show that actually the facts that is going to be the same across the board.

Now, we will see what Trump's defense lawyers do in terms of trying to question credibility, but today was uncomfortable testimony.

BLITZER: It was interesting. On the immunity hearing at the US Supreme Court today, Maggie, how is the Trump team thinking about what could practically be a major victory for him delaying the federal election subversion trial?

HABERMAN: They've been very happy, Wolf, the Trump team since it was learned that this oral argument was going to be on the calendar, it meant that there was going to be a delay, that the probability of a January 6th federal related trial happening before election day was much slimmer. And you heard questions that suggested from the Supreme Court justices earlier today that they are open to some argument that there is some level of immunity granted a president.

And so Trump's team is feeling very good about that case. We'll see what ends up happening. But at the moment, this trial in Manhattan is the only one that is taking place this year that we know of and right now it doesn't look like that's going to change.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Maggie Haberman, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, conservative lawyer and Trump critic George Conway shares his takes on Trump's two big court battles today. Stand by.



BLITZER: In the Trump immunity case at the U.S. Supreme Court today, Justice Samuel Alito raised the hypothetical question of whether a president would be protected by immunity if he uses the U.S. military SEAL Team 6 to assassinate an individual. The court digging into the Trump team's argument that a president can't be criminally prosecuted for official acts.

And joining me now, the conservative lawyer, George Conway, a very vocal Trump critic, who's now a major donor to President Biden's re- election campaign. George, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's talk about these historic oral arguments before the Supreme Court today. If the Supreme Court were to decide that presidents have immunity for official acts but not for private acts, what would that mean for Trump?

CONWAY: I don't think it necessarily means that he wins. I don't think he's going to win as broadly the broad immunity that he's been arguing, which is essentially that he could do anything, you know, the SEAL Team 6 argued, the SEAL Team 6 hypothetical we've been talking about, the coup hypothetical that was talked about, I don't think he's going to win that kind of broad official immunity.

I think the reason why the Supreme Court took this case -- and it is understandable, I would have preferred they not take the case. I would have preferred that this case go immediately to trial. But there is the question of where do you draw the line. There could be abusive prosecutions in the future. I think Justice Gorsuch said, I'm not worried about this case, I'm worried about the future case.

And I think a lot of people were very upset about how much of the discussion today was not about the actual case before the court but from hypothetical cases that could happen in the future, but might not ever happen.

But before they get angry at the court for asking those questions, they have to think about the fact that, well, suppose on January 20th, 2025, a man takes over in the White House who wants to seek retribution on his political enemies and who appoints an attorney general who would bring prosecutions against people who opposed this president in the past. These are legitimate questions and they are actually real questions to be asked.

And it's sort of like, I think of it as a variant on the old expression that you hear in the law of hard cases make bad law. Well, bad people make hard law. And that's the thing that the Supreme Court is struggling with is they -- I don't think there's a single vote on this court that's going to allow him not to be prosecuted for what he did in trying to stay in office, but they do appreciate.


And that's what the discussion was all about, like, all right, but aren't there some circumstances where the prosecutorial power could be abused for political purposes against the former president. And that's a legitimate concern. It's just not one that's actually occurring in this case.

BLITZER: What's the worst-case scenario if this case were delayed until after the November election?

CONWAY: Well, again, I don't think -- I don't -- I think there's actually some there's some silver linings in here for people who want to see a more immediate imposition of justice.

I mean, here's -- here's -- here's the way I see it. The Supreme Court, the -- at the worst, at the best, I think that the case is not going to go to trial until January -- I mean, until a lot September 17, because I think the court is going to end up having to take the rest of the term through the end of June and then if you add 81 days, which is what people are saying, how long and it would be before a trial, the Judge Chutkan has already indicated she would give, you could end up with a trial in the middle of a campaign from September -- in September and October, you just wouldn't get a verdict by election day.

Now, people are talking about this possibility of a remand for proceedings for further proceedings before a trial. While the problem for that for Trump with that for Trump is that -- well, if I'm Judge Chutkan and I got to -- I got to conduct some fact-finding or a hearing, I'm going to say fine, let's do this in July and you could end up being -- you could end up having a hearing that ends up being a mini-trial, airing all the evidence or a lot of the evidence that would mean -- he would see it a trial.

And I think that would that would that would serve the public good actually, even if we don't get to a verdict before the election.

BLITZER: In Trump's so-called hush-money trial in New York. David Pecker, the former publisher of the "National Enquirer" testified today that he told Michael Cohen, the president's former -- the ex- president's former lawyer and fixer back in 2018. And I'm quoting now, I'm quoting Pecker. We committed a campaign violation. How revealing is that?

CONWAY: Oh, it's completely revealing and it's -- it's a fact. I mean, this is -- this is why Pecker is such a powerful witness because basically what happened with Stormy Daniels was set in motion by the original scheme that was set up using the National Enquirer, where the National Enquirer would essentially be used to pay off people, to buy off people. So that negative stories wouldn't be published about Donald Trump.

And then AMI had to step out of it because Trump wasn't paying them or because the lawyers and AMI to say decided no and but they did for the same purpose as the original payments or there through AMI. It was the same purpose that Cohen financed himself and then got reimbursed for the payments for Stormy Daniels, it was to affect the election. It's damaging testimony because the fact that there is a campaign violation of our finding that there is a campaign in financed violation is what kicks up the business records charge from a misdemeanor to a felony and that's what could get Donald Trump jail time.

BLITZER: Potentially. Thanks so much for coming, George Conway.

CONWAY: Thank you/

BLITZER: Appreciate your expertise.

CONWAY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And coming up, more in today's Supreme Court hearing with a closer look at why Justice Clarence Thomas ignored calls to recuse himself despite his wife's role in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.



BLITZER: All nine U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments in the Trump immunity battle today. And that includes Justice Clarence Thomas, despite calls for him to recuse himself from the case.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With no explanation, Justice Clarence Thomas again defies ethics concerns at the Supreme Court.

JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Does the president have immunity? TODD: The conservative did not recuse himself from the case before

the court involving former President Trump's claim of presidential immunity in the January 6 election subversion case.

Critics and watchdog groups had called on Justice Thomas to step aside from this case because of past efforts by his wife, Ginni Thomas, to reverse the 2020 election results in Trumps favor and because she attended Trump's Stop the Steal rally on January 6, 2021, just before the attack on the Capitol that day.

GABE ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FIX THE COURT: Justices required to disqualify themselves to recuse if their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. And the fact that were even having this conversation over recusal means that reasonable people are questioning Justice Thomas's partiality.

TODD: In the week's before she went to the Stop the Steal rally, Ginni Thomas, an ardent conservative activist texted Trump's White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, quote, help this great president stand firm, Mark. Release the kraken and save us from the left, taking America down.

Mark Paoletta, an attorney who represented Ginni Thomas, wrote in a recent op-ed that her activities at the time were minimal and mainstream. Still, ethics watchdog, say Clarence Thomas should at least explain why he still taking part in a case involving Trump's actions surrounding the insurrection, while his wife was associated with the insurrection. Why wont he explained?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: There are no rules that would require him to comment on it. The signal is that he just simply does not find it necessary and doesn't feel he should even explain himself as other colleagues have done in the past.

TODD: Clarence Thomas also came under scrutiny after "ProPublica" reported he accepted luxury travel and gifts from several Republican mega donors.

Will there ever be consequences for Thomas?

ROTH: I think that by and large, it is going to be an exercise in frustration and Justice Thomas will, you know, leave the court in ten years or so and they'll leave unscathed.


TODD (on camera): The Supreme Court has not responded to CNN's request for comment on Justice Thomas's refusal to recuse himself from the Trump immunity case. In an interview two years ago, Ginni Thomas said that while she did attend, that Stop the Steal rally on January 6, she played no role in planning the events of that day and does not involve her husband in the political work that she does -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thank you very much. Coming up, new arrests as protest against the Israel-Hamas war spread to more college campuses.


BLITZER: Tonight, as pro-Palestinian protests escalate on college campuses across the U.S., Emory University in Atlanta is the latest school to crack down on the demonstrations. Law enforcement officers deploying pepper spray and zip tie handcuffs as they forcibly made arrests. Student anger over the war in Gaza on display again today from coast-to-coast, a new encampment of protestors just went up at Northeastern University in Boston and George Washington University here in D.C. is now asking local police for assistance with protesters camped out on the campus.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow 1:00 p.m. Eastern for more special coverage of the Donald Trump hush money trial.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.