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New Testimony Sets Stage for Star Witness Michael Cohen Next Week; Judge Warns No Public Remarks by Cohen as Trump Fumes Over Gag Order; Trump Returning to Campaign Trail After Explosive Week in Court; Intense Solar Storm Setting Off Northern Lights. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 10, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming up Sunday on State of the Union, Republican Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, that's Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon only here on CNN.

Up next, the New York hush money cover-up case and a retired judge who's been inside the courtroom to watch throughout the trial. He's going to join my friend Wolf Blitzer next in The Situation Room. I'll see you back here on the lead Monday. And before that, we will have trial coverage on Monday morning, first thing. That's when I'll see you next. Have a great weekend.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight in the Trump trial, new testimony sets the stage for the star witness against Donald Trump, his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who's now expected to take the stand on Monday. The judge warning Cohen should not speak publicly about the hush money case as Trump fumes about his gag order and the trial heads toward the heart of the former president's alleged crimes.

In the next hour, we'll take you inside the courtroom from gavel-to- gavel, breaking down all of today's most important developments and looking 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.

Donald Trump's historic criminal trial now on the brink of a blockbuster week with Michael Cohen's pivotal testimony and the prosecution revealing it could soon rest its case. Today's testimony and legal wrangling all building toward Cohen's star turn on the witness stand, as CNN's Kara Scannell reports.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prosecutor star witness Michael Cohen is expected to testify on Monday in former president Donald Trump's hush money trial. Cohen, Trump's former attorney and fixer, is at the crux of the criminal case against him. Prosecutors say Cohen paid off adult film star Stormy Daniels on Trump's behalf to kill her story of an alleged affair before the 2016 election. Trump denies the affair.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody paid a lawyer, and in paying the lawyer, so it was a legal expense, that somebody happened to be me. I didn't do the bookkeeping. I didn't even know about it. This is what the case is about.

SCANNELL: Cohen told his Political Beatdown podcast co-host on Thursday that he looks forward to testifying.

MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: The sooner this thing starts, the sooner this thing finishes.

SCANNELL: After a defense request, Judge Juan Merchan told prosecutors he wants Cohen to keep quiet about the case before he takes the stand, but he can't issue a gag order on a witness. Something Trump expressed frustration about as he left court today.

TRUMP: There is no gag order to Michael Cohen. What the judge did was amazing, actually. It was amazing. Everybody can say whatever they want. They can say whatever they want. But I'm not allowed to say anything about anybody. It's a disgrace.

SCANNELL: Today, prosecutors called witnesses to the stand to help lay the groundwork for Cohen's upcoming testimony. An AT&T analyst introduced Cohen's phone records and back on the stand, Trump's former White House aide, Madeleine Westerhout, testified about Trump's reaction to the release of Daniels' story in 2018.

Westerhout testified Trump was upset by it, and her understanding was that it would be hurtful to his family. She later clarified Trump did not specifically speak about his family in that conversation. Trump's lawyer suggested he made the 130, 000 hush money payoff to Daniels in order to protect his family.

Meanwhile, prosecutors argue he did it to influence the 2016 election, which was two weeks away, and came on the heels of the Access Hollywood tape damaging his campaign.

TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

SCANNELL: Trump's lawyer, Susan Necheles, asked Westerhout about the process of Trump signing checks. Westerhout said Trump would sign them while multitasking, doing things like talking on the phone or meeting with people. She described FedExing the signed checks back to the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors used Westerhout to show the chain of command of checks, like the one sent to Cohen to reimburse him for the hush money. Cohen testified before Congress about the allegations in 2019.

FMR. REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Donald Trump wrote you a check out of his personal account while he was serving as president of the United States of America to reimburse you for hush money payments? COHEN: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

SCANNELL: Today, another witness, a paralegal at the district attorney's office, read one of Trump's tweets about the monthly payments to Cohen, which Trump called a retainer. Trump said, Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign.

The tweet came around the time his former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told Fox News Host Sean Hannity that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the hush money, that Cohen paid for it out of his own pocket.


RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: They funneled it through the law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled through law firm, and the president repaid it.


SCANNELL (on camera): Now, when Michael Cohen takes the stand, he will be squaring off against the man he once said he would take a bullet for. It is a long time in the making, this showdown, and Cohen is expected to serve the prosecution as their star witness to walk the jury through both the initial idea where they met and decided they would do these catch and kill deals, to when he funneled the money to Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about her sexual encounter before the 2016 election, and then into the Oval Office, where Cohen says that that is where Donald Trump and he agreed how they would do this cover-up. Cohen would say that he was being paid pursuant to a retainer. And that is what the prosecution says is the heart of this case, the falsification of those business records.

Cohen is expected to be on the stand for quite a while, several hours, and then cross-examination. But prosecutors still say they think they could rest their case against the former president by the end of the week. Wolf?

BLITZER: He could be on the stand for a few days, there's no doubt about that. Kara Scannell, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more right now with our legal and political experts. And, Katelyn Polantz, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. We just heard once again, the jury heard today from cell phone company analysts and paralegals. How does that set the stage for Michael Cohen?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, the prosecutors are getting everything done out of the way before Michael Cohen or nearly everything, there may be an additional witness after him. But they're getting everything into the record that they need to. Today, It was people from AT&T and Verizon. They were making sure in the record they could attest that the prosecutors had collected some evidence, even from Michael Cohen's own cell phone. The reason they're doing that is because the defense team in the trial context wouldn't agree to anything. You can do something where you stipulate, where you agree. The prosecutors and defense agree to a set of facts, show that to the jury so you don't have to have witnesses like this take the stand and testify, they wouldn't do that.

So, you're hearing these people maybe that's because they're boring. Maybe that's because it's something that the defense team wants to try and pick at in their closing arguments. But also they're not stipulating to anything in this case. They wouldn't even stipulate to some of the allegations from Stormy Daniels that they could have to avoid some of the more embarrassing testimony. So, it's just showing you how combative the Trump approach has been that you're seeing these people, like from AT&T and Verizon, being dragged in and put on the stand to testify.

BLITZER: Very, very combative, indeed. Norm Eisen, why is Michael Cohen all of a sudden the linchpin in this effort to tie Trump directly to the alleged illegal activity, which is at the heart of this case?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's been so fascinating for me being in court every day to see how The prosecution and the defense is preparing for that key witness, Michael Cohen, who was also the first person I spoke to when I investigated the impeachment, first impeachment of President Trump, because of his central role in Trump world.

But what prosecutors have done, and this is part of what Katelyn is talking about, they have built corroboration for virtually every single thing Michael Cohen will say so that they can point to things like those phone records, even for a phone call. If someone disbelieves, you say, just look at the record.

The big pieces of corroboration have come through witnesses that they've prepared, like David Pecker, who opened their case, the critical Trump Tower meeting, where the alleged agreement to make payments to benefit the campaign was set, all corroborated. That's how they're prepared.

BLITZER: It's a significant potential moment.

Michael Moore. Cohen, as we all remember, pled guilty to lying to Congress. So, how does the prosecution deal with the credibility issues of Cohen that that presents?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm glad to be with all of you. They do try to corroborate things that he's going to say. Whether they've been successful or not, I don't know. And usually you don't pre-corroborate a witness unless you expect you're going to have problems with the witness' credibility going down the road.

And so it seems to me they know they've got a problem, they know they've got sort of a rogue witness, if he can't keep himself off the social media, the things that he's doing like that. He's made statements for -- he's making money off of this. He's clearly got a disdain for him.

But Cohen is sort of the string that they're either going to use to tie everything together or it's going to unravel because of him. And so it seems to me that that's what they're afraid of as they're trying to get this information in.

And let me say that the fact that he corroborates or they have a document that says there was a phone call, so what? I mean, the fact that he says, well, yes, he wrote a check, so what?


That's sort of known. The question is, did Trump know about it and did he have some direction in creating this false document, this false business record? And they've not been able to put that piece of the puzzle together yet.

BLITZER: You know, you do a lot of reporting on the Trump campaign. Alayna Treene is with us. Cohen and Trump, as we all know, used to be very, very close. Does Trump now feel that Cohen has betrayed him?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: I mean, this is definitely the ultimate betrayal for Donald Trump. I would also argue that I think that ship sailed a long time ago. Clearly, these two have a very fraught relationship. Donald Trump hates Michael Cohen. I think that's fair to say. I know hatred is a strong word, but he does feel that way about him.

And, remember, this is a man, Kara put it perfectly, who once said that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. He knew more about Donald Trump when he worked for him than many of Donald Trump's family members. That's how a lot of people used to describe their relationship to me. And so, of course, this is a betrayal.

And, look, I think it's going to be really fascinating to see how the Trump team tries to go after Michael Cohen. We kind of got a preview of that this week when they were cross-examining Stormy Daniels. Susan Necheles did a very aggressive job going after her, trying to undermine her credibility, argues she had an axe to grind. They're going to be doing the same thing with Michael Cohen.

I also just want to point you to something we saw Michael Cohen post on TikTok. There's been all this talk of a gag order. He actually shared an image, we have it up now, of Donald Trump depicted in an orange jumpsuit with his hands handcuffed behind his back. That's the kind of antagonizing thing that I know his attorneys are going to be bringing up next week in court when they have their chance to cross- examine him.

BLITZER: And, Katelyn, we know that the Trump Organization's former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, who's now serving jail time in Rikers Island, his name came up during the court hearing today. What was that about? POLANTZ: Yes. Watch this space, what happens with Allen Weisselberg over the weekend and then in court next week. There's a possibility he's going to have to come into court and talk to the judge and the lawyers without the jury to say what he would say on the stand if he testifies. Because Allen Weisselberg, in this case, he is the potential empty chair. He could be the guy that the defense tries to pin it all on, because he's not, at this point in time, going to be called by the prosecutors to testify.

And the prosecutors have a problem. They don't have anything to tell the jury, as of right now, about why he's not there. And he's the other guy, in addition to Michael Cohen, that could corroborate Trump's motivation and the plan to pay off Stormy Daniels.

So prosecutors, they want to be able to say Allen Weisselberg has an agreement with the Trump Org to not disparage them, is still getting paid from them. That's why he's not testifying. We don't know if that's going to be able to be shown to the jury or what will happen with him.

BLITZER: Can someone, Norm, who's serving jail time right now actually be called as a witness in a trial like this?

EISEN: They can, Wolf. The courts ultimately have the authority over the jails and the judge can order an Allen Weisselberg to be brought in to court. It remains to be seen what the denouement will be of the back and forth. Prosecutors clearly are not keen to have him on the stand and believe they can make their case without him.

POLANTZ: They don't know if he'll take the Fifth as well. That's the other thing.

MOORE: Well, he's on the tape. Remember, when Cohen is recording his conversation with Trump, I mean, he says Allen approved this. Allen is okay, or whatever, and I'm not quoting it exactly, but he basically says this comes with his approval.

BLITZER: He's the chief financial adviser.

MOORE: That's right. And so here, you've got Cohen's telling Trump how to do it. You've got Weisselberg who says, at least he's fine with it, he's set it up, he's told me what to do. That kind of puts him in the empty chair, right? I mean, he becomes the, the foil for the whole thing.

BLITZER: So then Weisselberg, the CFO, the chief financial officer, at the Trump Organization, knew everything that was going on inside the Trump Organization. Potentially could be a very significant witness. We'll see if that happens.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, how Michael Cohen's long working relationship with Donald Trump crashed and burned, and how that could impact Cohen's testimony against Trump. That's coming up, starting, we expect, on Monday. Plus, there's more breaking news we're following. The Biden administration releases a highly anticipated report on the Israeli military's use of U.S. Weapons in Gaza. The findings, we will share them with you when we come back.



BLITZER: After three unprecedented weeks in court, Donald Trump's hush money trial could all come down to the testimony of his former lawyer and fixer turned bitter foe, Michael Cohen. Cohen now expected to take the stand on Monday.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more on Cohen and his long history with Trump.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a blaze of insults, accusations, and bitterness, the long private partnership of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump is imploding in a most public way.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is a convicted liar, and he's got no credibility whatsoever.

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

FOREMAN: It was once so different. With their friendship and business dating back to 2006, Cohen, the lawyer, had no bigger client, Trump, the wannabe president, no better cheerleader.

COHEN: He's a good man. He's a man who cares deeply about this country.

FOREMAN: Cohen, a former personal injury lawyer, knew a little about politics. A Democrat most of his life, he once campaigned for seats on the New York City Council and the State Senate, losing both times. When Trump was still feeling his way forward, Cohen helped launch a website, Should Trump Run? And all along, he clearly relished his role in the Trump Organization.

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

FOREMAN: Trump liked it.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer.


He's a good lawyer in my firm.

FOREMAN: Others noticed.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, TRUMP REVEALED: Michael Cohen is not averse to threatening people. He is a guy who carries a pistol and an ankle holster. He makes it clear to people that he's a tough guy.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Any moment now, Donald Trump's longtime attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, is reporting to prison.

FOREMAN: Then it all fell apart. Cohen's tough guy tactics drew federal investigators. He wound up pleading guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and more. After three years in jail and under house arrest, he came out singing a very different tune.

COHEN: I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. He is a racist, he is a conman and he is a cheat.

FOREMAN: Critically, Cohen continued talking about one of the things that put him into prison, paying off women alleging affairs with Trump, then falsifying records to hide the hush money. Trump denied involvement, and now calls the lawyer he once praised a convicted felon and liar.

TRUMP: He's a stone cold loser, a real loser.


FOREMAN (on camera): This is almost Shakespearean. For a long time, both men stuck together, relying on loyalty, discretion and winks and nods when business got dirty, according to Cohen. But now, in court next week, Donald Trump will stand firmly apart from his old lawyer. And they will both effectively say to the jury, which one of us do you believe?

BLITZER: Yes. As I said, this is going to be very, very powerful and dramatic. Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with George Grasso, a retired administrative judge for the Queens County Supreme Court in New York State. He's been in the courtroom throughout the Trump trial. Judge, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, Judge Merchan ask prosecutors to deliver a personal message to Michael Cohen today, and he said this, and I'm quoting now, I direct the people to communicate to Mr. Cohen that the judge is asking him to refrain from making any more statements, and that comes from the bench. So, Judge, how much weight does that carry from this current judge?

GEORGE GRASSO, RETIRED ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE, CRIMINAL MATTERS FOR QUEENS SUPREME COURT: From this current judge, it carries a ton of weight. It's time for Michael Cohen to put on his big boy pants and stop acting like a child in the schoolyard. The leverage that the judge has here isn't to jail Michael Cohen. New York law wouldn't permit that kind of authority with respect to a witness.

But what the judge could do, and I think if Michael Cohen forces him to do it by continuing to fail to heed the warnings from the district attorney's office, to knock it off when it comes to publicly using social media and television and radio appearances to poke the bear in terms of Donald Trump prior to his testimony in the conclusion of this trial, that the judge certainly has the power to remove Michael Cohen from the gag order. That's the underlying leverage of the court. And while the judge did not specifically say that today, he alluded to it in a previous written decision, finding defendant Trump liable for contempt violation.

This judge is serious. So if Michael Cohen does not heed this judge's warning, public warning in a public court being delivered to him by the district attorney's office, and he is removed from that gag order, and then Trump would be free, defendant Trump would be free to do the usual things he does on social media and other venues. And if that happens, Michael Cohen will only have himself to blame.

BLITZER: Interesting. I know, Judge Grasso, you've been in court every day watching this trial step by step. How will Michael Cohen's testimony, do you believe, round out the prosecution's overall case?

GRASSO: Well, he's crucial. He's crucial. In order to -- based on all the evidence I've heard so far. And I want to preface what I'm saying is Michael Cohen is not coming in on a void. He's coming in on a mountain of evidence. I think that, overall, the district attorney's office has done a very, very solid job with documentary evidence, witness testimony motivation. But for the most part, it's been circumstantial.

Michael Cohen is the link. I guess an analogy might be when John Gotti was ultimately convicted after several attempts that failed, Sammy the Bull Gravano was the link, someone who has that kind of connection with the boss.


So, right now, what the jury is going to need to hear if 12 jurors are going to vote unanimously to convict a former president and maybe future president of the United States, is clear testimony that gives the motivation to Donald Trump to falsify business records in order to cover up hush money that should have been -- that was paid to Stormy Daniels through Michael Cohen, that should have been reported as a campaign contribution. But then they couldn't have reported it because the $130,000 was well in excess the federal limit. But it's Michael Cohen that has to close that deal. So, this is as crucial as it gets.

BLITZER: Yes, crucial, it's going to be a very dramatic moment on Monday when all this begins to unfold. Thank you very much, Judge Grasso. I appreciate it very much.

Coming up, the U.S. State Department has just released a long-awaited report looking into whether Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza violated international law. We have details just ahead.



BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following right now. The Biden administration has just released a long-awaited report finding it, quote, reasonable to assess Israel used American weapons in Gaza in ways that are inconsistent with international law. But the report stopped short of officially concluding that Israel committed violations.

I want to bring in our National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood. She's over at the State Department for us, also joining us, our Senior White House Correspondent MJ Lee. She, of course, is at the White House.

Kylie, let me go to you first. What does this report say specifically? And will it actually impact the flow of U. S. weapons to Israel?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said, this is a striking report from the State Department because it says it is reasonable to assess that Israel has used U.S. weapons in Gaza since October 7th in a way that is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, therefore that Israel could have violated international humanitarian law as it has waged this war. It also finds, we should note, that Israel did not arbitrarily impede humanitarian assistance from getting in to Gaza.

That's noteworthy because, of course, CNN has its own reporting that Israel has impeded that assistance from getting in. The Biden administration has called on Israel repeatedly to do more to get that humanitarian assistance into Gaza, but the State Department determining that Israel didn't make arbitrary decisions about keeping that assistance out at times.

Now, we should note that the report says it's challenging to make determinations on these specific incidents, that there are ongoing investigations particularly because Hamas hides in population centers, hides in population areas. And so therefore it's hard to determine if these strikes actually violated international humanitarian law.

It also raises questions, Wolf, about Israel actually using its capabilities that it has to drive down civilian deaths. I want to read to you a part of the report saying, quote, while Israel has the knowledge, experience and tools to implement best practices for mitigating civilian harm in its military operations, the result on the ground, including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions as to whether the IDF is using them effectively in all cases.

So, there are a number of instances that this report looks at, again, not making a definitive conclusion on those incidents. We should note that a senior State Department official says Israel has been providing the U.S. with information they've been asking for about these incidents, but there are gaps in that information they're getting from Israel.

BLITZER: Interesting. MJ, you're over at the White House for us. So, what does this mean for President Biden?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can reasonably expect that the administration is going to come under heavy criticism for this report that they have been working on drafting for weeks and weeks now and really poses a serious test of credibility for the Biden administration.

I think what is tough about this report for the White House is that it both says that there have been instances where U.S. weapons were used in violation of international law, but it also declines to conclude, as Kylie was saying definitively and in a blunt way, that Israel did in fact violate international law.

And, you know, a bunch of reasons were offered why, some of some of which Kylie just walked through, including the fact that some of these instances are still being investigated, the U.S. is still waiting for some information from Israel. And the State Department is basically saying, look, one instance can't really speak to overall compliance by all of Israel.

But I think a lot of people are going to have a really hard time squaring that conclusion with even some of the things that the president himself has said. You know, he has said that Israel was engaged in indiscriminate bombings, for example. He has said that their conduct has been over the top. And then, of course, he said this to Erin earlier this week.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Have those bombs, those powerful 2,000-pound bombs, been used to kill civilians in Gaza?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs.


LEE: I think the other conclusion from the report that is going to be extremely controversial is this idea that Israel did not withhold humanitarian aid to Gaza in violation of U.S. law.


A lot of people, again, I think will have a hard time squaring that with the reality that U.S. officials, for months and months, have called on Israel to basically do a better job and make sure that more aid is getting in.

BLITZER: So, Kylie, what sort of reaction is this new report sparking?

ATWOOD: Well, listen, Senator Van Hollen, who is obviously a Democrat of the Biden administration's own party, coming out with some swift criticism of this report, just telling reporters that it lacks deeper investigation. And that is what he was hoping for. He was hoping for really nuanced, investigative pieces into these specific incidents, and he told reporters just after receiving this report this afternoon, quote, the administration ducked all the hard questions about making the actual determination.

He said, it's not credible, but that the U.S. government would have less information on these incidents, these specific Israeli strikes into Gaza, than humanitarian organizations have. And humanitarian organizations have made determinations that Israel did, in fact, violate international humanitarian law in some of these instances.

So, he is really not happy as he is reviewing this report while he said that it has some useful bits in it. Rest assured that he will raise these concerns directly with Biden administration officials.

BLITZER: Yes, that's Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Thank you very much, Kylie Atwood, I appreciate it. MJ Lee, I appreciate you as well.

Just ahead, a former Trump lawyer on the defense strategy and challenges when Michael Cohen takes the stand in the hush money criminal trial starting on Monday.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news in Donald Trump's historic criminal trial. A series of witnesses today teeing up next week's potentially make or break testimony by the long-time Trump fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Let's bring in former Trump Attorney Tim Parlatore, who's with me here in The Situation Room. Tim, thanks very much for coming in.

Has the prosecution accomplished what it really needed to do in advance of Michael Cohen's testimony?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I think they've done as much as they can. I mean, you want to try and, you know, put out all the documents, put out all the corroboration that you have. But ultimately, the key question that they're going to have to ask him is to talk about Trump's personal knowledge of this, and that's not something that there's really any way to corroborate. So, they're going to try and put all these things out for everything else and hope that the jury will believe him on that one final point.

BLITZER: Interesting. Prosecutors say they've repeatedly already asked Cohen not to talk about the case in advance and they have, quote, no control over what he does. What does that bode for them when Michael Cohen actually takes the stand?

PARLATORE: Honestly, if I were cross-examining him, I would cross- examine him on that point, on the fact of how many times they've asked him and he refuses, because it just goes to show his bias. You want witnesses who are coming in to just tell the truth, and that's why whenever you cross-examine them on, you have a cooperation agreement or whatever, oh, no, I'm just here to tell the truth. Oh, no, you've been on TikTok saying this, you've been saying this. You're not here just to tell the truth. You're here as an advocate. You're trying to get revenge. And so I think it's going to be very bad for him.

BLITZER: As you know, the jury has already heard a lot about Michael Cohen's flaws in various testimonies so far in this case. Will that diffuse the defense strategy to hammer his credibility during eventual cross-examination? PARLATORE: Yes, and that is one of the reasons why the prosecution does that. They do it through other witnesses, and then they will also do it through Michael Cohen. They're going to go through as much of his bad history as they can, because it's for two purposes. Not only is it in the cross-examination, if we can -- if a defense attorney can bring out and shock the jury with some bad fact, that's one point, but then the second point is on closing, when you say, they didn't ask him about that. We had to bring that up. Did they even look at their witness' credibility?

BLITZER: How else would you cross-examine Michael Cohen if you were still representing Trump?

PARLATORE: A lot of things. You go through his history, all of his credibility issues, but you can't just kill the character of the individual. You have to kill the story too. Because the reality is cooperating witnesses, the only reason why they are witness to a crime is because they happen to be a criminal themselves. So, if you just hit Sammy Gravano on how many people he's killed, you're just corroborating why he'd be around somebody else who kills people.

Same thing here, you hit all that stuff, but then you have to zone in on the story, what their motivation is to tell a lie here, what their motivation is to try and put it on to somebody else, and then what is wrong with the actual story. If all you do is just hit him on how many times he's committed perjury or lies, you lose.

BLITZER: You know, it was really interesting, Stormy Daniels' graphic, salacious testimony. Trump was there listening to all of that. I'm sure he wasn't very happy about that and I'm sure he's not going to be very happy about Michael Cohen's testimony. Give us a sense, because you know Trump, how is he handling all this?

PARLATORE: I think he's handling it as best as can be expected. I mean, you're forcing him to sit there and listen to all this stuff and not punch back. And you know his personality. For somebody that is been on top of the world for so many years and is used to hitting back any time that somebody hits him, to be forced to just sit in that chair for weeks at a time and not allowed to talk and not even allowed to really comment on it as he would like to afterwards, it's got to be driving him nuts.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it is. All right, thanks very much, Tim Parlatore, we'll continue this conversation down the road.

And coming up, Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail after an explosive week in court, why the former president is holding a rally in the solid blue state of New Jersey.



BLITZER: After a very dramatic week in court, Donald Trump is heading back to the campaign trail. The former president of holding a beach front rally in New Jersey, his third campaign event since the beginning of his trial, some four weeks ago.

Let's bring in CNN political commentator, Karen Finney, and Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton.

Karen, listen to what Trump said today as he was leaving court. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no gag to Michael Cohen. What the judge did was amazing actually. It was amazing. Everybody can say whatever they want. They can say whatever they want. But I'm not allowed to say anything about anybody. It's a disgrace.


BLITZER: He briefly mentioned Cohen, Michael Cohen already.

Is he going to be able to stick to the gag order? What do you think?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think its going to very hard and well see, you know, particularly in a rally format where there's the energy of the crowd and we've seen what happens, it gets himself going.


I doubt he'll be able to.

But look, this is probably the first time -- first of few times in Donald Trump's life where he's actually having to follow the rules, and you have to imagine that his lawyers have had very stern conversations with him about the potential costs of violating that gag order at this moment in time ahead of this testimony.

BLITZER: Shermichael, I'm anxious to get your thoughts. What do you think the strategy is behind Trump deciding to campaign in New Jersey, a state he is all but certain to lose in November?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the president has told us he's complained nearly every single day about how but he's disliking being in the courtroom. He wants to be out there talking to his voters, making his case to the American people about why he believes he deserves to be elected again.

I think also this gives him an opportunity to talk about some of those critical issues that voters are worried about, whether it's foreign policy, immigration, whether its' the economy, infrastructure, a whole host of other things.

So, hopefully, Wolf, this gives the president the opportunity to lay out a new plan, a refresher, if you will, for voters who are just starting to begin to pay attention to the process.

BLITZER: We'll see how he does in New Jersey. Karen, after President Biden told our Erin Burnett this week that the

U.S. could halt some major weapons shipments to Israel so if it were to invade Rafah in southern Gaza, some Republicans have launched an effort to impeach the president.

Senator Tom Cotton posting this, let me read it to you. The House has no choice but to impeach Biden based on the Trump-Ukraine precedent of withholding foreign aid to help with reelection. What do you make of this?

FINNEY: Well, it's shameful. I mean, first of all, you have Republicans who have been blocking aid to Ukraine. Finally, that, that went through. So if we want to reopen the whole Ukraine situation, let's go ahead and do that and look at the facts.

But more importantly, you know, Wolf, on our own air, we've been reporting today, you were just talking about the State Department report and some of those devastating findings. And we've got our own reporting from Israeli officers who are have come forward to talk about the conditions under which they saw Palestinian being detained and howled.

So you combine that those things and what I would like to see Congress care about is getting a fuller picture about how American arms are being used in the region, particularly given I've traveled to Israel, I know you have to, I've been told by the IDF that they have the capability to be more precise in their targeting, in the use of their weaponry, and that should be the concern of congress. Now once again, as we've seen over and over again, just trying to find some reason to try to impeach President Biden and besmirch him.

BLITZER: Shermichael, has President Biden committed a high crime or misdemeanor according to these Republican lawmakers? Is this really a serious effort?

SINGLETON: I mean, I don't think he's quite met that mark yet, Wolf, but I do believe Republicans should put pressure on the president to continue to stand behind and support Israel and their offense to essentially annihilate Hamas, that they have to. Hamas has made it very clear that if they do not, they're going to continue to perpetuate these types of attacks.

I do believe Israel needs to change his strategy perhaps focusing on CQ, be close-quarters, combat, where you have special operations unit, maybe going after some of the leaders of Hamas to help guide with some of those laser precision missiles would be a better offensive strategy to minimize civilian casualties, but they have to continue to press forward.

BLITZER: Shermichael Singleton and Karen Finney, to both of you, thank you very much.

Coming up, the most intense solar storm in nearly 20 years is hitting the Earth, right now. What you need to know about the potential disruptions to the power grid, communications, and more?

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Tonight, millions of Americans as far south as Alabama are in for a very rare, dazzling display of the northern lights. Scientists say a flurry of solar activity is setting off a geomagnetic storm more intense than any to hit the Earth since 2005.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's over at the CNN Weather Center for us.

Chad, tell us about the storm.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's a coronal mass ejection. In case, you ever get to get back on "Jeopardy", you'll know that. This is a plasma -- a plasma mass that has been pushed toward the earth in the past couple of days. And now it's hitting the Earth. And now, we are going to have this spectacular aurora display. Get away from city lights, kind of looked down at the horizon the farther you are to the south. But we've already seen some unbelievable pictures out of Europe where it is obviously dark already.

Solar flares earlier, that was May 7th and 8th, and then all of a sudden, this coronal mass ejection came right at the earth. We know that because this puff is a circle, if it was kind of going one way or the other, then it wouldn't be going at the Earth. But because it's all around that middle, we know that that ejection is coming right toward the North American continent for tonight, all the way across into Europe and Asia tomorrow. And then back around for us for tomorrow.

So this is not just a one night thing. If you miss the corona tonight, if you miss the aurora, then all of a sudden, you could see it again for tomorrow, maybe even a couple of days.

There's the coronal mass ejection made contact with Earth about 12:40 this afternoon, really lit up the atmosphere. There are plasma magnetic ions flying all around inside the atmosphere right now and that's causing a few things that are to go wrong.

We know this happened because kind of like a seismogram and when you look at an earthquake, all day everything was flat. Sun was just fine. Then all of a sudden, right. About 12:45. It got very, very interesting and its going to go all night long, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed, Chad Myers, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, stay with CNN for more special coverage beginning later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern with CNN "NEWSNIGHT", the solar storm.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.