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Trial Ends For The Day With Cross-Exam Of Michael Cohen Under Way; Cohen Ties Trump Of False Records Charges At Heart Of Criminal Trial; Michael Cohen Wraps Day Two Of Incriminating Testimony Against Trump; Michael Cohen Grilled By Trump's Lawyer In Tense Cross- Examination; Defense Tries To Use Cohen's TikTok Stream Against Him In Cross-Exam. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Like the sequel to Moby Dick, a 50-foot yacht sailing in Moroccan waters near the Strait of Gibraltar has been sunk by whales, orcas to be exact, better known as killer whales.


The couple on the yacht, neither related to Captain Ahab as far as we could tell by Press Time, says they felt sudden blows to the hull and rudder before water began seeping into the yacht. They were rescued unharmed. Experts are not sure why exactly this happened, but say the whales may have just been playing.

Okay. CNN's coverage of the New York hush money cover up case picks up next with Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I'll see you back here on The Lead, tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight in the Trump trial, Michael Cohn wraps up his is the second day of incriminating testimony against Donald Trump, grilled by the defense in a sometimes testy cross-examination. Trump's lawyers seizing on Cohen's past lies and his recent attacks on the former president in hopes of discrediting the prosecution's star witness.

This after Cohen directly tied Trump to the alleged false record scheme at the heart of this criminal case, saying it was all aimed at hiding the Stormy Daniels hush money payment to protect his former boss and his 2016 presidential campaign.

For the next hour, we'll take you inside the courtroom from gavel to gavel. We'll 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.

The cross-examination of Michael Cohen is off to a very fiery start, with the case against Donald Trump potentially hinging on whether jurors believe the former fixer. Let's get all the breaking news on the trial right now, Cohen's testimony as well, and his intense questioning by the defense. CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse in New York for us. Kara, I understand we just got a new trial transcript. Bring our viewers up to speed.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. So, Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, was really peppering Michael Cohen with questions using his own words against him, quoting Cohen's podcast and his TikTok videos in which Cohen had called Trump a Cheeto dusted cartoon villain. Blanche's objective here is to paint Cohen as a man who hates Donald Trump and is seeking revenge.


SCANNELL (voice over): Trump's ex lawyer, Michael Cohen, back on the stand, this time facing an aggressive cross-examination by former President Donald Trump's attorney, as his criminal trial continued on Tuesday. Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, in rapid fire questioning that jumped around from year to year, tried to paint Cohen as an unreliable witness, attacking his testimony and showcasing his hatred for Trump.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: My credibility should not be in question.

SCANNELL: Blanche asked Cohen, do you want to see President Trump convicted in this case? Cohen responded, sure. Blanche also highlighted disparaging remarks Cohen has made about Trump on his TikTok page during the trial, like calling Trump a dictator D-bag, even though Cohen confirmed prosecutors asked him to stop publicly talking about the case.

COHEN: I should have done something, but I didn't.

SCANNELL: Blanche pointed to merchandise Cohen sells on his tick tock and podcast websites, including a mug that says, send him to the big house, not the White House and a T-shirt depicting Trump in an orange jumpsuit. Blanche questioned Cohen if he talked to the media, including CNN, last year about the case, despite the district attorney's office asking him not to.

COHEN: Most recently, they asked for my cell phones, because they want to be able to extract from it the voice recordings that I had had with Keith Davidson, a former attorney to Stormy Daniels.

SCANNELL: Blanche went through positive statements Cohen made about Trump during his decade working for him. He asked Cohen if he was obsessed with Trump. Cohen replied, I don't know if I would characterize the word obsessed. I admired him tremendously. Cohen added that, at that time I was knee deep into the cult of Donald Trump. Blanche suggesting Cohen changed his view on Trump to help his own legal problems.

COHEN: He needs to be held accountable.

SCANNELL: Earlier Tuesday, during the end of direct examination, prosecutors zeroed in on the repayments at the crux of the criminal charges against Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the whole case. Are you allowed to call a legal expense a legal expense?

SCANNELL: Cohen testified it began with the 2017 Oval Office meeting with Trump, where he said they discussed how he would be reimbursed for the $130,000 he paid out of pocket to Stormy Daniels. Despite Cohen saying he did minimal work for Trump in 2017, going month by month, he outlined sending made up invoices and receiving checks totaling $420,000, which he said included the hush money reimbursement, other fees and a bonus.


Prosecutors showed one of the 35,000 checks signed by Trump and asked, were any of those checks in fact for work during the months described in those check stubs? No, ma'am, Cohen replied.

Cohen testified to this in front of Congress in 2019.

COHEN: This 35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year while he was president. The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.


SCANNELL (on camera): Now, jurors' heads were bobbing back and forth following the cross-examination, watching Todd Blanche, Trump's attorney, and Michael Cohen answer those questions. There's no court on Wednesday, but Blanche said that he expects to finish his cross- examination of Michael Cohen by the end of the day on Thursday.

Cohen is the prosecution's final witness in this case, so the question will be, does Donald Trump put on a defense? Wolf?

BLITZER: We shall see. Kara Scannell in New York for us, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this with our legal and political experts. And, Elliott Williams, I understand there's a key exchange that you want to focus in on involving the cross-examination of Trump by the Trump attorney, Todd Blanche, cross-examination of Michael Cohen, I should say.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And cross-examination is where an opposing party questions a witness, leading questions, often it gets contentious, and something that the lawyers want to get out are, number one, contradictions in their testimony, bias and credibility issues, and some of that came up today with Michael Cohen.

So, this is Todd Blanche questioning him. You've talked about extensively on Mea Culpa, his podcast, your desire to see that President Trump get convicted in this case, correct? Cohen, sounds like something I would say. Todd Blanche, the defense attorney, says, well, sir, I'm not asking you if it sounds to you like something you would say. I'm saying, did you, have you regularly commented on your podcast that you want President Trump to be convicted in this case? Cohen, yes, probably.

Blanche, do you have any doubt? Cohen, no. So, why did you just answer, yes, probably? Cohen, because I don't specifically know if I use those words, but, yes, I would like to see that. And Blanche, and so, yes, you want to see President Trump convicted from this case, correct? Cohen, I would like to see accountability. That's not -- it's not for me. It's for the jury and this court. Blanche, I didn't ask what you wanted to see or not see about accountability. I said, do you want to see President Trump convicted in this case? Cohen, that's what we just said. You were asking me if I want to see. Blanche, I'm just asking you to say yes or no. Do you want President Trump to get convicted in this case? Cohen, sure.

BLITZER: Interesting. The cross-examination of Michael Cohen, as you know, Elliot, got very contentious at times. How do you think Cohen handled it?

WILLIAMS: Well, he, there's some of the questions here where he should have just probably said a yes or no, answer to the question. And I think often a witness has an incentive to try to bicker with the attorney, where you get more brownie points with the jury by simply being honest and saying, yes, I want to see him lose. He and I have been beefing for the last several years. So he maybe -- he did well overall today based on what we read, but it did seem like he was trying to fight with the attorney here and could have just thrown his hands up and walked away.

BLITZER: Let me let Andrew McCabe weigh in. Does this sort of admission potentially damage what Cohen has been testifying?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It does in that it raises the concept of bias. And that's not something that you want -- as a witness, you don't want the jurors to think that you're biased to one result or another, conviction or acquittal. In this case Mr. Cohen makes that worse by dragging the question out, by going back and forth and bickering about little details, did I use that word or not. He knows what the substance of the question was. Had he just answered it, as Elliot suggested a second ago directly, they would have moved on to something else. He kind of throws a little salt on the wound there by dragging it out.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jamie, because our reporters inside the courtroom say that Michael Cohn remained very even and calm, their words, even and calm, even when the defense attorney, Todd Blanche, was going after him with very fiery kinds of questions. Are you surprised by that?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's hard to tell. This is what makes me crazy about not having cameras in the courtroom, because body language is different. But to the point that Elliot made and Andy made, if he is staying even -- I mean, it sounds like there are some semantics he's playing with the words, not just answering yes or no, that can read defensive to the jury. But the real question to me today is how does the jury read what I call the elephant who's not in the room, and that's Allen Weisselberg, who is the former CFO of Trump Org, who right at this moment is in Rikers. His evidence -


BLITZER: He's in jail.

GANGEL: he's in jail. And his handwriting is on what is probably the most important piece of evidence, but the jury is not going to see him.

We don't know how the judge is going to handle that in instructions, but if you're a juror, you're sort of wondering, where is this guy?

BLITZER: Why isn't he testifying?

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: Well, he's in Rikers Island. He's in the jail.

Cohen admitted, David Chalian, and as you know, to calling Trump, and I'm quoting Cohen now, a boorish, cartoon, misogynist, and once again, quoting him, a Cheeto dusted cartoon villain on his podcast. So, how do you expect the jury might react to that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We should note Michael Cohen said those things after he broke with Donald Trump, not while he was in his employ. I think jurors -- who knows, is the answer. I don't know how jurors will actually feel that way. But it seems to me the very public split that these two men have had is a known thing.

And the fact that there are childish words used on a podcast is probably not going to factor in to what the jury's mission here is in determining whether or not Donald Trump committed these crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. The name calling from Michael Cohen on a podcast is not likely to filter into that.

Obviously, what, you know, this all being presented is all to try, as the defense is trying to do, to make Michael Cohen such an intolerable, unlikable human being to make the jury just not want to listen to anything he has to offer. And he's obviously the linchpin for the prosecution.

So, these jurors are going to be asked to hold two things at one time in their mind. They may find Michael Cohen detestable, and yet still may find his account of these crimes to be the fact pattern that they are adjudicating before them. And they're just going to have to figure out if they can hold those two things at the same time.

BLITZER: Elliot Williams, it's clear that the Trump attorney, Todd Blanche, tried to get under Cohen's skin from the very beginning of the cross-examination, right?

WILLIAMS: Literally, the first question he asked was designed to do nothing other than get under the witness' skin, and we have it pulled here.

So, right out of the gate, he asks, Mr. Cohen, my name is Todd Blanche. You and I have never spoken or met before, have we? Cohen, we have not. Blanche, but you know who I am, don't you? Cohen, I do. Blanche, as a matter of fact, on April 23rd, so after the trial started in this case, you went on TikTok and called me a crying little shit, didn't you? Cohen, it sounds like something I would say.

Then immediately, objection, Your Honor, the defense objected -- pardon me, the prosecution objected here and the court said, sustained, sustains the objection and calls them up, that why the objection was lodged there was because what Michael Cohen's views are of an attorney are irrelevant. The defense attorney probably -- I keep saying that. The defense attorney probably knew full well that this was not an appropriate question to ask, that the answer was not going to be admissible, but he wanted to get in front of the jury and also get under the witness' skin. And he did.

CHALIAN: And we should just note in the transcript, we now know what the judge said to Todd Blanche in that sidebar where he said, why are you making this all about yourself?

WILLIAMS: Also irrelevant. Like what a witness thinks about an attorney personally doesn't matter to the trial or the defendant's guilt or innocence.

GANGEL: Can I just add, this is the unknown. We don't know how that played with the jury. They may actually find that funny.

MCCABE: That's right.

GANGEL: These are the things we just have to wait to see about how it lands.

MCCABE: If that was his intention, to really undermine -- to undermine Michael's kind of cool and presence and ability, and the most he got out of it was provoking Michael into dragging a few questions out a little bit longer later in the cross-examination, I say swing and a miss. The guy held himself together pretty well today, definitely was strong periods on direct and on cross. Yes, he obviously got a little bit agitated and took a few hits he didn't need, but no massive disasters yet.

BLITZER: The key word, yet. All right, his trial will continue on Thursday.

Just ahead, why Donald Trump's Republican allies, including the speaker of the House, are lining up outside the courthouse to defend him during his trial.

Plus, George Stephanopoulos joins me in The Situation Room. I'll get his thoughts on Michael Cohen's testimony, including an interview he did with Trump's former fixer and lawyer, which came up in court today.


BLITZER: The scene outside the criminal courthouse in Manhattan took on the air of a political rally today as some of Donald Trump's top Republican backers, including the House speaker, Mike Johnson, fought for a spot in front of the cameras. This as Trump rags his trial as garnering even more coverage than his presidential campaign.

CNN's Kristen Holmes has more.


REPORTER: Mr. Trump, are you directing surrogates to speak on your behalf?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A show of force for Donald Trump today, arriving to court flanked by some of his most vocal allies.

TRUMP: I do have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully. I think this is the greatest scam they've ever seen.

HOLMES: A litany of Republicans jockeying for a potential role in a future administration, including on the GOP ticket.

REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): Ladies and gentlemen of America, this trial is a joke. This thing is a farce.

GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R-ND): I think the only conclusion, of course, is it's election interference and it's tying up the president from being out on the campaign trail.

SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): What's going on inside that courtroom is a threat to American democracy.

HOLMES: The entourage, including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, who has increasingly aligned himself with Trump amidst scrutiny from far right members of the party.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): I called President Trump and told him I wanted to be here myself to call out what is a travesty of justice. I'm an attorney. I'm a former litigator myself. I am disgusted by what is happening here.

HOLMES: Many of his courtroom guests also scheduled to attend a high dollar Manhattan fundraiser for Trump tonight.

TRUMP: You ask me questions I'm not allowed to respond. The gag order has to come off.

HOLMES: The former president remains under a gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan to stop him from publicly talking about witnesses, including former Trump fixer Michael Cohen. Trump's allies not under the same restrictions. VIVEK RAMASWAMY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Okay, so you have a guy who has been a perjurer in the past that is now saying he falsified business records. What is the crime that Donald Trump committed?

SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): He's a convicted felon. I mean, this guy, he's up there giving an acting scene.

HOLMES: One Trump ally even attacking the daughter of the judge overseeing the case, who was also covered by the gag order.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): The judge's daughter is a political operative and raises money for Democrats.

HOLMES: The show of support from surrogates comes after Trump privately complained that no one was there to back him, sources told CNN, with few family members in attendance, only Eric Trump has been in and out of the courtroom, and Lara Trump showing up today.

Trump posting on social media last month, calling for supporters to, quote, go out and peacefully protest, and, quote, rally behind MAGA.

TRUMP: It's a scam. It's election interference at a level that's never taken place before.

HOLMES: In the weeks ahead, more allies are expected to join Trump, a campaign official told CNN, saying a number of his friends and supporters have reached out to ask if they could come to the courthouse to defend the former president.


HOLMES (on camera): And, Wolf, any moment now Donald Trump will head to that high dollar fundraiser at a swanky hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Notably, on the list of co hosts, that includes Jared Kushner's parents. One thing we're going to be watching for is whether or not Ivanka and Jared attend this fundraiser despite the fact that they haven't been in the courthouse at all. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting for us, thank you very much.

Joining us now, our Senior Political Commentator Scott Jennings and CNN Political Director David Chalian.

Scott, is this the new loyalty test for Trump?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think these visits serve a few purposes. One, for the people who want to be vice president, it does show loyalty and show you're willing to go defend the president against these attacks as they see it. Number two, this is where the campaign is. I mean, the whole campaign is happening in a courtroom. And so campaigns typically organize surrogates to do things. We're used to them doing policy events around the country. Now, it's all happening in a courtroom. And three, I do think there's a legal purpose here. Trump is under a gag order. But these people are not, they can say whatever they want, and so they can go out and deliver messages that Trump cannot.

BLITZER: They are indeed doing exactly that. David just listen to how closely the speaker, Mike Johnson, was today in his remarks outside the courtroom to what Trump has been saying over these past few days. Listen to this.


TRUMP: There's no crime here.

JOHNSON: There's no crime here.

TRUMP: This is four weeks of keeping me from not campaigning.

JOHNSON: They are doing this intentionally to keep him here and keep him off of the campaign trail.

TRUMP: It could have been brought six years ago, seven years ago, almost eight years ago.

JOHNSON: Now, eight years later, suddenly they've resurrected this thing.

TRUMP: We have a corrupt judge. You know who appointed him? Democrat politicians.

JOHNSON: What we've got here is a partisan Democrat district attorney. We have a Biden donor judge.


BLITZER: What does this tell you?

CHALIAN: I know you're shocked, shocked to find talking points are being disseminated. But, honestly, as I was listening to Kristen Holmes' piece too, every one of these surrogates who was out there today, you could literally go back to Donald Trump's Truth Social feed and find the exact quotes that they were reading, because they are standing in for him where he can't speak and amplifying the political message of this. Obviously, the jury doesn't hear this. This is not going to impact what's going on necessarily in the courtroom. But this is all about framing the political argument.

I will say, you know, watching the guy who is second in line in constitutional order and in a constitutional officer to sort of hang up that hat to take on the party surrogate hat, that happens in American politics. It's just a little discordant from his day job to have him out there sort of slamming (INAUDIBLE).

JENNINGS: I think for Speaker Johnson, too, he just came off of a bout with Marjorie Taylor Greene, where President Trump sided with Johnson and kind of smacked Greene's hand a bit. Johnson was under fire from the right flank in his conference over the foreign aid bill. Trump stood with Johnson, and now Johnson's standing with Trump. So they're showing some loyalty to each other here.

BLITZER: What do you make of Trump bragging about the coverage that this criminal trial is getting?

JENNINGS: I assume he's -- well, number one, he loves coverage and he's been going out of the courtroom and reading, you know, straight out of the clips that people are handing him.


But, two, he must be also responding to these polls, The New York Times polls that came out, showing that polls taken in the midst of this trial, he's still leading Joe Biden. He's getting better against Joe Biden. So, he must be marveling at the fact that he's stuck in a courtroom and yet the campaign looks like it's getting better and better for him.

BLITZER: How significant, David, is the Trump fundraiser in New York tonight given the fact that Jared Kushner's parents are among the co- hosts?

CHALIAN: Well, let's first start with how significant it is just because he's behind in money and he needs to add to his coffers. So, having, being able to make use of his limited schedule in New York and being able to raise and try to catch up to Joe Biden is a very important thing for the Trump team to be doing.

Whether or not, as Kristen mentioned in her piece, whether or not Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump show up, it will be interesting. They are far removed, especially Ivanka Trump, from the day to day of this campaign. They have, you know, said they really weren't going to be a big part of it. If they do show up, obviously, they're supporting their father and father-in-law. But if they do show up, it will be a new moment for them in terms of public involvement.

BLITZER: We'll see if they show up. All right guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, veteran journalist George Stephanopoulos joins us with his take on the Trump trial and Michael Cohen's testimony. An interview he conducted with Cohen actually came up in court today.



BLITZER: We're back with our special report on Donald Trump's historic criminal trial and the pivotal testimony by his former fixer, Michael Cohen. There's certainly a lot on the line in the courtroom not only for the former president and his current White House bid but for the nation as well.

Joining us now, the ABC News anchor, George Stephanopoulos, a veteran of the Clinton White House, and the author of a very important and excellent brand new book just out today, it's got a terrific title, here it is, The Situation Room, the Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis. George, welcome to my Situation Room. Thanks very much for joining us. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: I got to tell you, I can't tell you how many people over the last couple years when I was working on this book would come to me and say, why are you working on a book on Wolf Blitzer?

BLITZER: As soon as I saw the cover, and it's really a beautiful cover, I said, oh, he wrote a book about my show, never mind.

Let's get to the major interview you did with Michael Cohn back in 2018. It actually came up in court today. Back then, you spoke to Cohen off camera in a Manhattan hotel. It was on the record though. I want to play some of your report that followed that meeting. Listen to this.


STEPHANOPOULOS: I've heard you say in the past you'd take a bullet for President Trump. I've heard you say you'll always be loyal, you'll do anything to protect him. All he said in response, and he said this with emphasis, to be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter, and my son, and this country, this country have my first loyalty. That is a very, very different message from what we've seen from Michael Cohen in the past.

And Cecilia, one of the things I said to him after hearing all this and hearing him go on the record with this for the first time, I said, you know, there's a good chance that President Trump and his team are going to come after you. They're going to come after you hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they had said he wouldn't flip.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They had said he wouldn't flip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president had said wouldn't, he did not think he would flip.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And this is where he also stiffened his spine. He actually visibly straightened up in his seat and then said this. I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy. I am not a villain in any story and won't allow others to try and depict me in that way.


BLITZER: All right. George, take us inside that moment and its significance in this trial today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that was the moment where Michael Cohen switched loyalties. You know, Michael Cohen, as you know, Wolf, and I had spoken to him many times when he was one of -- when he was Donald Trump's attack dog, when he was the pitbull for Donald Trump, when he would attack you and call and complain about any mention in any story that wasn't 100 percent positive, as he told me and as he had said many times, he would take a bullet for Donald Trump.

But he did reach the conclusion in 2018 that he could not do it anymore. And he has been cooperating with prosecutors basically ever since. And his story has been consistent, pretty consistent, fairly consistent ever, ever since. It was, you know, that he was going to be loyal first to his family and his country, that that loyalty now superseded his loyalty to Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed, a very important interview you did. Despite being a criminal defendant, as you know, Trump is still leading Biden in the polls and has the full support of his Republican Party. We even saw his entourage show up in court today. How do you square that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, it's really -- it's stunning to me and it's hard to absorb that right now. You know, I think that one of the stories behind it has been you've seen former President Trump's success in basically converting the Republican Party into basically enabling his lies about the election and, you know, putting away any concerns before they had had about the rule of law.

I mean, you know, I understand people who say that this is not the most important case in the world, and I get that. Of course, it is a felony case. What's even more stunning is the way so many Republican officeholders have come to accept his lies about the 2020 election to endorse him despite the fact that he's been impeached and indicted for trying to overturn an election result, despite the fact that he is, you know, refusing to pledge to abide by the election results if he loses this time around.


You even have, and I know you've spoken with these Republicans as well, other Republicans who are falling in line behind that, refusing to say that they will accept the election results in 2024.

That's a stunning turnaround. And, you know, I believe that when you start to endorse that kind of behavior, it says something dangerous and dismaying about our democracy.

BLITZER: Yes, important point indeed. In your book, you interviewed a White House Situation Room officer about just how close the country came to a constitutional crisis back on January 6th. What do you think officers like him want Americans to understand about that day going into the November election?

STEPHANOPOULOS: The officer's name is Mike Stiegler. He's a watch officer in the White House Situation Room on January 6th, someone on the frontlines absorbing all the information coming in that day. He was actually on the line with those on Capitol Hill who were trying to protect the Vice President. And he said the most harrowing moment of that day was learning just how close we came to losing the vice president.

What he and others in the Situation Room started to do on that day was to implement the so-called continuity of government procedures. These are the procedures that were set up under Dwight Eisenhower to ensure that the government survived a nuclear attack, lines of succession, secret meeting places, separate Situation Rooms in other parts of the government, secure locations for government officials to go. They had to start implementing those procedures on January 6th because of this insurrection that had been inspired by the president.

And, you know, during that entire day, as he recalled, the president did not call down to the Situation Room once. The Situation Room is the nerve center for communications in the White House during times of crises. The president, instead of calling down to the Situation Room to get a handle on the situation, was watching it on television, sipping Diet Cokes in his office and allowing the riot to go uncontrolled.

BLITZER: Yes, that history in this excellent new book is really, really powerful.

You and I go way back, as you know, George. You were former President Bill Clinton's communications director, later his senior policy adviser. I started off covering the White House as CNN's White House correspondent. I covered the administration for CNN back then and I interviewed back in 1994 about Bill Clinton's messaging problem at that time. Let's play that clip.


STEPHANOPOULOS: We probably are to blame for not getting those results out enough, for the American people not knowing --

BLITZER: The President has complained about the lack of a good communications policy, too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, you know, we have to break through that. You know, it's a very tough communications environment we live in now. We have to take responsibility for that, and we have.


BLITZER: As you know, President Biden is struggling today in getting the American people to register his accomplishments. So, how does he change that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, that's going to have to be for him and his advisers to decide. I mean, clearly, right now, if you look at what the polls are saying, part of the reason going back to why it appears that even though it's a very close race, former President Trump may be leading in some of the battleground states, is that President Biden is not doing as well with younger voters with black voters as he did last time.

And part of what may be going on here is a dichotomy in the economy, even though there's a lot of strength in the economy, the unemployment numbers are low. We've had record job growth for the last 20 something months. Higher interest rates are hitting younger people. People want to buy a house for the first time, particularly hard, whereas older voters who are backing Biden in greater numbers may be benefiting, but by having higher interest rates in their savings accounts or in municipal bonds. So, I think that's one of the things that is hurting. Inflation is hitting younger voters and working class voters especially hard right now, and that's been a real struggle for President Biden.

BLITZER: We're here now in my Situation Room, George, but your book is about the history of the White House Situation Room, from John F. Kennedy's assassination to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It's all amazing history in this wonderful book. Most Americans will never see this space but paint a picture for us of the significance of the White House Situation Room.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's the nerve center of the White House. It's the place where all the communications from all over the world flow in to the White House. There's a watch center where you have these duty officers who serve there every day. Three screens in front of every one of them, screens up on the walls. Any crisis that happens anywhere in the world comes first into the White House Situation Room. They figure out how to communicate that to the president and his team, and then they facilitate the communication back out to the world.

It's also the place, and we've seen those iconic pictures of the presidents and their teams in the White House Situation Room, where they meet, the president and his principal advisers meet, to decide how to handle the most difficult crises the presidents face.


Whether it was, you know, Ronald Reagan's team meeting after he was shot in 1981 and bringing a tape recorder to the meeting. I have those transcripts in the book of those meetings, the famous deliberations over how to take down Osama bin Laden during President Obama's administration, incredible stories of during Richard Nixon's administration of how Henry Kissinger took the nuclear alert level up to DEFCON 3 during the first Yom Kippur War in 1973, when Richard Nixon was completely out of commission, incapacitated during the Watergate crisis, sitting up in a hideaway drinking scotch, listening to Broadway Show tunes while his advisers on their own were raising the nuclear alert level.

BLITZER: George Stephanopoulos, thanks so much for writing this excellent new book. George's new book, The Situation Room, is on sale today. There you see the cover.

And just ahead, we'll get a firsthand account from inside the courtroom as Michael Cohen implicated Donald Trump and endured intense cross-examination. A retired judge who's been at the trial every day is standing by to join us live. That's next.



BLITZER: We're breaking down the Trump trial and the combative cross- examination of the prosecution's final crucial witness, Michael Cohen.

We're joined now by retired New York Judge George Grasso, who served on the Queens Supreme Court. He's been attending the trial since day one.

Judge, thank you so much for joining us.

What did you see in this courtroom today? Did you see a difference in Michael Cohen when this was switched to cross examination?

GEORGE GRASSO, RETIRED ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE CRIMINAL MATTERS, QUEENS SUPREME COURT: Not too much. He retained a good poise and he wasn't -- he wasn't really hooked.

One thing that I did see, however, is a lot of times if he gets caught on a question he doesn't like, he says something like, I might have said that, that sounds like it could have been me. I don't really remember. I think that he would have -- he would've come across better to the jury if he was more straightforward, if you're going to admit something, just admit it straight up.

But he did maintain composure and Todd Blanche came out swinging. He was trying to unnerve them. He was clearly trying to anger him. And so far, that hasn't worked.

But he did score some points along the way with some of evasiveness.

BLITZER: So far, you've been there every day, has Cohen linked Trump to these alleged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt?

GRASSO: Well, as it stands right now, I think if we have a system of confrontation, right? So if we put the cross-examination to the side and we expect and we just accept as truth everything that Cohen has said, I think he does. And I want to -- he -- they began to everybody's talking about cross-examination, but they finished direct today very crucial point when Cohen left off yesterday, he brought this scheme right into Trump Tower on the 26th floor with Weisselberg and the notes all laid out by Weisselberg as to how the 130 was going to be made into 420, and they were going to do these 12 checks for $35,000.

In the morning today, he brought it into the Oval Office. He has a meeting, according to Cohen's testimony, with Trump in the Oval Office, February 8, 2017. Trump says words to him to the effect of how you're doing. Do you need money?

And Cohen just said something to the effect, I'm okay and according to Cohen, Trump says something to the effect, well, that's okay. Hang on. You deal with Alan. That will be -- there'll be checked for you in January and February.

So that's a huge link. So Cohen puts Donald Trump right in the middle of the thicket and I think he certainly right now, there's a record where he could be found guilty.

Having said that, we have confrontation in this country, Michael Cohen is known to be volatile. They're beginning to paint him as someone who's consumed with hatred and disgust. He wrote a book entitled "Revenge", and he's not denying it though. He's not denying his strong feelings. How will that play on it on a jury remains to be seen. So, more to come, Wolf.

BLITZER: More to come indeed. Judge Grasso, we'll continue this conversation. Thank you very much for joining us.

GRASSO: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: And coming up, Michael Cohen live on TikTok. We're going to show you some of his off the wall streams that came up during his cross-examination.



BLITZER: Michael Cohen's frequent and sometimes strange live streams on TikTok are coming back to haunt him as he takes his cross- examination in the Trump trial.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look.

Brian, the defense is now trying to use Cohen's online rants against him.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. This afternoon, Donald Trump's defense attorneys wasted no time in going after Michael Cohen's TikTok live streams, using them to try to discredit Cohen as a witness who is biased against Trump.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Not a good day for Donald in New York.

TODD (voice-over): The man who almost on a whim would threaten to destroy people's lives has been routinely opining on TikTok recently.

Former Trump attorney turned adversary, Michael Cohen, has been hosting a live stream on TikTok almost every night.

COHEN: Don't be that person that sits on the sideline and has the turnaround and say to your kids, your grandkids, I should've (EXPLETIVE DELETED) voted.

TODD: Cohen told the court today he goes on TikTok an hour a night to build an audience and create a community, he says, but also quote, to really event because I'm having a difficult time sleeping. So I found an outlet. He riffs on everything from books to sports, to politics, including a tease on a potential run for office.

COHEN: I'm telling you, I may run for Congress. I may do it even if I don't get the blessing of my wife and kids.

TODD: Comedian Rosie O'Donnell recently called into Cohen's TikTok stream saying she wanted to give him a pep talk.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, COMEDIAN: To not listen to all of this negative MAGA (EXPLETIVE DELETED) coming at you. What you lied about were things that he made you do and you have made a full turnaround in terms of telling the truth.

TODD: But Cohen's TikTok streams have been an issue in court. Until recently, he devoted much of his time on TikTok to slamming his former boss.

COHEN: Trumpism is fascism, and we must eradicate it from our body politic.

A few days before he was scheduled to testify, Cohen went live on TikTok sporting a T-shirt which depicted Trump wearing an orange jumpsuit behind bars. He's hosted a Trump imitator.

ZPAC, TRUMP IMITATOR: I'm going to go to jail and it's going to be okay. And I'm going to do it in your honor, quite frankly.

COHEN: Zpac, fantastic.

TODD: Judge Juan Merchan has not imposed a gag order on Cohen as he has on Trump, but Merchan has asked prosecutors to rein Cohen in and get him to stop talking about the case or about Trump.


Still, Trump's lawyers have already used Cohen's TikTok rants about Trump to try to tear down his credibility as a witness. Trump attorney Todd Blanche asked Cohen today about one TikTok stream.

You referred to President Trump as a dictator douche bag, didn't you?

Cohen: Sounds like something I said.

Blanche asked Cohen if he'd said on TikTok that Trump belongs in an f- ing cage like an animal. Cohen, I recall saying that.

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is the type of thing that is a prosecutor's nightmare using these TikTok videos, the defense team will ask the jury to disregard all of Michael Cohen's testimony and find it not to be truthful.


TODD (on camera): We ask Michael Cohen's former attorney, Lanny Davis, about all of that. Davis told us, quote, Mr. Cohen is not the same as Mr. Trump who is an indicted individual. However, Mr. Cohen is respectful of the judge's request. He'll no longer make comments about the trial, end quote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thank you very much.

And we'll be right back with more news.


BLITZER: Federal investigators have just released their preliminary report on the Baltimore bridge collapse. Among the key findings, confirmation that the Dali cargo ship lost propulsion and rudder control just before it struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, sending it crashing into the river.

The report comes one day after cruised demolished a portion of the wreckage as they work to refloat the vessel.

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.