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Bruising Cross-Examination Of Michael Cohen Wraps For The Day; Defense Scores Major Points In Bid To Undercut Cohen's Credibility; New Transcript Of Aggressive Cross-Examination Of Michael Cohen; Judge: Closing Arguments In Trump Trial Possible On Tuesday; Biden Claims Executive Privilege Over Recordings Of His Interview With Special Counsel Robert Hur. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In exchange for Menendez support for the governments of Egypt and Qatar, they have all pleaded not guilty.


Also, today, Senator Menendez revealed that his wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will undergo a mastectomy. Nadine Menendez is set to go on trial in a separate case in July.

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ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight in the Trump trial. The bruising crossing examination of Michael Cohen by Donald Trump's lawyer wraps up for the day after the defense repeatedly hammered the prosecution's star witness for his past lies and aggressively tried to catch him in new lies under oath. The Trump team scoring major points in its bid to undercut Cohen's credibility, that includes getting Cohen to admit he did not fully remember a phone call portrayed as a direct link between Trump and the Stormy Daniels hush money deal.

For the next hour, we'll be taking you inside the courtroom from gavel to gavel with new testimony, transcripts, 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 all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Alex Marquardt, a special report in The Situation Room, Trump Trial Today.

Let's get right to the breaking news on a pivotal trial day for Donald Trump's defense, the former president's lawyer poking holes in Michael Cohen's testimony and possibly sowing doubts in juror's minds.

CNN's Kara Scannell has emerged from the courtroom in Manhattan where she's been reporting on the trial all day. So, Kara, tell us about the most significant and the most dramatic moments that you saw firsthand in that courtroom. KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, just moments ago, Trump's lawyer saying -- still not saying whether the formal president will take the stand and testify, but the judge told both sides they should prepare to give closing arguments in this case as soon as Tuesday and this after a day of fireworks where Trump's lead attorney, Todd Blanche, had Michael Cohen in the hot seat branding him a liar and through aggressive questioning, painting him into a box.


SCANNELL (voice over): Trump's ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, in a dramatic moment on the stand, grilled over his memory of a key phone conversation that directly implicates former President Donald Trump in his criminal trial.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Nobody wants to do this. This isn't fun. They get personal, they get nasty.

SCANNELL: Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, confronted Cohen on his testimony about the deal at the center of the case that he paid off adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to kill her story of an alleged affair with Trump, which Trump denies. Cohen, who is the prosecution's key witness, testified earlier this week that on October 24th, 2016, he made a phone call to Trump's bodyguard, Keith Schiller. He said he used Schiller as a conduit to speak with Trump, to say that Daniels' deal was resolved and he was moving forward.

But an intense exchange inside the courtroom that could undermine his testimony, Blanche showed records that moments before the brief, one minute and 30-second call, Cohen sent a text to Schiller for help with prank calls he was receiving from a 14-year-old. There was no mention of Daniels in the text.

Blanche showed the text messages. Cohen said, who can I speak to regarding harassing calls to my cell in office? The dope forgot to block his number. Schiller responded, call me. Cohen told the defense attorney today, he didn't remember the harassing phone calls, but after confronted with them, maintained, he spoke to Schiller and also Trump.

Blanche pacing the courtroom, his arms flailing and his voice rising, said to Cohen, that was a lie. You did not talk to President Trump on that night. You talked to Keith Schiller about what we just went through. Admit it. Cohen calmly replied, no, sir. I don't know that it's accurate. Blanche moved to show the jury text between Cohen and the teen, Cohen writing this number has just been sent to Secret Service for your ongoing and continuous harassing calls over the past three days. If you are a minor, I suggest you notify your parent or a guardian. The prankster replied, I didn't do it, I'm 14, please don't. Cohen responded, please have your parent or guardian contact me before Secret Service reaches out to them.

Before getting to the phone call, Blanche spent the morning trying to paint Cohen as a vengeful liar. Cohen confirmed he has insulted Trump countless times, including on his Mea Culpa podcast. Blanche played clips for the jury. COHEN: I truly (BLEEP) hope that this man ends up in prison, but revenge is the dish best served cold. And you better believe I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to me and my family.


Blanche also pressed Cohen repeatedly about lying to Congress in 2017 about the Trump organization's Moscow project. There were a couple of different lies, Blanche asked. That's correct, Cohen replied. Cohen later apologized to Congress during his on-camera testimony in 2019.

COHEN: I am sorry for my lies and for lying to Congress. I have done some real soul searching and I see now that my ambition. And the intoxication of Trump power had much to do with the bad decisions in part that I made.


SCANNELL (on camera): Now Trump watched the cross-examination very closely, turning his chair so he could face his attorney and look over at Cohen answering these questions. Now, Todd Blanche, Trump's lawyers, said that cross-examination will continue into Monday when court is back in session. The prosecution said their redirect should be over by lunch and Trump's team said they're still assessing whether to call any other witnesses. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right, Kara Scannell outside the courthouse in Manhattan.

Let's get more on all this with our legal and political experts. Thank you all for joining us. Elliot Williams, I want to start with you. This was, I think we would all agree, a very pivotal moment in this case. So, break down this moment where Todd Blanche, Trump's lead attorney, was grilling Michael Cohen about this phone call that would directly link the former president to these hush money --

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And we have some excerpts from some of our reporters who are in the room now. Viewers who did not have Michael Cohen fighting over text with a 14-year-old on their bingo boards are right. You are not alone. This was quite a moment in terms of what it meant. So, again, going back and forth about this call that happened on October 24th, 2016, where allegedly Michael Cohen says that he raised Stormy Daniels with President Trump, but as Kara had noted, the text -- the records don't seem to suggest that.

So, on the call, or at least today on cross-examination, Michael Cohen says, part of it was that the 14-year-old, but I know that Keith was -- Keith Schiller, this is President Trump's bodyguard, was with Mr. Trump at the time. And there was more potentially than this. Then Todd Blanche, the defense attorney says, that was a lie, you did not talk to President Trump. You talked to Keith Schiller. You can admit it now. Cohen still staying pretty cool and calm here says, no, sir. I don't know that it's accurate. I believe. I also spoke to Mr. Trump and told him everything regarding the Stormy Daniels matter. Then Todd Blanche says, we are not asking for your belief. This jury does not want to hear about what you think happened right there. There's an objection and the prosecution objects, the judge sustains it because of the fact that Blanche was forcing him or asking him to opine on what somebody else thought. It just was an improper question.

So, at this point, Todd Blanche is pacing around, flailing his arms, he's pretty -- appearing pretty upset with Michael Cohen. And he says, but your memory is that you were testifying truthfully on Tuesday, a minute and 36-second phone call, and you had enough time to update Schiller about all the problems you were having, and also update President Trump about the status of Stormy Daniels situation because you had to keep him informed. Michael Cohen responds, I always ran everything by the boss immediately, and in this case, it would've been saying everything has been taken care of and has been resolved.

So, again, what Todd Blanche was getting at was in this minute and 36 seconds, it sort of strains logic a bit to suggest that he raised both Stormy Daniels and this, you know, punk 14-year-old who he was fighting with. And quite frankly, the prosecution did not, prior to this, prepare the jury for the fact that there might have been some ambiguity as to what happened on this phone call.

MARQUARDT: Right. Nikki Lotze, you're a criminal defense attorney. On this 96-second call, the prosecution now has to prove that Trump's involvement in this hush money scheme goes beyond a reasonable doubt. This cross-examination by Todd Blanche of Michael Cohen today, how much doubt do you think that raised, at least for the jurors?

NIKKI LOTZE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it has to have raised some doubt. I mean, the, the fact that there was testimony previously from Michael Cohen that this phone call was about X and now there are texts that suggest it's about Y. And as Elliot said, not a lot of time for there to be a conversation about both X and Y raises some doubt that the -- and the why here obviously is that what Trump said was -- or what Cohen said was discussed, had to do with Stormy Daniels. And if there was just very little time to discuss both the 14-year-old issue and Stormy Daniels, it is hard to believe that, that he got to the Stormy Daniels.

So, I think, I mean anything, the prosecution -- sorry. Anything the defense can do to suggest that Michael Cohen isn't getting it right or is misrepresenting things is important --

MARQUARDT: To raise those questions and potentially lying even further.


LOTZE: Right.

MARQUARDT: Jim Trusty, you represented Trump, and there has been reporting out there that the former president was disappointed with perhaps the lack of aggression by Todd Blanche. Do you think that that changed today? What do you think the former president's reaction as, to how his lawyer performing? JIM TRUSTY, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, he's got to be feeling pretty upbeat. I mean, look, cross-examination is not usually like T.V. I mean, you don't usually go to the ultimate question, and that's why you're lying, Mr. Cohen, isn't it? But we kind of got there today a little bit.

And it's a little bit dangerous territory for the defense. You know, I think Todd did a very nice job being very disciplined in his cross for the first big chunks, which was establish facts, establish he's biased, establish he has a history of lying, but don't give him an opportunity to crawl out and make a speech. Set it up for closing argument. I think he got a little fired up and went a little far. And you saw the objection, but it's not really the objection that matters. It's that he started making argument that Cohen could figure out where it's going. And Cohen then comes back with, I don't admit it, I'll tell you why. You know, don't ask him the question of admit it's lie. He is not going to do it.

And so there's a little bit of a, a kind of an advocacy lesson there, I think, in terms of getting too whipped up and thinking you're going to get the home run when a triple is just fine. But, look, at the end of the day, you know, I like everyone. I'm just shocked that Cohen would lie. about this call. It's an amazing development for an otherwise perfect witness.

Now, I mean, more seriously, they set the whole trial up, right? The defense set the whole trial up to be a referendum on Cohen's honesty. That's exactly where you want this fight to be. So, it's a good moment.

MARQUARDT: And, Nia-Malika Henderson, now there are no proceedings tomorrow. So, the jury is leaving with these impressions. They now have 72 hours to reflect on this and really sort of take stock of what sounds like a made for T.V. moment that, of course, we didn't see, but how do you think that impacts things?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Listen, I mean, there are a couple of more, I guess, questions, cross-examination, or questions from the defense, the prosecution will go back as well and, and try to rehabilitate Michael Cohen. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't, you know, all the ins and outs of what the final questions and the approach will be, and, of course, there'll be closing arguments. So, you know, they have more time to process this, right? We sort of look at this almost like it's like a football game, right, and this is, you know -- they've still got some time left on the clock and there could be a more to come.

I do think, obviously you saw Trump feeling very good today. He came out he was reading, he'd clearly had folks look at CNN, look at MSNBC, which he calls, of course, MSNDC. And, you know, people were saying that this was a good day for him and a kind of a bad day for Michael Cohen, because this is a case that rests on Michael Cohen's credibility, and you saw them really poking holes in it today.

WILLIAMS: Now, to the point about how you rehabilitate here on the sort of redirect, as the prosecution, picking up on Jim's point sort of like the Budweiser or Anheuser-Busch adds, know when to say when is a really important skill for prosecutors, quite frankly, and defense attorneys too. And don't go too far with trying to rehabilitate him. Simply walk in and they could ask the question on that call on October 24th. Do you remember talking about Stormy Daniels and this 14-year- old? Yes. No further questions, and get out of there. It does not benefit the prosecution in any way to be going back and forth and ping-ponging with the defense about the facts of this of this phone call.

The damage has been done, but sort of -- and this was Jim's point, you sort of risk stepping in it further the more you keep lingering and trying to litigate really small points, even if they are really damaging to your side.

MARQUARDT: So, Nikki, to that point, the, the prosecution is going to have a chance to question Michael Cohen again, but how risky do you think it is to, to wrap up their case with him as the final witness like this?

LOTZE: I think that the only other people who could shed light on it, right, would be Keith Schiller or the chief financial officer. And it's not necessarily the case that Schiller would have anything to add. I mean, if it were the case that Schiller simply passed the phone or was in the room but wasn't listening or left the room, I mean, there might not be anything that he could add. So, it might not be it might not be the best witness to end and it doesn't seem like it's going to be on a very high note, but on the other hand, I'm not sure what else they could -- you know, who else they could call.

MARQUARDT: And now, Jim, I mean, Schiller is really a, a central character here, and there's so many new questions about this phone call, again, a minute 36. So, do you think those 12 jurors are going to wonder why Schiller isn't one of the witnesses?

TRUSTY: If they were still clinging to Cohen as a possibly credible witness, maybe, but, you know, the government has the burden here. So, I think if you're the defense, you're, you're moving on to Bob Costelloville. You're not worried about Schiller because, look, Cohen has just -- he is a dream come true for cross-examination. There are so many things to attack him on, bias, convictions for lying, lying to Congress, lying about his federal plea. It never ends.

So, yes, they got a great gotcha moment on this, but I wouldn't even overplay that from the defense.


You've scored the point. It's the government's burden, if they don't, and Schiller would probably end up being a friendly cross if he comes in for the government. So, I think they rest. And, by the way, I think they're resting here because they lost the ability to call Karen McDougall with the opinion that came out on the Weinstein case. I think they realize they're in treacherous territory with this other offense kind of conduct.

HENEDERSON: Yes. You know, listen, we'll see. I mean, this was a huge moment, I think, for Donald Trump. He probably, I'm sure, was very helpful to his attorneys because he knows Michael Cohen very well. They were attached at the hip. Folks who covered Donald Trump always saw Michael Cohen to the extent that the folks did. So, this was a real, I think, moment and you could tell that Donald Trump was very pleased with what he felt was sort of this guy who was so close to him now coming after him now seeming to sort of crumble on the stand.

Yes, it certainly sounds like he was very pleased on this very dramatic day as we may be ending the end stages or nearing the end stages of this very important and dramatic trial, historic trial. Thank you all coming up.

CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins shares her takes from inside the courtroom, including Donald Trump's body language as he watched his current lawyer go after his former fixer.

Plus, what Stormy Daniel's attorney thinks about Michael Cohen's cross-examination and whether it may seriously damage the prosecution's case. He's going to be joining us ahead.

Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: More now on the breaking news, a crucial day of cross- examination in the Trump hush money trial, the testy exchange between lead defense attorney Todd Blanche and Michael Cohen clearly capturing the attention of the former president.

I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who was inside the courtroom for much of the afternoon. So, Kaitlan, when you were watching Trump, what stood out to you?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, one, I love these court sketches because Christine Cornell, she's amazing, you can watch her, that Todd Blanche looks a little more like a superhero bit in that court sketch that he did in the courtroom. But this was really a huge test for him this afternoon and today really overall as he was questioning Michael Cohen, because Michael Cohen is someone who was not flustered on the stand when he first started questioning him on Tuesday. There weren't any really knockout blows, certainly not that Trump was looking for, or that could help sow doubt about his credibility for the jury, and that shifted today.

And so one thing I was watching really closely was, one, how the jury was taking in Todd Blanche, because he hasn't played a huge role in this trial so far. He is the lead attorney, but he hasn't really been in charge of cross-examining any of the other high-profile witnesses that we've seen, people like Keith Davidson or David Pecker or Stormy Daniels. Today was his chance to really do that. And, obviously, you saw and heard from Kara how he drilled into Michael Cohen on his memory of certain phone calls with Donald Trump. And the jury was watching Todd Blanche very closely. And you could kind of see, it's almost like a tennis match where their eyes are going back and forth between Todd Blanche and Michael Cohen, Todd Blanche and Michael Cohen.

And Todd Blanche kind of has this way of questioning Michael Cohen, where he would say something and say, that's right, isn't it, or that's correct. And Michael Cohen in turn was very calm and even toned, but he was speaking very slowly and even haltingly at some points, Alex, as if he was choosing his words really, really carefully. It's not the same when, you know, the prosecution was up there he knew generally what they were going to ask of him, because he is their witness here. And so that was remarkable in and of itself.

As for Donald Trump, who you see here, I've been in court several days. When Keith Davidson was on the stand, when Stormy Daniels was on the stand, when Michael Cohen first took the stand earlier this week, typically, Donald Trump is kind of looking straight ahead. Sometimes he'll lean back in his chair, kind of relaxed, have his eyes closed for sustained periods of time.

That was not the case this afternoon with Michael Cohen. He had his body almost shifted in the direction of the witness stand. He was looking directly in that way, as Todd Blanche was really drilling down with Michael Cohen and at times he kind of had a scowl on his face. Sometimes he had a smirk on his face as he was watching all of this play and clearly enjoyed watching his attorney cross-examine his former attorney.

MARQUARDT: And then, Kaitlan, at the end of the proceedings today, Todd Blanche told the judge, Juan Merchan, that there has been no decision yet on, on whether the former president is going to take the stand and testify. Do you think that that's still a realistic possibility?

COLLINS: No, I don't. And, of course, you can never say with 100 percent certainty with Donald Trump, everyone who has ever covered him always has a caveat because he does like to be, you know, predictably unpredictable. But it seems quite clear from conversations we've had that there is no plan for Donald Trump to take the stand. And even he has waffled on it in his public statements saying it.

But it's not clear why Todd Blanche doesn't want to just definitively state with no one else in the room. You know, the witness is not in the room when this is happening. The jury is not in the room when this is happening. It's just the prosecution, the defense, and the reporters and members of the public who are there watching. And so he would not say that. But what is clear is this is coming to an end quite quickly.

And the judge told the parties to be ready potentially as soon as Tuesday to start wrapping this up to give their summations of their cases. It's not guaranteed that it will happen that quickly but Todd Blanche did say he only has maybe two hours or so left to question Michael Cohen, and then prosecutors will have the chance to reexamine him, to re-question him.

And so whether or not Trump's team ultimately calls any witnesses. It could also depend on how this questioning of Michael Cohen goes. If they feel as strongly as they do at the end of Monday, as they do right now, which they felt pretty good walking out of that courtroom today, that remains to be seen, you know, whether they even think it's worth calling anyone else or if it's necessary for them.

MARQUARDT: A very interesting day to be in that courtroom. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for joining us with your impressions.

And to our viewers, Kaitlan, will be back tonight at 8:00 P.M. Eastern to anchor more of our special coverage.


She's going to be alongside our Anderson Cooper. Kaitlan, thanks again.

Coming up, an attorney for Stormy Daniels joins me here in The Situation Room. I'll get his reaction to Michael Cohen's testimony and the heated cross-examination.


MARQUARDT: We are back with our special report on the Trump Trial Today, today's withering cross-examination of Michael Cohen raising questions about his testimony directly linking the former president to the Stormy Daniels hush money deal and the alleged cover-up.

Joining me now is Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Clark Brewster. Mr. Brewster, thank you so much for being with us.

Your client, Stormy Daniels, has a complicated relationship with Michael Cohen.


The defense has now gotten Cohen to admit to repeated lies on the stand earlier today. Do you think his testimony has damaged the prosecution's case?

CLARK BREWSTER, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Well, first of all, I want to make it clear. I mean, Stormy Daniels has never met Michael Cohen. The first time they ever spoke was on a podcast that he was hosting back in '22. But the real relevant time period that these events occurred, she did not know Michael Cohen other than by name, had never met him and never talked to him. So, the relationship was really a distant, you know, just reference relationship.

I don't think there was any doubt that the defense in this case would have a lot of fodder to cross-examine Michael Cohen. I mean, we've had years of statements, lots of appearances by him, statements he made in writing and then orally they were captured on video. So, it's a cross- examiner's dream to have that mountain of conflict and inconsistency to cross-examine him. It's no surprise that he would have some traction on that.

MARQUARDT: And Ms. Daniels testified that she has no knowledge of the alleged falsified business records, which are, of course, at the heart of this case. So, how do you think jurors are going to be ultimately weighing her testimony?

BREWSTER: Well, I think her testimony was important to set the context for, you know, what put in motion the decisions by Trump and his team to take action, to obtain the non-disclosure agreement to try to shut her up. Obviously, they had a different M.O. with Karen McDougal and David Pecker and the National Enquirer, and they chose a different route this way with Stormy.

But it's not really what I think that Michael Cohen can recall, or how consistent he is in telling a story in '24 for events that occurred in '16, '17, and '18. The real issue is, what is corroborative? What documents exist? Who had the motive? What actions were taken? And I don't think a witness needs to know every detail. They just have some part in the overall factual development of this matter.

MARQUARDT: And to that point about what's corroborative, now that we're getting towards the end of this trial, do you think that there's reasonable doubt that Trump committed these crimes? And is Stormy Daniels ready for a potential not guilty verdict?

BREWSTER: Well, Stormy is ready for whatever happens here. I mean, she is very resilient. She's a strong woman. And she's quite impressive, in my view, on how she's dealt with these issues. But you're asking if there's reasonable doubt.

The question is was he behind the NDA? Did he orchestrate that? Did he cause Cohen to pay her off? And did they conceal in their way in the record keeping that particular -- the truth? And I don't think there's any doubt about that. Is there? I mean, who else was doing it? Was it just something fun for Michael Cohen? Why would it even be in Trump's books if he didn't -- he wasn't the one that was behind it?

I mean, really, there's no plausible, sensible conclusion that could be reached other than he did it, he caused Cohen to get it accomplished and they dealt with it from a bookkeeping matter in a way in which they thought they could conceal it further.

MARQUARDT: But all Trump needs is one juror to disagree. So, if he's not convicted, do you think that there will be feelings of regret from Stormy Daniels for coming forward in this way about her encounter with the former president?

BREWSTER: No, I don't think she'll have regrets. I think that, I mean, she was asked by the government in this instance, the district attorney's office and their investigators, to tell the truth and come forward, and would she be willing to testify? They served a subpoena on her. That's what we do in this country, in our criminal justice system, is you have to have a level of cooperation among witnesses and production of documents to present a case in the courtroom, and I don't think she has any regrets about that.

MARQUARDT: We've also heard from Daniel's husband, Barrett Blade. He sat down with CNN's Erin Burnett earlier this week. I want to play part of that interview. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARRETT BLADE, STORMY DANIELS' HUSBAND: I think if it's not guilty, we got to decide what to do. A good chance we'll probably vacate this country. If he is found guilty, then she's still going to have to deal with all the hate. I feel like she's the reason that he's guilty from all of his followers. So, I don't see it as a win situation either way, you know.


MARQUARDT: He said there's a good chance that they'll have to leave the country or choose to leave the country.


How concerned are you about your client's safety after this comes to a close?

BREWSTER: Well, you know, we can't predict what could happen among people that think they're doing his bidding or want to, you know, cause a name for themselves. I mean, we've seen that over the history in this country. So, you always remain concerned.

Incidentally, Barrett is not Stormy's husband. I mean, I think she testified on the stand, they're partners and they, they do live together, but they're not married.

MARQUARDT: Apologies for that error. On the political side beyond this verdict, no matter which way it goes, does Stormy Daniels have concerns about Donald Trump potentially being elected president again?

BREWSTER: Oh, I don't know if she's thought that out that far. I think she is concerned that, um somebody could do her harm, certainly. And she's doing all that she can to protect herself. And, you know, anyone that would be caught up in a case like this that could be victimized is someone that we ought to put our arms around and try to help and assist.

So, I'm hoping that that when this case is over, whatever happens everyone can go on about their lives without feeling the threat of, you know, somebody hurting them.

MARQUARDT: Stormy Daniels' attorney, Clark Brewster, thanks so much for joining us this evening. I appreciate your time.

BREWSTER: My pleasure. Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And just ahead, the huge show of loyalty from Donald Trump's top political allies at his trial today. Why some Republican lawmakers were even willing to risk control of the House floor to support the former president.



MARQUARDT: Let's get back to our breaking coverage of Donald Trump's hush money trial in Manhattan, where his entourage of Republican supporters is growing by the day. Some of Trump's top political allies meeting with him before court gaveled into session this morning and even jumping at the chance to defend him in front of the cameras.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Observing the jury, I could see that there was a great appreciation for the liar that Michael Cohen was.

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): You got a corrupt prosecutor, you got a corrupt star witness, you got a corrupt judge.

REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): This is a scam, it is a sham, it is a show.


MARQUARDT: Let's bring in CNN's Alayna Treen and CNN's Senior Political Commentator Scott Jennings for more on this.

So, Alayna, broadly, what's behind this Republican show of support in Manhattan?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, I think it's pretty clear, Alex. They're all clamoring to show that they stand with Donald Trump. And that's really what we saw on display today, 11 members of the House Freedom Caucus. Not only did they show up in court with Donald Trump, they actually met with him before the trial kicked off at Trump Tower, our colleagues Melanie Zanona and Annie Gray are just reported. And then, you know, also Eric Trump, Donald Trump's son, was there as well.

And then, of course, we saw them do this press conference outside the courtroom. And that's really keeping with what we've seen from other high profile allies of Donald Trump over the last week or so, them coming to court, standing in solidarity with him and attacking the case.

Now, I think a key thing to keep in mind here is that, remember, Donald Trump is under a gag order. He is not allowed to discuss the witnesses in this case, people like Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen. He's not allowed to attack prosecutors' families. He is allowed to attack the judge and a special, or excuse me, District Attorney Alvin Bragg but he's also not allowed to talk about the jurors.

However, Matt Gaetz is one example. We just saw that video of him there. He has been really going through that line attacking the people that Donald Trump can't go after. He labeled Michael Cohen at this press conference as an unreliable liar. He spoke about the judge's family, something that Donald Trump had been warned repeatedly not to do. And he also spoke about the jury.

So, we're also seeing many of these allies, not only show up with Donald Trump, but kind of going around the guidelines of the gag order to do the attacking for the former president. MARQUARDT: That's a very good point. Scott, what do you make of all this? This parade is growing so strong that today there were enough Republican lawmakers who accompanied Trump to court that they actually risked losing control of the House floor.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, some of these people that showed up today routinely do things that aid Democrats in the House. So, I guess it's par for the course for people like Matt Gaetz who work with Democrats to throw out Kevin McCarthy.

But, largely speaking, I think this is reflective of something old in campaigns, which is surrogate operations. You know, most campaigns organize groups of supporters to go out into the country and talk on the candidate's behalf. Usually, it's about policy issues, whatever. But in this case, the entire campaign is happening in and around this courtroom. So, this week, all the surrogates for Donald Trump are coming to court, and they're saying things that the candidate himself cannot say.

So, I think you'll see this kind of surrogate work continue long after the trial. It's just right now there really isn't a campaign outside of what's happening in New York City.

MARQUARDT: Alayna, you mentioned Matt Gaetz a moment ago. I want to put up a pretty stunning tweet from him, in which he echoes the former President Trump's call in 2020 at a debate, in fact, for the Proud Boys, which, of course, is a far right extremist group. Remember during that debate, he said to stand back and stand by, and there you have Gaetz repeating the same thing.

So, Alayna, what can you tell us about that?

TREENE: That's right. Matt Gaetz was really evoking that rhetoric that we saw Donald Trump use that has really become a call for people on the right, or I should say specifically the extremist group, the Proud Boys. And remember, this is something that when they -- many of these people and their leaders of this group were convicted for seditious conspiracy for their role on January 6th of 2021 and then they later used that members of the Proud Boys to recruit more members.

So, this is really kind of, I think, underscoring some of the activist behavior that we're seeing some of Donald Trump's allies use and something that's going to be very prevalent in the upcoming election.


Now, I saw that we had reached out to Matt Gaetz's team about this language that he tweeted out and they said, I think the tweet speaks for itself. So I think, you know, clearly, Matt Gaetz is leaning in to some of that hard far-right extremist conspiracy theory stuff that is tied to the Proud Boys.

MARQUARDT: Scott, what do you think about this post because the leaders of the Proud Boys are now in prison, many of them, for their failed plot to keep Trump in power, their involvement in January 6? JENNINGS: Yeah, sure. Let's as a strategy relive one and revisit one of the worst moments of Donald Trump's 2020 campaign. When he said that in that debate which, by the way, that debate was a disaster, it was a terrible moment and you never really recovered, even though we did well in the second debate, it was too late by then.

But I'm sure -- I'm sure the folks back at the Trump campaign office are thrilled for Matt Gaetz, who supposedly is there to help them, is out here reliving one of these terrible moments from a campaign that Donald Trump was by 7 million votes sure, the president appreciates all this support.

But you have to understand that this is a provocateur who is saying provocative things in standing on Donald Trump shoulders to get attention for themselves in a way that is not necessarily helpful to Donald Trump.

MARQUARDT: And the head of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, he was sentenced to 22 years, which was the record sentence for anyone involved in January 6, quite something to see that from the congressman.

Thank you both for joining me.

Coming up as Donald Trump's hush money trial moves towards the finish line, we're going to be taking a closer look at some of the key witnesses whose testimony could prove crucial during these closing arguments.



MARQUARDT: Donald Trump's historic criminal trial is getting closer to the finish line. Michael Cohen's star turn on the witness stand could wrap up as soon as Monday with the possibility of closing arguments to start the following day.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.

So, Brian, this cross-examination of Michael Cohen has really capping off weeks of some really interesting testimony.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alex, this seems to have been one compelling witness after another in this trial. Tonight, we look at the most important witnesses. They're most pivotal moments and their overall impact on this case.


TODD (voice-over): Donald Trump's first criminal trial featured a succession of critical and colorful witnesses, each providing key insight that could make or break this case, potentially the most crucial witness up to this moment, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer, fixer, bully for hire, thought to be the only witness in this case who could directly tie Trump to the alleged crimes he's accused of, 34 counts of fraud related to the hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: At the end of the day, he's going to be the make or break witness for either side, right? It's going to be does the jury believe him.

TODD: Trump has denied wrongdoing with the payments and denied the affair with Daniels. The adult film star herself spent days on the stand, testifying in sometimes graphic detail about the alleged affair and the money she received.

JEFFREY SWARTZ, FORMER MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COURT JUDGE: She did not bring out all that much except for to disprove the allegations that were made in the opening statement by the defense that the affair between Mr. Trump and Stormy Daniels never occurred.

TODD: Another key player on the stand, David Pecker, the powerful former publisher of the "National Enquirer". Pecker provided almost dizzying detail of the so-called catch and kill plants, saying he bought and buried a story on the alleged Trump affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal, an affair Trump also denies and testifying that he refused to buy Stormy Daniels story.

SWARTZ: He set the stage and created the conspiracy itself. He tied Mr. Trump to the conspiracy, at least as far as McDougal was concerned.

TODD: There was Keith Davidson, the ex-attorney for both Daniels and McDougal. Davidson testified that he sold the story of Daniels affair to Michael Cohen for $130,000.

Rhona Graff, Trump's assistant of 34 years with the Trump Organization, took the stand for the prosecution, but admitted in court she didn't want to be there. Graff spoke of how she kept Trump's schedule and his list of contacts.

SWARTZ: It showed that there were certain people that were on Mr. Trump's speed dial or on his contacts, which included McDougal and Stormy Daniels, that pecker was calling all the time and he was talking to pecker.

TODD: Hope Hicks, Trump's former campaign press secretary and White House communications director, cried when on the stand. She recalled the level of panic in the campaign when the Access Hollywood tape was revealed.

But analysts say the most important witness is one who may or may not testify.

MORENO: Putting Donald Trump on the stand, right, huge upside, huge downside, right? Lots of risk there.


TODD: The trial, of course, now focuses more towards Trump's lead defense attorney Todd Blanche, and the witnesses who we may or may not call to the stand maybe next week, and we'll, of course, have our eyes on whether Donald Trump takes the stand, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.

We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, Republicans are fuming over President Joe Biden's decision to claim executive privilege over audio tapes of his interview with the special counsel, Robert Hur, the prosecutor who investigated Biden's handling of classified information.

Let's bring in CNN's MJ Lee at the White House.

So, MJ, what's behind this move?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw today, Alex, was a major escalation in the ongoing fight between the White House and House Republicans over the audio recording of special counsel Robert Hur's interview with President Biden. The background here, of course, is that the special counsel investigated the president's handling of classified documents. That concluded back in February, and Hur, as you'll recall declined to bring criminal charges against the president.

But he did create a whole lot of controversy by suggesting at numerous points in his report that the problem -- that the president suffered from serious problem memory problems, which, of course, the White House wrote off as gratuitous and political in nature, and back in March, we did see the DOJ released the written transcript of that interview.

But House Republicans have been pushing for the release of the audio recording. They have been now threatening to pursue Merrick Garland, the attorney general, for being in contempt of Congress for not releasing that audio recording. And their argument has basically been that we need that audio recording to continue pursuing our impeachment investigation into the president.

Now, what we saw today was the House Judiciary Committee voting to advance that contempt resolution. The House Oversight Committee is also going to hold a vote tonight, and the House -- the White House's counsel said in a letter to House Republicans, the absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your likely goal -- to chop them up, distort them and use them for partisan political purposes -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. MJ Lee at the White House, thanks very much.

I'm Alex Marquardt here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.