Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Trump Trial Fireworks As Defense Witness Clashes With Judge; Michael Cohen Makes Bombshell Admission He Stole From Trump Org; Biden Slams Outrageous War Crimes Warrant For Israel's Netanyahu; Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi Killed In Helicopter Crash; Remembering CNN Political Commentator Alice Stewart. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 20, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now that the Dali has been removed, officials expect to reopen Baltimore's shipping channel by the end of this month.

You can follow me on Facebook, on Instagram, on Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, on the TikTok, @jaketapper. You can follow the show on X, @The leadcnn, if you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts. I will be back on air tomorrow morning for more coverage of that wild Trump trial.

The news continues on CNN with Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight in the Trump trial, fireworks in the courtroom as the defense begins presenting its case, calling a witness who was reprimanded by the judge for snide remarks and eye rolling. This after star prosecution witness Michael Cohn admitted on the stand to stealing from the Trump Organization.

Other breaking news this hour, the U.S. is denouncing the International Criminal Court as it seeks war crimes arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in addition to Hamas leaders. President Biden saying it's outrageous to suggest any equivalency between Israel and a terrorist group.

Plus, there's even more uncertainty in the volatile Middle East after the Iranian president's death in a helicopter crash that's raising concerns about a potentially very dangerous power struggle.

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 criminal trial is nearing its historic conclusion with new jolts of very high drama. We're following all the breaking news on Michael Cohen's final hours of very high stakes testimony, as well as the defense witness who prompted the judge to briefly clear the courtroom.

CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse for us in New York. Kara, take us through this dramatic day and how it wrapped up about an hour or so ago.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Donald Trump's team called two witnesses to the stand in his defense. One of those witnesses, a lawyer, Robert Costello, who had once advised Michael Cohen. He recounted to the jury that he met with Cohen just days after the FBI raided Cohen's apartment and other premises, and that Cohen had told him, I don't have anything on Donald Trump. But this became the point of contention, this back and forth, the questioning of this witness, Robert Costello.

Now, Donald Trump's legal team also tried to focus on Michael Cohen's credibility. That was the point of calling Costello. And it's also a point of why they were asking the judge at the end of the day to dismiss this case saying outside of the presence of the jury that Michael Cohen could not be trusted and the only way for the jury to get a conviction of Donald Trump would be if they believed him, coming after the historic day, the final witness in this case by the prosecution as they rested.


SCANNELL (voice over): after four weeks of testimony, prosecutors rested their case in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial just after their star witness, Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, concluded more than 17 hours of dramatic testimony over four days.

Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, intensely attack Cohen's credibility over multiple days, trying to paint him as a liar who's motivated by money.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I just want to get through this so that I can start my own life again.

SCANNELL: Blanche got Cohen to admit that he stole from the Trump Organization. Cohen confirmed he paid a tech company $20,000 instead of the $50,000 it was owed by Trump. But Cohen asked Trump to be repaid the full amount, which was double to cover taxes. Ultimately, Cohen admitted he kept around $60,000 for himself. Blanche asked, so you stole from the Trump Organization? Yes, sir, Cohen replied.

Cohen said he was angry about getting a low annual bonus. Earlier in the trial, Cohen told prosecutors he requested the full reimbursement because that's what was owed and I didn't feel Mr. Trump deserved the benefit of the difference. On Monday, Cohen admitted it was wrong to have taken the money.

Cohen defended his character during testimony to Congress in 2019.

COHEN: I understand. I have lied. But I am not a liar. And I have done bad things. But I am not a bad man.

SCANNELL: After cross-examination concluded, prosecutors tried to clean up some of the damage done to Cohen's credibility.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked about repayments Cohen received from Trump for the $130,000 in hush money he provided to adult film star Stormy Daniels, which is the crux of the case.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is why I'm here, because we called it a legal expense payment to a lawyer.

SCANNELL: Cohen testified that despite the 11 checks referring to a retainer agreement, he said no agreement existed because there was no legal work that I was to be paid for.


Prosecutors played an audio clip for the jury of Cohen talking about Trump to Daniels' lawyer, Keith Davidson, about the payment.

COHEN: And I can't even tell you how many times he said to me, you know, I hate the fact that we did it. And my comment to him was, but every person that you've spoken to told you it was the right move.

SCANNELL: After the prosecution rested, the defense started calling witnesses, including Robert Costello, who once served as a legal adviser to Cohen. Costello was visibly frustrated as the judge sustained several objections from the prosecution, audibly saying, geez, and rolling his eyes. Judge Merchan became so angry he briefly cleared the courtroom and addressed Costello.


SCANNELL (on camera): Now Costello will be on the witness stand again tomorrow and Trump's lawyers said at this point they don't anticipate calling any other witnesses, a clear sign that former President Donald Trump will not be testifying in his own defense.

Now, because of the holiday coming up and some time off, the judge said closing arguments in this case will be next Tuesday. Wolf?

BLITZER: Next Tuesday, indeed. Kara, stay with us. I also want to bring in our legal and political experts. Kara, I want to start the questioning with you though. Take us inside this heated moment between Judge Merchan and Robert Costello, the former legal adviser to Michael Cohen, as you noted. And that forced you and the rest of the press and the jury, for that matter, out of the courtroom. Tell us about that.

SCANNELL: Yes, Wolf. It was an extraordinary moment. Robert Costello was on the witness stand and Trump's lawyers were asking questions. The prosecutors had objected repeatedly and the judge was sustaining those objections. At that point, Costello was rolling his eyes and at one point he said, loud enough for us to hear, Jesus.

So, the judge excused the jury and then turned to Costello and then had said to him he wanted to talk to him about decorum in the courtroom, saying you don't give me a side eye and you don't roll your eyes when there's a witness on the stand. If you don't like my ruling, you don't say, geez, you don't say strike it. And he asked him, you know, do you understand me?

Costello had glared at the judge, causing Judge Merchan to say, are you staring me down? Then he said, clear the courtroom. So, the court security officers were then all shouting at the media and the public to get out of the courtroom. We were escorted out. We waited around outside the door and were brought back in.

Now, nothing was said after that moment about the exchange that happened once we were all removed from the courtroom, but the jury was called back in and the direct examination of Costello continued. So things continued after that as they were.

But certainly a dramatic moment with the judge throwing everyone out of the courtroom because he needed to speak with Costello.

BLITZER: Yes, very dramatic, indeed. Stand by, Kara. I want to bring in Elliot Williams. And, Elliot, you know, it was really interesting when you heard Judge Merchan's anger there at Costello. How risky of a move was it for the defense to call Costello to testify, perhaps the last witness for the defense?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, quite risky, and not a great idea for the defense if they didn't have a sense as to how this was how the witness was going to behave. Look, Wolf, there are jurors that don't personally like prosecutors or a particular prosecutor. There are jurors that don't particularly like a defense attorney. Believe it or not, there are jurors that didn't like me personally when I appeared in front of a court, as hard as that might be to believe. But you know what, I've never once talked to a juror, met a juror, that did not respect the judge in the courtroom.

They see a witness mouthing off to a judge and they almost take it personally because they regard -- they see the robe and regard the judge as a figure of authority. When you have a witness behaving that way, even if, even if the jurors did not know what they talked about what the judge and the lawyers talked about when the jury was sent out, they know that this was a scolding coming and it did not play well for the defense and they probably shouldn't have called him.

BLITZER: Let me get William Brennan to react to all of that. William, do you think that Todd Blanche, who's Trump's lawyer, defense lawyer in this case, was effective today? Would you have approached this case differently?

WILLIAM BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I really don't want to go down the rabbit hole of second guessing him, but from the cheap seats, Wolf, I wouldn't change a thing. This guy has knocked it out of the park. I mean, Mr. Blanche has knocked it out of the park.

For him to close today with this $60,000 client theft is a grand slam. And on the other issue, I agree with Elliot, most jurors, and in fact it's been uniform in my 35 years, look up to the judge, respect the judge, it's like a father figure, but in this case, having spent a lot of time in front of Judge Merchan myself, he's out of central casting. This is Spielberg's version of a judge. He's a very decent man. I mean, it was foolish for that witness to make it about himself. It's not about that witness. It's about the defendant and this case.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You know, Kara -- let me get Alyssa into this conversation. Alyssa, let me go to you. How do you think Donald Trump is feeling after today's very dramatic court events?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, I think we've been judging how he's feeling about how the day went by and how long he speaks afterward.


And he gave very lengthy, glowing remarks outside the courtroom, citing, you know, right wing figures who were praising him, but left wing ones as well.

And, listen, I think that the day went very well for him, the stunning moment of Michael Cohen admitting to essentially stealing money from the Trump Organization, but Donald Trump is so often his own worst enemy. And I think it was a huge misstep to bring forward Costello in this manner. I think it could have really hurt the defense but I think there was an audience of one that wanted it. I think Donald Trump wanted the chaos. He wanted someone to be outraged on his behalf.

So, really, it's going to ultimately be up to how that played in the courtroom and what the jurors see. Does his lack of credibility, you know, outweigh that of Michael Cohen's? It's really an open question at this point.

BLITZER: Kara, I want to dig deeper on that specific moment then. You were inside. You saw it firsthand unfold, Michael Cohen admitting to stealing some $60,000 from the Trump Organization. What was the reaction inside the room like?

SCANNELL: Well, the jury has been poker faced. So, they don't show anything. They've never reacted that I've seen, and I look at them repeatedly. They've never reacted to any of the testimony. But it was a moment when, on cross-examination, Trump's lawyer had asked Michael Cohen about these payments and this reimbursement, and getting Cohen to acknowledge that he didn't just keep the $30,000. Remember, this was a $50,000 payment. Cohen said he made $20,000. But he said he didn't just keep the 30,000. He had allowed the Trump Organization to double it for tax purposes, and so he ultimately stole $60,000.

Cohen agreed with that. He gave his explanation, saying that he was upset that his bonus was cut and he had done a lot of work for Donald Trump, including these Stormy Daniels payments, so that was the reason why he kept it. But he did acknowledge, as the defense has been trying to do, to show that Michael Cohen has lied at times, that he has stolen, in this case, from the Trump Organization and tried to undercut his credibility as someone that the jury can believe.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Elliot, the $60,000 that Cohen has now admitted to stealing from the Trump Organization, that $60,000 was from the hush money repayments at the very heart of this case. How much of an impact do you see that admission having on the jury?

WILLIAMS: Believe it or not, I don't think a ton, Wolf, because of the fact that the jury has already gotten plenty of evidence about credibility issues with this witness. And, you know there's evidence been submitted that he lied to the IRS and his family and so on, and he also lied to the Trump Organization. So, you know, given that so much of his testimony is corroborated by other evidence really what the jury chooses to believe about Michael Cohen isn't really going to change here.

You know, the best way I've seen this all explained from someone on this network earlier today, is that prosecutors are essentially building a house of bricks, and each brick is a piece of evidence. Now, you take some out, maybe the building will fall down but maybe it will not. And this certainly cast out further on his credibility, but it does not devastate the case in a way that, you know, some may think it might,

BLITZER: You know, William --

BRENNAN: I don't know what more he could do though, Elliot. I mean, perjury lying, lying to this jury, stealing from his client. You know in the world of attorney discipline, that's like first degree murder. Well, what the only thing he hasn't done is an animal sacrifice or a --

WILLIAMS: Or violent crime, no. But all I'm saying is at this point -- I think we're in agreement on this. At this point, the witness has virtually everything out of the textbook. I mean, convictions --

BRENNAN: The juice is out of the orange.

WILLIAMS: Yes, the juice is out of the orange. And at a certain point, they've added on another fact that does speak to his credibility, but does it change anything --

BRENNAN: It sounds like jury overkill (ph). It's true, Elliot is right.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stick around. Alyssa, the defense case, the defense's case is all about painting Michael Cohen as a liar and a cheat and even worse. But he was Trump's lawyer and fixer, what, for about ten years. How does that reflect on Trump?

GRIFFIN: That's what I think is really interesting in this, to the degree that the voting public is paying attention, is this is laid out that Donald Trump surrounded himself by very shady people. On top of Michael Cohen, a known perjurer, a convicted felon, he's also got someone from the Hell's Angels arriving with him in court today. It's sort of this Star Wars bar cast that he's showing up with.

And I'd also remind you, separate from this case, he has former White House advisers like Peter Navarro in jail right now. You've got Allen Weisselberg at Rikers. You've got others who've been indicted, like Mark Meadows, who are awaiting trial. I mean, for a man who prided himself in surrounding himself with the very best people, this has kind of been a master class in showing, in fact, he did not.

BLITZER: Yes, important points indeed. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, Michael Cohen's former attorney is standing by to join us live. We'll get his reaction to Cohen's admission under oath today that he stole money from the Trump Organization.

And later, CNN has an exclusive interview with the top prosecutor for the International Criminal Court on the decision to seek war crimes warrants for the leaders of Hamas and Israel, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.



BLITZER: Very intense and very dramatic day of breaking news in the Donald Trump hush money criminal trial, including the final round of testimony by former Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, Cohen admitting during cross examination that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from the Trump Organization.

Joining us now, Michael Cohen's former lawyer, Lanny Davis. Lanny, thanks for joining us. Did prosecutors give Cohen a free pass in not charging him for this theft, which he now acknowledges?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: I don't know what the facts are about the theft, and I don't think we've learned through enough testimony to determine whether he had criminal intent or not. I know something about what happened, and I'm not going to discuss it.

But it's interesting there's so much time spent by everyone, not just you, Wolf, as if it's Michael Cohen who's been indicted. Donald Trump has been indicted. And all the time is spent, the prosecutors have succeeded, as Donald Trump usually does, in changing the subject.


He's indicted, and the evidence in the case corroborates Michael Cohen. So, whatever attacks on his credibility, which are certainly justified for a prosecutor to present Cohen and for the defense to attack his credibility, I still point to actual evidence that the jury will be looking at, which shows that Donald Trump could be convicted, beyond a reasonable doubt, and it's up to the jury to overcome the presumption of innocence. But we're spending all of our time talking about Michael Cohen, who hasn't been indicted, and very little time talking about Donald Trump, who said he would testify.

BLITZER: But as you well know, Michael Cohen is the star witness for the prosecution.

DAVIS: Well, I agree that it's fair to criticize Michael Cohen as the star witness, but you have to add to the sentence. Is there corroborating evidence? And a judge in New York State, after the financial fraud civil charges by the attorney general found Michael Cohen to be truthful about the charges.

And so in this case, there are two issues the jury has to decide. And there's plenty of evidence besides Michael Cohen to corroborate. The first is, did Donald Trump have political motivation to wait to the very end of the campaign and pay Stormy Daniels $130,000? And we certainly have corroborating evidence of his political motivation. David Pecker said that. Hope Hicks said that, two friends of Trump.

And the second question is, did he think he was paying legal fees when he wrote Michael Cohen 12 $35,000 month checks, eight on his own signature, two with his son, and Mr. Weisselberg? Did he have any understanding that those checks were for legal fees or were they for reimbursements?

And we know from the Weisselberg handwriting, as I've said to you before, that document the jury is going to look at and say, wait a minute, this is about the math, stupid. He took $420,000 divided by 12 and got to $35,000 a month that he paid Michael Cohn. If the jury believes that he lied when he said they were legal fees and they were really reimbursements, it doesn't matter what kind of charges are played or attacked Michael Cohen has to take it. This is about evidence against the man who was indicted, and it will be up to the jury to decide.

BLITZER: The $60,000, though, that that he stole from the Trump Organization was part of the overall payment at issue in this whole case, the $420,000 reimbursement, which allegedly included covering the payments to Stormy Daniels. How problematic, Lanny, is that?

DAVIS: But you just proved my point. You notice in your sentence and in any sentence in the Weisselberg document, the word legal fees don't appear. You didn't mention legal fees. You did mention expenditures that he got reimbursed for, maybe improperly in that case, but that's all that was involved is $420,000 divided by 12, nothing about legal fees.

Now, if the jury decides that Trump lied when he called them legal fees, and he had --

BLITZER: Trump repeatedly, including today, called them all legal fees, which they weren't.

DAVIS: And if that is the jury's verdict, which I think, beyond a reasonable doubt, they can conclude, just looking at the Weisselberg document, it's a number divided by 12, has nothing to do with legal fees, they can convict beyond a reasonable doubt that he was defrauding the company by putting them down as legal fees and intending to lie about them, which is why we can say that he gave campaign contributions by paying off above the campaign finance limits, that's a crime, and that he lied about legal fees and that makes the felony into a misdemeanor.

Now, that's what the jury is going to do. What everybody talking heads and my comrades on the station do is to attack Michael Cohen, and that's their right, and maybe there's some justification. But the jury is going to be looking at actual evidence, not -- you know when a lawyer shouts you're a liar? Here's a big headline, that's not evidence. And yet, everybody was so astonished and it was so dramatic. Did you hear the lawyer yell, you're a liar? Excuse me. A lawyer's yelling isn't evidence.

So, I think the evidence here needs to be up to the jury and if the jury decides that beyond a reasonable doubt there isn't evidence, I respect that verdict.

BLITZER: Lanny Davis, thanks very much for joining us.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, global reactions coming in to an exclusive CNN report, the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What the White House is now saying and whether anyone could actually face charges. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is slamming the International Criminal Court after the body announced its seeking war crimes warrants for Israeli leaders, including the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president is saying there's no comparison between Israel and Hamas, which the ICC is also seeking warrants against. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We reject the ICC's application for arrest warrants against an Israeli leader. Whatever these warrants may imply, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. And it's clear Israel wants to do all it can to ensure civilian protection.

But let me be clear, contrary to allegations against Israel made by the International Court of Justice, what's happening is not genocide.


BLITZER: I want to bring in CNN's Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour. She's joining us live from The Hague in the Netherlands right now, as well as CNN's Kayla Tausche. She's over at the White House for us.

Christiane, you broke this news earlier today.


What did the ICC, the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor, tell you about the charges against Israel and Hamas?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, first of all, let's just say that there are two different trials. The president was referring to the International Court of Justice. This is not that. This had got nothing to do with the crime of genocide at the moment. They alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. They also said to me, the ICC, that this is about not putting the alleged perpetrators, either Israel or Hamas leaders, on in the same place or any equivalence. It's about putting victims in an equal place of equal rights for justice. So, their mandate, he said, is all about solely being focused on the victims. And this is the list of charges he has asked for arrest warrants. Here we go.


KARIM KHAN, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, ICC: Charges are extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape and sexual assault in detention. We'll apply for warrants for Prime Minister Netanyahu and also Minister of Defense Gallant for crimes of causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.


AMANPOUR: And so there you have it, this is what is the first step towards trying to actually make sure now that the panel, which has approved this first step, is then backed up by the pretrial panel of judges at the ICC to give the actual arrest warrants.

And then it's not clear what happens next because Israel is not a signatory. The ICC has absolutely no enforcement or apprehension methods. Israel is a democracy could, in fact, actually do this itself. But he tells me that, in fact, he's tried many times to get Israel to take up these issues, and he's never had the kind of meaningful cooperation from the Israeli judiciary or law enforcement that he had hoped for.

And, obviously, when I asked him about the Hamas leaders who were either under tunnels still in Gaza, or in the case of Ismail Haniyeh is involved in indirect negotiations with Israel, in order to try to work out this ceasefire and to release hostages, there was no feeling that at this time any members would be arrested at this time.

BLITZER: Kayla, you're over at the White House. What more can you tell us about the Biden administration's response?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Biden administration is focusing on what it calls the outrageous nature of this, again, focusing on its steadfast support of Israel and its self- defense and its security and essentially reiterating what many members of Congress and saying that it believes that the ICC, as Christiane was just noting, has no jurisdiction in this particular situation.

Now, there is an apparent discrepancy, because just today, the secretary of defense talked about how the U.S. was working with the ICC to document war crimes committed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. And I asked NSC spokesman John Kirby just to lay out exactly what he sees as the differences, what the administration sees as the differences between those two situations.

And he said, quite simply, it's one of intent, that it's Vladimir Putin stated strategy in Ukraine to target civilians and their infrastructure and to cause mass destruction there. Whereas in Gaza, he said there have been civilian casualties. There's no doubt about that. And any civilian death is too high. But he said that the IDF does not intend for those to happen, and those civilian deaths are inadvertent.

Now, notably, Wolf, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was in the region when this news broke. He was meeting with top Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Gallant, getting briefed on Israel's military strategy, reiterating the U.S.'s concern about a major incursion in Rafah. It's unclear exactly what type of support Sullivan committed to Gallant in those conversations and whether the U.S. would support a nascent effort by Republicans to issue their own sanctions against the ICC. Officials tell me they're just keeping in touch with lawmakers at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, thank you. Christiane, you pressed Khan on Israel's fierce opposition to this move. Here's what he told you. Let me play this clip.


KHAN: Look at the evidence. Look at the conduct. Look at the victims and airbrush out the nationality. And if a crime is being committed, we should move forward. Nobody is above the law. No people by dint of birth or passport, religion, nationality, or the kind of color of their skin have a get out of jail free card, have a free pass to say what the law doesn't apply to us.



BLITZER: Christiane, explain what he means by that and the reaction this is sparking in Israel and indeed beyond.

AMANPOUR: Well, look, I put to him all those reactions. I put to him an open letter that had been sent to him by members of, of the Senate, Republican members of the Senate, which, and I don't have it right now in front of me, but it paraphrased, basically said, you better not do this, you better not issue these warrants, we will sanction you, we will prevent you from coming to the United States. I mean, really quite stiff, and, and he believed that those were the definition of threats.

And he said, you know, there's a lot of politics going on. As he said, there are a lot of hotheads. But my mandate is the evidence. And the evidence has led us to this, backed by an independent panel of a wide ranging and diverse panel of international jurists.

And so he said, this is the first step. Maybe, who knows, it might not be agreed by the panel of judges. He believed it would be. But, again, I think in terms of intent, to go back to what was just said, they believe that there is an intent to cause starvation and, as you know, and to use it as a weapon of war, and as you know, the United States has told Israel to be careful about civilian casualties. So, even the United States is concerned about Israel staying within the boundaries of international rules of law and war. Wolf?

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thank you. Kayla Tausche at the White House, thanks to you as well. And just ahead, we'll get back to our coverage of Donald Trump's criminal trial. How Michael Cohen's admission of stealing from the Trump Organization is just his latest bad decision to go public.



BLITZER: We're back with our special coverage of Donald Trump's criminal trial. Michael Cohen's admission today that he stole from the Trump Organization was one of the final, very dramatic moments of his 17-plus hours of testimony.

I want to bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, this was another reminder for jurors out there that Trump's longtime fixer, as he was called, is no stranger to bad and potentially even criminal behavior.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's not a stranger to any of that, Wolf. Michael Cohen has a long track record of lies and misdeeds, some of which have sent him to jail. Many of those episodes have been examined during this trial, and the question now is whether the jury can still find him credible.


TODD (voice over): Donald Trump shook his head and smirked, according to CNN's reporters in the courtroom, when his former attorney, Michael Cohen, today admitted he'd stolen money from the Trump Organization. Trump's defense attorney, Todd Blanche, pinning Cohen down on how Cohen had once overbilled Trump's company for a reimbursement of money Cohen had paid to a tech firm.

You did steal from the Trump Organization based upon the expected reimbursement, Blanche asked. Yes, sir, Cohen said.

RON KUBY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The testimony that Michael Cohen pocketed for himself the difference between what he was given and what he paid was, was actually brought out in a very low key way by the prosecution on their direct examination. Obviously, Todd Blanche hammered it home much harder using the term, steal.

TODD: It's Cohen's latest admission to a growing pattern of misdeeds and lies.

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

TODD: In 2017, Cohen lied to Congress about a Trump Tower deal in Moscow that he'd been involved with. He later pleaded guilty to that. Two years after lying to lawmakers, Cohen came back to Congress and gave a Mea Culpa.

COHEN: I have lied but I am not a liar. And I have done bad things but I am not a bad man.

TODD: A few months before his dramatic turnaround before Congress, Cohen had pleaded guilty to eight counts, including campaign finance violations related to the Stormy Daniels hush money payments, and tax and bank fraud related to his taxi medallion business.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, TRUMP REVEALED: Michael Cohen's background was in the taxi industry. He bought and traded taxi medallions in New York City's very volatile taxi market.

TODD: Cohen was disbarred in 2019, and that same year went to jail for those campaign finance and fraud charges. Cohen claimed he'd committed all those misdeeds at the behest of Donald Trump, the boss who Cohen turned on in 2018, partly, a Trump biographer says, because of a smoldering grudge.

FISHER: Cohen resented the fact that he was not brought into the White House. Cohen became more and more resentful of the fact that he was being kept at an arm's length distance by Donald Trump.

TODD: But even his history of lies and misdeeds, one veteran attorney says, doesn't mean Michael Cohen can't be convincing to the jury.

KUBY: We all know bad people and even liars can tell the truth. All the prosecution has to say during their summation is, Yes, Michael Cone is a deeply flawed person. But you know what? We didn't pick Michael Cohen. Donald Trump picked Michael Cohen.


TODD (on camera): And Michael Cohen also testified today about how he stands to possibly benefit from his past misdeeds and from his testimony of the Trump trial. Cohen discussing on the stand how he's pitched a T.V. show called, The Fixer, how he's considering writing a third book and saying he's thought about a potential run for Congress, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, we're getting new details into the investigation into that helicopter crash that killed the president of Iran as the country sets a date for the election of a new leader.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, Iranian authorities are investigating yesterday's helicopter crash which killed the country's president and other government officials.

Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson has more.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iran in a state of morning commemorating the shocking death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. He was killed along with the foreign minister and seven other

officials and crew members, when their helicopter crashed in a remote mountain Sunday in the north of the country.

During the frantic hours when rescuers searched for the missing president, the most powerful figure in the Iranian political system, supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, declared the government stable and strong.

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER (through translator): Dear people, whether you are sitting here or well hear my speed to later do not worry. There will be no disruption in the country's work.

WATSON: Inside Iran, highly polarized reactions to the sudden death of the leader.

ARASH AZIZI, CONTRIBUTOR, THE ATLANTIC: Ebrahim Raisi has been a face of repression in Iran for a very long time. I'm not surprised that many will celebrate his demise.

WATSON: Raisi was a regime hardliner, sanctioned by the U.S. government for allegedly overseeing deadly crackdowns on Iranian protest movements, and the U.S. and rights groups say, he took part in an alleged death commission that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, which Raisi has never responded to.


ALI VAEZ, SENIOR ADVISER, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: I see more contiguity than change regardless of what happens next.

WATSON: According to the Iranian constitution, the little known vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, has now become interim president, paving the way for elections to be held within 50 days.

VAEZ: This is a system that has managed this kind of turmoil in the past. And so in the short run, it can serve suddenly manage choppy waters. But in the longer run, it's a system that is ideologically bankrupt.

WATSON: Messages of condolence are pouring in from longtime allies like Syria as well as Russia, which launches Iranian Shahid drones against cities in Ukraine. Also publicly mourning's Raisi's loss, Iranian-backed militant groups such as Yemen's Houthis, Hamas, and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Meanwhile, few tears likely to be shared by Iran, sworn enemy, Israel. The two countries long simmering shadow war exploded into direct tit for tat long-range strikes, just last month.

AZIZI: I don't think he was shift anything in the region or in terms of Iran's relationship with its neighbors, or neighboring power, that's because most of the power Iran lives with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who's still in power and he's the one who's calling all the shots.

WATSON: How the Islamic Republic deals with this deadly crash may set the stage for a much bigger future challenge, the question of succession for Ayatollah Khamenei, the country's 85 year-old supreme leader.

Ivan Watson, CNN.


BLITZER: Ivan Watson, thank you very much.

And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: Finally, tonight, we want to pay our respect and tribute to our very, very respected and beloved colleague we have lost unexpectedly and far too soon, CNN political commentator Alice Stewart. She died over the weekend, suffering and apparent medical emergency. She was 58 years old.

And as many of our viewers know, Alice was a veteran Republican political advisor who worked on several GOP presidential campaigns. She brought political savvy and straight talk to all her appearances here on CNN, including right here in THE SITUATION ROOM where she joined us this past Friday night discussing a House committee meeting that erupted an insults and chaos.


ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's childish behavior all around, and I think members of Congress are there to lead this country, legislate and get laws passed, and they're not there to provide, you know, real housewives of New Jersey kind of behavior on -- in Congress.


BLITZER: I want to bring in another friend and colleague of Alice, who, who knew are very, very well, worked with her often here on CNN, CNN political commentator, Maria Cardona.

Maria, this is so sad for all of us.

I know she was like a sister to you. You work together. You got a podcast together. How do you think she will be remembered? And what -- what do you think she would like us to remember about her?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, I just want to say thank you to the CNN family because everyone has just been so wonderful and really uplifting. The core of who Alice was, and she was anyone who came into contact with her knows this, one of the kindest, most generous, big hearted, smart, witty, funny people that you could ever, ever meet.

And I think that's exactly how she would want to be remembered. Wolf, when one met Alice, she didn't just get to know you as a person she got to know your soul. She got to know what you wanted in life, what made you happy. And at every opportunity that she got, she would try to make you happy, whether you like flowers. She would bring you flowers, whether you like pictures of puppies, you would send you pictures of puppies.

My daughter got to know her very well and was very close to her and her dear doggy Sammy. And I just found out yesterday, my daughter told me she's super -- my daughter super, super sad about this, that Alice would send her random pictures of Sammy during the day and I didn't know that I had no idea yeah, that they had made that connection, but that's who Alice was.

And for me and her, we really forged this unique friendship and connection and rapport about having these really in-depth, spirited conversations which he had many times on your show, Wolf, you know this for a fact, we wouldn't pull any punches about our own positions on whatever political issue of the day was. But we always did it with civility, with respect, with friendship, with warmth, many times she would start her sentences with well, my dear friend Maria, and I would start my sentences with well, you know, I love you, Alice, but, and that was real.

It was not for show, it was not for TV. We started a podcast together after CNN went dark, at the pandemic because we thought it important people who would see us on your show would reach out to us and say, and say you guys need to have your own show because the kinds of conversations you guys have are sorely needed. And so, that's why we started the podcast.

And that's how -- that's how she would want to be remembered that she was smart and she had, you know, incredible analysis, unique points of view, but that she brought heart and soul and spirit to her conversations into everything.

BLITZER: And I always saw that when the two of you were here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me and that was very, very often, as I said, just Friday night just before she died.

I want to play a little clip -- and I told you I was going to play this -- the two of you chatting just before the interview that I did with both of you here. Listen to this.


STEWART: Did you hear that, be concise.

CARDONA: Concise, Alice.

STEWART: Short, talk fast.

BLITZER: Be concise.

CARDONA: Be brilliant, Alice.


BLITZER: What goes through your mind seeing that? CARDONA: What goes through my mind is the connection that she and I had. That was funny and it was light, and she would tease me about going on way too long and filibustering so that she wouldn't get a chance to talk, and I would tease here about the same exact thing. But you saw that we just had this connection that was so special, and I am -- I am going to miss her dearly and she's going to leave a huge hole in my heart and I know in the heart parts of everyone here at CNN.

So I want to thank you and everyone here for everything that you're doing for her and the family does, too. They are overwhelmed and over their moon about how you all have treated her here.

BLITZER: She was really, really special woman and we loved her very much.

Maria, thank you very much.

And I'll give you a hug after the show.

CARDONA: Thanks.

BLITZER: Our deepest, deepest condolences to Alice Stewart's family. May she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.