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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Trump In New Interview: "Michael Cohen Is A Convicted Liar And He's Got No Credibility Whatsoever"; Second Day Of Testimony, Pecker Explains How He Worked With Cohen To Squash Unflattering Stories, "Help The Campaign"; Sen. Romney On Hush Money Trial. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 23, 2024 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Our special primetime coverage of the TRUMP HUSH MONEY TRIAL continues, 9 PM, here in New York.

Day six now in the books, a day that began minus the jury with a hearing on whether the former President should be held in contempt, for violating his gag order. No decision on that.

Then, more testimony from David Pecker, the former tabloid publisher, on his role, as eyes and ears and protector to Candidate Trump, from potentially embarrassing stories, which he would catch and kill.

And just a short time ago, we got some video from CNN affiliate, WPVI, of the former President, this morning, just before the gag order hearing, appearing to violate that gag order, by talking about prosecution witness, Michael Cohen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Michael Cohen is a convicted liar and he's got no credibility whatsoever. He was a lawyer. And you rely on your lawyers.


COOPER: Back now with the panel, including CNN's John Berman, who has been going through the trial transcript, which just came out, and has gleaned more details from it.

So John, what's the insight?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, again, this is the transcript. So, there's a lot to go through here. But it does provide more details, even some of the word choice that both the prosecutors and David Pecker uses.

This is where they talk about the August 2015 meeting, between Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, Hope Hicks is in there for a period of time, and David Pecker.

The prosecutor, Josh Steinglass asks, "Well, can you describe for the jury what happened at that meeting, please?"

Pecker responds, "At that meeting, Donald Trump and Michael, they asked me what I can do and what my magazine could do to help the campaign. So thinking about it, as I did previously, I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump, and I would publish negative stories about his opponents... I said I would be your eyes and ears because I know the Trump Organization had a very small staff."

And then, he went on to say, "I said that anything that I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen," over -- "I did over the last several years... I would notify Michael Cohen and then he would be able to have then kill in another magazine or have them not published or somebody would have to purchase them."

Steinglass asks, "Purchase the negative stories about Mr. Trump so that they would not get published, you mean?"

Pecker responds "That they would not get published, yes."

COOPER: And Jeff, what's the significance of that, do you think?

ARTHUR AIDALA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't know. I'm sorry. I'm not -- I know I'm not Jeff. But like, what's the crime, you know? OK. What's the crime, right?

OK, so fine. They're working hand-in-hand, to have some influence on an election. Here's -- we've been here for an hour, right? Here's what I would like to know. I still don't exactly know what the secondary crime is.

We heard that there's this misdemeanor, that only lives because the statute of limitations passed, only lives if there's a felony. My friends says that it's state election law. The professor says it's tax law. Many other people say it's federal election law. Anderson, that's why this case has me very upset.

And if it was Barack Obama sitting there, with these same charges, these same facts, I'd be saying the same exact thing.


AIDALA: For me, this is not about Donald Trump. It's about a United States citizen.

COOPER: You think it's a weak case?


AIDALA: It's the case. It's the facts of the case. The fact that learned counsel don't know exactly what the other charge is, is insane.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I agree that when that indictment came out, I think I was sitting right here, I said, OK, the other crime, they have to prove falsifying business records to commit an other crime, is unclear and a mess.

And it remains that way until now. Because even now, the prosecutor's saying, well, there was federal election crimes. There were state election crimes. There was tax crimes. I don't know where they're getting that from. They overpaid Michael Cohen, so he could pay his taxes.

But I think the primary theory here is that the other crime is a federal campaign finance violations. And the theory is they falsified these records. It was a $130,000 payment, a campaign donation, a campaign expenditure, way over the limits.

They falsified the records, rather than calling them, pay -- hush money payments, whatever might be an accurate accounting of it. They called it attorney fees, retainer. And so, there's the falsification. And that, by falsifying those records, it enabled them to essentially violate federal campaign finance laws. There's a lot of gray area. I agree it that -- but this issue--

AIDALA: I mean, you never tried a case, where there was any gray area? In your whole career, you never tried a case, when you were prosecuting another human being, where it was up in the air, or it wasn't in the indictment, what exactly you were charging them with?

HONIG: Every -- well hold on.

AIDALA: And that's what we're up right here.

HONIG: Every case I tried had gray area. The other ones pled out. I mean, that's why you have a trial.


AIDALA: No, no, no, not what the charges-- not what the elements of the crime are. When the judge, at the end of this trial, reads the jurors, here are the elements of the crime? You and I don't know what he's going to say, these felony that was committed.

HONIG: Yes. I think--

AIDALA: You don't know. I don't know. Jeffrey won't know.

TOOBIN: Well we do know.

HONIG: I think that's right. I think that's right.

TOOBIN: I mean, I think Elie gave a very coherent and apt summary of the case, which is not--

AIDALA: A possibility.

TOOBIN: --all that comp--

AIDALA: It's a possibility, though, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Not all that complicated. AIDALA: It's the -- it's not in the indictment.

TOOBIN: It is--

AIDALA: It is complicated. It is. He said he sat here when the indictment came out. He's the senior legal guy at CNN. And he's got a look at it, and he's not a 100 percent sure of what exactly the felony is--

TOOBIN: But the--

AIDALA: --that the President of the United States is charged with. That is not America. That's not the way we're supposed to be doing things here.

If you told me he took a bag of cash, he took a bribe, he extorted people? That's different.

Here, we are still figuring out, on the second day of testimony, after opening arguments, what is the second -- what is the felony? Is it federal election law? Is it state election law? Is it tax? We don't know. That's not the way the system works. You know that. He knows that. Us trial guys know that.

COOPER: Jeff, what is -- Jeff, what is your response to that?

TOOBIN: I think it is the -- the crime is -- the underlying crime is paying $150,000 to wit -- a $130,000 and then $150,000, way more than you're allowed to under either state or federal campaign law, and then lying to cover it up.

AIDALA: Well which one is it?

TOOBIN: Why is that so complicated?

AIDALA: Which one is it? Is it state or federal? You keep changing it to say--

TOOBIN: It's both.

AIDALA: No. But that's not how our system worked.

COOPER: So look--

AIDALA: OK. If you're committing a burglary, ends in?

TOOBIN: I mean--

AIDALA: If you're committing a burglary, to commit a crime therein, you have to tell the jury, what is the crime--

TOOBIN: I think--

COOPER: Let me ask if is--

AIDALA: --that you're going into the house to commit. COOPER: If it said on the line item, hush money, would that have been OK? Would that have negated it?

HONIG: No, because the amount's too much, because the amount's excessive. And I will -- maybe I can boil this down. I think yes -- because I want to hear more from Berman, from the trial.

I think it's going -- it's quite clear already, and it will be quite clear that one of the substantial motivations, behind all of this, was to try to impact the election. I don't have much rational question about that. We'll see.

BERMAN: And just to be clear. It may be that the prosecution does make clear, in the coming days, what crime they say they are highlighting here. What they seem to be doing is laying the groundwork here, to say this was a campaign meeting. "They asked me what I can do and what my magazine could do to help the campaign."

And the other thing that they establish, in this testimony, was that it was Michael Cohen, who called for this meeting. Let me just read you this. But we don't have a graphic then. I'll get you a part of the graphic.

How did this meeting come about? How did you know to go?

He says, Pecker says, I received a call from Michael Cohen, telling me the boss wanted to see me. And that's how, when I spoke to Michael Cohen, that's how he would refer to Donald Trump, as the boss.

COOPER: This is important about this being a campaign meeting. This is being about the campaign and protecting the campaign, because that is the argument, we have heard, from a lot of the former President's supporters, who say, look, he was concerned about his wife finding out, the embarrassment of that, didn't want to upset her. This was not -- there was no mention of that in this meeting.

BERMAN: I think--

COOPER: This was all about the campaign.


BERMAN: And Pecker -- and just once -- Pecker talks about that. Pecker talks about for a campaign, why this issue of women could be important.

Steinglass asks, "Can you explain to the jury how the topic of women in particular came up?"

Pecker says, "Well, in a presidential campaign I was the person that thought that there would be a number -- a lot of women come out to try to sell their stories because Mr. Trump was well-known," and the "most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful women. And it was clear that based on my past experience, that when someone is running for a public office like this... it is very common for these women to call up a magazine like the National Enquirer" and "try to sell their stories."

COOPER: And this was before -- this was before the -- the Access Hollywood tape.


COOPER: So the Access--


COOPER: The importance of the Access Hollywood tape, in this is that it's sort of, the drumbeat got much louder, about indiscretion.

COLLINS: Well it changed everything, because remember, Stormy Daniels was shopping around her story, and was essentially offering to sell it. And they argued that the price was too high, and said no, that they weren't interested. After the Access Hollywood tape came out, that changed everything.

Karen McDougal had a similar experience where initially, when you look at the reporting, the offer was quite low for her story. It was someone who had suggested hey, you should sell your story, that guy is running for president, you want to be the one to tell your story. And then, she came out with that.

Also, to speak to what this is all going to -- what these people at least believed it was about, David Pecker researched whether or not he was violating campaign finance laws, when they were making the payment to Karen McDougal, because obviously corporations also cannot donate that much money to a political candidate. So, he even thought that this was on the brink of violating a law.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And again, like, look, I think -- I can't speak to the legalities of whether it's state or federal.


But the way that the system also works in this country is that you can't just have people handing $130,000 to a candidate, or a corporation handing $130,000 to a candidate. That's not how the system works too, in order to protect the voter. I mean, there is an interest here in the voter. And if--

AIDALA: But they're covering -- you know, we call this hush money. That's what makes it sound fake -- it's a confidentiality agreement. They're happening all the time. They're happening right now, all over the place.

PHILLIP: If it's a confidentiality agreement, then it needs to be disclosed, if it's done for a campaign, like that, I think that's the -- that's the idea here. It's, call it whatever you want, hush money, confidentiality. But it's for a campaign. And there are rules around that. And clearly, David Pecker didn't really think that these--

AIDALA: You -- you'll--

PHILLIP: --were within the corners of the law here.

TOOBIN: And just to emphasize what Abby's saying. It's not -- it was not a legal fee, which is exactly--

AIDALA: OK. What--

TOOBIN: --what was on the records.

COOPER: Let me just--

TOOBIN: That's what this case is about.

COOPER: Let me just get one more thing from the transcript, and John.


COOPER: Because this is about not putting stuff in writing.

BERMAN: Well, it wasn't in writing. It was an agreement. Whatever it was, it was an agreement initially, and not in writing.

Here's a question from Josh Steinglass, the prosecutor. Were any of the agreements, the agreement to print the negative stories about the opponents, positive stories from Trump, or the agreement to notify Michael Cohen about potentially negative stories about Donald Trump, "Were any of those agreements put into writing?"

Pecker says, "No, they weren't put into writing, it was just an agreement among friends."

HONIG: Well, here's why that's significant. I mean, obviously, they didn't start using -- reducing things to writing until money got involved.

But to Abby's point, I think people may be wondering why is the Stormy Daniels' payment charged a crime, a state crime here, but not the Karen McDougal payment? The evidence of Karen McDougal will come into this case, because it's relevant as background. But it's not charged as a crime. And the reason is the state crime here is falsification of business records.

The allegation, as I said before, is that they did that with Stormy Daniels, because it was really a hush payment. But they called that attorney's fees. But they did not do that with Karen McDougal. It was structured separately. It was structured essentially as a catch-and- kill. There was no falsification. They paid her for the story, and then they killed it.


HONIG: And so, the state law doesn't quite apply here.

PHILLIP: And on top of that--

HONIG: Which is a point you were making before, yes.

PHILLIP: And on top of that, with Karen McDougal, there was discussion of the Trump -- Trump-world giving AMI basically back that money.

HONIG: Right.

PHILLIP: AMI didn't do that. And that's the next step that did not happen in that case, what makes it different from what happens going on.

COLLINS: And Rudy Giuliani is on television, in 2018, saying that Michael Cohen wasn't doing legal work for Donald Trump, when he was paid that amount of money.

It's higher than the $130,000. It's closer to $340,000. So, he didn't have to take a tax hit. And that is what Michael Cohen has made -- and $60,000 for his legal work, and for his troubles, because he drew down a home equity line to do this.

But Rudy Giuliani, who was still representing Trump, at the time, is on TV, saying Michael Cohen wasn't doing any legal work for Trump, when he got this payment. This is what they marked it as.

AIDALA: Yes, but Pecker says just the opposite today. He says he's getting all the phone calls from Cohen.

COLLINS: That was a different time. But that was -- that was during the campaign. And he's saying that when Michael Cohen was paid, which is when Trump was in the White House, and when they put that in the ledger, that he wasn't actually doing any legal services for Trump. He was doing this.

COOPER: Much more ahead, including more breaking news. The judge just handed the defense another setback. That, plus Devlin Barrett from The Washington Post, who was in court today. We'll be right back.



COOPER: Back to our continuing coverage of the TRUMP HUSH MONEY TRIAL.

I interviewed Stormy Daniels for "60 Minutes." I want to show you some of that interview.


COOPER: Was it hush money to stay silent?

STORMY DANIELS, PORNOGRAPHIC FILM ACTRESS & DIRECTOR: Yes. The story was coming out again. I was concerned for my family and their safety.

COOPER: I think some people watching this are going to doubt that you entered into this negotiation-- because you feared for your safety. They're going to think that you saw an opportunity.

DANIELS: I think the fact that I didn't even negotiate, I just quickly said yes to this very, you know, strict contract. And what most people will agree with me extremely low number. It's all the proof I need. COOPER: You feel like if you had wanted to go public, you could have gotten paid a lot of money to go public? And then you didn't (ph).

DANIELS: Without a doubt. I know for a fact. I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, in my heart, and some people argue that I don't have one of those, but whatever, that I was doing the right thing. I turned down a large payday, multiple times, because one, I didn't want to kiss and tell and be labeled all the things that I'm being labeled now.


COOPER: That's Stormy Daniels, from 2018.

More breaking news, tonight, just in. Judge Juan Merchan tonight, denying the former President's efforts to subpoena information, from Stormy Daniels, including her communications with other potential witnesses in the case.

Back now with the panel.

Also joining us is the Washington Post's Devlin Barrett, who was in the court today.

What stood out to you in, from what you saw today in court?

DEVLIN BARRETT, THE WASHINGTON POST: So, a lot of what David Pecker is talking about so far aren't really crimes. But they're sort of setting a -- setting a stage and setting a scene for this. He's kind of the tour guide to this case so far.

But the other thing that really stood out to me was, while none of this may be crimes, the person he's describing, Donald Trump, behaves like a jerk. And I think that can be really, really painful for a -- bad for a jury, because--

COOPER: That came out through Pecker's testimony today?

BARRETT: Right. I mean, you're describing a guy, who knows he has apparently when he's running for president, like one of his first, like, meetings he's got to have, or an important meeting he's got to have, is like, OK, how do we keep women quiet about telling stories about me? That's not great.

Jurors, I think, are especially attuned to who's likable in the room. And the stories David Pecker were telling were not stories about a likeable person.

COOPER: How does David Pecker come off on the stand to the jury, do you think?

BARRETT: Well, he is--

COOPER: I mean, what does he -- what's his--

BARRETT: --strangely cheerful and chipper through this process, like he laughs, sometimes very loudly, which, good for him, like, he's not the one on trial.

COOPER: Right.


BARRETT: But it is his longtime friend. They've been friends for decades.

He concedes very cheerfully, again, that Trump was very good for his business. He admitted, I needed Trump to sell magazines. And that's part of why he made this deal with Trump, during the 2016 campaign.

COOPER: I keep obsessing of--


COOPER: --what must be going through Donald Trump's mind, sitting there, behind this defense desk, watching his former sort of friend, who is a keeper of probably a lot more secrets about him than he has led on, what must be going through Donald Trump's mind. I mean.

COLLINS: The thing is, when Donald Trump became president, I mean, this was someone who had a lot of dirt on Donald Trump, and knew a lot about him, and had a lot of leverage on him. And obviously, David Pecker loved Donald Trump. We talked about Trump's style and what he was publishing.

He was someone who, when Trump first won the White House, before all of this became a thing, before AMI signed this non-prosecution agreement, which is probably why he's in such a good mood, sitting on the stand. David Pecker came to the White House. He was in the Oval Office. He got a tour of the Lincoln Bedroom.

COOPER: He was in the Trump Tower, when he came down the escalator, which I had not realized.

COLLINS: Yes, he was. Michael Cohen said, it's very important for you to be here. You've been such a good friend.

PHILLIP: But let's be honest. I mean, at this point, Trump is pretty used to people, who worked for him, who were friends with him, turning on him and saying that he's a bad person. I mean, this is actually happening more often than not, these days, for Donald Trump.

So, this is just one in a series of things that Donald Trump is, is being confronted by people, who were once very close to him, who kept a lot of his secrets, who knew him, who maybe idolized him at a certain point. Now, telling the world, not just the stuff that about Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, but just a mode of operating that suggests that Trump is kind of a shady character.

HONIG: Yes. And he should get used to that because it's going to get worse, as this trial goes, as certainly when Michael Cohen takes the stand, when Hope Hicks, if she takes the stand, if Kellyanne Conway takes the stand. I'm not so sure that's going to happen.


HONIG: But these are going to be people, who are really close to him.

And the problem for Donald Trump here is this is a structured environment. This is not the bare-knuckle political environment. There are -- he can't jump up and say things to this person's face. I mean, there's a gag order in place that he's violating.

The other thing that struck me today is isn't it jarring to be reminded of what Michael Cohen was, before he flipped? I mean, he flipped six years ago, right? It seems like not that long.


HONIG: But 2018. And we're being reminded that Michael Cohen was a no- holds-barred unapologetic. We hear this phrase, fixer. I mean, that's an understatement. He is a--

COLLINS: I mean, some of us don't need to be reminded.

TOOBIN: Yes. Yes. It was a--

PHILLIP: I was going to say those of who knew (ph) him.


HONIG: Well right. You guys knew him, yes.

PHILLIP: I know.

TOOBIN: My family still talks about being in a car, when Michael Cohen called me on the phone, and he was screaming at me so loud that they could hear, in the front seat, even though it was -- it was -- the phone was held to my ear. I mean, he was the--


TOOBIN: --he was the ultimate loyalist.

But Devlin, I thought with your point about, he doesn't seem like a nice person. It's worth remembering about Donald Trump, that a month before he was elected President of the United States, the Access Hollywood tape came out. Not a nice person, not a nice. And he still won.

So, all of this stuff about extramarital affairs, and -- he could still win this notwithstanding being a not a nice person.

BARRETT: Well, and remember when he -- when the -- a lot of the jurors walked in the room, their immediate reaction is a physical reaction to a celebrity. That is the first physical reaction.

But I think -- I do think, juries out -- juries always seem to really key in on who's a good person, and who's a bad person. And watching Trump go through the E. Jean Carroll trial, you could see a physical, physical, palpable dislike between that jury and him, as that trial went on. And watching it today, I thought this could be the start of that process repeating itself.

HONIG: Have you noticed--

AIDALA: Well--

HONIG: Have you noticed any reactions? Without -- without giving any specifics about the jurors, have you noticed any dynamic happening within the jury box?

BARRETT: I haven't except for this. They are some of the cagiest folks, I have seen on a jury panel, in a long time.

COOPER: In what way?

BARRETT: When they were asking questions -- well I'm -- apologies. When the lawyers were asking questions of the panelists, I have never seen jurors giving more practiced and careful and cautious answers. Some of the Trump lawyer questions, they just wouldn't answer. They literally would not answer them, because they felt like -- they clearly felt like it was a trap.

And I think the jurors are, you know, there's a lot of professionals in that panel. I think the jurors are fairly savvy, about how, you know, questions about bias, questions about what you think of this guy. I think the jury is very savvy about that. And I think they're being very guarded, as they start this process.

AIDALA: To Kaitlan's point about him being in a jovial mood. I mean, as in myself -- well let's see how he is in cross-examination.

I would stuff that right up their nose in my summation.

You see how happy he is? Yes, that's because he's the architect really -- not really the architect. But he's the executioner of this conspiracy. He's the one. He does it all. He decides what goes on the cover of the magazine, what doesn't go on the cover of magazine. They could have easily charged him with a conspiracy in this case. And not only don't they make him take a cooperation agreement, they give him full-blown immunity.


AIDALA: So, of course, he's skipping on the stand.

COOPER: But let me ask you. Isn't that all --

AIDALA: Happy and go-lucky.


COOPER: I mean, isn't that what prosecutors do all the time? I mean, that--


COOPER: --that between two thugs-- AIDALA: Only -- yes, when they have -- when they have--

COOPER: --they give one thug the deal.

AIDALA: When they have a weak case. When they have a weak case, when they need the cooperator. But if they have the documentation, when they have other witnesses who aren't culpable? Then no, they don't.

PHILLIP: Well, to Arthur's point though, just on the role--

AIDALA: Oh, so you do agree with me. It's--

PHILLIP: I mean, look, I'm just going to--

AIDALA: This is news alert.

PHILLIP: All I'm going to do is just raise the possibility.

AIDALA: OK. Thank you. I'll take what I can get at this point.

PHILLIP: Look, David Pecker, in a lot of these examples, he was the one who said you need to buy this story. You need to do this. You should get this off the market.

If I were Trump's defense attorneys, I would be like, well, Trump was pushed into this. He didn't really want to do it. He wanted David Pecker to help him by writing nice stories about him, and bad stories about his opponents. But Pecker was the one who, it seemed, in some of these cases, who was pushing the idea of paying money, for the stories, so that Trump could get it off the market.

COOPER: But isn't that his expertise, which is why he was in the room, which is what -- why Trump asked him to be in the room, in the first place to--

PHILLIP: I mean--

COOPER: --to have this meeting? That what can you do for?


COOPER: I mean, what Pecker's saying on the stand today was, which you pointed out earlier, which is what can you do for our campaign?

COLLINS: Can we actually--

COOPER: What can you do for our campaign?

COLLINS: So but -- and to take us back to that time, and what was happening, and the effect it had on the 2016 campaign, and looked -- what that looked like? I keep going back to the Senator Ted Cruz stories, and where there were stories about Marco Rubio and Ben Carson. But the Ted Cruz ones were especially egregious--


COLLINS: --to where he felt the need to come out and respond to them.

Trump was commenting publicly about it, in Fox interviews.

I think we have this moment where Ted Cruz had to come out on the campaign trail, and say that this story that was published in the National Enquirer wasn't true. And he got closer than anyone did until the Wall Street Journal, and everyone started reporting on this, that it was David Pecker and Donald Trump coordinating.

We don't have the moment. But he came out and he said--

COOPER: And teed it up. I was--


AIDALA: --me.


COOPER: --I was set.

PHILLIP: Yes. I hear that. Again--

TOOBIN: Tune in tomorrow.

PHILLIP: But again, I think -- I think that there's a distinction, between coordinating with David Pecker, over positive or negative stories, and the decision to pay to take stories out of the marketplace. I think that it is the payment here that is the most important part of the story.

HONIG: The decision to immunize David Pecker is going to be a difficult one, for the reasons that Arthur pointed out, because that was a decision made by the Feds, by the Southern District of New York, a few years ago.

When you're making that decision, you have to do a calculus, there's no science to it. You say, well, do we need this person's testimony? And is it worth giving him a free pass? And what are we going to get out of it? The decision was clearly made. We're more interested in building a case against higher-ups.

But there's some jury appeal to the argument that Arthur's articulating, right now, which is folks, how is this fair? The guy, who was running this, David Pecker, as you're describing it, the guy who was running this, gets a free pass. He waltzes in here, he testified, he waltzes on out, and they're trying to hang a felony conviction and lock up Donald Trump. How is that fair? How's that equity?

AIDALA: Well just--

TOOBIN: Well the -- well the--

AIDALA: So, either one of you, how hard is it to get full-blown immunity from the Feds? They don't hand that out like-- HONIG: It ain't easy. It ain't easy.


AIDALA: It ain't easy.

TOOBIN: But I think Elie was raising exactly what the defense will argue. I think there's a response to that, which is who benefited from this conspiracy. Who got elected--

AIDALA: Both. Both.

TOOBIN: --President of the United States?

AIDALA: Both of them.

TOOBIN: David Pecker was President of the United States?

AIDALA: No, but he sold them--


AIDALA: He had testified he sold a lot of magazines.

PHILLIP: Yes, and that--

AIDALA: He said, I made a lot of money, I needed him.

TOOBIN: But he didn't--

AIDALA: That was his testimony.

TOOBIN: But he didn't violate campaign finance laws. And--

AIDALA: We don't know if Trump did either.

COOPER: Well, they also said that there was no financial benefit for killing the story.

PHILLIP: Right. I mean, for the National Enquirer, it was -- it was better for them to take bad stories about Trump off the market. Maybe with the exception of the, a legend love child story that turned out to be false. I think Pecker was actually intrigued by the potential, if that were true, to run it, maybe after the election. But generally speaking, they didn't want to run negative stories about Trump.

COOPER: But they didn't want to run it, not because it wouldn't have been profitable, because Trump's stories sold. They didn't want to run it because--

PHILLIP: Because--

COOPER: --David Pecker didn't want them to run.

PHILLIP: And because positive -- it seems that the National Enquirer audience was positively inclined toward Trump. So, there is the kind of it's not just any--

COOPER: That's what the market was wanting.

PHILLIP: Not just any Trump story, but stories that aggrandized Trump worked well for their audience.

COOPER: Is that what you found when?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, it was -- I mean, they -- I saw the graphs that Trump -- and this was surprise to Pecker. When I was talking to him in 2017, he said, well, I wanted to help my friend. So we started -- we ran stories. But then we saw that they worked.

AIDALA: So he did get a benefit.


AIDALA: You just got to--

TOOBIN: He does.

AIDALA: --yourself, my dear friend.

COOPER: All right.

AIDALA: He said he didn't get a benefit. He did get a benefit.

COOPER: Devlin Barrett, thank you very much for joining us. We got to take a quick break.

Coming up next, with the former President still venting about the trial taking him off the campaign trail, the question is, is this all helping or hurting his candidacy. Answers on that end.



COOPER: And welcome back to Trump on trial here, with a team in New York, talking about the day's events in the courtroom, in Lower Manhattan.

Mitt Romney was asked about the trial today. Here's what he said.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I think everybody has made their own assessment of President Trump's character. And so far as I know, you don't pay someone $130,000 not to have sex with you.


COOPER: Mitt Romney, breaking out of the shell. He's -- I mean, he's just--

PHILLIP: Did he say the word, sex? COOPER: Yes. I guess so.

AIDALA: He did it in Utah.



AIDALA: He did it in Utah.

COOPER: He's on his way out and just keeping it real.

Doug Heye is joining us, a Republican strategist.

What are you hearing from people, in Republican circles? I mean, you hear Trump's allies, arguing he just wanted to make this story go away, to protect his family.


DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to protect his family, but also to protect his political campaign.

And what I hear often is it really depends on who you talk to. But of the Trump core base, none of this matters. It's all baked in for Donald Trump. And whatever happens, as we've learned is great and glorious for Donald Trump. Not exactly true.

The other thing I'm hearing is a lot of concern that if he is convicted on this, regardless of the fact that most Republicans feel that this is the most political of the cases against Donald Trump, that a convicted Donald Trump will struggle, to some extent, whether that's 1 percent or 4 percent, with voters in Pennsylvania and Arizona and North Carolina, and so forth. If he's convicted, it's a very real problem for him.

And then there's the operational part. Donald Trump is right. He can't go to all those states that he needs to, because he's going to be in a courtroom, during the week. So he'll be a weekend warrior, going to campaign rallies. But he can't do what Joe Biden is doing, during the weekdays.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, how much, even at the height of a campaign, or at this stage of the campaign, would he normally have been out doing rallies, in various places.

COLLINS: He hasn't been out a ton, since Super Tuesday. So he's--

COOPER: And he's doing like one or two a week, right?

COLLINS: At most. And so, his complaint that this is denying him an ability to be out there? It's constraining him. He can't physically plan a rally. He does have to actually be in the courtroom four days a week. But they didn't have a ton planned.

He did have a rally scheduled in Saturday, in North Carolina. It was canceled because of the weather.

But I think they're looking ahead to what this is going to look like, as he wants to do fundraisers. He needs to be raising money, to compete with what the Biden and the Democrats have raised. That has really been their sore point on this.

AIDALA: It's also psychologically though.

HEYE: And to Kaitlan's point?

AIDALA: When I sit next to a defendant, yes, I'm working, and I'm stressing out. But it's their life. Like, I know, I'm going out that door, no matter what happens. They may be going out the side door.

And it's all-encompassing. I don't care how, this is an E felony is the lowest. Nobody thinks Judge Merchan is putting him in jail.

But he's definitely not sitting there, thinking about strategy, thinking about fundraisers. I mean, maybe he drifts off every once in a while. But he's looking at this guy, David Pecker, right now, who he knows and, god knows you asked earlier, like what's running through his mind?


AIDALA: And it's going to take up four weeks of his life.

PHILLIP: Well look--


AIDALA: That could be occupied running for President.

TOOBIN: Can I ask you, how much do you think Republicans like the idea of how much emphasis Trump is putting on his martyrdom? It's like, they're after me. I mean, it seems like every time you see Trump publicly, he's complaining about the cases against him.

HEYE: Yes.

TOOBIN: Is that -- is that something that's motivating beyond his base? Is that effective?

HEYE: Yes, for the base, it is rallying cry, number one. Beyond that, as you start to get to voters, who are more concerned about think of the top 10 issues that we could talk about, this sort of distracts from that, and they don't like that.

And to Kaitlan's point, big -- big term in political campaigns, donor maintenance. Donald Trump is not able to do that now, whether it's at a lunch here in New York, or somewhere at Mar-a-Lago during the week, because he's in a courtroom. That's very important.

He's not going to do a ton of rallies at this point. But he should be doing more donor maintenance than he's able to. It's one of the reasons you're starting to hear people say, perhaps they may announce the vice presidential nominee early, so that that person can do some of that work.

PHILLIP: Here's the other part of this. 2015, 2016, in the minds of most American voters was eons ago. It was so long ago, most people don't care to remember any of this stuff. And this trial, day by day is unearthing all of these stories.

We were just talking about whether Trump sounds like a good person or a bad person. While it's reminding people that he had all these accusations against him, of infidelity and affairs, that he used tabloids, to smear his political opponents when he knew those stories were false.

All kinds of things are going to come up in this trial, whether he is convicted or not. Politically, that is a disaster for Donald Trump.


PHILLIP: Because he wants to run just on, maybe the first two years of his presidency. He's not going to be able to do that anymore.

Because from now until November, it's going to be a constant drumbeat of this case, of the other federal cases. That's going to be making the Democrats' case against Donald Trump that he is just a mess. He's a -- he's a bag of controversy rolled up into a former President.

HONIG: In my role as an amateur political pundit, I've tried to ask the question, who is this going to sway? Who's the outcome of this trial going to sway?

There's actually polling on this by Politico that showed that 36 percent of independents said a conviction would make them less likely to vote for Donald Trump. 9 percent said it would make them more likely. Not sure how that works. But even if you net that out, that's a lot of independents.

And it has to be -- I mean, I think everyone is sort of familiar with the story.

Interested in what you think, Doug.

It has to be people who just say, look, even if I might be inclined towards Donald Trump, being a convicted felon is too much baggage to put someone in the White House.

HEYE: Yes, I remember the day after the Access Hollywood tape, that morning, I was at a political campaign event, for Richard Burr, in North Carolina, in Raleigh. And that's the base, who shows up at a political rally, on a rainy Saturday morning. They wanted to make sure that Burr was standing by Trump, whether he approved of what Donald Trump had said or done, what have you. But that's the base.

If you're one of those voters that doesn't like Donald Trump, and doesn't like Joe Biden, this does not help Donald Trump.


PHILLIP: Chaos is not good for Donald Trump. I mean it's just not.

Going into the 2020 election, one of the big things that voters really disliked about Trump was just the fact that everything around him was always controversial. It was loud. He -- his political opponents, even in this Republican primary, argued that he's not a good role model.

I can't think of another case that more exemplifies this idea that Trump as a person may not be the type of character that you want as president. That is just a narrative that is not positive for him. Putting aside whether or not the jury comes back with a guilty verdict, or not.

COOPER: Kaitlan mentioned this Ted Cruz sound.


COOPER: A while ago.

COLLINS: I don't remember that.

COOPER: That we didn't have. But we do have it now.

But I think it's worth showing, because I hadn't actually seen it before. But he is pointing out the relationship. This is when the National Enquirer had put Cruz's father on the cover, and in a story that was completely made up, which David Pecker admitted on the stand today.

Here's Ted Cruz talking about the relationship between Donald Trump and David Pecker.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The CEO of the National Enquirer is an individual named David Pecker. Well, David is good friends with Donald Trump. They have a friendship that goes back for many years. In fact, the National Enquirer has endorsed Donald Trump, has said he must be president.

TRUMP: I had nothing to do with the National Enquirer story. And frankly, I hope it's not true, because it's pretty bad.


COLLINS: So, Ted Cruz got one thing wrong, in the extended version of those comments, which was he implied it was Roger Stone, who was acting as the emissary with David Pecker and Donald Trump.

Obviously, as we now know, and we'll hear from him on the witness stand, it was Michael Cohen, who was doing all of this.

But what Ted Cruz got closer to than really anyone did at that time was that relationship between the two of them. And then, it was not a known entity, a known quantity, like it is now, like we saw the details coming out.

And you saw Donald Trump also doing other interviews, about the claim that Ted Cruz's father was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Trump would go on TV and say, well, the National Enquirer has gotten other things right, you know? Would point to John Edwards. And he'd say, well, they haven't denied it, you know? Even though there were these strenuous denials from Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

And it's just remarkable also, given Marco Rubio today was asked about this, and kind of mocked the National Enquirer, even though he's someone who's on Trump's VP shortlist, right now. And you see the impact that David Pecker saying, yes, when Marco Rubio was surging in the polls, we were putting out negative stories about him.


AIDALA: I was thinking about what you said about the Politico poll, and 9 percent of people saying they'd be more likely to vote for Trump if he got convicted. I'm trying to think all right, what would that be?

I think that would only be -- and I think the prosecutor said in the courtroom today about these violations of the gag order. We're not asking for jail. We don't want jail. And I think they said because that's what he wants. He wants us to put him in jail.

Because I think, you know, I think people would say wait a minute, on an E felony--


AIDALA: --and a violation of a gag order, you're putting him in jail?

PHILLIP: I mean--

AIDALA: That's not good.


TOOBIN: They just talk about that (ph).

PHILLIP: I don't think any voters are calling it an E felony.


PHILLIP: But I get -- I take your point.

COOPER: Doug Heye, thank you for being with us.

HEYE: Thank you.

COOPER: Still ahead. Today's gag order hearing did not go well for Donald Trump. We'll talk to a retired judge, who's known Judge Juan Merchan, for more than a decade, on how she expects him to rule.


[21:47:38] COOPER: We mentioned at the top, Donald Trump continues to attack Michael Cohen, calling him a liar with no credibility, in a new interview, released tonight, despite the gag order barring him from attacking witnesses, in the New York criminal trial.

It's far from the first time that Trump has publicly targeted Cohen, or any of his other perceived enemies.


TRUMP: Deranged Jack Smith, have you ever heard of him?

Jack Smith, the deranged one, I call him.

This judge is a lunatic. And if you've ever watched him. And the Attorney General may be worse, maybe worse. You ever watch her? I will get Donald Trump.

And the Attorney General is a total -- she's a corrupt person. A terrible person, driving people out of New York.

Letitia James, the corrupt Attorney General of New York.

You have a racist Attorney General.

I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family.

What else can you expect from a Trump-hating Clinton-appointed judge?


COOPER: Joining us is Judge -- excuse me, Judge Jill Konviser, a former New York State Supreme Court Justice, who has known the judge, overseeing this case, Judge Juan Merchan, for more than 15 years.

Judge, welcome.

Do you expect him, do you think, to rule on the gag order soon?

JILL KONVISER, FORMER NY STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE, RETIRED JUDGE: I think he probably will. I think it is typical of Judge Merchan to take his time and be thoughtful about the process and dot T's -- and dot I's and cross T's and get it right.

I've said on this show before. I think that the gag order is a challenge for the judge, because he does want to get through the process.

And of course, fining Donald Trump a few thousand dollars doesn't mean that much. Jailing him, well, he could. He has that. He is within his rights do that for 30 days. The legislature hasn't given a whole lot -- a whole lot of tools.

But at the end of the day, it appears that Donald Trump is baiting this judge, and perhaps wants that, so that his constituents will be appalled, and up in arms, and he loves that riotous context. COOPER: Want to ask you about the moment in court today, where the judge told Todd Blanche that he's losing credibility with the court.

I mean, you've been on the bench a long time. What did -- how did you read that moment?

KONVISER: That moment was I think Judge Merchan telling him, your argument is just not making any sense. And I'm hearing you. I'm listening. And give me a good argument. Help me through this. But you're not doing that. You're losing your credibility, Counsel.

COLLINS: And it was remarkable because it was -- the prosecutors had gone through each of where they say these violations happened, and essentially, were saying this post, this post, this comment.


And the judge was asking Todd Blanche, well, if you're saying that he's just defending himself, point to that moment.

And I read that the transcript, Todd Blanche never points to a specific moment. And that really has seemed where things kind of careened off the rails, for Todd Blanche.

HONIG: There are hearings as a lawyer that go well, and there's hearings that are so slow, and there's hearings that are bad. This was a debacle for Todd Blanche. I mean, it was embarrassing for him.

And to hear the judge openly say, you're costing yourself credibility? I mean, here's how bad it got. This is the quote that I remember.

At one point -- so remember, Donald Trump reposted this quote, from a Fox News personality. But it turned out that Donald Trump had manipulated it.

The judge asked Todd Blanche. And Todd Blanche had to say this in court. Quote, "I wouldn't use the word manipulation, Your Honor. But the rest of the quote was not part of the quote." I mean, that is the definition of manipulation.

So, this was -- let me just tell you one thing. Todd Blanche has gone through a little bit of cultural shock here. Because like me, he came up as a prosecutor, a federal prosecutor. You guys know, nobody is as cushioned as a federal prosecutor.

And now, he's got to deal with something he never had to deal with as a federal prosecutor, which is a client, and probably the world's most difficult client, whispering in his ear and passing him notes the whole time. So, it's a tough road. But he lost a lot today.

TOOBIN: But isn't the real message of Merchan's upset today, it's really at Trump. It's not at his lawyer.

HONIG: Oh, sure, yes.

TOOBIN: I mean, it's -- the person who put the lawyer in this impossible position of defending the indefensible, is the client.


TOOBIN: Not the lawyer.

And judge, I wanted to just ask you, what would you do? OK, you're the judge. What -- you've got someone, of violating a gag order repeatedly. What do you do?

KONVISER: Look, this is a unique situation, right? So, I have had to deal with gag orders. I have had to deal with unruly lawyers and unruly clients of lawyers. This is unique to some extent.

What would I do? I would not put him in jail. I think that's what he's looking for, at this point. At some point, maybe, maybe you have to. I don't think we're there yet. You fine him. You let him know, this cannot go on. And if it does, there's going to be additional punishment. Again, back to the legislature, where there's not a whole lot of room. But yes, you fine him. He complains about it. And you move on.

The point is, this judge has a responsibility to ensure the fairness of the proceeding. And that is why the gag order laws are in place, not necessarily to punish, but to maintain order. And that is what Judge Merchan has done with some grace, in this case, in the face of an extremely difficult defendant--

COOPER: But it--

KONVISER: --and attorney.

COOPER: It also seems clear he doesn't want this thing to go off the rails. He wants this to keep moving. I mean, the trial has begun. It's well into it. He wants it to keep moving forward. He doesn't want this to -- this kind of stuff.

AIDALA: No. And if I can, just defend Todd Blanche? I mean, any of us who've tried cases, it's you're in the heat of the moment, this is one little piece of what happened today. You do the best you can, under that pressure. The whole world is watching this guy.

And I think you're right. I don't -- you know, he's not an -- I'm not saying bad about him. He's not some veteran criminal defense attorney. He hasn't tried 30 criminal trials, as a defense attorney. I don't know what he did in the prosecutor's office.

But what you're saying about a judge, in the Southern District of New York. They, you know, they're almost like having another prosecutor, in the room, and they take very good care of that. They are prosecutors. And this is culture shock.

HONIG: That's true. That's true.

AIDALA: It is culture shock.

COOPER: Well let me ask you, as a defense attorney, if you have the client from hell, who's passing you notes, to things, they know everything, and, you know? What do you -- how do you do that -- how do you deal with that?

AIDALA: Well there's some language that I can't use, because of the FCC rules and things like that. And you just tell them, look, bro, this is your life on the line. I've been doing this for 32 years. You haven't been doing this for five minutes. So, you're going to let me do my job and defend you, or just get someone else. Because -- just chill, bro. You got to just chill and let me do my thing.

COLLINS: But Donald Trump--


AIDALA: I mean, even if he was the President of the United States.

COLLINS: Donald Trump, you said, get someone else. That's what he would just do. Donald Trump thinks he's the best--

AIDALA: No, no, but he can't get someone else right now.

COLLINS: He thinks he--

AIDALA: The judge won't -- the judge won't let him.

COOPER: Donald Trump can also--

COLLINS: Donald Trump thinks he is the best attorney. He thinks he is--


COOPER: He can also say, I've been doing this, for 70-something years.

AIDALA: Yes, but yes, but he doesn't know--


AIDALA: He doesn't know -- he doesn't know the rules.



AIDALA: And I think you mentioned about having a sidebar. There are times, when you're like -- and that's why the relationship between the defense and the judge is so important.

There are times when you have a sidebar, which means no one could hear, not the media, no one, it's off the record. And you're like, judge, I'm in a tough situation here. And here's the key words. Just let me make my record. And I'll back off.

COLLINS: But it reminded me of when--

AIDALA: And you just go up and you make these things you got to say. COLLINS: It reminded me, and probably you too, Abby, of the White House press secretaries, always having to defend Trump's tweets, and suss them out, and here's what he meant and repost -- or retweets were not endorsements. I mean, it was this cycle that every press secretary went through. Sean Spicer said they were official White House statements.


But what's different about this, and what's different for this? And sure, maybe Todd Blanche doesn't have experience doing this. Well, he's doing it now. And he's representing the former President, in the first criminal trial ever. And what we're seeing that's different about this is Donald Trump's words are being used against him. He's being held accountable for them, in a way that he's never been before.

PHILLIP: Although I do wonder, I mean what is ultimately the impact of Trump violating this gag order, on the actual case?

This is what Trump is calculating is that he might be irritating the judge. He might be annoying his attorneys. But when it comes to the jury, they're looking at the evidence. And he gets to influence the public. But it doesn't really affect the case, because the judge is not going to put him in prison. And until he -- I mean, until that happens, nothing is going to happen.

COOPER: I'll just leave it there. I want to thank everybody.

Our special primetime coverage of the Trump trial continues next.



PHILLIP: Donald Trump essentially dares a judge to fine him or send him straight to jail.

This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT, the TRUMP HUSH MONEY TRIAL.

Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip.

COLLINS: And I'm Kaitlan Collins. We are here in New York.

And today, you saw a tabloid king, who was all too willing to do Donald Trump's bidding, giving an unvarnished view of the former President of the United States. I'm talking about David Pecker, the former National Enquirer boss, who outlined.