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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Judge Finds Trump In Contempt For 10th Time Over Gag Order, Faces $1,000 Fine; Prosecutors Grill Trump Org. Employees About Alleged Scheme To Disguise Hush Money Payments; Apparent Gunfire Heard On Egyptian Side Of Rafah Crossing. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 06, 2024 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Coming up, on 9 PM, here in New York, we're continuing to monitor developments, out of the Middle East, where we're learning more about the ceasefire proposal that Hamas accepted, and Israel rejected today.

And Israeli strikes on southern Gaza, arising new questions about whether these limited operations will grow into a full-fledged invasion of Rafah, which the Biden administration has been warning against, for weeks.

We begin the hour, right now, day 12 in the Trump hush money trial. The judge's second contempt finding, against the former President, today, and his warning that a third could mean jail time.

That and prosecutors calling two longtime Trump employees, as they try to show exactly how Michael Cohen was repaid, by Trump's trust and personal accounts in 2017, after he paid hush money to Stormy Daniels.

Back with the panel.

Joining us as well is Harry Litman, who was in court today. He's an L.A. Times Legal Affairs Columnist, host of the "Talking Feds" podcast, and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

I'm wondering what you observed, as Judge Merchan warned Trump about potential jail time.


We've been having different judges in different courts kind of wag their fingers. But he looked directly at Trump, soft-spoken, but very firm, Mr. Trump, you are out of rope. And it was really the sort of statement we've been waiting for, for a year. Next time, you're done.

And it's sensible in a way because with only $1,000 to work with for other violations, why should he diddle around. But he said, next time, that's it. And he really means it. His credibility would be on the line as well as the integrity of the judicial system. It was a dramatic moment. COOPER: Jeff made the point in the last hour, which I think is very correct, that Trump actually has been abiding by the gag order, since the violations, which he's now been punished for.

LITMAN: I think that's right.


LITMAN: And he seemed sort of sullen at it, angry. And he has been at least trying to skate around it. And now, we're talking about jail. There's a lot of discussion, would he like it quixotically, for political reasons. But jail, not fun for, you know, just imagine the sort of no hairdressers, and the whole.

TOOBIN: Harry, did he say--


TOOBIN: --did he say, next time, is it? Or did he imply that?

LITMAN: Somewhere in between. So, what he said is necessary and appropriate, which of course you say. But what was really striking about it was the direct address to Trump. I haven't heard that before. And we've been waiting. He really said, next time.

ARTHUR AIDALA, ATTORNEY: But it's like a borderline of a directive and begging, like he's--

LITMAN: Sure. Because--


AIDALA: As I said earlier--

LITMAN: So, yes.

AIDALA: --I think he did a great job, the judge. He's like, don't do this, like, I don't want to do this.

LITMAN: Right, yes.

AIDALA: Like, don't make me do this. Don't put me in this position.

COOPER: Yes, let's--

LITMAN: It's up to Trump.

COOPER: --let's put up the transcript, if we have.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes, I have it right here, actually.



COLLINS: Because he said this is a last-resort measure for him. LITMAN: Yes.

COLLINS: That he does not want to have to do this, which I think is important to emphasize. Because I'm sure Trump's allies have been taking the judge, and saying he's being treated unfairly.

He said, you're the former President of the United States, possibly the next as well. He said, there are many reasons why incarceration is truly a last resort for me. And he said, to take that step would, one, disrupt these proceedings, which I imagine you want to end as quickly as possible, speaking directly to Trump.

He said, I also worry about the people, who would have to execute that sanction, the court officers, the correction officers, the Secret Service detail, among others.

LITMAN: Right.

COLLINS: He basically is talking about how involved it would be to actually take this action.

But I think the other thing to remember, when it comes to last resort, Trump has violated this 10 times. I mean, would any other defendant be able to violate a gag order, 10 times?

LITMAN: Certainly not. They were not going--

AIDALA: On an -- on an E--

LITMAN: This one doesn't go to 11.

AIDALA: Yes, but on an E felony--


AIDALA: --which is the lowest felony.

LITMAN: Right.

AIDALA: For a man who's 77-years-old, who's never been in trouble in his life. Take out the whole prejudice.

COLLINS: He's not just an average 77-year-old. He has a huge platform, though, to go after these witnesses, and to talk about these jurors. That's exactly why he is being found--

AIDALA: Right.

COLLINS: --in contempt of this.

AIDALA: So, Kaitlan, you brought up a point, though.


AIDALA: And I think a lot of the -- even the future, the present and the future, it depends on the degree of violation. So, if tomorrow he comes out there and says, someone should take out Michael Cohen? I think Donald Trump will be put in jail immediately.

If he says, I still don't feel like I'm getting a fair trial from these jurors? I don't know if the judge would say yes, it's a violation, but I'm not putting you in jail for that.

LITMAN: I said that's--

AIDALA: So, I think it's a matter of degree.

LITMAN: --that's what I disagree about. I think there's no more room to say violation, but you're OK. He might -- he might really try to keep from finding a violation. But if he does--


LITMAN: --I think no more room, yes.

PHILLIP: But I do think that the -- what he did today, in addition to the comments, there were four things on his desk that could potentially be violations. He didn't say that all of them were.

LITMAN: Right.

PHILLIP: And some of them involved comments about witnesses, like Michael Cohen.

LITMAN: Right.

PHILLIP: And others. And so, I think the judge, actually by doing both things, at the same time, was basically saying, look, there are lines here. I think the jury is aligned, for him and rightfully so.


PHILLIP: I mean, the jury is, they're regular people. Trump maligning them, to Kaitlan's point, on his massive platform, is a huge problem. We know that there are consequences of that.

But the judge seemed to, at least in this latest tranche, say, OK, well, him calling a witness, nice. That doesn't quite count. He's drawing some lines there.

LITMAN: Right.

PHILLIP: And saying that there are degrees to this, and he's not willing to just say everything, in this category is a violation when it may not be.


COOPER: Harry -- sorry.

HONIG: There are other costs to Donald Trump here, real costs, to irritating the judge, to pushing the judge's patience. [21:05:00]

Number one, if Donald Trump gets convicted, this is the guy who's sentencing him. Let's keep that in mind. And the sentence here will be, of course, up to the judge. And this will be a close call.

I mean if you look at Class E felonies, the lowest level of felony, most of them result in probation and fines, not prison time. But some do. And the judge would be well within his rights, to say, I'm going to take into account the fact that you violated my order, 10 times.

The second cost, his team is, his lawyers are flying blind here. They don't know who's coming tomorrow. Because, they asked for that. They said, Judge, we'd like to know. At one point, Todd Blanche said, I promise you, I will prevent him from tweeting. And the judge says, I don't think you can make that promise.

And so normally, a defense lawyer would certainly know the night before, who's coming tomorrow. Instead, they don't know if they're going to be cross-examining Stormy Daniels.

COOPER: It's interesting that his tweeting has actually hurt his case, in that sense.

HONIG: Yes. Yes, in tangible ways.


HONIG: So maybe he's taking that. And look, if he's self-interested, which he is? I don't know if he's rational. But he's self-interested, he should be taking that into account.

COLLINS: I don't think they're finding out the day of. But they're finding out very close.

HONIG: Right.

COLLINS: They were complaining that they found out very late yesterday, who the first witness would be today. They said the same thing about David Pecker, when he first testified.


COLLINS: That they are getting a pretty -- they say it's too short of a notice.

TOOBIN: Yes, well just so we're clear. They know the universe of potential witnesses.

HONIG: Right.

COLLINS: Absolutely.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: The government is required by law to produce the universe. So, they're not picking names out of hats. But the order in which they're called is as a courtesy--



TOOBIN: --is usually provided.

LITMAN: But that's a big difference.

TOOBIN: And that's -- and that--

LITMAN: For having to prepare for anyone or knowing who comes (ph).

COOPER: But let's talk about some of the evidence today.


COOPER: Because you were, Harry, you were very struck--


COOPER: --I heard you say, by the Allen Weisselberg notes.


COOPER: --on a document.

Let's put the document up. We showed this in the last hour. Why was this such an important piece of evidence?

LITMAN: Two reasons, I think.

So the first is it exactly corroborates what Cohen has been saying, for years, including in front of Congress, all the way down to the actual kind of calculation. How do you get from 130 to 420. The other thing is--

COOPER: So, the idea that this was a scam, Michael Cohen was executing, on Donald Trump, jacking up this price, and Trump didn't know of it--

LITMAN: Right.

COOPER: --this shows at least that Allen Weisselberg was working out exactly what the figure would be.

LITMAN: That's the second point. It obliterates any argument, which you could have had, after say, Hope Hicks, that this was somehow Cohen acting on his own. This is Weisselberg above him. And they are doing it together. All you can now say, it's I think always useful to think about what they--

AIDALA: But they--

COOPER: But if Weisselberg--

LITMAN: --what they'll be able to say in summation.

COOPER: I mean--


COOPER: --for anybody knows who Allen Weisselberg is, if Weisselberg is doing it, it means it's being done with Trump's approval.

LITMAN: The only sliver is somehow he's a free agent like--

COOPER: The jury doesn't necessarily--


COOPER: But will the jury believe that? I mean without Allen Weisselberg testifying, who convinces the jury?

LITMAN: That's a really important point. I think it's the one thing, the one hole in what's otherwise 360-degree coverage, of what Cohen has to say, is this conversation.

But you need a reason. There's no count -- you know, how could Weisselberg and Cohen somehow be freelancing in this sense, when everything we've heard about Trump is what a micromanager he is, and the likes. But at least it says no more argument that is Cohen on his own, as Hope Hicks sort of suggested.

AIDALA: A simple--

LITMAN: I'm sorry.

AIDALA: No, it's a question I have.


AIDALA: Did they explain what that $50,000 tech service is?


AIDALA: I mean, it's a big number.

LITMAN: It is. And well, what Cohen has said is it's a separate payment, for some kind of technology kind of service that he had done before. Some people are whispering maybe it's another kind of campaign thing. But I think it's just another payment he made a few months previously.


HONIG: There's also a $60,000, quote-unquote, bonus.

AIDALA: Well that's a legal--


TOOBIN: Michael Cohen-- AIDALA: That's a legal fee.

HONIG: It's a bonus.


HONIG: No, right, that's what they call it.


AIDALA: I'm just curious--



AIDALA: --what that 50 grand is, because that's a big number for technology services--

LITMAN: It is.

AIDALA: --when the pay-off, the hush money pay-off is $130,000. And then you have this other 50 on top of it.

LITMAN: Doubled, right.

AIDALA: You got to like--

LITMAN: The 50 is doubled also.

AIDALA: You got to make that all confusing for those jurors.

TOOBIN: But remember, you also had a witness, today, who said that Donald Trump is perfectly capable, and sometimes did not sign checks.


TOOBIN: So, he obviously could have said, to all the -- and it wasn't just one check. It was -- it was, I think, a 11 different checks, reimbursing Cohen.


TOOBIN: He could have said, what is this? Why am I paying this?

LITMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: That document answers the question of why he was paying.

LITMAN: It is. Although remember also, earlier on, Cohen complaints to Pecker, he's not paying me. Something kind of happened that made Trump so compliant here, and the version will come with Cohen.

COLLINS: And also the question of why was it not a one-for-one payoff? Why was it not just the entire amount that they just paid all of that? Why did they instead do it in those monthly installments? I haven't seen any explanation of that from the Trump team.

PHILLIP: Right, yes.

LITMAN: Just to look like legal services.

COLLINS: To disguise it.

LITMAN: He's on retainer. We give you $35,000 to do legal services that you're not providing.

COOPER: One thing I was really struck by, last week, in the courtroom, was just watching the jury, was how closely they are following everything. I mean, pretty much everybody in that jury box, when I was there, was watching and listening very intently. Some were taking notes. But everybody did -- was that the way it was really--

LITMAN: I really agree. And today was kind of, you could say a slog of a day.

COOPER: Right, yes.


LITMAN: You could say a nuts and bolts day. But it would have been a day that a lot of jurors would have phased out. They were -- they were attentive. They weren't like wrapped and taking up. But they were attentive, even through the afternoon.


PHILLIP: Yes, I think the idea that as the Controller said Donald Trump basically almost fired him for paying--


PHILLIP: --what he owed -- what he owed. I mean, the implication is that Donald Trump actually owed this money.


PHILLIP: But he was like, I need you to make it a smaller number.

LITMAN: Right.

PHILLIP: That is incredible.

LITMAN: You're fired.

COOPER: Well, I mean, he was famous for--

PHILLIP: That is incredibly memorable.

COOPER: --for not paying.


COOPER: I mean, contractors, and people--

TOOBIN: Contractors, lawyers.

COOPER: --and stiffing them.

PHILLIP: Infamous.

COOPER: And being like--


COOPER: --oh, yes, what are you going to do?

COLLINS: His attorneys now demand retainer fees, in larger sums, upfront, because they're worried.

LITMAN: Right.

COLLINS: Chris Kise, who works for him, right now--


COLLINS: --got $5 million upfront, before he did any legal work, one hour.

PHILLIP: It is amazing in a way.

COLLINS: Because he was worried about it.

LITMAN: It is.

PHILLIP: It is amazing in a way that Michael Cohen actually was paid, because Donald Trump just typically, whether it is legitimately owed or not, typically does not want to pay what he's owed, let alone three times for it.

LITMAN: Right. Remember that he wanted to go into past the election, because then he wouldn't have to pay her. But somehow, 12 checks, nine of them signed by him.

COLLINS: He didn't pay--

COOPER: There's a little more to this story.

COLLINS: He didn't pay Rudy Giuliani.


COLLINS: Rudy Giuliani went to him to seek help for his own legal expenses. He would not pay him.


COLLINS: Because he claimed that -- or he said that his lawsuits and his efforts to try to help Trump overturn the election results didn't work. And so, when Rudy Giuliani went to him and said, well, I did all this on your behalf, Trump would not pay him.


COLLINS: And now, Rudy Giuliani is footing his own legal bills.

LITMAN: Pecker said here, when Cohen went to him that Trump said, ah he's got plenty of money, we don't need to pay him. And then he did.



LITMAN: Something, yes.

PHILLIP: I mean, this is why so much every day is riding even more on Michael Cohen. Because I'm brought back to the fact that Michael Cohen decided to tape Trump, in that critical moment to say, I'm about to make this payment for you.

Michael Cohen knew that he needed the proof. He created the evidence of it, and was ultimately paid back. This is incredibly incriminating and sensitive information for Donald Trump. He did not want it out there. And Michael Cohen was the one person, who knew all about every element of this.


PHILLIP: So when he gets on the witness stand, there's quite a lot there.


HONIG: It's always been inevitable that they were going to need Michael Cohen, to draw that link. And let's remember, if we say, well, why should Donald Trump have to know about the small bore nuances of accounting? Because the prosecutor charged him with a small bored nuanced accounting crime. They chose to charge that. They have to link him to it.

And what the prosecutors have been doing, and I think quite successfully thus far, is reducing the amount of gap that Michael Cohen needs to bridge all these documents, all this testimony--

TOOBIN: Right.

HONIG: --from David Pecker and others, makes what Michael Cohen's about to say -- and we all know about what he's -- what he's going to be saying, in a couple days, or whenever he takes the stand. Makes it easier to swallow, easier to believe, more plausible.

So they're trying to -- they know, the jury has to take a leap of faith with Michael Cohen, and they want to minimize that leap of faith.

AIDALA: Elie, you always talk about that tape.


AIDALA: That where he says to Michael Cohen, like you just take care of it, right?

HONIG: Right.

AIDALA: Refresh my recollection of it.

HONIG: Yes. So, this is a tape relating to Karen McDougal, a couple months before the Stormy Daniels pay-off. But this got introduced to the jury on Friday.

And essentially, Michael Cohen says we're going to be paying Karen McDougal.

And Trump's fine, sure, 150, how are we going to do it?

And Michael Cohen says, no, no, no, no, no, I got it. I got it. Don't worry. Me and -- me and Allen are going to work it out.

COOPER: Trump suggests--

TOOBIN: Actually Trump suggests cash.

HONIG: Once the--


LITMAN: And Trump's the one that says 150.

HONIG: Right. But -- right. Trump says 150, and Trump says cash. I don't see that necessarily as damning for him. He's saying, we're just going to -- we're going to pay it in one shot.

That does -- by the way, cash doesn't necessarily mean an envelope filled with $100 bills. When someone buys a house with cash, it means a one-time project. And Michael Cohen understands him to mean that, because Michael says no, no, no, financing, meaning we're going to do this more complex than just the one-time transaction.

So, I don't -- if I'm a prosecutor, I wish Michael Cohen never hit, secretly hit record, on his own client. I don't like that tape. It goes both ways. It gives some points to the prosecution, some points to the defense. But, man, if you're the prosecution, you have that burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You don't want a piece of evidence that has useful stuff both ways.

COLLINS: Can I say one thing though? We always talk about Michael Cohen's credibility, understandably. And I remember, I mean, everyone remembers his congressional testimony. Trump is also on tape, lying about what he knew about this.


COLLINS: I mean, that iconic moment on Air Force One, when Catherine Lucey, who I believe was-- LITMAN: Yes.

COLLINS: --with the Associated Press, at the time, asked him what he knew. He straight up lies, and says he didn't know about it, even though by that time, he had already paid Michael Cohen back for it. So, Donald Trump also has credibility issues here.

LITMAN: And he lied to Hope Hicks. It's clear that she -- it pained her to say it. But she was saying no, Cohen, this is not what Cohen would do. When Trump told me that he did it on his own accord, I don't believe it.

HONIG: Cohen told Hope Hicks, he did it on his own.


HONIG: She testified to that.

LITMAN: No, no, no, no.

HONIG: That's not good for Cohen. That's not good for the -- for the prosecution.

LITMAN: No, no, no, no, no. Hicks testified that Trump told her that Cohen did it on his own. And then, she followed up by saying but that -- but she doesn't believe it. That's not what Cohen would do.

HONIG: Cohen lied to her as well, that several aspects of this.

COOPER: Harry Litman, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

LITMAN: Thank you. Thanks very much.

COOPER: Everyone else, stay with us.


Next, more details from the full trial transcript, just out tonight, including a portion of the prosecution's step-by-step attempt to do what we've just been talking about, namely establish that link that Elie just mentioned, connecting the defendant to the alleged crimes, through the testimony of one of his former top money-man.

And later, Barak Ravid, who's got new reporting on what Israel may be about to do, about a key crossing into southern Gaza.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: We talked before the break about how prosecutors might tie the former President directly into the alleged scheme, at the heart of this case.

[21:20:00] Because earlier tonight, Jeff Toobin said it was clear to him that the prosecution has already made its case, that the checks Donald Trump wrote to Michael Cohen were not for legal fees, and that business records of them were falsified. Again though, prosecutors have not yet made clear what was the defendant's role in it all.

That said, prosecutors today certainly seemed to be trying to make that connection, indirectly, through testimony from two longtime employees, about how the Trump Organization was run.

The full trial transcript, released tonight, speaks to that.

John Berman is back with more.

So, what stands out?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, from the very beginning--

COOPER: So, I don't know, just a brain freeze.

BERMAN: From the very beginning, that Matt Colangelo, who was the prosecutor, from the very beginning, when he had Jeff McConney, who was the Controller of the Trump Organization, on the stand, he wanted to establish this was Donald Trump's organization, that Donald Trump was the man in charge of everything there.

So, this was right at the beginning.

Question. During the time you worked for the Trump Organization, who ran the company?

McConney answered, President Trump.

Colangelo asks, and before 2017, what was Mr. Trump's role in the Trump Organization?

McConney says, I'm not sure. He was -- he ran the organization. He was the brains behind it. He -- I don't know how to answer that question.

Colangelo. When you worked there, do you consider Mr. Trump your boss?

McConney says, yes.

It's almost like he couldn't even conceive of anything other than Donald Trump being paramount in this organization.

COLLINS: And this is someone, who I should note, he's been on the witness stand before. He testified in the Trump civil fraud trial.

He actually got emotional and broke down on the stand during that, because he was talking about why he left the Trump Organization, why he chose to retire. And he was basically saying it was because there were so many subpoenas, and investigations, and how overwhelming this whole process was.

So, this is someone who got on the witness stand who doesn't have an ill-view of Donald Trump, and was really just able to speak to, to Trump's level of involvement here.

HONIG: The defense, in the cross-examination today, was trying to paint a picture of just this sort of chaotic operation that nobody quite understood and outdated too, right?

There was a little bit of testimony, I think was interesting where, I think it was McConney -- or actually, it was the -- it was the woman, who testified in the afternoon, who was in the accounting department, under McConney.

She said, all we had was pull-down menus. So, when we're classifying expenses, basically, we just had our choice of however many, and I just, I was the one who put it in as legal fees.

So, they're trying to paint a picture of just sort of things happening at a lower level, in a disorganized way that you can't tie back up to the top. Now, I don't know if that's going to fly with the jury. That's clearly the defense strategy here, based on the transcripts that we got.


TOOBIN: But sets a good argument for the defense.

HONIG: Right.

TOOBIN: That this woman who is no, you know, not a peer of Donald Trump, in any way, and not in all that much day-to-day communication with him. If she is the one who characterizes the expense? That is the crime here. The crime here is the expense. It's not the check. It's not the--

COOPER: And so, Trump had to -- in order to be convicted, Trump had to know that it was being characterized as a legal fee?

AIDALA: Absolutely.

TOOBIN: Orchestrate. I think the term that the prosecution has used, he orchestrated it.

AIDALA: And he--

TOOBIN: And we'll see if that -- we'll see if they can prove it. I mean, the case isn't over. They've proven a lot. They haven't proven that.

AIDALA: So, so far, here's my summation to the jury. And you know you have a lot of latitude in summation.

Ladies and gentlemen, we all know about the Trump presidency, and we all know what his reputation was. He was a macro guy. He was not a micro guy. He wasn't Jimmy Carter, who wanted to know who was using the tennis courts in the White House. He didn't even want to read a memo. He didn't want to hear anything from anybody.

But now, these prosecutors, after they've trained their witnesses, day in and day out, preparing them for cross-examination, now, all of a sudden, he's Mr. Detail-Oriented? When he's running the country, he doesn't -- he can't be bothered with the details. But here, for this $130,000 check, for a billionaire? Now he's all concerned with the detail?

PHILLIP: Well the prosecution--

COOPER: Look--

AIDALA: You can't believe it.

PHILLIP: What the prosecution's going to say is he's detail-oriented about his money.



PHILLIP: That's what the evidence has shown.

AIDALA: Well--

COOPER: But also this pull-down menu idea.

AIDALA: --but I get to go first.

COOPER: I mean, it doesn't -- it couldn't also be argued the other way, which is that if there's a limited options, on the pull-down menu, Trump would probably know what all the pull-down options are in the menu, and be like, oh, yes, do it as the legal fees.


HONIG: Well apparently hush money was not one of them.

BERMAN: And yes, I will say--

AIDALA: Well actually--

BERMAN: --I will say, Jeff McConney, the Controller was asked if Trump knew about the pull-down menu. I have a whole exchange here. Let me read this to you, because he gets into this.


BERMAN: Emil Bove, this is the defense, this is the cross.

Bove asked, you just testified about a series of payments that were made to Michael Cohen in 2017, right?

McConney says yes, sir.

In that timeframe, 2017, Michael Cohen was a lawyer, right?

McConney says OK.

Emil Bove says, right?

And then McConney says sure, yes.

And then Bove says, and payments to lawyers by the Trump Organization are legal expenses, right?

McConney says yes, sir.

Bove says, and you book those payments on the General Ledger as legal expenses, correct?

McConney says yes.

Now, here's the part that gets into the nitty-gritty of the MDS system.

And during your 30-something plus years at the Trump Organization, you sort of rarely had conversations with President Trump, right?

McConney says very few.

And during the instances when you did speak to him, you didn't talk about accounting software, did you?

McConney says no.

You never gave him a tour of the MDS system, right?

McConney says no.


Bove asks, you didn't have any reason to believe that President Trump understood the details of MDS?

McConney says correct.

MDS is the pull-down--


BERMAN: --menu system, I believe.

COOPER: Right.

HONIG: But let me make--

BERMAN: Trying to understand.

HONIG: Let me make one point though. The prosecution doesn't necessarily have to show Donald Trump opened up that pull-down menu, and clicked on Legal Expenses. It's enough if Donald Trump knew.

And I think Michael Cohen will say this. Look, the plan was, we put this whole elaborate reimbursement plan together, because he knew, and we knew, it was Stormy Daniels payment, and we were trying to hide it, so it wouldn't come out for the election. That's enough. They don't have to show that he was clicking around--

PHILLIP: Thank you.

HONIG: --the MDS system.

PHILLIP: I thought I was just going, because I mean--

HONIG: No, you're not.

PHILLIP: To me, the idea that Michael Cohen is being reimbursed in the form of a bonus, which is some form of salary payment, plus money that is not paid for actual services that he provided. Shouldn't that structure in and of itself, show the jury that Trump knew that there was a scheme to pay Michael Cohen for things that he had not actually done?

AIDALA: But he's allowed to pay him for things that are not actually done. He's not allowed to put in the books--


AIDALA: --that he did something that was not actually done.

It is a confidentiality agreement. We can call it hush money. It's a confidentiality agreement. You don't put in your books, a $130,000 payment for confidentiality between Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels.


AIDALA: If he put it down as reimbursements, reimbursements to Michael Cohen, in the book? That's all. It's not a crime.


AIDALA: Because that's what he did.

TOOBIN: That's right.

AIDALA: He reimbursed him.

TOOBIN: If you told the--

PHILLIP: But that's not what he did.

TOOBIN: Yes, right. If he told--

AIDALA: But he didn't -- but we don't think he did anything.



AIDALA: She just said it--

PHILLIP: That's actually not what he did. Haven't done that to hide the payment. AIDALA: So you had --you had someone who sees a check.


PHILLIP: --wouldn't have to do anything.

AIDALA: You got someone who sees a check, to Michael Cohen for $35,000. They go to the pull-down screen. Which one is it? It's not for rent. It's not for a new roof. It's for legal expenses. Click.

COOPER: You know what, let me -- let me--

AIDALA: And that's what the defense is going to say.

COOPER: Let me go to something else, someone else who has tremendous credibility.

Rudy Giuliani said, back in May of 2018, this, about the payment to Stormy Daniels.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman, $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So--

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So they funneled it through the law firm?

GIULIANI: Funneled through the law firm. And then the President repaid it.

HANNITY: Oh, I didn't know that he did.


HANNITY: There's no campaign finance law?


HANNITY: So the President--

GIULIANI: Just like every -- Sean? Sean?

HANNITY: So this decision was made by--

GIULIANI: Everybody -- everybody was nervous about this, from the very beginning. I wasn't. I knew how much money Donald Trump put into that campaign. I said, $130,000? He's going to do a couple of checks for $130,000.

When I heard Cohen's retainer of $35,000, when he was doing no work for the President, I said, but that's how he's repaying. That's how he was repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes, for Michael.

HANNITY: But do you know the President didn't know about this? I believe that's what Michael had said.

GIULIANI: He didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this.


COOPER: Sweetie.

TOOBIN: OK. I remember that night, actually.

PHILLIP: He just said that?

COLLINS: OK but that is the clip that--

COOPER: Oh that is--

TOOBIN: Yes, that was.

COOPER: It's been a while since I saw that.

TOOBIN: Yes, it's so great.


COOPER: It really holds up.

TOOBIN: It's just so great.

COOPER: I know.

TOOBIN: It's just so great.

COLLINS: I'll never forget, when that interview happened, and how caught off-guard Sean Hannity was, by Rudy Giuliani just admitting it, saying that no, Michael Cohen wasn't doing any legal work, and he was just reimbursing him for paying off the porn star.

I mean, when we talk about everything we know now? That was a pivotal moment. No one knew that until Rudy Giuliani went on TV and said it. And so, even now--


COLLINS: --Trump's attorneys who weren't part of his team, then, when you ask them about that moment, there's not really a defense.

AIDALA: Because it doesn't need to be.

COLLINS: Of what Rudy Giuliani said.

AIDALA: What Rudy Giuliani said -- I don't want to be offensive to anyone. What Rudy Giuliani said is that's how it works. The individual, who is trying to enter into a confidentiality agreement--

COLLINS: He said he paid him for a legal work that he didn't do.

AIDALA: --doesn't write the check to the other person. They write it to the law firm. So, the right way to be done here, if there was no crime--

COLLINS: That's not what Rudy Giuliani said. He just said -- the point that he was making there, and the takeaway that is that he said, Michael Cohen did not do legal work. Yet Michael Cohen was paid in the ledger for legal work. That's what's at the heart of this.

AIDALA: OK. But that -- and that's the bookkeeping. That is the bookkeeping issue. But what having--

COLLINS: That's why we're here.

AIDALA: Having done these confidentiality agreements, the client writes the check to me. I put into my escrow account. I write it to the other attorney. And the other attorney gives it to that client with documentation. That's the way it's normally done.

TOOBIN: Arthur?

PHILLIP: But that's not what happened.

TOOBIN: Arthur, you just used the word, bookkeeping issue. Another word for that is crime.

AIDALA: It's not a crime.

TOOBIN: It is a crime.

AIDALA: It's -- it is not a crime.

TOOBIN: If you lie in the bookkeeping.

AIDALA: It's not.

HONIG: But Arthur? Arthur?


AIDALA: What is the crime? If the client says to me, Arthur, I want to enter into a confidentiality agreement with this person for a quarter of a million dollars. Here's the check made out to Arthur Aidala, Attorney at Law escrow account. I put it in my escrow account. They -- it's their money. It's in my escrow account. Now from there, I write it to their lawyer.

HONIG: But let me -- let me ask you this. Have you ever had a--

AIDALA: It's not a crime.

HONIG: Have you ever had a client pay you back, over 12 months, with one large retainer check, each month, for a total of triple the amount you laid out?

AIDALA: No, because I -- no. No. The short answer is no. But I don't have the type of relationship with any client the way Michael Cohen has with Donald Trump. He's an in-house counsel. He -- and what Rudy said is they had a general arrangement that Michael Cohen would fix things, would take care of these things for him.


AIDALA: He said, a general arrangement.


AIDALA: That is not as devastating as it may seem, when you look at it from a lawyer -- a law professor's point of view.

COOPER: All right, next crime -- John Berman, thank you very much.

BERMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Appreciate it.

Crime or not, more on the whole notion of a president writing checks to his fixer, in the Oval Office. Joining us, one of his former top adviser, former White House Communications Director, Alyssa Farah Griffin, on what she makes of it all and what voters might as well.

We'll be right back.



COOPER: Earlier tonight, we played that famous moment, from aboard Air Force One, in 2018, when Donald Trump became the first American President, to be asked about where his attorney got the money to buy a porn star's silence. The answer, of course, was from Donald Trump.

Six years later, a jury will decide whether the business records of that transaction were falsified and done so at Trump's behest.

Joining the panel, former Trump White House insider, and his former Communications Director, Alyssa Farah Griffin.

So, I mean, do you buy, Alyssa, the idea that then-President Trump was signing checks, in the White House, to Michael Cohen, without knowing exactly where they were -- what they were for?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, so I've got kind of a mixed perspective.

I want to respond to something Arthur said, because I think you largely made a good point that Donald Trump doesn't get into the minutiae of things.

But if there are two things, he gets into the minutiae of, it's anything public-facing, how he's going to be perceived in the press, and money.

In my experience, press, if there was going to be something that went out under his name, or that became a story that he did? He was incredibly hands-on, incredibly engaged, wanted to direct narratives.

I did not deal with him as much on the money side, but we would hear it from dealing with the campaign, and on the outside that he's notoriously a tightwad. He's not somebody who -- he does pay attention to how he's spending his money.

So, I think that's where that kind of an argument falls a little bit flat. It's two areas that's just well-documented, that he pays attention to. But it's certainly what his side's going to argue. And it's not about argument.

PHILLIP: Be careful. You might get called to testify. I think the precedent states.

COOPER: Character witness?

PHILLIP: I mean, those are exactly the elements of the case. And I think that they would want to hone in on, one, the idea that like, he cared about how he was perceived, he cared about whether or not people knew about the Stormy Daniels thing, at that particular moment, and that he cared about his money. He didn't want to pay it. He didn't part with it lightly.

To me, I can't think of two more important parts of Donald Trump's personality that are at issue in this case, minus the whether or not he knew--

TOOBIN: But this is what--

PHILLIP: --whether the checks were for what they were for.

TOOBIN: This is what makes it hard for the prosecution that you can't really make an argument beyond a reasonable doubt. Which is, well, of course, he knew, of course, this is how he behaves.

AIDALA: Let's assume.

TOOBIN: Let's assume.

AIDALA: Let's assume.

TOOBIN: I mean, you're right. And that you just can't -- I mean, if you are having a conversation here, about someone in the news, you can make that conclusion. But to the jury, you really need to say Witness X said X that shows Donald Trump knew what was in these papers.

FARAH GRIFFIN: Well, and I have to say. I'm no fan of Donald Trump. I would not vote to convict at this point, if I were on the jury. I don't think that the case has been made there. I think the intent on the campaign side, yes. But on the money side, it's very complicated.

Today was not a sexy day in court. I do think that document was powerful. But--

COOPER: The Weisselberg notes?

FARAH GRIFFIN: Yes, the notes. But even so it does not necessarily make that direct link to him knowing it. And you know, now--

COOPER: Although do you believe -- I mean, knowing what you know, and the importance of Allen Weisselberg, and their relationship, Weisselberg knew where all the bodies were buried, essentially. He's gone to prison in order, and he's not speaking.

FARAH GRIFFIN: You can make an educated assumption.

COOPER: Right.

FARAH GRIFFIN: But that's the hard part. But the prosecution potentially, or the defense, them wanting to call Stormy Daniels? I don't think that's particularly relevant to the case. It's not illegal to have an affair with an adult film star. It's salacious. It's sexy. It'll get people to tune in.

But they have this one link they need to make without a shadow of a doubt. And it may be that Michael Cohen is the only person who can make that link. And he's so flawed in this moment.

PHILLIP: Or Allen Weisselberg.



COLLINS: I do wonder though, if Stormy Daniels would be able to offer insight into Michael Cohen not being able to operate without Donald Trump's authorization.

And the fact that he was stringing her and Keith Davidson along, they felt like, until after the election in saying, well, I can't get in touch with him. He's out on the campaign trail, or I can't go to the bank, I can't do this. She could potentially shed light on their receiving end of those conversations, and what they heard.

Also, for the detail-oriented stuff, I mean, the idea that Trump is not detail-oriented? He is when it's something he cares about. When it's something he doesn't care about? Sure, his intelligence briefers will tell you, he stopped paying attention five minutes into their briefing.


COLLINS: But remember, when Donald Trump was leaving office, they stopped putting out the daily schedule, which every President has always done their daily schedule what they're doing. It would just say that President Trump was very busy, making many phone calls, and having many meetings.

HONIG: Oh, yes. COLLINS: Because he was upset about the coverage.

COOPER: Did they actually?

HONIG: I forgot about that.

COOPER: I don't even remember that.


COLLINS: He instructed the lower press office--

COOPER: Alyssa, did you write those, I mean?

COLLINS: That was someone beneath--

FARAH GRIFFIN: Not me (ph).

COLLINS: It was someone beneath -- Alyssa was in a much higher ranking position than the person who actually put this schedule out.

COOPER: It's something like a fourth grader would write like, the President was very busy, making important phone calls.

COLLINS: And they put it out every single day, for like the last three weeks of his White House, because that's what he wanted it to say. He didn't want it to say that he had nothing on his public schedule. He pays very close attention.


HONIG: You know the fact that--

AIDALA: No, but--

HONIG: --the fact that Donald Trump made most of these reimbursements, in 2017, when he was in the White House is interesting. It cuts both ways, right?

On the one hand, it suggests well he was so interested in this, he was so invested in this that he was taking time out from what he was doing as the president, to make sure that these checks got signed and got to Michael Cohen.

The counterpoint is well, he was barely paying attention.

On cross-examination, today, Emil Bove asked the witness. Well, in 2017, he was focused on being president, not these payments?

So, I'm sorry to say that like each side of every fact, but this is how trials go. The defense is going to have a spin on it. The prosecution is going to have a spin.

I wonder, I know, Alyssa, you didn't know Trump really until the later parts of his time in office. But was he at all focused on his personal affairs, his business, Trump Org, when you knew him? Or was it all sort of--

FARAH GRIFFIN: Yes. He certainly--

HONIG: --in the background?

FARAH GRIFFIN: He certainly was, if it was something that, again, was going to spill over into the public eye.


FARAH GRIFFIN: Like he had largely kind of handed that off to the sons, were dealing with it. But if there was a bad story, or if there was something, we'd always get these about his taxes or about his business dealings, he would care about how it's going to play in the press.

HONIG: You're getting a subpoena. I mean, sorry.


COOPER: Maybe she's already been called. We don't know.

Many thanks to our panel.

More breaking news. Israel says it is conducting targeted strikes in Rafah, and urging civilians to evacuate the eastern part of the city. Hamas earlier said, they accepted a ceasefire proposal. But Israel says it's not the one that they had crafted with Egypt. The very latest, next.



COOPER: Seven months into the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, another ceasefire proposal is on shaky ground. Israel now says its military will move forward with its operation in Rafah, where it's ordered evacuations immediately.

The sound of gunfire could be heard a short time ago, from the Egyptian side of the Rafah border.




COOPER: Our next guest reports that Israeli forces are moving to take over the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, in the next few hours.

CNN Political and Foreign Policy Analyst, Barak Ravid, joins us now.

So, what are you hearing about what's happening on the ground, right now? BARAK RAVID, CNN POLITICAL & FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Good evening, Anderson.

So, as far as I know, the Israeli forces are in the surroundings of the Rafah crossing. This was the aim of the operation that we saw tonight, to take over the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, which is a strategic site that is really important for Hamas, not only because it's the border between Egypt and Gaza, but also because this, as we think, is a symbol for the fact that Hamas is still the ruling power in Gaza.

And without the Rafah crossing, a lot of this image for the Palestinian population as a whole is being tarnished. And that's one of the goals of this operation, including also, to put more pressure on Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, to maybe move and be more flexible, in the hostage talks.

COOPER: Tom Friedman, in the last hour, suggested that one motivation of going to this area, and holding this area, was smuggling by Hamas from Egypt that this is a smuggling route.

RAVID: Yes, that's part of it, although the Rafah crossing itself is not where most of the weapons were smuggled into Gaza. They were smuggled mostly through tunnels.

But the fact that Israel is now at the crossing, will give it another opportunity to do something it haven't -- it hasn't done since the beginning of the war. And this is, from what I hear from sources, who are -- who have direct knowledge of this, is that the Israelis plan, in a few days or in a few weeks, to bring Palestinians, who are not connected to Hamas, to take part in the operation of the crossing, and in the distribution of the aid that is coming from Egypt.

And this will be the first instance, where there might be some sort of a governmental alternative, an initial governmental alternative to the Hamas rule in Gaza.

COOPER: Who would they be?

RAVID: That's a good question.

If you ask Benjamin Netanyahu, he will tell you Palestinians who are not part of Hamas.

If you ask Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, he will tell you, well, in Hamas, there are two kinds of people, either Hamas or Fatah, which are the political rivals of Hamas that are affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

So, most chances are that those exactly are going to be the people, even if Prime Minister Netanyahu is still saying that he will not accept any presence of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, I think this is where this thing is going.

COOPER: In terms of the, you know, Hamas said that they had accepted a ceasefire proposal. Israel says it's not the one that they had been agreed to with Egypt, or been working on with Egypt. What do you know about that?

RAVID: Well I think the Israelis were pretty surprised, hearing Hamas today announcing that it accepts a ceasefire proposal, when especially because they did not know that there's any new proposal that they were not aware of. And when they saw the text, they saw, this is not we were discussing. This is a whole new thing.

And one of the things I hear is that Israeli officials are also pretty frustrated with the Biden administration, that even though CIA Director, Bill Burns, was not talking to Hamas. He was there in Cairo, over the weekend, when this new proposal was being drafted.


And the Israelis are telling me that they did not know that Burns or any -- other people, from the Biden administration, were not transparent enough with them, about the fact that there is a new proposal that is being formed.

COOPER: So, what's the reason that Hamas would make that announcement? Is it, I mean, to sort of get on the side of looking like they're being rational, they are willing to have this ceasefire, and then Israel says no?

RAVID: And especially to do it, when they know that Israel is making steps, initial steps, to go into Rafah. The Hamas wants to stop this operation, or wanted to stop the separation. Did not succeed. And they try to push the ball to the Israeli side of the court.

Now the Israelis are saying, OK, we will go to Cairo, maybe tomorrow, maybe a day later, to discuss this new proposal. But they also say, this is not what we put on the table, 10 days ago. This is something completely different. And therefore, it is almost as if we will have to start the negotiations from scratch.

COOPER: Barak Ravid, it's great to talk to you. Thank you.

More now with CNN Chief National Security Correspondent, Alex Marquardt; and CNN Military Analyst, and retired Army Lieutenant General, Mark Hertling.

Alex, I know you've been tracking U.S. involvement in ceasefire talks or negotiations. As Barak Ravid just mentioned, Bill Burns, CIA Director, was in Egypt. What do you know about the Director's role in all this?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He was in Egypt. And then, he went to Doha, where we believe he still is. He's had a very central role in all this.

And Anderson, Barak is absolutely right. There's been a real evolution in the past week. Egypt was working on something that Israel had some input in. And then, we understand that the talks between Egypt and Hamas were progressing, but in a way that the U.S. and Qatar, both of those are two other mediators, felt that Israel would not actually end up agreeing to those terms. So, they kind of took hold of that framework, I'm told. And when Burns went to Doha, he worked with the Qatari Prime Minister, to rework the language that was then handed over to Hamas. And that's what Hamas eventually responded to.

Now, Anderson, as you've noted, Hamas is saying that they agreed to the framework. What we're told by U.S. officials, it's more that they responded, and they had a take of their own. And we've seen a document from Hamas, that is still going to have, or it still has significant gaps with Israel.

The good news is that the talks are progressing, as Barak mentioned, they're going to be going on in Cairo. Israel is expected to send a team. Qatar is expected to send a team.

The less good news is it is not happening at a senior level. It's happening below that Bill Burns level, at what we call the working level, or the experts, who go over the finer points.

So, these talks are inching along, but significant gaps still remain, Anderson.

COOPER: I mean, General Hertling, in any negotiations, it's odd, one side said they have -- like publicly make a statement, saying they've accepted a ceasefire deal. What do you make of Hamas saying that?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it was fascinating today, Anderson, that Hamas announced or someone announced that they had accepted the deal that hadn't been coordinated on both sides, as Alex just said.

But here's the important part. I think one of the things that we're overlooking is the element that affects combat and warfare at both the tactical and the strategic level is time.

And since the start of this war, time has been on the side of Hamas. It's a critical part of their strategy, along with their tunnels. And they've wrapped themselves around the Palestinians, so that anything that can help create more of a humanitarian crisis, or gives Israel a bad image, is something that they want to do. It isn't just their approach. It's their strategic objective.

And we're seeing that today is as soon as, you know, first of all, when the talks were going on over the weekend, as you know, Hamas launched 15 missiles, at one of the crossing sites, and killed several Israeli soldiers. Israel walked away at that point and said, we can't continue to do this.

Then today, they announced that all the Palestinians are shown dancing in the streets of Gaza. And Israel now is the bad person, because they're conducting a Rafah operation, which they said they were going to do, if they hadn't heard from Hamas about release of hostages.

So, it's continuing to work against Israel, anytime there's a delay, when time is on Hamas' side, it is not on Israel's side, from a strategic perspective, because we're seeing the world increasingly turn against anything that Israel does.

COOPER: Alex, what are some of the details of the proposal that Hamas allegedly accepted?

MARQUARDT: Well, Anderson, from the way it's laid out, it looks like the first phase is expected to be the easiest probably. And we've been talking for weeks, if not months, about a multi-phase deal, three phases, each expected to last around six weeks.

The first one, Hamas is expected to release around 33 Israeli hostages. But Anderson, we're also learning they may not all be alive. These would be women, men who are elderly men, who are sick and wounded.


But if Hamas doesn't hit that 33 number, they would be expected to compensate with bodies, and there are around 30-plus Israelis, who are believed to no longer be alive.

Hundreds of Palestinians would also get released from Israeli prisons. Gazans in the southern part of the strip would be expected to go back up -- back up to the northern part of strip.

But Anderson, those sticking points that I was talking about. Hamas wants to see Israel pull its military back, if not entirely out of the Gaza Strip, but away from central Gaza. That's something that Israel hasn't shown any inclination to wanting to do.

The other is the question about a permanent ceasefire. Hamas has made clear they want a permanent ceasefire. But again, Israel has said that they still have a lot of work to do, to eradicate Hamas. And that's why we're seeing the beginning of this operation in Rafah.


Alex Marquardt, General Mark Hertling, thank you.

The news continues, including CNN's special primetime coverage of the former President's hush money trial. More after a short break.