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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Michael Cohen Faces Intense Cross-Examination; GOP Allies, Including Speaker Johnson, Defend Trump At Courthouse; Judge Reins In Cross-Examination Of Michael Cohen. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And it is just past 9 PM, hours after an attorney for the former President did what he likely wishes he could, but cannot, because of a gag order. Launch into a verbal assault on Michael Cohen, his motives and combustible past.

The language was coarse, from the start, prompting an immediate sidebar with the judge. Moments later, the defense returned to the colorful language, Cohen has used on social media, to describe his one-time boss, painting an image of him as a jilted former employee, with dollar signs in his eyes.

Also, for the second day this week, a chorus of the former President's allies, some of whom are VP contenders, showed up, attacking the trial and Cohen in ways, once again, the former President cannot.

Joining our team here tonight is Corinne Ramey, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has been following the trial from inside the courtroom.

What stood out to you today?

CORINNE RAMEY, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think that moment you just described, with Todd Blanche sort of coming, straight out of the gate, super-aggressive at the beginning of cross, very much stood out to me, especially because of I think it was--

COOPER: Did it work?

RAMEY: Well, if you're the judge, the answer is no. Merchan shut it down quickly.


RAMEY: And as we saw in the transcript, the sidebar, Merchan said, don't make this about you. And so, for that perspective, no.

But for the jury, I mean, I guess it did show that he was aggressive, and his intention was to go after Cohen, even if ultimately, the rest of the cross or much of the rest of the cross was a little more toned down. COOPER: Do you have a sense of what the reaction in the courtroom was? Or what the -- how the jurors seemed to interpret it?

RAMEY: I mean, throughout, the jurors were quite engaged.


RAMEY: They weren't sort of captivated the way that I think they were sometimes, during the Stormy Daniels testimony. But they were engaged. They were taking notes. They seemed to be taking it seriously.

At times, I had a pretty good seat of like being able to see the jury today. And Blanche would be asking about some of Cohen's social media habits. And he'd be talking about a Cheeto-crusted cartoon villain, or some such thing. And the jurors are like, studiously writing notes.


RAMEY: And I'm wondering like, did they just write down--

COOPER: Cheeto-crusted cartoon villain, yes.

RAMEY: --Cheeto-crusted cartoon villain?

COOPER: They -- very possible they did.

RAMEY: Yes, it's very possible.

COOPER: You said that -- you pointed out that Cohen's testimony is essential to prosecutors, because he's the only witness, who's tied the cover-up of hush money payment directly, to Trump. Do you think he was effective in doing so? And do you think in his testimony?

RAMEY: Well, I think that's the big question here is whether, you know, there are these moments that Cohen talks about that he is the only one who can tell that story. Like, prosecutors did the absolute best they could, in having the phone records, having the pictures.

This morning, when he was talking about the Oval Office meeting, the prosecutors would flash things on the screen. There was a photo of Cohen, at a podium, at a lectern, in the White House. There was a calendar entry, showing that he had recorded that he went to the White House on that certain day.

So, I imagine there's no doubt in jurors' minds that Cohen was in the White House on that certain day.


RAMEY: But whether, in that meeting, Trump had the conversation that Cohen recalls having? I think that's something that jurors are going to be deciding over--


RAMEY: --sort of the next week of the trial. COLLINS: And for as much as, as important as it is for Michael Cohen, for the prosecution, making their argument, he's also the biggest witness for the defense, in making their counterargument, and saying that Donald Trump wasn't responsible for this. And so, there is so much riding on how Todd Blanche does handle that when Michael Cohen is back on the stand, on Thursday.

And what we heard from this afternoon is that Trump was initially pleased with how -- I mean, this is the only thing Todd Blanche has really done, in this case.

RAMEY: Right.

COLLINS: He hasn't really cross-examined anyone else at length, or taken much of a presence. He's been there every day. But this is his entire job, is to cross-examine Michael Cohen, and to do so successfully.


Trump was initially happy with how Todd Blanche actually did today. Of course, Trump judges everything that he really sees in his evaluation, based on the perception and the coverage of it. So, we'll see if that changes over the next days.


COOPER: So, just to that point, Elie, how did you think Todd Blanche did today?

HONIG: Well, I wasn't impressed with him. With just based on the transcript and based on our feed, we had at CNN, I thought he was a little bit all over the map.

And Corinne, I'm interested in what you thought. Because we've been focused very much on what was Michael Cohen's demeanor? How did he play in the courtroom? What was Blanche like? Because I know him. I go back to the Southern

District of New York with him. He was a pretty mild personality. Like all of us, he can get more jacked-up for the courtroom. What was he like?

RAMEY: After that sort of initial aggressive questioning?


RAMEY: It was much more mild.


RAMEY: I mean, it wasn't timid. It wasn't sort of -- he wasn't afraid of Cohen. But it was calm. It was, he was clearly prepared. He'd clearly been practicing for this moment. But he wasn't attacking Cohen.

HONIG: That's interesting. COOPER: For the most part.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But you've seen a lot of the trial up close.


TOOBIN: Do you feel that there is an explanation for this $420,000 other than what the prosecution has said that money is for? I mean, what's the defense argument for what this $420,000 is for? Just because Donald Trump felt like giving it to Michael Cohen?

RAMEY: I mean, I think prosecutors were trying to squash a few possible defense arguments today. In their questioning, they talked about the legal work that Cohen had done, or even consulting work, sort of post Trump's election.

And it was minimal, like they were trying to make to say, defense, if you're going to argue that this is what Cohen's getting paid for, it will not cut it. And I think they made that case.

But I think the question is not whether sort of what Cohen was getting paid, for was this illegal retainer? It really is about whether Trump himself directed these false business records that he is charged with. And that is something that Cohen is the one who can speak to that.

COOPER: And Michael, you don't think -- I mean, to me, neither thinks they've--


COOPER: --the prosecution has proved their case. You don't think that?

MOORE: I don't think they have yet. I mean, I think they're trying to with Cohen. I think that's why Weisselberg is such a big deal, and his absence from the trial is such a big deal.

I think they've gotten to the part of, yes there are some false business records. But this next step of did they falsify the record with the intent of committing another crime? I think it's that's where you put Trump in the room, where you need somebody to back up--

TOOBIN: Well and--

MOORE: --to back up what Cohen said.

TOOBIN: And as Corinne said, I mean, I think the main weakness, in the government's case, is the connection of Donald Trump, not to the payments, but to the creation of the false business records. I mean, we heard about how those records were did.

COOPER: Would knowledge -- if he had knowledge that it was being falsely done?

TOOBIN: Knowledge is not enough. He has to have caused it.

Now, he doesn't have to have done it himself. He doesn't have to have used the dropdown menu. He doesn't have to have put the words, retainer, on the -- on the check stub. But he has to have engaged in behavior that led the people, who did actually do the writing, to have done that.

COOPER: But can you make the argument that his behavior if he, slept with Stormy Daniels, and he wanted to cover it up, and he paid this hush money that that caused the behavior?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it's got to be a little more direct than that. I mean.

COOPER: Does it have to be him saying file this--

TOOBIN: No, it doesn't have to be an explicit instruction. But it does have to be behavior that led to this specific act of creating the false business record. And that is, to me, still the weakest part of the government's case. Everything else, I think, is pretty much done.

COLLINS: Because the closest they've gotten to it is Michael Cohen, saying that Donald Trump did approve it, verbally, when Allen Weisselberg showed it to him. That is really. And it's not clear they're going to get much closer to that. So, that's the question of truly it is up to the jury, and if they view that as legitimate enough, and far enough.


MOORE: The word -- the language in an indictment is crucial. And remember, you've got two lawyers on this jury, which is unusual.


MOORE: So, they may really look at the technical aspects of it. And what it says is that the writing, the business record is done with the intent to defraud, and the intent to commit another crime, and aid in covering it up. So, they've got all of these things, they've got approved. And I'm saying, I don't think they've gotten all the way across to finish line with that -- with it.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think, if I'm not mistaken, it may say and in the indictment. But when the judge is going to instruct the jury, on the law?


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: And it's really going to be an, or practically. So, it's going to be enough for them to prove that it was done with the intention of concealing another crime.

And I think all of this, you know, one thing they'll tell a jury is that there's direct evidence and there's circumstantial evidence, but both are evidence. So, we don't need necessarily that smoking-gun moment, where someone comes in, and here's the video, or something else. You could have circumstantial evidence.


And I think what the strength of the prosecution's case here is what we've been talking about, is going to be these competing narratives. And we have a lot of evidence here.

And I think the idea that the prosecution -- that the jury is going to say, yes, he did this for the campaign, and yes, he -- on tape with Michael Cohen. And yes, David Pecker also met with him. And yes, he signed all these checks, did all that stuff. But the one thing he didn't know about was about the falsification of these documents? I don't think it really makes rational sense.

I think if you're a defense lawyer, your case, your counter-narrative has to make rational sense. I think here, it's not going to be enough to have these little nicks of credibility. It's not going to be enough to say, you really have a vendetta against this guy.

Because for everything they've shown Michael Cohen, or Stormy Daniels say, about Donald Trump, they have another tweet, like you said, Kaitlan, they have annexed some more vitriol that's coming the other way.

So really, what we're looking at is a lot of folks from the defense table to the cooperators, who are all kind of dirty. And I think, but those documents are where I think the prosecution tips them over, to having a pretty persuasive case.

RAMEY: I mean, I think--

COOPER: Corinne?

RAMEY: Oh, sorry.

COOPER: No, go ahead.

RAMEY: I think the other thing the prosecution does is we have heard a lot, the past couple days, about Trump and micromanaging, like they have really made a case that Trump was -- not only was Trump a micromanager, but that Cohen wanted that, and really wanted Trump's approval, wanted Trump's attention and--

COOPER: And also seemed to check in with Trump at every step of the way on various.

RAMEY: At every step of the way that Cohen needed Trump's approval, not just because Trump wanted it, because Cohen needed it.

COOPER: Let me ask you. The former President has had a growing entourage, and not family members, but of various characters--


COOPER: --who are auditioning for Vice President and other things. The group that was there today, what kind of an impact did that have in the -- I mean, were they noticeable in the courtroom? Did they -- does it change the dynamic in any way in the courtroom?

RAMEY: They were noticeable. The sort of courtroom benches behind Trump have at times been half-empty.

COOPER: Right.

RAMEY: It was this--

COOPER: When I was there, like Boris Epshteyn was just there, checking his phone throughout it.

RAMEY: Yes. Sometimes, it's like that. And so, there's this packed courtroom of reporters, and like five people from the public in the back, and then these empty pews near where Trump is sitting, or behind where Trump is sitting.

But the past couple days, it's been packed that he has had all these supporters. And it's quite noticeable.

And at one point today, some of these Republican elected officials, like in the middle of Cohen's testimony, just walked in. And it was so odd because, there's like a lot of rules in the courtroom, that we can't just, say, go to the bathroom, or have a snack, or like do whatever you want, or leave.


RAMEY: It's--

COLLINS: You can't even eat in that courtroom.

And it was in a moment when Michael Cohen was answering a question from the prosecution. And the morning break had ended. They had all -- all of Trump's allies had gone outside to do a press conference.

Because you could -- we could still have our computers. You could see online, they were outside speaking publicly. And only a few people came back in after the break. We assumed they had just left because the bench was empty behind Donald Trump.

And then, while Michael Cohen is in the middle of a sentence, in walks Byron Donalds, Vivek Ramaswamy, Governor Burgum, and another campaign aide, I believe it was at least four people, maybe five. And they don't just slip into the back, and go to the back row. They walk all the way up to the front and they get in the second row.

It wasn't clear from -- I was on the left side. So, it wasn't clear how the jury, if they looked, if it distracted them, if it distracted Michael Cohen.

But there was a moment, where I saw the judge, Justice Merchan, I've been watching him, throughout the case, he was essentially glaring at them. He looked noticeably annoyed, at the fact that they just walked in, in the middle. You just don't see that in that courtroom.


HONIG: Well--

RAMEY: It was sort of the least -- I mean, it's a very ordered proceeding. And that was sort of the least order that I think I've seen in the past couple weeks, in that courtroom.

COLLINS: We can't even use our binoculars, at certain points--

RAMEY: I know, yes.

HONIG: --if they're in a sidebar. I mean, it's that strict.


COLLINS: And there's multiple court officers, walking around, telling you, you can't be talking, you can't be on your phone, if you're a reporter, or a member of the public. And it was just -- it was -- it was a kind of jarring.

COOPER: I love that you have binoculars.

COLLINS: I'm going to keep them.

HONIG: Are they big?

COLLINS: I'm going to start birding.

HONIG: Like field binoculars, or like--


COOPER: Or was it actually like those giant--


COLLINS: They're kids' binoculars.

COOPER: They're actually more like Special Forces things that like just take cam, that's the courtroom artists have them.

Corinne Ramey, do you wear glasses, Corinne? Do you wear the binoculars?

RAMEY: I don't have binoculars.


COLLINS: You can have mine.

RAMEY: And I was starting to think that I needed some. And now, they've been cracking down, so.

COOPER: It's the peer pressure to get binoculars. RAMEY: Yes.

COOPER: Corinne Ramey, it's great to have you. Thank you so much.

RAMEY: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Everyone's going to stay here.

We may not have video of Michael Cohen's back-and-forth with the defense. But there is definitely heat that emanates off the transcripts. John Berman joins us with that.

Also ahead, what was said in court today about what the former President would be testifying in this case.



COOPER: If one thing comes through loud and clear, in the transcripts, from today's trial, and it's something Elie Honig mentioned earlier, there's no love lost between Michael Cohen and the former President, as if we had any doubt about that.

At one point, the prosecution had Cohen reading tweets from the president, in the months after the FBI raided Cohen's office in 2018. Trump had praised his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort and, one, for refusing to quote, break. Cohen said he understood he was being told not to cooperate.

John Berman joins us with more of the transcripts.

I know you've been going through them. What else have you found?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, there was one exchange that caught my eye that gets to two points here that you've all been talking about.

Number one, how little Michael Cohen currently likes Donald Trump, and how much he wants to see him convicted. And two, how Michael Cohen didn't directly answer a lot of the questions, at least at first that Todd Blanche posed to him.

So Blanche asks him, "You've also talked extensively, on Mea Culpa," his podcast, "your desire to see that President Trump get convicted in this case; correct?"

Cohen says "Sounds like something I would say."

Blanche says, "Well, sir, I'm not asking you if it sounds to like something you would say, I'm saying, did you -- have you regularly commented on your Podcasts that you wanted President Trump to be convicted in this case?"


Cohen then says, "Yes, probably." And then Blanche says, "Do you have any doubt?"

Cohen says, "No."

Then Blanche says, "So why did you answer "Yes, probably""?

Cohen says, "Because I don't specifically know if I used those words, but, yes, I would like to see that."

Blanche says, "And so, yes, you want to see President Trump get convicted from this case; correct?"

Cohen says, "I would like to see accountability. That's not -- it's not for me, it's for the jury and this Court."

Blanche says, "I didn't ask what you wanted to see or not see about accountability, I said do you want to see President Trump convicted in this case?"

Cohen says, "That's what we just said. You are asking me if I want to see--"

Blanche says, "I'm just asking you to say yes or no, do you want President Trump to get convicted in this case?"

Michael Cohen ultimately says, "Sure."

HONIG: This is what we call pulling teeth. I know it can be -- it seemed like Cohen had a couple witty rejoinders there. But I don't think witty rejoinders play well, with juries.

I would have -- if I was on the prosecution side, I would have much preferred Michael Cohen.

When the question was, you've said on your podcast that you want Donald Trump convicted?

Yes, I have.

You hope that he is held accountable?

Yes, I do.

You've lied?

Yes, I did.

When he gets into all this yes, probably, how could it be yes, probably? He says it every single day of his life. So, it makes Cohen look like someone, who's maybe willing to just shade the truth a little bit.

And by the way, ultimately, the defense's pitch to the jury is not that you have to believe that Michael Cohen is a fantasist, to make some things out of whole cloth. If you believe Michael Cohen just tweaks the truth a little, here and there, throws a little yes, probably when the answer should be yes? The evidence in this case, as we were just talking about is close enough that that can be enough. If you don't believe Michael Cohen a 100 percent, you can throw this out.

So, I don't like those responses from Cohen.

COOPER: It's interesting that is -- I don't know if there's an argument that the prosecutors would make. But maybe it's too strange. But if Cohen really wanted to lie and convict Trump, he could have said in this meeting with Allen Weisselberg and Trump that Trump definitively said, yes, file it as a legal expense.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. That's a very -- that's a powerful argument. There are several meetings, where he doesn't say that Trump said the most incriminating thing.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: The Oval Office meeting, he doesn't say that Trump came out and said, make sure the documents, or the business records are false. I mean, if this -- the argument, this is something prosecutors do all the time is they say, if he was cooking up a story, he'd cook up a better story.

Now, it's not a perfect argument, because you actually want a better story. But that does, I think, help Cohen's credibility, the fact that some of these exchanges are suggestive of Trump's guilt, but not conclusive proof.

MOORE: Yes. And I think it also kind of lends to the arguments the defense might make of look, jury, the prosecutors asked him to -- that they wish they could have made him a better liar, and that's not -- that's not where you want to walk into it. So, I mean, I agree with you, on the sort of the back-and-forth that it's gameplay.

And I think sometimes, with a witness, you have to use a cattle prod, a little bit, and say, look, you're not the smartest person in the room. You're going to answer my questions. We can start this out. We're going to have a couple of days at this. And so, I'm going to make you answer my question. That's what I feel like he was doing.

At the same time, he's got to walk a line, of not creating sympathy, and look like he's going too hard on the witness, because that's a dangerous place to be. So, he's got to basically let the jury say, look, this guy thinks he's smarter than me. I've got to kind of rein him in some, and then get his questions again.

HONIG: Well I thought that was--

COLLINS: And Michael Cohen was so comfortable, acknowledging his lies that he's told before, when the prosecution was questioning him. Obviously, he knew generally, where they were going, and what they were going to ask because they'd asked it to him before. They weren't asking questions they didn't know the answer to. But he was willing to say, you know, they'd put up a statement, and

he'd say, yes, that was a lie. They'd ask him about something that he said publicly. He would say, yes, that was a lie, what I told Wolf Blitzer in that interview.

When it was Todd Blanche, he seemed to be cagier.

MOORE: Right.

COLLINS: And in those moments, not willing to acknowledge it, because he seemed to be fearful. I mean, he's an attorney. He was, before he was disbarred. Fearful that Todd Blanche was going to try to get him in a trap. And that seemed to change the longer he was on the stand.

But at the beginning, I mean, he wouldn't even acknowledge a lie was a lie, at first. He was saying it was an inaccuracy of what he told Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Obviously, it was a lie. It was deceptive. And then, he later did acknowledge it was a lie.

MOORE: Right.


TOOBIN: He got better.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: But I will -- I will say, though.


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: For the Michael Cohen that we've all seen on television, and the Michael Coleman, we've heard so much, the Michael Cohen that showed up today, did seem like a distinctly different person than we all expected.


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: So, I think the discussion we had earlier is important, putting a witness in context. And yes, he's not a perfect witness.

But I think we all guessed a few weeks out what we'll be talking about the first day after cross-examination of Michael Cohen. I don't think we would be parsing out necessarily, word by word, his responses, in the same way. I think we would have thought a cross-examination would have torn him to pieces that would have shown--



AGANGA-WILLIAMS: --this guy can't be trusted.

And now, here we are, saying like well perhaps he should have just said yes faster.

COOPER: Yes. AGANGA-WILLIAMS: So, I do think if I'm the prosecution, that's making me feel pretty good tonight.

COOPER: And John, you have another part of the transcript.

BERMAN: Well, look, money was a big part of this. And there was the whole exchange about merch that Cohen was selling on his podcast, but also how well Michael Cohen has done on the books that he's written, two of them about Donald Trump, at least tangentially if not directly.

Blanche asks him, "How much money have you made from Revenge?" one of the books that Michael Cohen has written.

"I don't know exactly, but I would say around $400,000."

"And knowing that in the first two months or so Disloyal," that's the other book "made around 2 million, combining the two books, how much more did Disloyal make after the 2 million that it made in the first couple months?"

Cohen answers, "Maybe another million."

So Blanche asks "You made -- I am not expecting you to be exact -- you made about 3.4 million dollars from those two books; is that fair?"

Cohen says "Over the four-year period?"

Blanche says, "Yes."

Cohen says "It is, yes, sir."

So $3.4 million, that's a lot of money for a book.

HONIG: Bravo -- bravo to Michael Cohen. I'm doing something wrong with my books. That--

COLLINS: Well you should go work for Donald Trump.

HONIG: Yes, I guess, I do.

COLLINS: And then end up in prison--

HONIG: I guess--

COLLINS: --for tax evasion and lying to Congress and--


HONIG: Yes, I guess, I guess, all in all, it's maybe not worth it.

COLLINS: Lying to all three branches of government, yes.

HONIG: Right. But--

COLLINS: That's what you should try. HONIG: The financial point, I think, came through pretty strongly, which is this is Michael Cohen's livelihood. This is what he does. He profits directly off this. And I think there's a fair argument. He has a direct financial stake in the verdict.

Because what happens? If it's a guilty verdict? Michael Cohen will do a tour, he'll probably have a heavier market for his book. If it's a hung jury or not guilty? Watch how quickly the bottom falls out of them, Michael Cohen trashing Donald Trump market. So he's got -- he's got -- it goes to his bias and his credibility.

BERMAN: It's still a lot of money too. For a book, it's a lot of money.

COOPER: Michael, do you think--

COLLINS: Yes, right.

COOPER: Do you think the jury is going to register that?

I mean, that's the--

BERMAN: He looked around to every reporter in the room, who had written a book.

COOPER: Right.

BERMAN: And then he noticed all of them going like, what?

COOPER: I mean, how do you think that plays with a jury?

MOORE: I mean, I think they absolutely look at that. It's just another reason that cast some pall of question over his testimony and his statement.


MOORE: I mean, does he have another reason, and another motive, to say something different? And he does seem to be -- I mean, I called him a grifter, I mean, earlier. But I mean, he does seem to be profiteering off of this whole feud. And so now, we know he's profiteered off the -- off writing the books.

And I just don't -- I mean, I think the jury, they're in there because they don't have these sort of preconceived notions, at least we hope. That's why they were selected to be on this jury, you know, that they don't have preconceived notions about people.

So, when they hear this, they're listening to somebody. So yes, I had all these problems. I did all this. And I've made $3.2 million, off saying these nasty things about the -- about the defendant? And then, does that call his credibility, and his testimony, to question? I think it does.

COLLINS: One other thing that Todd Blanche asked Michael Cohen about, that I was interested in, was he asked about all of his meetings with the D.A. office, the D.A.'s office, generally, even before, Alvin Bragg was the District Attorney, here in Manhattan.

And he also asked him, have you ever met directly with Alvin Bragg?

And Michael Cohen said, no, I've actually never met him, which I was told, isn't unfamiliar. Alvin Bragg doesn't typically meet with witnesses. He'd only meet with victims.

But I don't know where Todd Blanche was going with that line of questioning had he said, yes.

HONIG: Yes. I would keep Alvin Bragg separated from any witness, especially Michael Cohen, like physical force if necessary.

I think the gist -- and you're right. That part of the cross-exam sort of fell flat for me. I think he was just trying to say you're so eager to please the D.A., you were begging them to come in. You've been trying to cooperate with them, for months and months. You've been hoping to get him indicted, for a long time, which culminates and now you're hoping he gets in prison. I think it just goes more to the vendetta theory.

But I agree it fell flat in the way it came through to me.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: And I do wonder whether it's guided by the client, right? I mean, so much of Donald Trump's framing of this case has been the judge, the D.A., right? It's the folks at the top that are leading the charge.

And I do wonder at times whether some of that hasn't affected how Blanche is thinking about his cross-examination, because that's where I thought he was going. It's this idea that Alvin Bragg is directly involved, you really are meeting up the folks, at the top of the chain here. And I think it completely fell flat.


COOPER: John Berman, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, perspective from a retired judge, on today's cross- examination of Michael Cohen.

Also, and Judge Merchan's reining in some of those questions.



COOPER: While the Trump trial didn't go off the rails today, with the Trump defense getting its first crack at star witness, Michael Cohen. But it easily could have, if not for some immediate action by Judge Merchan.

We told you earlier, he called Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche to the bench, only four questions in, to rein in the line of questioning, after it started off tensely with an expletive. Joining us now with more on that balancing act, to keep things in line, someone who's known Judge Merchan, for more than 15 years, former New York Judge Jill Konviser.

So, what do you make of what happened there, with the first cross- examination question leading to an objection and a sidebar?

JILL KONVISER, FORMER NY STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Well, cross- examination is the beating heart of the adversarial process. So, as a judge, you're going to take a step back, and let the lawyers do what they do.

If they ask an absolutely irrelevant question, or something that is just beyond the pale, it's your responsibility to stop it, whether it's question one, question four, or question 400. And that is precisely what Judge Merchan did.

So, when a lawyer says to a witness, on the stand, you said unkind things about me? There's no relevance to that. The flip side of that is with respect to any witness, who has a bias, toward the defendant in the case. That is fair game. Bias is never collateral. You can always ask those questions. But quite frankly, who cares what he thinks about the lawyer?


COOPER: But if that's how the lawyer wants to start off, like what's the harm in starting off that way, to the defendant -- I mean why would the judge intervene?


COOPER: The judge can just stay.

KONVISER: Because it's irrelevant, it doesn't matter. It's not something the jury could consider.


KONVISER: So, if they can't consider it, he shouldn't be able to ask the question. It was a bomb-throw, and something along those lines, a fire-throw, I don't know what you call it, but it was just something that he wanted--

COOPER: Molotov cocktail.

KONVISER: There you go. Thank you. Molotov cocktail. He wanted to throw it, and he knew he was going to get that sustained objection, 100 percent.

COOPER: Oh, really?

KONVISER: 100 percent.

HONIG: What did you think of the second question? The second question was Todd Blanche was trying to go to the fact that Michael Cohen recently had said -- it's crazy statements, Michael Cohen said. He said, the media's going to do facial recognition on the jury, and track you down, and camp out on your lawns.

Blanche started to go down that line. There was another objection. And the judge upheld that.

Would you have upheld -- would you have sustained that objection?

KONVISER: Probably. I don't know what it does, other than to put your jury on edge--


KONVISER: --which is the last thing you want as a judge. You're trying to keep them as a cohesive unit, for as long as you can. It doesn't -- it doesn't get -- it doesn't prove anything in this case ever.

HONIG: How about if the -- how about if the defense argument is just he's unhinged? He says wild, ridiculous, irresponsible things. Is that a fair line of cross?

KONVISER: Then it could be, if he makes that argument. I would probably choose a different question to go -- to figure out whether or not we're going down an unhinged path, and then try again.

You see, Judge, you see what I'm saying? And I want to now ask that question.

Then, maybe.

COLLINS: Judge, what do you make of Trump's allies that we saw inside the White House, today? Obviously, he's allowed -- or inside the courthouse. He's allowed to bring whoever he would like with him.

But J.D. Vance and Doug Burgum, both in moments outside the courthouse, this week, attacked the judge, but also his daughter, which is precisely what led the judge to expand the gag order here.

I imagine it's obviously difficult. I mean, they both said that they've made those statements that they were here on their own. I imagine it's difficult for the judge to prove, in the gag order, that Trump had instructed them to make those statements, which it prevents him from doing.

KONVISER: Well, first of all, it is a public courtroom, so they can come and they can talk and they do have First Amendment rights, which of course we've said on this show many times, First Amendment rights are fundamental, but they're not absolute. But certainly they can say what they want.

But if you look back at the -- at the gag order, Judge Merchan upheld, when Donald Trump posted other things, people -- other comments from other people, someone from Fox News, named Jesse I think, they put on. And the judge said, you know what, that is a violation of the gag order because you are accepting it, you are putting it out there, you're giving it your imprimatur. And that's going to be a violation of the gag order.

So, I think is a similar analysis here, because, look, all of a sudden, everyone didn't just descend on the courthouse. There's some conversations. I pretty much guarantee Trump didn't call up, and say come on down, and say these things. But someone probably did. So, is it a violation of the gag order? Only if the People can prove, and it's their burden, that Trump had something to do with it.

But it is pretty curious and troubling, that everything these upstanding statesmen said was precisely what the defendant has tried to get out, and is unable to get out because of the gag order.

TOOBIN: Judge, let me ask you a question about the jury. We're now a month into this trial. And there hasn't been a single alternate brought in. And all 12 are still intact. That strikes me, in my New York experience, as pretty unusual in a trial of this length. And does that tell you anything about the jury in this case?

KONVISER: Well, does it tell me anything? If I was able to tell what jurors were thinking or doing? I would -- I'd be a rich woman, I guess. So, you never really know. But I agree with you completely. It is unusual.

It's been my experience that in every criminal case, whether it's a misdemeanor that's being tried, a homicide, or this very significant press-worthy case, with a former President of the United States? There are always issues, whether it's with the jury, whether it's with a gag order, whether it's with people in the audience, whether it's gang- affiliated, there's always something.

But it is incredibly surprising that every juror is still involved. No one's late, no one had an emergency. No one has a root canal. It's -- I agree with you, one month into it, it's surprising.

What does it tell me? It tells me either they're wonderfully upstanding, civic-minded people, or it's just completely unusual and coincidental. Or they really want to be there, or any version of all of those things.

HONIG: That's what it tells me. Nobody wants out.

Because if you want out, you can get out on this. I mean, if a juror came in one day, and said, I went into my social media feed and I saw something I probably wasn't supposed to see, and it's tainted my view of the case. I mean, anyone could have asked out and probably gotten out of this case.


HONIG: And I've done cases less high profile than this. We've gone three, four alternates team.

TOOBIN: Oh, sure.



HONIG: And here we are, not a single one. So, I think it's a good indicator just that the jury is focused and doing its job.

TOOBIN: Yes. And well -- and here's the hypothesis. I would imagine a jury, this committed, to doing their job, doesn't want to hang, doesn't want to come back and say, well, we just couldn't do our job. I would think that this is a jury that's going to try hard, to reach a verdict, in this case. Is that a meet -- is that a possible theory?

KONVISER: It's possible. I would like to think that too. But you could have two camps that are entrenched.

TOOBIN: Right.

KONVISER: And they're not speaking about the case. They are told at the beginning, in the middle, and there'll be told again, you may not discuss this case.

So they're talking about lunch, or they're talking about the weather, or they're talking about what their co-op board is doing? I don't know. But they're not talking about the case.

So, you don't really know where anyone is. And we won't unless and until they go back there, they've been charged, they've heard all the arguments, and they start their deliberations. And then, we'll know.

COOPER: Overall, are you surprised at all by the pace of things, by how this entire case has been handled?

KONVISER: I am. I am surprised how smoothly it's gone. And quite frankly, the only thing that's gone off the rails is the defendant, who has, you know, goes before the microphone, says whatever he wants, talks about his constitutional rights being violated when he's wrong. He's wrong every time he says it.

And even today, the Appellate Division on an Article 78 Mandamus application found that Judge Merchan did the right thing, in terms of the gag order that it was narrowly-tailored, the order was justified, and he used the least restrictive means. So, they out-and-out dismissed his claims, right there.

COOPER: Judge Konviser, thank you so much. It's always great to have you.

KONVISER: You're welcome.

COOPER: Ahead, how the Trump defense responded today, when the judge asked whether Donald Trump himself will be testifying.


[21:46:26] COOPER: The prosecution says Michael Cohen will be its final witness, prompting this question from Judge Merchan, today, to Team Trump. "Do you have any indication whether your client is going to testify?"

Donald Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, said no.

Merchan follows up with "No determination yet?" And heard another, no.

Not surprising since Trump's really been all over the map.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would have no problem testifying. I didn't do anything wrong.

And I'm testifying. I tell the truth. I mean, all I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there's no case. They have no case.

Well, I would if it's necessary.

Well, I'm not allowed to testify. I'm under a gag order, I guess. I can't even testify at all.

REPORTER: Will the gag order stop you from testifying?

TRUMP: No, it won't stop me from testifying. The gag order is not for testifying.

ANTHONY DABRUZZI, REPORTER/MMJ, SPECTRUM NEWS: Do you plan to testify in court?

TRUMP: Probably so. I would like to. I mean, I think so.


COOPER: CNN -- he's not going to testify. CNN Legal Analyst -- I'm not a legal analyst. But I can tell you that.

CNN Legal Analyst, Norm Eisen, was also inside the courtroom today. He once investigated Trump, as counsel to House Democrats in the first impeachment, has litigated cases involving Trump, previously. He's also the Author of "Trying Trump: A Guide to His First Election Interference Criminal Trial."

Norm, do you think Trump will testify?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Anderson, I hope you're not going to replace me as the CNN Legal Analyst, because you hit the nail on the head.

COOPER: Wow. There's no -- there's no way.

EISEN: There is no way that he is going to testify. His lawyers won't allow it. Of course, he is known to override his lawyers. It would be suicide for him to do that. It not only would harm him, and the Case- in-Chief, or at least they have an argument they can make.

In my view, the prosecution just cleared the proof beyond a reasonable doubt, hurdle with Cohen's testimony, solidified it with Cohen's very solid performance, today, on cross.

But on sentencing, if Trump is found guilty, if the judge believes that he got on the stand, and lied to him, and his jurors, it virtually assures a sentence of incarceration. So, I think that even Trump is not foolish enough to make that decision.

COOPER: And I know you love a good legal phrase. Explain how the prosecution was drawing the sting today.

EISEN: Yes, the -- my, I write a CNN Trial Diary for every day of trial. And today was about drawing the sting. It's a trial lawyer term. Elie did it often with some of his more dubious witnesses that he had to put on as a prosecutor.

HONIG: A lot of them.

EISEN: It's fronting all of the bad news, so that the jury doesn't hear the negatives that Michael Cohen lied, that he's pled guilty to nine felonies, that one of those felonies was for perjury.

COOPER: So, it's getting all the stuff out there?

EISEN: Get it all out there.

And they did a very sophisticated job. Susan Hoffinger, learning from her misadventures on the Stormy Daniels direct, was very adept. And it actually was sophisticated. She planted a number of seeds that will only flourish, when we come back on Thursday, on all of the main lines, the vectors of attack.

TOOBIN: Norm, let me ask you about that. Because, OK, it's good to draw the sting. It's good to front the bad news. But what about the bad news? I mean, what about the fact that he's made $3.4 million off of Trump-hating? What about the fact that he has said he wants this jury to convict? I mean, what's the answer to that?


EISEN: I have found mostly in my life, as a defense lawyer, before my foray into prosecuting Donald Trump that if a witness is honest on the stand, honest with the jury, if they fess up to what they did before, if they express remorse for what they did before, if they have a plausible redemption narrative, and if they're likable? That juries will accept them. And I thought that Cohen did all of that.

And indeed, he has one advantage, over some of the clients, who I've represented, some of the cooperators, and many who cooperate. He's not working off-time. He's out.

TOOBIN: Right.

EISEN: So, in that respect, he's better-situated. TOOBIN: Well explain -- explain what you mean by working off-time.

EISEN: Very often, the cooperator will be arriving from prison, slept in a suit and a tie to testify. But their freedom depends on how well they do in cooperating with the prosecution. That's not the case for Michael Cohen. So, that's an advantage.

And I saw something very interesting today. It's the first time that I've noticed it, in this trial. Again, and again, Susan Hoffinger was trying to get Cohen to talk to the jury. And he started talking to the jury. Several times today, they put down their writing instruments, and they just listened to him. And it felt to me like a conversation.

You'd never know. Elie's constantly reminding me, you can't read the minds of the jury. I did bring my jury consultant with me, which I have in common with Susan--

HONIG: Travels with her.

EISEN: --Susan Necheles. I brought her one day because I wanted her insights, on what this jury was thinking.

But I do think that Michael Cohen had a little bit of a bond that was established over his examination with the jury.


EISEN: That is very dangerous for Donald Trump.

Todd Blanche had to knock Cohen off. He had one shot. At a first impression, as my mother always said, you only get one chance at a first impression, he blew it.

HONIG: How--

COOPER: What did your jury consultant say to you?

EISEN: She said that she did not think we were going to get a hung jury, in this case.


EISEN: My very first CNN Trial Diary was about Trump's strategy. One angry juror can--

COOPER: Why does she -- why does she think?

EISEN: Hung juries are very uncommon, very small percentage of trials turnout in hung juries. And she -- there's certain telltale signs, when you have an angry or an alienated juror.

Or you look for the jury. Michael knows this. You look for -- will one of the members of the jury smile at -- persistently smile at the defendant, or wink, or show some tell coming in and out over hostility to the prosecution? She watched all day long. She didn't see any of it. HONIG: Norm, how would you, defense lawyer extraordinaire, have opened your cross examination of Michael Cohen?

EISEN: I would have hammered him on his perjury, and I would have gone for--

HONIG: Right.

EISEN: --the juggler on the -- some of the bad answers on cross- examination. Nobody says oh, the Clarence Darrow of our time, Alina Habba. But Alina Habba did get some tricky answers from Michael Cohen. I would have gone for the juggler, right back for that, having to do with the most sensitive issues for him, he pled guilty.

But we saw today that Cohen would have been ready for even that. That was one of the stings that Susan Hoffinger drew.

He had a good answer, about whether he was honest, when he made his initial plea, he said -- he pled guilty. So, he told the judge, he was guilty. And he said since -- you know, I wasn't telling the truth to that judge. But he explains he doesn't deny the facts. He was coerced by the Southern District and threat of prosecuting his wife, to plead to crimes that he didn't commit.

One of the most distinguished judges of the Southern District, Judge Rakoff has a whole book, "Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and the Guilty Go Free." That was what Michael explained today. I thought it was very plausible.

TOOBIN: One of the most contested issues in this case is one of the lowest profile issues, which is the business records themselves. Do -- themselves. Do you think Cohen helped present the jury with an explanation of how Trump himself was responsible for creating the false business records?


EISEN: He did. He took us through the notes that Allen Weisselberg made of the grossed-up scheme, and then he put Trump in two meetings, one with him and Weisselberg, in Trump Tower, another in the White House, buying into that scheme.

If you believe Michael Cohen, I think the jury does, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump falsified those records.

COOPER: Norm Eisen, thank you.

EISEN: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Great accounts of what happened today.

Quick programming note. This Friday, with the hush money trial in recess, don't miss a 360 special, my interview with Karen McDougal. I talked to her, back in 2018, right after the story broke of her alleged affair with the former President, something he denies. It's the only TV interview she's ever done. Watch the interview this Friday, at 8 PM Eastern.

The news continues, including CNN's special coverage of the Trump hush money trial, right after a break.