Trump's Surrogates Take Center Stage In Manhattan | Crooked Media
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May 14, 2024
What A Day
Trump's Surrogates Take Center Stage In Manhattan

In This Episode

  • Former President Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial hit a new level of chaos Tuesday as Michael Cohen, Trump’s former self-described ‘fixer,’ continued his testimony for a second day. Trump’s defense team also began cross-examination, trying to paint Cohen as a bitter former employee out for revenge and publicity. Outside the Manhattan courtroom, an entourage of MAGA Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, took turns railing against the trial and bashing the American justice system.
  • And in headlines: Democrat Angela Alsobrooks will face former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the race for Maryland’s open Senate seat after both won their party primaries Tuesday night, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv to reaffirm the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine amid recent Russian gains in the country’s east, and President Biden announced higher tariffs on Chinese imports of electric vehicles, solar panels, semiconductors, steel and aluminum.


Show Notes:






Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, May 15th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What a Day where we can’t get over the first official portrait of King Charles. It’s more than eight feet tall and has a lot of red. 


Priyanka Aribindi: A lot is an understatement. It is truly wild. It also has a sword and a butterfly. So much going on here. 


Juanita Tolliver: But the color truly communicates a lot. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know if they did a great job of vetting the artist and how maybe they felt about the royals. [music break] On today’s show, the Biden administration approved more than one billion dollars in weapons for Israel. Plus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Ukraine. 


Juanita Tolliver: But first, Donald Trump’s hush money trial hit a new level of chaos Tuesday as his former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen’s testimony progressed and prosecutors handed him over to the defense team for cross-examination. And former President Trump invited an entourage of MAGA Republicans to New York to effectively serve as his mouthpiece. 


[clip of Donald Trump] I do have a lot of surrogates, and they are speaking very beautifully, and they come over from all over Washington and they’re highly respected, and they think this is the greatest scam they’ve ever seen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: All right. So before we get to the MAGA crew that Trump deployed here, tell us about how Michael Cohen fared on the witness stand. 


Juanita Tolliver: Well, prosecutors from the district attorney’s office spent Tuesday morning working to lay out all of Michael Cohen’s dirt for the jury before the cross-examination began. According to reports, prosecutors asked about his intentions to mislead the public about the payments to Stormy Daniels and how he continued to pressure other people to lie about the payoffs, all of which Cohen admitted. They also asked Cohen about Trump’s approval of the misleading public statements that omitted his own involvement. And Cohen stated that he lied to protect Trump, to stay on message and to demonstrate continued loyalty. Cohen never tried to hide that his actions were wrong, and he made it clear that he acted under Trump’s direction. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So paint a picture of this cross-examination for us. What did Trump’s attorneys ask, and how did Cohen react to it? 


Juanita Tolliver: According to reports, Trump’s defense attorney, Todd Blanche, started the cross-examination by stating that he’d never met Cohen, but that Cohen called him a, quote, “crying little shit” to which Cohen responded, quote, “that sounds like something I would say,” like very casual. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me. 


Juanita Tolliver: That set the tone for the cross-examination. And after that first question, Justice Juan Merchan called the attorneys to the bench and asked Blanche, why are you making this about yourself? According to NBC news. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s a valid question. Why is he?


Juanita Tolliver: The defense team worked to undermine Cohen’s credibility and painted him as a vindictive individual who was deeply frustrated that Trump has not been prosecuted. They referred to his social media posts, book deals, and television appearances as evidence. But while the defense team attempted to tarnish Cohen’s reputation, there were reports that their line of questioning was disjointed and meandering. At one point, Cohen said he didn’t understand the questions, and one NBC reporter noted that, quote, “Blanche keeps jumping from topic to topic, and the time periods keep changing.” So not great. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Not sounding like the most straightforward cross-examination here, but going back to Trump’s entourage, he called in reinforcements, some of whom were expected and invited by him. Others were more of a surprise. After a few rough days in court with Stormy Daniels’ testimony last week and now Michael Cohen’s. So who has been showing up to Trump’s court dates in New York and what have they been saying? 


Juanita Tolliver: Trump was not lying when he said he has a lot of Republican surrogates. It started last week with Florida Senator Rick Scott. And this week so far, Ohio Senator JD Vance, Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican House speaker Mike Johnson, Florida Representative Byron Donalds, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy have made the trip to New York. There have also been additional members of Congress and a few attorneys general alongside Trump in court. And my first question is, why are these people behaving as if though they don’t have day jobs or responsibilities to their constituents? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right? 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean, well, Vivek Ramaswamy doesn’t have a job, but everyone else needs to answer that question first. 


Priyanka Aribindi: No, it is almost certain that he was not invited and just sort of decided to tag along. But this is all very wild to me that this is how these elected officials are choosing to use their precious time. 


Juanita Tolliver: Trump’s entourage has not only been attending the trial, but they coordinated their outfits, each wearing a red tie. Because–


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m sorry. 


Juanita Tolliver: They’re coordinating. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I cannot. If we just back up for a second, that is just objectively the funniest thing. You’re going to the trial of Donald Trump, the first criminal trial of a president in the United States. And you’re going to wear matching outfits?


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wild, wild. 


Juanita Tolliver: And they have been proactively planting seeds of doubt about the outcome of the trial. Here’s House speaker Mike Johnson. 


[clip of House Speaker Mike Johnson] I called President Trump and told him I wanted to be here myself to call out what is a travesty of justice. And I think everybody around the country can see that. President Trump is a friend, and I wanted to be here to support him. It’s painfully obvious that we’re now six months out from an election day. And and that’s the reason. That is the reason why they brought these these charges here and across the country. 


Juanita Tolliver: Keep in mind, this is the highest ranking Republican in the nation, casting doubt on the official court proceedings. And let’s not forget that this is not Johnson’s first time coming to Trump’s defense, as he served on Trump’s defense in his second impeachment trial, and was one of the architects of Trump’s legal efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Now not far behind Mike Johnson’s were the veep stakes contenders who also jumped in front of any microphone that they could find this week. Here’s Governor Burgum. 


[clip of Governor Doug Burgum] I think one thing that we’ve all known is this was a sham trial, but when you have an opportunity to see it up close and personal, you can see it’s actually a scam trial. 


Juanita Tolliver: It’s so embarrassing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: He really thought he did something with that line. He thought he was going to have the sound bite of the day. 


Juanita Tolliver: No, sir. 


Priyanka Aribindi: No. 


Juanita Tolliver: Representative Donalds of Florida also seemed to be confused about the case. Take a listen. 


[clip of Representative Byron Donalds] Where’s the crime? There is no crime. The only crime that is happening here is this Democrat judge and the Democrat Party prosecuting their political rival right in the middle of a presidential election. 


Juanita Tolliver: And my personal favorite is JD Vance getting owned by Caitlin Collins on Sunday on CNN after he tried to blame all of this on President Joe Biden. Take a listen. 


[clip of JD Vance] I think the biggest threat to American democracy, Caitlin, is that the Biden administration is trying to prevent Donald Trump from campaigning and taking his case to the American people, even as they–


[clip of Caitlin Collins] It’s a judge in New York–


[clip of JD Vance] –they hide their own candidate.


[clip of Caitlin Collins] –that’s presiding over that case. It’s the Biden administration is not preventing Donald Trump from campaigning. He just did two campaign events tonight. 


Priyanka Aribindi: He just did two campaign events tonight. He’s going to skip his son’s graduation to do a bunch more. It’s fine. This is not getting in his way of campaigning at all. 


Juanita Tolliver: And last but not least, Vivek Ramaswamy demonstrated how he could level attacks against the judge and his family while Trump is limited by a gag order. Take a listen. 


[clip of Vivek Ramaswamy] What is the crime that Donald Trump committed? Now, it appears to be what they might allege is some sort of bookkeeping error or whatever. The real bookkeeping that we need accounting of is Judge Merchan’s own family member collecting millions of dollars as a Democratic operative, using the existence of this trial as a fundraising ploy for Democrats. This is unconscionable. 


Juanita Tolliver: Sir. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I just can’t. I preferred it when he dropped out of the race. We didn’t have to hear from him anymore. I would like to stick with that, please. But anyways, what should we expect next in this trial? 


Juanita Tolliver: Well, the trial is not in session today or Friday, per Trump’s request to attend his son’s graduation. Which you mentioned earlier was a ploy. 


Priyanka Aribindi: He’s still fitting in the campaign events. Don’t worry. Barron’s graduations not getting in the way. 


Juanita Tolliver: But the trial will be back in session on Thursday, with Michael Cohen back on the stand for further cross-examination. Prosecutors have said that Cohen is their final witness, and they are expected to rest their case in the coming days. After that, the defense will present their case. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Thank you for all of that, Juanita. That is the latest. For now. We’ll get to some headlines in just a moment, but if you are enjoying our show, please make sure to subscribe and share it with your friends. We’ll be right back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The Biden administration told Congress on Tuesday that it plans to move forward with a new weapons package for Israel, totaling nearly $1.3 billion. The package reportedly includes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tank ammunition and tactical vehicles. It also includes 60 million in mortar rounds. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story, says that it could be years before the weapons in the package are delivered. But the decision comes just about a week after the Biden administration withheld a shipment of bombs to Israel, and after President Joe Biden threatened to withhold even more military aid over Israel’s planned invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The administration has said that it would continue to send aid that could be used for self-defense. Israel has ramped up its attacks on Rafah in recent weeks, prompting many of the more than one million people sheltering there to try and leave, though there are very few places that they can actually go. Also on Tuesday, the Prime Minister of Qatar, one of the nations facilitating negotiations between Israel and Hamas, said that ceasefire talks were at, quote, “almost a stalemate.” 


Juanita Tolliver: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv on Tuesday to reaffirm the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine amid its ongoing war with Russia. Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said that some U.S. aid has already arrived in Kyiv and that more is on the way. This is the secretary’s fourth visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded in 2022. And it comes just weeks after Congress passed a $60 billion military aid package for Ukraine. The aid was heavily delayed by Republican lawmakers despite Ukraine’s urgent need for more weapons and reinforcements. And while Congress stalled on approving Ukrainian aid for several weeks, Russia successfully ramped up its attacks and seized more territory in northeastern Ukraine. Blinken closed out the day by we’re not kidding, joining a local Kyiv band on stage in a dive bar on Tuesday night to play guitar and sing Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World. Who knew the Secretary of State could shred or compartmentalize at that level? I don’t know how to feel.


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly wild, this is just a mad libs to me and you will not convince me otherwise, you just filled in activities. You filled in a singer’s name. No, this isn’t real. The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it is sharply increasing tariffs on a range of different Chinese imports because of what it calls unfair trading practices. The White House is accusing China of incredibly low prices and disrupting global trade, along with national security concerns. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] The fact is, American workers are or can outwork and outcompete anyone as long as the competition is fair. But for too long it hasn’t been fair. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Tariffs will quadruple on electric vehicles to 100%, and batteries for those vehicles will also see increases. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] Folks, look, I’m determined that the future of electric vehicles will be made in America by Union Workers. Period. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The tariffs will also affect medical products, solar cells, and computer chips. And Biden officially backed the existing tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, which were put into place by President Trump. The taxes have raised some eyebrows, especially since Biden criticized Trump for his tariffs on Chinese imports during his 2020 campaign. But it’s also not so surprising. With the election just months away and Biden attempting to boost American manufacturing and economic prospects. China’s Ministry of Commerce disapproved of the taxes, and it’s unclear how and if China will retaliate. 


Juanita Tolliver: The Los Angeles County Probation Department announced on Tuesday that more than 60 officers are on leave over misconduct allegations. According to officials, 66 officers for both adults and juveniles have been placed on leave since January. More than half were sent home for accusations of excessive force, child endangerment or abuse, or possession of contraband. The announcement is significant given that Los Angeles County is the biggest probation department in the country, with nearly 3000 officers. The department stated that the leaves are meant to, quote, “regain the public’s trust in its officers.” However, we should say that it’s not clear whether or not these employees are getting paid leave. Okay, so we got a question of the paid leave or not. But the reality is, if they’re just being placed on leave and not facing anything else like losing their jobs, why do they think this would build any type of trust? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Certainly not the intended effect that they thought that this would have. And finally, some results from Tuesday’s elections. In Maryland, all eight of its congressional districts had primaries this year. But the closely watched race was the Senate seat. Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks beat multimillionaire Representative David Trone, who poured more than $60 million of his own money into his campaign. Alsobrooks will face former Republican Governor Larry Hogan in November. President Biden won, but as of our recording time, nearly 26,000 uncommitted votes were cast. And in West Virginia, billionaire and former Democrat Jim Justice won the GOP primary for Senate, meaning that he’ll be a strong candidate for the seat that Joe Manchin is retiring from. In West Virginia’s first congressional district convicted January 6th Rioter Derrick Evans lost his challenge against representative Carol Miller. Miller is heavily favored to win reelection in November. And finally, Nebraska is the only state with both its Senate seats up for election in November. That is because of a special election filling Republican Senator Ben Sasse’s seat. Democrat Preston Love and Republican Pete Ricketts will compete to fill that seat in November. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, put in a song request with the Secretary of State and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just transcripts of Justice Juan Merchan embarrassing Trump’s lawyers like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And keep on rocking in the free world. 


Juanita Tolliver: Shout out to Neil Young. Shout out to our friend Michell, who introduced me to some other songs that I already knew by Neil Young but didn’t know I knew. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Re-Introduced. 


Juanita Tolliver: There you go. Thank you.


Priyanka Aribindi: We’re big fans here at WAD. Big fans. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you have any other Neil Young recommendations, send them to me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Send them our way. [laughter] [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.