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CNN  — 

With a holiday weekend happening between the final witness testimony and closing arguments in former President Donald Trump’s New York hush money criminal trial, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at what we’ve just seen.

CNN’s Kara Scannell, Lauren del Valle and Jeremy Herb were inside the courtroom and an adjacent viewing room for all of the oral arguments – for all 20 days over the course of a month when the trial was in session.

While these are the first criminal trial proceedings against Trump, he also faced a civil fraud trial brought by the New York attorney general and two separate defamation lawsuits brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll. A judge found Trump liable for fraud for inflating his net worth to get friendly loans, and juries found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defaming Carroll. CNN’s reporters have covered all of the trials.

I talked to Herb and del Valle about how they went about getting what happened in court out to the world in almost real time and what people watching on TV might have missed.

Portions of those conversations, conducted by phone and email and edited for length, are below:

What will you take away from covering this trial?

DEL VALLE: This is actually my fourth Trump trial.

They’ve all been different. This is the first one where he’s had to be there every second. We saw different versions of him, I would say, at each trial.

He didn’t show up to the first E. Jean Carroll trial. He came to some of civil fraud trial for big days. He did briefly get up on the stand, and that was a moment in itself that we didn’t get to see here in the criminal trial.

We saw a very angry Trump at the second E. Jean Carroll trial where he walked out of closing, was very emotional and had tension with the judge.

Here, it’s almost been interesting how at moments it just felt like a regular trial. That’s never really been the case; we go through two levels of security, we have to wait in line hours before the trial starts, and we’re very much controlled by the security for Trump, and that’s not normal. But at the same time, Trump as a defendant has to sit there every second of the day.

There are times where you can forget that you are watching the first former president to be on trial facing criminal charges. It’s a shake yourself kind of moment to see him sit there like any other defendant I’ve seen in that courtroom facing what could be a conviction.

How did you cover a trial without cameras in real time for coverage on TV?

HERB: Kara, Lauren and I watched every day of the trial unfold from two places: inside the courtroom or in an “overflow” auxiliary courtroom, where the proceedings were played on closed-circuit television. This was a historic trial, of course, and we used a brand-new method of filing updates to try to keep readers and viewers informed of what was happening literally second by second.

This was possible because the press corps was allowed to use laptops in court (strictly no recording!), so we frantically took notes and then transmitted what we were seeing in real time to a Slack channel. From there, our editors quickly read our Slacks and added them to CNN.com’s live story, as well as to a “sidestream” feed that was displayed live on air.

The idea was to put readers and viewers in the room as best we could – our dispatches were sent mostly in single sentences so that we could keep updating as quickly as possible. Between the three of us, we tried to capture every moment, big and small, both in terms of quotes being said by the attorneys and witnesses as well as how others in the courtroom – mainly Trump – were reacting to what was happening.

What did TV viewers miss?

HERB: We tried to use descriptive language to describe what we were seeing and hearing, but words can only go so far to replace audio or video. I think it was often hard to capture the tone of a conversation, particularly when it got contentious.

We also couldn’t really convey what the jury was thinking – reporters were far enough away from the jurors that we could see them taking notes or watching the lawyers and witnesses, but it’s hard to know whether they were truly engaged or how they were taking any given bit of testimony.

What could you see of Trump?

HERB: We made sure to have at least one person in the courtroom and one in overflow, because they give you two different vantage points.

Reporters in the courtroom sat behind Trump – with a view often blocked by the many officers in the aisles of the gallery.

In the overflow room, there was a big-screen TV set up that showed four shots: the prosecutors, the defense table, the judge and the witness. From the overflow room, that gave us a clear view of Trump’s face, meaning we could see whether his eyes were closed (which didn’t mean he was necessarily sleeping!). We could also see when he smirked or smiled at something or was writing and passing notes to his attorneys.

From the courtroom, that same TV feed was displayed, but it was on a much smaller screen and farther away – some reporters had binoculars to try to get a better view.

What were the most dramatic moments?

During Stormy Daniels’ testimony …

DEL VALLE: Midway through the trial, Stormy, in vivid detail, describing certain things that were entirely taboo, that we wouldn’t really expect to hear in a courtroom, was certainly, I wouldn’t say dramatic, but it was definitely a moment that became a sideshow.

It’s not necessarily directly tied to the allegations or the charges in this case, but hearing her describe this alleged night with Trump in the hotel room, down to the anecdote of her smacking him on the butt with a magazine and his reaction in court, audibly cursing at that moment, was definitely a memory.

Stormy Daniels is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger in Manhattan state court in New York City on May 7 in this courtroom sketch.

During Michael Cohen’s testimony …

DEL VALLE: Then, during Cohen’s testimony, on cross-examination (Trump attorney) Todd Blanche built up into what Blanche clearly thought was a gotcha moment, suggesting that Cohen made up a call keeping Trump informed in the Daniels scheme. Blanche suggested it was actually a call with Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, about a 14-year-old prankster who had been prank calling Cohen … in that moment, Blanche was flailing his arms, yelling in a high-pitched tone, telling Cohen he made this up.

Cohen responded that, well, no, I think we could have talked about both things at the same time, or I believe this is the call. And Blanche told him the jury isn’t here to hear what you believe. They need to know what the facts are. And that was right before a lunch break, and it kind of left energy in the room, and set a tone for the rest of the day.

cohen trump sketch
Kaitlan Collins describes Trump's reaction to Cohen cross-examination
02:27 - Source: CNN

When the judge cleared the courtroom …

HERB: The most dramatic moment I think happened when the jury was out of the room during the testimony of the final witness, Robert Costello. His testimony had been limited by the judge ahead of time, and prosecutors were successfully objecting repeatedly to Trump lawyer Emil Bove’s questions.

Costello was visibly annoyed at this, and even uttered “ridiculous” while the attorneys were at a sidebar with the judge. When he let out a “jeez” after another objection, Judge Juan Merchan excused the jury to admonish the decorum of the witness, (who is) an attorney and former federal prosecutor.

That’s when things really got heated. “Are you staring me down right now?” Merchan said to Costello after dressing him down.

“Clear the courtroom!” the judge announced, leading to chaos as court officers forced reporters – and the attorney representing the media – to leave the courtroom over vigorous objections.

DEL VALLE: I’ve been in this courtroom for other trials many times. I have not seen a judge clear the courtroom of press to admonish a witness in a sidebar in such a way. The way Merchan handled that was definitely a surprise.

How did Trump interact with the friends and aides whom he had not spoken to in some time and who testified for the prosecution?

David Pecker, Trump’s longtime friend who tried to use the National Enquirer to help “catch and kill” stories that could hurt Trump …

DEL VALLE: It felt like by the end, Pecker was maybe trying to send Trump a message.

Even though they have not spoken since all of this unraveled in 2018, Pecker made a point of saying really positive things about Trump. How long they’ve known each other and had a really strong relationship. How, even though they haven’t spoken recently, Trump has sent him a hello through other people that he’s run into. He still considers Trump a friend all these years later.

By the end there, it felt like Trump was watching him and listening to these words, like, who knows, maybe they could be friends publicly again.

A court sketch of David Pecker testifying.

Hope Hicks, Trump’s former campaign press secretary and White House communications director who has since moved on from Trump’s orbit …

DEL VALLE: It was interesting because she made a point of saying that she was paying for her own attorney. She was not by any means still tied to Trump, but she was actually overcome with emotion when they started the cross-examination. She was so nervous the whole time, but especially when it came to how she might be treated by Trump’s side.

I think her candor also caught Trump’s attention, and he was definitely watching her at times – most of her testimony, actually.

hope hicks 2
Hope Hicks becomes the story
11:30 - Source: CNN

Madeleine Westerhout, Trump’s former personal assistant at the White House …

DEL VALLE: The one where it definitely felt like there was a connection – they exchanged eye contact when she came off the stand – was Madeleine Westerhout, who cried on the stand, was very emotional about the mistakes she made that led to her exit from the White House. She made clear how apologetic she was and what a great man she felt Trump was.

He definitely was paying close attention to her and smiled at her at times, and seemed to give her a nod and a smile and maybe exchanged words with her on her way off the stand.

Where were Trump’s many supporters, including high-ranking Republican lawmakers? Was there any indication jurors recognized them?

HERB: Both the prosecution and the defense were given the first two rows of seats behind their tables in the well for guests. On the prosecution side, District Attorney Alvin Bragg would sit here whenever he popped into the courtroom.

On Trump’s side, this was where the Republican lawmakers and other allies of Trump would sit. Trump aide Boris Epshteyn would often direct traffic and make sure they found their seats. On some days, Trump had so many people attending that a few would get relegated to the back row.

As for the jury, it’s hard to say whether they recognized any of the VIP guests. Every time they entered the courtroom, they walked past Trump’s table – and 99% of the time, all of them looked straight ahead and not at the defendant or his guests.

What less dramatic moments stand out?

DEL VALLE: With Stormy, it was definitely interesting and we tried to describe it, but she was talking a mile a minute. The court reporter could not keep up at all. The prosecutor and the judge had to stop her several times to ask her to slow down. And at one point later in the day, on her direct examination, she leaned over to the court reporter and smiled at her, and said, “Am I talking slower? Can you get it all?”

HERB: One of the things that isn’t obvious if you aren’t watching the proceedings is how collegial the lawyers on the opposing sides can be, even as they are viciously fighting against each other on the case and in rulings to try to help their side.

During breaks, Blanche would occasionally jump to the other side of the well to speak with his counterparts, Susan Hoffinger or Joshua Steinglass, and more than a few laughs were shared with whatever it was they were discussing.

While the press took up the majority of the seats, there were spaces dedicated to the general public – and some regulars who showed up every day, either sleeping overnight or, more likely, hiring line sitters who had a lucrative business throughout the trial saving spots in lines outside the courthouse for both media and the general public.

My favorite light moment in court may have come when Trump attorney Emil Bove was cross-examining a paralegal for the district attorney’s office, Jaden Jarmel-Schneider, who was testifying to enter into evidence call logs he had analyzed for the case. Bove asked him if putting together call summary charges could be “at times, arguably, tedious work?”

“Honestly, I kind of enjoyed it,” Jarmel-Schneider said. The response prompted one of the biggest laughs in the courtroom in the entire trial – even several jurors were laughing.

“I hear that,” Bove said in response. “Respect.”

What will stick with you from covering this moment of history?

HERB: This has easily been one of the most intense assignments I’ve ever had at CNN. Not only is it historic and unprecedented, but the way we are covering it requires a constant focus throughout every hour of every day of the trial – and every moment, dramatic or monotonous – in order to make sure we are conveying it to our readers and viewers quickly and accurately.

My hope is that I will be able look back at this unprecedented trial and be able to say we covered the historic moment fast and got it right (which I am not taking for granted until the trial is over!).