Elie Honig
A CNN analyst who explains courtroom drama with South Jersey flair
By Nicole Pensiero

Photography: Jay Conroy

Ask legal analyst Elie Honig why he connects so easily with his CNN audience, and he’ll tell you it’s a South Jersey thing.

“I think the way I talk is very ‘South Jersey.’ It’s plainspoken, real and relatable,” says Honig, a 1993 Cherry Hill East grad.

It becomes evident quickly when you talk with Honig that his TV persona isn’t a persona at all. It’s just him, giving his take on topics related to the law and politics that have long sparked his passion.

Through his TV work and weekly CNN column, “Cross Exam with Elie Honig,” the 44-year-old attorney has built a strong national following in less than a year – and for good reason. He’s  unguarded, but thoughtful. Animated, but professional. A “lawyer’s lawyer” in the ways that count.

Beyond his (we think) perfect delivery, Honig has the legal chops and quick mind to analyze news. And to be sure, there’s been a lot of that lately, from the aftermath of the Mueller report to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. With breaking news showing few signs of a summer slowdown, he’s sometimes called on to give his take on the latest developments some 15 times a week.

“I bring my real-life experiences as a trial lawyer into the conversation, and I think people appreciate that,” he says. “I basically look at a case and tell them, ‘Here’s what’s happening and here’s how it could play out.’ It gives them an insiders’ perspective.”

The Harvard Law School grad was still in his 20s when he landed a job with the prestigious U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). Describing the level of courtroom drama he encountered as often “better than Hollywood,” Honig prosecuted hundreds of cases involving murder, racketeering, human trafficking and other crimes. He took on mob bosses and had a reputation for never backing away from a challenge – so much so he was dubbed “Hotshot Honig” by members of the Gotti crime family.

Honig crossed back to the Jersey side in 2012 to run the Garden State’s Division of Criminal Justice, serving under five attorney generals, both Democrat and Republican. As the director, he supervised a staff of more than 500 and oversaw thousands of cases a year, many involving corporate crime, public corruption and healthcare fraud. Under his watch, New Jersey pioneered bail reform initiatives that have since dramatically reduced violent crime and imprisonment rates.

“We were one of the first states to adopt it,” he says. “Others have followed and, I believe, in time this will become the national model.”

At the time Honig started appearing on cable news, he was getting settled into academic life. Tapped as the executive director of Rutgers University’s newly established Institute for Secure Communities, his work involves cutting-edge initiatives related to criminal justice, intelligence and security. In addition, the father of two is a practicing attorney specializing in white collar criminal defense.

On the suggestion of a former SDNY colleague, Honig last year did a few guest spots on CNN and MSNBC, providing legal commentary. He joined CNN exclusively in September as a legal analyst. Along with frequent on-air appearances, Honig’s opinion column on CNN.com weighs in on high-profile legal cases and political drama. And when news breaks, he’s frequently among the first of the pundits to take to Twitter.

“It gives me a platform to talk about legal issues and, being on TV live, you never know what’s going to happen,” he says.

The night before Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony, for instance, Honig was asked to appear live at nearly midnight to react to breaking news. And when the Mueller Report broke, CNN came calling around 9:45 am. By 11:02 am, he was on air and appeared seven different times in the next 24 hours, providing live commentary.

He says the only real way to prepare is to be constantly up on the news. Taking a deeper dive than your average news junkie is necessary because it’s important that he has his own thoughts and opinions.

“I can’t just regurgitate what has already been said by others,” Honig says.

Looking back, he gives props to great teachers and excellent opportunities at Cherry Hill East that helped shape his love of writing, interest in government and high drama. It was acting, in particular a Shakespeare comedy during his senior year, that gave him his appreciation for performing in front of an audience.

“That gave me a real rush,” he recalls.

With family still in South Jersey, Honig frequently returns to old stomping grounds. During one visit, he was a  guest speaker at the Cherry Hill Public Library earlier this year. With family, friends and news junkies in the audience, he talked about his career and take on the news of the day.

More and more, Honig finds himself recognized by fans of his CNN appearances, but says those encounters are mostly low key.

“It’s usually just a friendly, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you on TV,’ kind of thing,” he says.

And that’s about as intense as he wants it for now.

“It’s enormously fun,” he says. “This allows me to stay involved in the legal world of criminal justice and have a voice.”

August 2019
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