Cohen to answer more questions at Trump’s hush money trial

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Donald Trump

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s one-time political fixer and the key witness against the former U.S. president at his New York hush money trial, is back on the witness stand Thursday, set to answer more questions on cross-examination from one of Trump’s defense lawyers.

Cohen, the 19th and last prosecution witness, told the 12-member jury on Tuesday that while he once took care of Trump’s every demand, he turned against him in 2018 and now wants the former president convicted.

Cohen’s testimony is key for the prosecution’s case against Trump. Cohen testified earlier this week that Trump ordered him to make a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels just ahead of the 2016 election to keep voters from hearing her claim of an alleged tryst with Trump a decade earlier.

“’Just do it,’” Cohen quoted Trump as telling him.

The hush money payment, Cohen said, was aimed at influencing the outcome of the 2016 election that Trump narrowly won, not, as the Trump defense has claimed, an attempt to keep personally embarrassing information from his wife Melania.

During that period, Cohen told the jury, Trump twice ok’d reimbursement to Cohen of the hush money payment he made to Daniels and falsely labelling it in company ledgers at the Trump Organization as money Cohen was owed for his legal work. One of the reimbursement green lights was given by Trump at the White House, after he had become president, Cohen said.

The deception that the money repaid to Cohen was for legal work is at the crux of the 34 charges Trump faces at the trial, that he falsified business records and that it was aimed at helping him win the election.

Trump has denied Daniels’ claim of a liaison with him at a celebrity golf tournament and the entirety of the indictment against him.

But if convicted, Trump could be placed on probation or sentenced to up to four years in prison. He is now the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate in the November election against President Joe Biden.

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York City, May 14, 2024.
Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York City, May 14, 2024.

Cohen’s credibility

The question for the jurors is Cohen’s credibility. He pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation in connection with the hush money payment and other offenses, including perjury for lying to a congressional panel about a prospective Trump Tower project in Moscow that never materialized.

Cohen served 13½ months in a federal prison and a year-and-a-half in home confinement.

In his initial cross-examination of Cohen on Tuesday, Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche suggested that Cohen is not to be believed and is still obsessed with Trump, makes money by hawking anti-Trump merchandise and books he wrote about Trump, and seems intent on paying back Trump for turning his back on him.

Many of Blanche’s questions for Cohen were aimed at showing jurors the extent of Cohen’s animosity toward Trump, the first U.S. president to face criminal charges.

After abandoning the emotional clutch of the man he reverently called “the boss,” Cohen said he has written two Trump-related books for which he has earned $3.4 million in royalties.

He has promoted the sale on his website of such anti-Trump bric-a-brac as a T-shirt depicting a handcuffed Trump in an orange jumpsuit and a coffee mug that reads, “Send him to the big house, not the White House.”

Blanche asked if Cohen, speaking on his four-times-a-week podcast, called Trump a “boorish cartoon misogynist.”

“Sounds like something I would say,” Cohen said.

Blanche then asked if Cohen has called Trump a “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain.”

“That also sounds like something that I said,” Cohen responded.

Blanche also sought to portray Cohen as conveniently forgetful in his recollections, unable to recall recent multiple conversations with the prosecutors who asked him to end his attacks on Trump during the trial, yet able to recall 2016 conversations with Trump that were damaging to the former president.

“I remember all the phone conversations with Mr. Trump at the time, yes,” Cohen testified.

As he turned against Trump in 2018, Cohen said he apologized to the American public “for lying to them, for acting in a way that suppressed information that the citizenry had a right to know in order to make a determination on the individual who was seeking the highest office in the land.”

‘I admired him tremendously’

Under Blanche’s questioning, Cohen told jurors that as Trump grandly entered the American political scene in 2015 with his ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in New York, “I admired him tremendously.”

He said Trump paid him $375,000 a year plus an annual bonus of $150,000, except for 2016.

“At that time, I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump, yes,” Cohen said, adding, “I was not lying. It’s how I felt.”

He said that at one point, he would have taken a bullet for Trump, and that he viewed Trump and his immediate relatives as his own surrogate family.

But that changed after FBI agents raided his then-home, a New York hotel room, in April 2018, months after news of Cohen’s payment to Daniels became public knowledge. Agents seized his cellphones and many of his documents, Cohen said.

Cohen said he was frightened by the raid, but that Trump told him, “Don’t worry. I’m the president of the United States. There’s nothing here. Everything’s going to be OK. Stay tough. You’re going to be OK.”

Cohen said it was the last time he talked with Trump, and soon Trump and his allies started balking at paying Cohen’s legal bills to defend him. Cohen said he turned against Trump after his wife and children questioned why he should remain loyal to him.

“My family — my wife, my daughter, my son — all said to me, ‘Why are you holding on to this loyalty? What are you doing? We’re supposed to be your first loyalty.’ I made a decision based again on the conversation I had with my family that I would not lie for President Trump anymore,” he testified.

As Cohen pleaded guilty to some of his offenses in 2018, Trump tweeted, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

Blanche asked Cohen whether in February 2019 he had renounced his admiration for Trump and told a congressional panel that Trump was “a con man, and you were ashamed.”

“I said that, yes,” Cohen said.

Trump’s lawyers promise defense witness

After Cohen’s testimony ends, Trump’s lawyers say they have an expert witness to testify in his defense, although the subject matter has not been disclosed.

The most significant remaining witness question is whether Trump will testify about his version of the events that have unfolded in four weeks of testimony. He has said he wants to take the witness stand, but whether he actually will is unknown.

Should Trump testify, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan has already ruled that prosecutors can question him about two civil cases he lost in the past few months for which he was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.