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Trump's lawyers to attack Michael Cohen's story of hush money scheme

Cohen, 57, who served as Trump's personal lawyer for over a decade, testified this week that Trump ordered him to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016 to protect Trump's presidential campaign.
Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 13:05 IST
Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 13:05 IST

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New York: Donald Trump's lawyers plan to resume their cross-examination of the Republican presidential candidate's ex-fixer Michael Cohen on Thursday, aiming to undermine his testimony that Trump was intimately involved in buying a porn star's silence over an alleged sexual encounter.

Cohen, 57, who served as Trump's personal lawyer for over a decade, testified this week that Trump ordered him to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016 to protect Trump's presidential campaign.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies having a sexual encounter. The New York case, one of four criminal prosecutions he faces, may be the only one with a jury verdict before his Nov. 5 election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Testifying at the first criminal trial of a US president past or present, Cohen said he and Trump discussed a plan to reimburse Cohen for the payout through a series of bogus invoices for legal fees. Their chats included one in the White House Oval Office when Trump was president in 2017, Cohen said.

In about two hours of cross-examination on Tuesday, defense lawyer Todd Blanche sought to portray the prosecution's star witness as a serial liar falsely implicating his former boss to exact revenge and make money off his books and podcasts featuring anti-Trump invective.

Blanche used Cohen's own words to paint him as unreliably biased against Trump, noting that Cohen had called Trump a "dictator douchebag", "boorish cartoon misogynist" and "Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain" on podcasts and in social media posts.

"He didn't deliver any hammer blows", George Grasso, a retired New York state judge who has been attending the trial, said of Blanche's questioning of Cohen. "If the case were to end right now, I think that they have enough evidence on the record to justify a finding by this jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump is guilty".

Trump, 77, faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in New York and has pleaded not guilty also in the three other cases he faces. He characterizes all four as an attempt to interfere with his campaign to take back the White House.

'Retainer' payment

Trump has argued that his monthly payments to Cohen throughout 2017 were for his work as his personal lawyer to the president, meaning there was nothing improper about the word "retainer" being written on the checks Trump signed.

Prosecutors say the reimbursement payments were falsely labeled as legal expenses in the Trump Organization's records to conceal the Daniels payoff, which they say violated US election campaign finance law.

Cohen is the 20th and final witness to be called to testify by prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office at the trial, which began on April 15 in New York state criminal court.

Blanche told Justice Juan Merchan on Tuesday that he expects his cross-examination of Cohen to last most of Thursday, meaning the defense would have the opportunity to call its own witnesses when the trial resumes next week. Blanche said outside the jury's presence that Trump had yet to decide whether to testify.

Cohen carries significant baggage as a witness. He pleaded guilty to federal crimes in 2018 for offenses related to the Daniels payment and lying to Congress during an investigation into Trump's Russia ties. He told jurors on Tuesday he lied repeatedly to journalists and others about the Daniels scandal.

But he answered most of Blanche's questions on Tuesday directly and sometimes subverted their intent, such as when he admitted that he previously admired Trump but likened it to being in a cult.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors in his April 22 opening statement that Cohen's testimony would be corroborated by other evidence. So far, that has included tabloid publisher David Pecker's testimony that he agreed at an August 2015 meeting with Trump and Cohen to be the campaign's "eyes and ears" for women seeking to sell unflattering stories.

Jurors have also seen a former Trump Organization executive's handwritten notes outlining Cohen's reimbursements and heard a surreptitious recording Cohen made of Trump seeming to discuss a hush money payment Pecker's company made to another woman.

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Published 16 May 2024, 13:05 IST

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