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Michael Cohen to return to witness stand for third day of testimony in Trump’s hush money trial

Written by on May 16, 2024

(NEW YORK) — Michael Cohen is set to return to the witness stand Thursday to face a full day of cross-examination in which the defense is expected to question the former Trump attorney’s credibility as the prosecution’s star witness in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial.

Across his two days on the witness stand, Cohen has offered the most incriminating testimony so far that Trump was aware of, and directly involved in, the criminal conduct alleged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has accused the former president of falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment that Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost Trump’s electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen, under direct examination, described in-person meetings and phone calls with Trump, who he said joined into an agreement with tabloid publisher David Pecker to catch and kill negative stories ahead of the election, approved a $130,000 hush money payment from Cohen to Daniels, and signed off on a scheme to reimburse Cohen in 2017. Trump has denied all wrongdoing.

Defense attorneys in their cross-examination are expected to try to use Cohen’s own words against him, including previous statements he’s made in media interviews, on podcasts and in his books, including his 2020 memoir, Disloyal.

Cohen told jurors that he made approximately $3 million from that book, which he wrote while serving 13 months in federal prison — in part for campaign finance violations related to the Stormy Daniels payment.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Todd Blanche began confronting Cohen with portions of the memoir to suggest Cohen was “obsessed” with Trump.

“At that time, I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump,” Cohen said about his decade working for Trump.

Cohen’s detailed descriptions in Disloyal about his meetings with Trump related to the catch-and-kill scheme could be a focus of the cross-examination, as defense attorneys attempt to draw out any differences between Cohen’s testimony and what he wrote in the book.

Cohen’s secret recording

On Monday, jurors heard a recording that Cohen secretly made of a conversation with Trump in September 2016, when the two discussed a plan to reimburse Pecker for his company’s $150,000 hush money payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who alleged a year-long affair with Trump that Trump denied took place.

“We’ll have to pay him something,” Cohen can be heard saying in the recording.

“Pay with cash,” Trump responded.

Asked on the stand to explain why he secretly recorded his boss, Cohen told jurors that he wanted to provide Pecker proof that Trump planned to repay him.

“It was so I could show it to David Pecker, and that way he would hear the conversation so that he would know that we are going to be paying him,” Cohen said. “I also wanted him to remain loyal to Mr. Trump.”

In his book, Cohen offered an additional explanation for the recording: that he made it in case Trump “threw me under the bus” one day.

“First, to show Pecker that I was asking Trump to repay the obligation, and second, to have a record of his participation if the conspiracy ever came out,” Cohen wrote. “I was certain that Trump would throw me under the bus in that event, claiming ignorance and laying all the blame on a rogue lawyer, namely me.”

Though Cohen wrote the book three years before Bragg would indict Trump, Cohen acknowledged in the book, “I had no idea how prescient I was.”

The Stormy Daniels payment

Cohen testified that Trump was angry when Cohen first shared the news that Daniels was shopping her story in the fall of 2016.

“He was really angry with me,” Cohen told jurors, saying Trump told him, “I thought you had this under control.”

In Cohen’s book, Trump sounded more subdued.

“He didn’t explode as I expected, perhaps slightly chastened by the Access Hollywood episode and his vulnerable position in the campaign,” Cohen wrote.

In the book, he said that after he recounted Daniels’ allegations to Trump, they called Pecker for his input regarding potential damage to the campaign.

“Let’s not forget about upstairs,” Cohen said Trump joked — referencing his wife Melania — to both him and Pecker.

The next morning, Cohen said he met with Trump, who confirmed the plan to make the payment, according to the book.

“It’s only $130,000,” Trump said, according to Cohen. “F— it, Michael. Go talk to Allen and figure it all out,” Trump allegedly said, referring to then-Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.

Later that day, Cohen and Weisselberg met with Trump to confirm the plan to pay Daniels, according to Cohen’s 2020 account.

“A hundred and thirty thousand is a lot less than I would have to pay Melania,” Trump said, according to Cohen.

Cohen said in his book that he and Weisselberg met with Trump again to confirm that Cohen would make the payment out of his own pocket.

“Wow, Michael,” Trump said of the plan, according to Cohen’s book. “That’s great. Perfect.”

Testifying earlier this week, Cohen told jurors he initially had two in-person conversations with Trump after learning that Daniels was shopping her story in October 2016. While Cohen said Trump directed him to work with Pecker to control the story, Cohen did not testify about a phone call with both Trump and Pecker.

Cohen testified that during one of those two conversations with Trump, he asked Trump how Melania would respond to the story.

“I said to him, how’s things going to go with upstairs?” Cohen testified.

“He goes, ‘How long do you think I will be on the market for? Not long,'” Cohen testified.

Cohen told jurors that later in October, Trump approved the payment after Cohen attempted to delay paying Daniels the money.

“He expressed to me: ‘Just do it. Go meet up with Allen Weisselberg and figure this whole thing out,'” Cohen testified.

Cohen said that he and Weisselberg also spoke to Trump together to confirm that Cohen would make the payment out of his own pocket.

“We expressed to him that I was going to front the money for it, to which he was appreciative and [said] ‘Good, good,'” Cohen testified.

Prosecutors also outlined a series of calls between Trump and Cohen in October 2016 using phone records in evidence.

Cohen’s bonus

Cohen told jurors that he was “insulted” and “personally hurt” after Trump, in 2016, paid him a smaller holiday bonus than he expected — especially after he used $130,000 of his own money to pay Daniels.

“It was insulting that the gratitude shown back to me was to cut the bonus by two-thirds,” Cohen said.

In his book, Cohen offered a similar account of his frustration related to the bonus, but added that he also mulled using the rights to Daniels’ story against Trump to create a “biblical-level sex scandal.”

“I was the owner of her rights, after all, through my Delaware company Essential Consulting LLC, so the story of the newly elected President cheating on his wife with a porn star only weeks after she’d given birth to Barron was sure to fetch a pretty penny,” Cohen wrote. “Millions, I figured, maybe multiple millions, as I cursed inwardly and swore I wouldn’t allow myself to be treated in such a shabby way. Two can play this game, I thought, as I imagined the headlines that would turn the nightmare that constituted his transition to the White House into a biblical-level sex scandal.”

Cohen, however, ended up keeping those thoughts to himself. In his testimony, Cohen said that he brought up the bonus with Weisselberg, who told him that Trump would resolve the issue in the new year.

“You know that Mr. Trump loves you. We are going to do right by you,” Cohen testified that Weisselberg told him. “We are going to make sure that you are taken care of.”

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