Key takeaways as Cohen faces more questioning on day 17 of Trump’s trial

Former Trump lawyer faces cross-examination in New York after accusing ex-president of taking part in hush money scheme.

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to the Manhattan criminal court in New York on May 14 [Seth Wenig/AP Photo]Published On 14 May 202414 May 2024

Donald Trump’s erstwhile lawyer Michael Cohen has faced a tough cross-examination, as he delivered a second day of testimony in the former United States president’s hush-money trial in New York.

Cohen is the prosecution’s star witness — and his testimony marks the pinnacle of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against the former president.

Keep reading

list of 3 itemsend of list

On Tuesday, prosecutors also announced that Cohen will be the final witness they plan to call, as the first criminal trial against a US president nears its seeming conclusion.

As he returned to the witness stand on Tuesday, Cohen sought to make the case that Trump, his former boss, orchestrated a hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels — and then covered it up by filing the charges as “legal expenses”.

The former Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the case.

Cohen described a meeting with Trump at the White House in 2017 during which the pair allegedly discussed a repayment plan to reimburse Cohen for the hush-money payment.

The former lawyer has maintained he made the $130,000 payment at the behest of Trump to prevent Daniels from going public with a sexual encounter she says she had with the former president. Trump has denied that any such encounter took place.

Trump has also slammed the case as a politically motivated “witch-hunt”, and his legal team on Tuesday sought to portray Cohen as a liar who cannot be trusted.

But prosecutors believe Trump tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 vote by engaging in a “catch-and-kill” scheme to stifle media coverage that could have negatively affected his campaign for the White House.

Here are the key takeaways from day 17 of the trial:

Cohen details Oval Office meeting

Early on Tuesday, Cohen recounted an Oval Office meeting with Trump in February 2017, wherein the newly inaugurated president allegedly said Cohen would soon be receiving the first two installments of a bonus package.

That package, Cohen said, included reimbursements for the Daniels payment.

“I was sitting with President Trump, and he asked me if I was OK,” Cohen told the jurors. “He asked me if I needed money, and I said, ‘All good,’ because I can get a cheque.”

Cohen testified that Trump then told him, “OK, make sure you deal with Allen,” a reference to Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization at the time.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger also walked Cohen through a series of invoices and checks — some signed by Trump himself — that Cohen said were falsely marked as paying for retainer services.

“There was no retainer agreement, was there?” Hoffinger asked.

“No, ma’am,” Cohen replied.

In the courtroom, Trump was seen to react at various points in Cohen’s testimony, leaning over to speak with his lawyer Emil Bove, seated to his left.

Trump sits at the defendant’s table during his criminal trial in New York on May 14 [Justin Lane/Pool via Reuters]

Cohen says he lied to protect Trump

The 57-year-old former lawyer also testified on Tuesday that a February 2018 statement he released about the hush money-payment was purposely “misleading”.

The statement declared, “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction.”

Cohen explained that the statement was “deceptive”, because it was neither the Trump Organization nor the campaign that was a part of the transaction. “It was Mr Donald J Trump himself,” Cohen said.

He added that he made the statement “in order to protect Mr Trump, to stay on message”.

Cohen also told the jurors that he helped craft a pair of statements purportedly from Daniels, the adult film star, denying her affair with Trump.

The first came after The Wall Street Journal reported in 2018 that he arranged the $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels. The second was written after Cohen said he heard Daniels was planning to go on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night TV show.

Cohen explained he contacted Keith Davidson, the lawyer who represented the adult film star in the hush money deal, to put together the statement, which Daniels issued on the day of her appearance. It reiterated that she had not been paid “hush money” to deny the claim.

Cohen testified that he knew the statements were false because he had helped craft them — and that he knew the payment had been made because he had paid it.

He also said he regretted “lying, bullying people” during his many years working for Trump.

“To keep the loyalty and to do the things that he asked me to do, I violated my moral compass. And I suffered the penalty, as has my family,” Cohen said.

Defence presses Cohen on credibility

Trump’s defence team pressed Cohen during cross-examination on Tuesday afternoon, seeking to poke holes in his testimony and present him to the jury as a serial liar seeking revenge against a former boss.

Cohen served time in federal prison for various crimes, including some related the hush-money payment, and has admitted to lying under oath. He has also been vocal about his antipathy towards Trump, with whom he had a public falling-out.

Under aggressive questioning from Trump lawyer Todd Blanche, Cohen acknowledged calling the former president a “dictator douchebag” on the social media platform TikTok.

The defence also showed jurors pictures of Trump-themed merchandise for sale on Cohen’s website, including shirts with an illustration of the former president behind bars. Blanche pointed to statements Cohen made on his podcast as well, indicating the former lawyer would like to see Trump convicted.

In one of several moments when Blanche asked Cohen if he wanted to see Trump found guilty, the former lawyer hedged: “I would like to see accountability. It’s not for me. It’s for the jury and this court.”

Blanche pressed him: “I’m just asking you, yes or no: Do you want to see President Trump get convicted in this case?”

“Sure,” Cohen replied.

Cohen’s shorter answers under cross-examination marked a contrast with his more voluble testimony with prosecutors, and court observers noted he carefully hedged in several of his responses, using ambiguous language to skirt the defence team’s questions.

Republicans show support; appeals court upholds gag order

Mike Johnson, speaker of the US House of Representatives, travelled to court with Trump in his motorcade on Tuesday, in a prominent show of support.

They were joined by other prominent right-wing figures, including North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Vivek Ramaswamy, both of whom ran against Trump for this year’s Republican presidential nomination.

The appearances come as Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, retains a solid grip on the party despite his legal troubles.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Johnson weighed in on the case. “Trump is innocent of these charges,” he said.

The case, he added, “is not about justice. It’s all about politics, and everybody can see that.”

The House speaker also slammed the gag order against Trump, which prevents him from publicly speaking against witnesses, jurors and family members of court officials.

The former president has been fined multiple times and held in contempt of court for violating that order since the trial began last month.

Separately on Tuesday, a New York appeals court rejected an attempt by Trump’s legal team to have the gag order lifted.

Judge Juan Merchan, who issued the gag order, “properly weighed” Trump’s free speech rights “against the court’s historical commitment to ensuring the fair administration of justice in criminal cases, and the right of persons related or tangentially related to the criminal proceedings from being free from threats, intimidation, harassment, and harm”, the appeals court ruled.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies