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Michael Cohen is cross examined by defence lawyer Todd Blanche on Monday before Justice Juan Merchan, as former U.S. President Donald Trump watches during Trump’s criminal trial on charge

By Madeline Halpert & Kayla Epstein
BBC News, in court

Michael Cohen’s fifth day of testimony saw Donald Trump’s lawyers uncovering as many unsavoury details as they could about his past conduct.

Under questioning from Todd Blanche, Mr Trump’s ex-lawyer and fixer admitted to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from his boss’ company.

“You did steal from the Trump Organization?” Mr Trump’s lead lawyer, asked Cohen on Monday.

“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied without hesitation.

The criminal trial, the first against a former US president, seems to be drawing to an end as closing statements are expected to take place next week.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records for allegedly recording reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty.

For three days, Mr Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, has sought to discredit the case’s star witness in the eyes of the jury.

On Monday, testimony yielded few fireworks, but cast a spotlight on a specific aspect of Cohen’s reimbursements.

Under questioning from Mr Blanche, Cohen said he submitted a $50,000 reimbursement request for a payment to the tech company RedFinch.

Mr Trump owed the company $50,000, but Cohen said he repaid the firm only $20,000, delivering the cash payment in a paper bag to a contact at RedFinch, he testified.

BBC News reporters are in the Manhattan courtroom covering the historic first criminal trial of a former US president. You’ll find their updates and analysis on the BBC news website and app, and across TV, radio and podcasts.

LIVE UDATES: The defence begins its case Monday

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BACKGROUND: How Cohen’s relationship with Trump soured

He then submitted a reimbursement request to the Trump Organization for the full $50,000 tab – $30,000 more than he had actually paid the tech company.

Red Finch was hired to boost Mr Trump’s ranking in an online poll about history’s most notable business leaders, Cohen explained last week.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger later asked Cohen to elaborate on why he asked for the full amount.

“Why did you take that extra 30?” Ms Hoffinger asked Monday.

Cohen responded that he was angry that his bonus had been reduced that year and that asking for a larger reimbursement was “almost like self-help.”

When Ms Hoffinger asked if he understood that what he had done was wrong, Cohen responded that he did.

Cohen also testified that as he requested a reimbursement for the Red Finch payment, he also sought to be paid back for his $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.

A document central to the case shows the reimbursement plan to Cohen scratched out in the handwriting of Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg’s notes show how Cohen was to be reimbursed for the Daniels payout, as well as his Red Finch expenses.

In early 2017, Cohen began submitting invoices for his repayment.

The trial is focused on the fallout from the hush money payment to Ms Daniels, who said she had a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. He denies having sex with Ms. Daniels.

The total reimbursements for these expenses, and the allegedly fraudulent way they were recorded, form the basis for the charges in the case.

As the man who received the allegedly fraudulent reimbursement, Cohen was called by prosecutors to speak to his boss’s alleged intent and knowledge of the repayment scheme.

But Cohen’s criminal record and history of lying – to Congress in 2017, and by his own admission, to a judge during his later criminal proceedings – provided ample ground for Mr Trump’s attorneys to assail his trustworthiness.

“Without Mr Cohen, there is no case,” Mr Blanche told Justice Juan Merchan late on Monday, during a procedural motion to throw out the case. “And he not only lied repeatedly in the past under oath, but he lied in this courtroom.”

During cross-examination, Mr Blanche sought to portray Cohen as motivated by greed. Under questioning, Cohen testified he made over $4m from his books and podcasts that focus heavily on Mr Trump.

“The question to you today is whether a conviction benefits you financially,” Mr Blanche asked.

“The answer is no,” Cohen replied. “It’s better if he’s not [convicted], because it gives me more to talk about in the future.”

Mr Trump’s attorneys also called lawyer Robert Costello, who worked with Cohen when he was under federal investigation in 2018.

Mr Costello described Cohen’s behaviour at the time as “manic,” but his testimony was quickly eclipsed by his conduct on the stand, which drew the ire of Justice Merchan.

At one point, Justice Merchan cleared the courtroom, presumably to rebuke Mr Costello about his comments from the witness stand.

Prosecutors on redirect had one more chance to patch up the holes Mr Blanche worked to pounch in their case.

Ms Hoffinger pushed back against the defence’s claims that Cohen participated in the case for personal gain.

How did the case affect your life? she asked him.

“My entire life has been turned upside down as a direct result,” Cohen told her.

Not long after, the prosecution officially rested its case.

3 days ago

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