Trump Trial Day 13: Michael Cohen Resumes Testimony

NEW YORK—In a new day of testimony, Manhattan prosecutors concluded their direct examination of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, in the high-profile case alleging that the former president falsified business records to cover up a hush money payment to adult star Stormy Daniels.

In New York, falsifying business records is a criminal offense. Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, indicted Donald Trump on 34 felony counts.

During the final round of direct examination, Cohen went into further detail about how the Trump Organization paid him for his services related to the hush money agreement with Daniels. The famed X-rated writer/director/performer, who has already gone into detail about her alleged affair with Trump at Lake Tahoe in 2006, was paid $130,000 by Cohen through a payment sent to her lawyer at the time, Los Angeles-based attorney Keith Davidson. Davidson also testified earlier in the trial.

Then, trying to corroborate the claim that he was compensated for that service in the amount of $420,000, Cohen explained once more how he was paid to reclassify the payment as a retainer, not a reimbursement. Cohen was reimbursed, awarded a bonus for his work, received a technical fee, and was given income to cover potential tax obligations on the sum. Each payment was to be made over 12 months at $35,000 per month to look like “legal services.”

Cohen corroborated Keith Davidson’s testimony that the two coordinated on enforcing agreements, such as the arrangement between Daniels and Trump. He testified that he lied “out of loyalty” to Trump. Prosecutors directed the testimony to his indictments and felony convictions in 2018. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided Cohen’s office and seized documents pertaining to the Stormy Daniels arrangement and bank records.

He pleaded guilty to eight counts, including campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to U.S. Congress. Cohen explained he spoke to Trump about the FBI raid.

He recollects Trump saying, “‘Don’t worry. I’m the president of the United States.’” Cohen was reassured and maintained his support for Trump for a time. A criminal defense attorney, Robert Costello, reportedly met with Cohen, who offered to set up a “back-channel” to Trump through Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s personal attorney. Reportedly, Costello’s communications to Cohen were a pressure campaign to keep him quiet during Robert Mueller’s criminal inquiry.

Mueller investigated Russian influence and other unlawful electioneering during the 2016 election, which resulted in the indictment of 34 people and the conviction of 8 of those people—including Michael Cohen. Cohen added in his direct testimony that he “would not lie for President Trump anymore” when he conferred with his family to take guilty pleas related to his actions on behalf of Trump.

Trump’s defense attorney, Todd Blanche, took over on cross-examination, which was a very heated exchange. Blanche began his questioning of Cohen by inferring that the witness was biased against him personally.

The witness posted on TikTok a few weeks ago commenting about Blanche and the state of the trial. Blanche asked: “You called me a crying little shit, didn’t you?” Cohen replied, "Sounds like something I would say," according to reporting on the trial day by Vanity Fair.

Judge Juan Merchan struck the question and held a sidebar that the court reporter recorded. Merchan asked Blanche, “Why are you making this about yourself?” Trump’s attorney responded by saying he wanted to establish that Cohen was biased toward the defendant. “It doesn’t matter if he has bias towards you; it doesn’t matter,” Merchan said. “The issue is whether he has bias towards the defendant. ... Just don’t make it about yourself.”

Other elements of the cross-examination included pressing Cohen on his testimony to Robert Mueller and U.S. Department of Justice investigators during the inquiry as to potential criminal conduct.

Cohen told Blanche that he initially lied to protect Trump but eventually agreed to cooperate with federal investigators and prosecutors for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Cohen also testified that he’s made over $3 million in recent years for writing two books, Disloyal: A Memoir and Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the US Department of Justice Against His Critics. All of this is pertinent to the defense because their goal is to destroy Cohen’s credibility as the prosecution’s chief witness to Trump’s crimes and portray him as a disgruntled, disbarred former felon with an axe to grind against a former boss.

Cross-examination is expected to last until Thursday.

Also today, Trump was denied an appeal of a gag order placed on him by Judge Juan Merchan. Before the Appellate Division of the First Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court, a panel of judges blocked Trump’s bid to amend or lift the gag order, saying that such an order doesn’t violate the former president’s First Amendment rights.

The gag order placed on Trump has caused him significant distress throughout the trial. 

Running for the 2024 Republican Party nomination for the presidency again, Trump argues that he should be able to speak critically of the trial, Judge Merchan, the witnesses, and the jurors.

Already, Trump has been found in contempt of court 10 times for violating the gag order and paid a $1,000 fine per violation.

Merchan has warned Trump that if he continues to violate the gag order, he could be jailed—a historical first for a former U.S. president.