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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Cohen testifies he discussed hush money reimbursements with Trump

    Former President Donald Trump talks to the media outside Manhattan criminal court in New York, on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

    New York ― Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s loyal lawyer-turned-chief antagonist, told a jury Tuesday he discussed hush money reimbursement with Trump at the White House upon returning to the witness box at his Manhattan trial Tuesday.

    Defense lawyer Todd Blanche, straight out of the gate, gave jurors an idea of what they’re in for — starting his cross-examination by asking Cohen if he’d recently referred to him on TikTok as “a crying little s--t.”

    “Sounds like something I would say,” Cohen retorted.

    Justice Juan Merchan then sustained an objection from the prosecution, held a sidebar, and struck the question from the record.

    Moments later, Blanche went in again, asking if Cohen had called Trump a “dictator douchebag,” to which Cohen again replied that it sounded like something he’d say.

    Confronted later in the questioning with previous statements he’d made praising Trump — calling him “a good man” in 2015, saying that he “cares deeply about his country” and “he’s a man who tells it straight” — Cohen said, “At that time I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump.”

    Cohen denied that he was “obsessed” with Trump, as the defense has oft-alleged, instead saying he admired him.

    Trump closed his eyes for long periods during his lawyer’s questioning, leaving spectators wondering if he was dozing off.

    Blanche later asked Cohen if he had called him a “boorish cartoon misogynist” or a “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain,” which he agreed he likely did.

    How Cohen turned on Trump

    Cohen told the court that, in the months before his guilty plea in August 2021, he felt the need to stay loyal to Trump — but his family started urging him to step out of “the fold.”

    “My wife, my daughter, my son, all said to me, ‘Why are you holding on to this loyalty? What are you doing? We’re supposed to be your first loyalty,” Cohen remembered.

    “It was about time to listen to them,” Cohen said.

    After this, on Aug. 21, 2018, he pleaded guilty to eight federal charges, including violating campaign finance laws, tax evasion, and bank fraud, before deciding that he “would not lie for President Trump any longer.”

    The day after his August plea, Trump raged against him in a Twitter post: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

    Cohen said he engaged in the “catch and kill” scheme to buy and bury Karen McDougal’s story at the behest of the then-president to smooth the path to the presidency for Trump.

    He said that he regrets his work for Trump.

    “I regret doing things for him that I should not have — lying, bullying people in order to effectuate the goal. I don’t regret working with the Trump Organization, as I expressed before some very interesting and great times. But to keep the loyalty, and to do things that he had asked me to do that violated my moral compass and I suffered the penalty. This is my feeling.”

    ‘Everything’s going to be OK’

    After the FBI raided his residences in April 2018, Cohen said he felt frightened and “concerned, despondent, angry.” During search warrants executed on his Manhattan hotel room, apartment, and office, his phones and electronic devices were seized, along with other materials related to the hush money payments to Daniels, Cohen said.

    He told the jury that the last time he communicated directly with Trump was in a phone call just after the raids.

    “He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m the president of the United States, there’s nothing there — everything’s going to be OK, stay tough, you’re going to be OK,’” Cohen recalled, adding that others told him he was “loved” by Trump.

    In the immediate aftermath, Cohen said he felt “reassured, because I had the president of the United States protecting me.”

    Trump kept his eyes closed for much of Cohen’s testimony. Cohen sometimes exhaled audibly, once shaking his head, between questions. The jury also heard details of Cohen being a convicted perjurer — which Trump’s defense has repeatedly pointed to as proof of him being untrustworthy and is expected to hammer him about on cross-examination.

    Cohen testified that he lied in 2017 about a Trump Tower real estate project in Moscow, telling Congress that he “had only spoken to Trump about this three times,” when it was really more like 10 times.

    “Why lie?” Hoffinger asked.

    “Because I was staying on Mr. Trump’s message that there was no ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,” Cohen replied, referring to how Trump was perceived as being tied to Russia because of his business deals there.

    Cohen spoke with Trump about hush money reimbursements at the White House

    Cohen testified that he discussed the reimbursement payments with the then-president during a visit to the Oval Office on Feb. 8, 2017.

    “So, I was sitting with President Trump and he asked me if I was OK, he asked me if I needed money,” Cohen recalled. In court, Trump scrunched his eyes tightly closed, frowning.

    “He said, um, alright just make sure you deal with Allen,” Cohen said, referring to the convicted ex-Trump Org CFO Allen Weisselberg.

    Trump was joined in court with an entourage of around a dozen, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Eric Trump and his wife, Lara Trump.

    Cohen told prosecutor Susan Hoffinger that he submitted falsified records at the behest of Trump’s longtime finance chief, billing for “services rendered” — not reimbursement for hush money he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, he said in court.

    Displaying Cohen’s monthly invoices to the Trump Org, which he said were sent to Weisselberg and sometimes his deputy, former controller Jeff McConney, Hoffinger asked if any of them were for genuine legal services rendered.

    “No, ma’am. They were for reimbursement,” Cohen said, a hint of sheepishness in his voice.

    Cohen is soon expected to face a bruising on cross-examination with the former president’s attorneys, who have sought to attack his credibility and told jurors he went rogue when he paid off Daniels.

    Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, during more than five hours in the witness box on Monday, described his former boss was a micromanager who knew about everything that went on at all levels of his company. He described himself as Trump’s loyal right-hand man — one who would bully, lie, and threaten to sue anyone who stood in the way of whatever it took “to make him happy” — and whose only job was to serve Trump.

    Cohen, 57, went to prison for the hush money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels central to the case after pleading guilty to federal offenses in late 2018, cementing his bitter rivalry with the man he once said he’d take a bullet for.

    Trump, 77, is accused of repeatedly and fraudulently falsifying New York business records to disguise a hush-money scheme intended to hide damaging information from the voting public in 2016. Each of the 34 counts is tied to his alleged reimbursement to Cohen, which prosecutors say was falsely designated as payment for legal fees in a coverup.

    The presumptive GOP nominee in this year’s White House contest, whose courthouse entourage is growing by the day, walked into the courtroom around 9:25 a.m. flanked by an army of lawyers and the likes of right-wing biotech entrepreneur Ramaswamy, his conspiracy theory touting former competitor in the presidential race.

    Cohen said Trump had direct knowledge of a series of hush money payoffs to Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, and Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin to purchase their silence about a series of alleged sex scandals. He buttressed testimony by several witnesses who testified earlier in the trial, including former tabloid publisher David Pecker, who prosecutors allege was a part of the conspiracy that started in August 2015 to hide unflattering information about Trump from the electorate.

    “The two of you should work together. And anything negative that comes, you let Michael know, and we’ll handle it,” Cohen quoted Trump’s directive to Pecker.

    During his first day on the stand, Cohen testified that Trump was fully apprised of the payment to Daniels and promised to reimburse him, telling the court the then-president-elect was present at a Trump Tower meeting in January 2017 where his Trump Org finance chief Allen Weisselberg said he’d receive his payback in the form of monthly checks purporting to be payment for his new role as personal attorney to the president.

    “He approved it. And he also said: ‘This is going to be one heck of a ride in D.C.,’” Cohen quoted Trump.

    Cohen wanted it in one lump sum, but “Mr. Trump said, No, it’s better, it’s better to do it over the 12 months,” the jury heard.

    The fixer said Weisselberg, who’s been convicted of tax fraud and perjury in the last two years, directed him to invoice the Trump Org monthly, marking that he was owed payment for legal services “and we will get you a check out.”

    “And so, did you have any expectation that if you did work for him you would be paid?” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked.

    “None at all,” Cohen said.

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