Trump on trial: Cohen details alleged payment plot | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Trump on trial: Cohen details alleged payment plot

The defense says New York’s star witness is a crook and liar

Michael Cohen leaves for the Manhattan criminal court in New York on Thursday. Associated Press/Photo by Andres Kudacki

Trump on trial: Cohen details alleged payment plot

This morning, six Republican members of Congress traveled from Washington to Manhattan to support former President Donald Trump at a turning point in his first criminal trial. The prosecution, led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, completed its arguments and witness testimony earlier this week. Now the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine the star witness against Trump: his former attorney Michael Cohen.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business documents, which are felonies if coupled with an intent to defraud. It is still unclear whether he will testify in his own defense.

What did Michael Cohen say?

Cohen admitted to creating a shell company called Essential Consultants to pay a woman to keep silent about an alleged extramarital affair with Trump. He said that Trump approved a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and then reimbursed Cohen with $35,000 per month payments, even after he was president. On his tax documents, Trump listed the payments as a legal expense. Cohen also shared audio of Trump agreeing to a separate hush money arrangement. Defense attorney Todd Blanche said Cohen was the one who submitted invoices for “legal services rendered,” and that Trump’s payments were not a crime. Cohen testified that he, Trump, and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg arranged a total of $420,000 to pay off Daniels and cover other fees and taxes. He said Weisselberg came up with the monthly payment plan in Trump’s presence. The prosecution asked detailed questions about that alleged discussion in an attempt to prove not only that Trump falsified business documents but also that he had an intent to defraud. Without intent, the first charge is not a felony. Cohen said that Trump was worried that his campaign would suffer if Daniels’ story came out.

Is Cohen telling the truth?

During cross-examination, Blanche targeted Cohen’s long history of lying—and lying about lying. When the payments to Daniels became public in 2018, Cohen complained to the press that he had never been repaid all the money. Then he admitted Trump did reimburse the full amount. Cohen pleaded guilty in two separate cases to tax evasion, business fraud, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow. He later said he felt pressured to plead guilty about lying to Congress, so when he gave his deposition admitting his faults, he was also lying. Blanche said Cohen lied about asking Trump for a presidential pardon. Cohen insisted that he never looked for a pardon from Trump, but then admitted on the stand to directing his lawyer to reach out to the White House when Trump floated the idea of presidential pardons. Cohen argued that this was not a lie because he did not personally ask Trump. During his 2018 sentencing, Cohen blamed “blind loyalty” for making him feel like “it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds, rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass.”

What is the defense’s strategy?

Throughout the day, Blanche slowly walked Cohen through a series of past depositions and statements to try to portray him as an unreliable witness with a personal vendetta against Trump.

“You cannot make a serious decision about President Trump relying on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche told jurors in his opening statement.

On Thursday, he shared text messages between Cohen and his daughter to argue that Cohen had White House ambitions. In the messages, Cohen floated the possibility of becoming White House chief of staff, but on the stand, Cohen said Blanche mischaracterized the conversation and that he simply wanted some role with access to Trump as president. Blanche and other Trump allies have argued that Cohen is seeking revenge against Trump for his jail time served. When the news about the payments to Daniels came out in 2018, Cohen said that Trump pressured him to take responsibility. On his podcast, Mea Culpa, Cohen has said Trump should “be in a cage” and used several profanities against the former president and his team of defense attorneys.

“This is a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge and who is widely known as a witness who has trouble with the truth,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., told reporters about Cohen on Tuesday outside the courthouse. “He has a history of perjury and is well known for it. No one should believe a word he says today.”

Court is out of session tomorrow so that Trump may attend his son Barron’s high school graduation.

Read Carolina Lumetta’s report on what happened earlier in Trump’s New York criminal trial.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


This keeps me from having to slog through digital miles of other news sites. —Nick

Sign up to receive The Stew, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on politics and government.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...