Michael Cohen details Trump’s role in his repeated lies

Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen returned to the witness stand Tuesday and told jurors he repeatedly lied about his hush money payment to to adult film actor Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign in order “to protect Mr. Trump.”

Cohen said he’d claimed to be the sole person behind the $130,000 payment to Daniels to protect his boss, “to stay on message, to demonstrate continued loyalty.” In reality, he told the jury, everything he did was “at the direction of Donald J. Trump.”

Prosecutors allege that Trump falsified business records relating to those payments by classifying them as legal services pursuant to a retainer agreement. Cohen testified Monday in New York City that no such retainer agreement existed.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche began his cross-examination in fiery fashion in the afternoon, telling Cohen that they’d never met but that Cohen had referred to him on TikTok as a “crying little s—-.”

“Sounds like something I would say,” Cohen replied. Asked if he’d called Trump a “dictator douchebag,” Cohen gave a similar answer. Blanche then pressed him on his penchant for talking to the press and the DA’s efforts to stop him from doing so while the office was investigating the case. Asked if he remembered promising to stop going on TV last year, Cohen said he did not.  “I don’t recall ever agreeing not to go on television,” he said, but he did remember the DA asking him to “please” stop talking at some points. 

Asked if he wanted to see Trump convicted, Cohen answered, “Sure.”

Cohen is the final witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told the judge earlier in the day. Blanche told the judge it is unclear whether the defense will call any witnesses, including Trump.

Follow live updates on the Trump hush money trial

Cohen testified Tuesday that Trump had told him to work out how he would be reimbursed with Allen Weisselberg, then the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. He said Trump reiterated that position when he met with Cohen in the Oval Office in 2017. “Make sure you deal with Allen,” Cohen quoted him as saying.

Cohen said that soon after he started receiving monthly $35,000 checks from Trump after he sent an invoice for “legal services rendered.” Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked if he’d performed any legal services. “No, ma’am,” Cohen answered.

“Was this invoice a false record?” she asked. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

He said he did do some minor legal work for the Trumps in 2017, helping the attorney who was defending a defamation suit against Trump by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos and reviewing an agreement allowing Madame Tussauds to make a wax figure of first lady Melania Trump. Cohen estimated he spent less than 10 hours doing legal work over the span of the entire year.

He said he did more work for Trump that was unpaid in 2018, after the Wall Street Journal reported that he’d made the hush money payment to Daniels. He also said he’d told Trump what he would say publicly at the time, which is that Trump was not involved with payment. Trump told him that was “good,” Cohen said. Asked why he’d lied, he said, “in order to protect Mr. Trump.”

When the Federal Election Commission asked Cohen about the payment, he issued a statement saying “I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000” to Daniels. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction” and “neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

Cohen said Trump had approved the statement ahead of time, and Cohen said it was both “true” and “misleading.” “It was neither the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. It was Donald J. Trump himself,” he said.

Cohen said while he wasn’t getting money from Trump, he was cleaning up from his connection to the then-president, raking in over $4 million from consulting and legal work.

He said his fortunes began to change in April of 2018, when the FBI executed search warrants on his home and law office, taking his cell phones, tax records and other documents. He said he felt his life had been “turned upside down,” and he felt “concerned, despondent, angry.”

He said he reached out to Trump, who called him back and told him “don’t worry. I’m the president of the United States. There’s nothing here. Everything’s going to be okay. Stay tough. You’re going to be okay.” 

Cohen said he felt “reassured.” It was the last time he spoke directly with Trump.

Afterwards, Cohen said he was put in touch with Robert Costello, a veteran New York criminal lawyer who had been representing Rudy Giuliani, about possibly representing him. Costello said he’d spoken to Giuliani, who was close with Trump, and he should “sleep well tonight” because he has “friends in high places,” Cohen said.

He said Costello wanted him to use him as his lawyer, but Cohen was concerned Costello would just relay information to Giuliani and Trump. He said he was feeling pressured by Costello not to cooperate with then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, House Speaker Mike Johnson, former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., listen as former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, House Speaker Mike Johnson, former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., went to support Trump at court Tuesday morning.Justin Lane / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

Cohen said he ultimately decided to cooperate and plead guilty to charges — including the Daniels payment — at the urging of his family, and called the day of the plea was “the worst day of my life.”

He was ultimately  sentenced to three years in prison, was disbarred as a result of the conviction, and said he’s been supporting himself mainly with podcasts and two Trump-related books that he wrote.

Cohen is a pivotal witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump. He told the jury during his first full day on the stand that Trump directly authorized him to pay Daniels the $130,000 and that Trump was involved in efforts to quash two other salacious stories that he feared could have damaged his candidacy.

“I was following his directions,” Cohen testified.

Trump, meanwhile, had some high profile Republican supporters in attendance at Tuesday’s proceedings, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Reps. Byron Donalds and Cory Mills of Florida, and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy and Burgum are considered potential vice presidential contenders for Trump.

Trump’s son Eric Trump and his wife, Republican National Committee co-chair Lara Trump, were in court as well.

Also Tuesday, a state appeals court denied Trump’s challenge to Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order barring him from attacking Cohen, Daniels, the judge’s daughter, individual prosecutors and other witnesses. Trump and his allies have called the order “unconstitutional” and contended he should be able to speak freely since he’s running for president. The panel of five Appellate Division judges disagreed.

“We find that Justice Merchan properly weighed petitioner’s First Amendment 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 ruling said.

Cohen is the only witness to directly tie Trump to the falsifying business records scheme, and Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche is expected to try to paint him as a serial liar when he begins cross-examining him as early as Tuesday.

Blanche told jurors in his opening statement that Cohen “cannot be trusted.”

“He’s a convicted felon. And he also is a convicted perjurer. He is an admitted liar,” Blanche said, referring in part to Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea to making false statements to Congress about a proposed project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Prosecutors said he’d lied to minimize Trump’s ties to Russia, which Congress and federal investigators were scrutinizing at the time.

Cohen testified Monday that Daniels’ claims of having had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 were extremely problematic because she began shopping her story after Trump’s campaign was already reeling from a scandal — the unearthing of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump is heard saying he can grope women without their consent.

Asked what kind of impact Daniels’ story could have had on Trump’s campaign at that point, Cohen said, “Catastrophic.”

Trump has denied having had a sexual encounter with Daniels, who testified in great detail about her account last week.

Cohen, who started working for Trump in 2007, said that he fronted the money to pay Daniels through a shell company and that Trump had assured him he would pay him back.

Cohen said the particulars of the repayment were arranged by Weisselberg. The deal called for Cohen to be repaid the $130,000 and $50,000 more he’d previously laid out for Trump involving a tech company in payments that were “grossed up” — doubled — to cover Cohen’s taxes. The money, which included a $60,000 bonus, was then paid out in monthly $35,000 installments that were listed as being for legal services rendered under a retainer agreement.

Cohen testified that there was no retainer agreement and that Trump approved the deal in a meeting with him and Weisselberg.

Weisselberg won’t be testifying — he’s in jail after having pleaded guilty to perjury charges related to his testimony in last year’s civil fraud case against Trump and his company.

It’s unclear whether Trump, the only other person who could directly rebut Cohen’s claims, will testify. He said before the trial started he “absolutely” would but is under no obligation to do so.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, had a number of prominent supporters in court Monday, including Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y.

Prosecutors said in court Friday they anticipate wrapping up their case this week.

First appeared on www.nbcnews.com

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