Defence throws jabs at pivotal Trump hush money trial witness Michael Cohen

Credit: AP

Donald Trump’s lead defence attorney is challenging the recollections of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, about his testimony describing phone calls and conversations briefing Trump in 2016 about a hush money deal with pornographic movie star Stormy Daniels.

The most heated exchange during the second day of cross examination on Thursday occurred when defence attorney Todd Blanche questioned Cohen’s memory of an October 24, 2016, phone call, when Cohen says, he advised Trump of the Daniels nondisclosure agreement being settled for $130,000 to bury her story about a one-night stand a decade earlier, in July 2006, after meeting at a Nevada golf resort.

Cohen testified he reached Trump that evening by calling his bodyguard, Keith Schiller, who handed Trump his cell phone.

“We talked about the matter. That it was resolved,” Cohen told the jury.

Blanche subsequently retorted, his voice raised: “That was a lie.”

Blanche suggested it was improbable, in a call lasting only one-minute-and-a-half, according to phone records, that Cohen had adequate time to brief Trump - and talk to Schiller about harassing prank phone calls he was receiving, which Cohen said he also discussed.

“You did not talk to President Trump on that night,” Blanche asserted.

“I believe I also spoke to Mr President Trump and told him everything regarding the Stormy Daniels matter was being worked on, and it's going to be resolved,” Cohen calmly replied. "I always ran everything by the boss immediately, and in this case, it could have just been saying, 'Everything is being taken care of. It's going to get resolved.'"

Credit: Elizabeth Williams

Within two days of that call, Cohen, Daniels, and Daniels’ attorney Keith Davidson would sign the agreement, and Cohen would wire the hush money to Davidson - personal funds in a bank account of a shell company Cohen had established for that purpose.

Blanche called the Daniels deal “a completely legal binding contract” that Trump did not sign. Cohen agreed.

Blanche did not attack any of the other conversations Cohen has testified about keeping Trump apprised and receiving his approval for actions to secure Daniels’ silence before Election Day.

Blanche did ask about one call, on June 16, 2016, when Cohen has testified, he briefed Trump on the story being shopped by former Playboy model Karen McDougal about a 10-month affair she says she had with Trump from the summer of 2006 to the spring of 2007.

According to trial testimony and evidence, Cohen helped broker a nondisclosure agreement executed by American Media, Inc. - the Trump-friendly parent company of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid, which bought the rights to the McDougal story and promised her columns and magazine covers for $150,000.

Blanche was skeptical Cohen could recall with precision one call among the thousands he received and made every year.

Cohen replied: “These phone calls are things that I have been talking about for the last six years. They are - and they were extremely important, and they were all consuming.”

In addition to eight hours of Cohen’s direct examination by prosecutors, the jury has seen documentation and heard extensive testimony about the hush money deals from former AMI CEO David Pecker, from former Daniels and McDougal attorney Davidson, and from Daniels herself.

Trump denies the Daniels encounter and the McDougal affair. He married former First Lady Melania Trump in January 2005, and she gave birth to their son, Barron, in March 2006.

Throughout the Cohen cross examination on Thursday, Trump was seated at the defence table with his eyes closed most of the time, though for a short period, during the discussion of how McDougal’s silence would be bought – possibly in cash, according to surreptitious Cohen recording of Trump - Trump was alert, watching and listening to Cohen.

The hush-money case against the former president could stand stand or fall on whether jurors end up believing Mr Cohen's testimony or not, ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

Earlier, for the first five hours of the cross, Blanche questioned Cohen in a way to expose personal foibles and portray him as disgruntled over not having gotten a high-ranking job in the Trump White House and vengeful over his legal woes.

“The truth is, Mr Cohen, you really wanted to work in the White House, correct?” Blanche asked.

“No, sir,” Cohen replied.

“You hoped that you’d be named the White House Chief of Staff?”

“No, sir.”

Cohen said he realized he was not qualified to be considered for attorney general and was eventually considered for assistant White House counsel, but he turned it down.

Blanche pressed: “You were disappointed that after all the work you had done for President Trump for nine-and-a-half years, nobody, including President Trump, offered you a position in the White House?”

“That’s not accurate,” Cohen testified.

Cohen testified the job he wanted – and got – was Trump’s personal attorney outside of government, saying, “That's the role that they gave me, because this was a way that I could monetize that, which I did.”

Cohen testified on Tuesday he ended up billing private clients $4 million in 2017 and did less than 10 hours of legal work for Mr and Mrs Trump that year.

Trump faces 34 felony counts for reimbursing Cohen for the Daniels deal and falsifying business records to cover that up – with 11 invoices, 11 checks, and 12 ledger entries - pretending the Cohen payments were a normal retainer for legal services.

Turning to Cohen’s vindictiveness toward Trump, Blanche asked Cohen: “Does the outcome of this trial affect you personally?”

Cohen said, “Yes.”

Blanche did not follow up, but he pointed to recent evidence of Cohen’s attitude toward Trump since his indictment by New York State last year.

The jury heard an elated-sounding Cohen on his Mea Culpa podcast, last May, claiming “some credit” for informing the Manhattan District Attorney about the hush money and “countless other crimes.”

Looking ahead to Trump being booked - fingerprinted and his mugshot taken - Cohen said on the podcast, “He is about to get a taste of what I went through, and it’s not fun.”

He added, it “fills me with delight and sadness at the same time.”

Cohen served 13 months in prison and paid a $1.3 million fine after pleading guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress about his work for Trump, lying to a bank, tax evasion, and campaign finance violations.

On another Mea Culpa episode, last October, Cohen said of Trump, “I truly f***ing hope this man ends up in prison.”

He said: “Revenge is a dish best served cold, and you better believe I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to me and my family.”

On April 21, the eve of the trial’s opening statements, Cohen posted on TikTok he had “mental excitement” for the trial to begin. He told the jury Tuesday he hopes Trump is convicted.

“This case,” Trump said upon departing the courthouse on Thursday, “should never have been brought.”

“It should have been brought seven or eight years ago. They didn’t do that, because they want to bring it up right in the middle of the election, especially since we're leading in every poll,” said Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Court will not be in session on Friday to allow Trump to attend Barron’s high school graduation in Florida.

Cohen is the final of 17 prosecution witnesses. His testimony is expected to conclude on Monday, May 20.

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