Trump hush money trial prosecutors rest their case after Michael Cohen cross examination ends

Michael Cohen has been the prosecution's star witness at the landmark trial and was one of Donald Trump's closest allies during the 2016 presidential election. ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

The prosecution has rested its case in the first criminal trial in US history of a former president, Donald Trump.

The people’s 20th and final witness, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, finished testifying on Monday after approximately 17 hours on the witness stand.

“Your Honor, the People rest,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney announced when Mr Cohen stepped down.

Since opening statements on April 22, the jury of seven men and five women, along with six alternates, has heard 15 days of testimony and evidence.

Mr Cohen’s testimony was pivotal to understanding the deal for pornographic movie actress and director Stormy Daniels to keep quiet during the 2016 presidential campaign about her July 2006 encounter with Trump at a Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Daniels has testified she had sexual intercourse with Trump one time, the day they met at a celebrity golf tournament, which Trump denies.

Trump was married to former first lady Melania Trump at the time, and she had given birth to their son, Barron, four months earlier.

Defence attorney Todd Blanche last week challenged Mr Cohen’s recollection of a short phone call on October 24, 2016, when Mr Cohen says, he updated Trump that he had cemented a verbal agreement with Daniels and her attorney, Keith Davidson, who also testified for the prosecution.

On that date, Mr Cohen maintains, in a minute-and-a-half phone call to the mobile phone of Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller, who was traveling with Trump in Tampa, Florida, he first advised Schiller of a problem he was having with a teen prank caller and then spoke to Trump about the Daniels hush money deal.

Mr Blanche asserted last Thursday Mr Cohen’s testimony about that call is a lie.

"Your testimony is still,” Mr Blanche asked Mr Cohen on Monday, “In that 90 seconds, you spoke with Mr Schiller about the problem you were having with the 14-year-old, got him to agree to take care of it, told him you would send him the number, which you did, but also had time for Mr Schiller to pass the phone to Mr Trump and update him on everything going on?"

"Yes, sir," Mr Cohen replied.

Mr Cohen told the jury Monday he had “more than 20” conversations with Trump in October 2016 about the Daniels deal in person or on the phone.

On Monday, Mr Blanche raised the records of two other phone calls with Trump - on October 26, 2016, for a total of four-and-a-half minutes - right before Mr Cohen wired a $130,000 (£102,000) payment and he, Daniels and Mr Davidson signed the non-disclosure agreement.

Mr Blanche asked Mr Cohen how he remembers they talked about the Daniels deal?

“Because it was important to me,” Mr Cohen said. “My recollection is that I was speaking to him about Stormy Daniels, because that was what he tasked me to take care of, and that’s what I was working on.”

Later, Mr Blanche pressed Mr Cohen about his specific recollections about those conversations with Trump.

“No doubt in your mind?” Mr Blanche asked.

“No doubt,” Mr Cohen replied.

During his direct examination last week, Mr Cohen recounted how he constantly kept Trump apprised of the Daniels matter from early October 2016, a month before Election Day, when her story came to his attention, through February 2017, when the Trump Organisation began issuing Mr Cohen checks to reimburse him for the hush money he paid - with Trump’s approval, he said - drawing on personal funds he deposited in a shell company and wired to Daniels’ attorney.

Mr Cohen testified the reimbursement plan was finalized in a discussion with Trump and Trump Organisation Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisellberg at their Trump Tower offices on January 17, 2017, and when Mr Cohen alone visited the president at White House on February 8, 2017.

ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers speaks to Adam Pollock, Former Assistant Attorney General in New York

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in 2017 - 11 invoices, 11 checks and 12 ledger entries his company handled -- to cover up and disguise the Mr Cohen reimbursement, $35,000 (£28,000) monthly payments totaling $420,000 (£331,000), as a legal retainer.

Starting in April 2017, Trump himself signed nine of the 11 checks with his familiar black Sharpie signature.

“This was for reimbursement,” Mr Cohen told the jury on Monday, not a legal retainer agreement, which he did not have after Trump named him his personal attorney outside the White House.

But Mr Cohen admitted he continued to help Mr and Trump with some personal legal issues, though he never billed Trump for his time.

“Because I never expected to get paid,” Mr Cohen testified Monday.

In the day’s most heated moment, Mr Blanche queried Mr Cohen about a portion of the $420,000 (£331,000) - $50,000 (£39,000) for a computer company Mr Cohen had hired but was never paid by the Trump Organization."

Mr Cohen testified he gave the vendor $20,000 (£16,000) in a brown paper bag and kept the $30,000 (£24,000) balance for himself.

“You stole from the Trump Organisation?” Mr Blanche asserted.

“Yes, sir,” Mr Cohen said.

“Have you had to plead guilty to larceny?

“No, sir,” Mr Cohen said.

“Have you paid back the money that was stolen,” Mr Blanche asked.

“No, sir,” Mr Cohen said.

Mr Blanche also reviewed a handful of legal matters Mr Cohen handled – a lawsuit, a defamation issue, subpoenas, a licensing agreement with Madame Tussauds for a wax likeness of the first lady - that seemed like they could have exceeded the “less than 10” hours of work Mr Cohen testified he did for the Trumps in 2017.

Donald Trump defence attorney Todd Blanche cross examines Michael Cohen Credit: AP

Continuing the defence line of attack on Mr Cohen’s recollections, Mr Blanche raised other business matters on Mr Cohen’s plate in October 2016, when he was immersed in the Daniels matter: his taxi medallion business, a $7 million (£5.5 million) meal estate sale with his brother, helping American Media, Inc. CEO David Pecker with another lawsuit, handling an extortion scheme affecting Trump’s daughter, Tiffany, and helping the Trump campaign’s diversity coalition win the endorsement of Martin Luther King’s niece.

But on re-direct examination, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger asked Mr Cohen: “Were you pretty busy all the time or just in October of 2016?”

Mr Cohen replied: “I was busy.”

Ms Hoffinger asked: "Were you too busy in October 2016 to finalise the Stormy Daniels payoff with Mr. Trump?"

"No ma'am,” Mr Cohen said.

“Were you too busy to get his approval to make that payoff?” Ms Hoffinger continued.

“No, ma’am,” he said.

Later, Ms Hoffinger asked Mr Cohen if he had any doubt Trump told him to work out the Daniel hush money payment with CFO Weisselberg or that Trump gave him the final signoff?

“No doubt,” Mr Cohen said.

Ms Hoffinger asked Mr Cohen if he would have paid Daniels without those instructions?

“No ma’am,” Mr Cohen said. “Because I wanted to ensure I would get my funds back.”

The defence appeared to be laying a foundation to argue Trump regarded the $35,000 (£28,000) monthly Cohen checks he signed as legitimate legal expenses.

Trump said as much upon arriving at the courtroom on Monday morning.

Trump told reporters in the hallway: “We paid a legal expense. You know what it’s marked down in the books as? A legal expense. Again, it's not marked down as construction. It is not marked down as sheetrock and cinder block. It's marked down as legal expense. You have a lawyer. You pay him a legal expense, and it's covered in the book as legal expense. I had nothing to do with it. A bookkeeper put it down as a legal expense. This is why I'm here, because we called it a legal expense, a payment to a lawyer.”

The $35,000 (£28,000) monthly payments were small compared to the fees Cohen earned for legal and consulting work he did for six business clients in 2017/18, earning $4 million (£3.1 million).

AT&T paid him $50,000 (£39,000) a month. Columbus Nova, an investment fund, paid him $80,000 (£63,000) a month. The pharmaceutical company Novartis and Korean Airspace Industries each paid $100,000 (£79,000) a month.

“I didn’t specifically tell Mr Trump that, no,” Mr Cohen testified.

Mr Blanche has zeroed in on Cohen’s earnings since he pleaded guilty in August 2018 to federal charges of tax evasion, unlawful campaign contributions, lying to Congress, then going to prison and losing his license to practice law.

Mr Cohen testified he has earned about $4.4 million (£3.4 million) since the fall of 2020, or more than $1 million (£787,000) a year, by authoring two books and hosting podcasts - all about Trump, with a focus on this case.

“I talk about it on my podcast. I talk about it on TikTok, and they make money,” Mr Cohen said, when Mr Blanche asked about his stake in the outcome. “Innocent or guilty is not going to affect whether I speak about it or not.”

Mr Blanche asked if Trump’s getting convicted would benefit Mr Cohen financially?

Mr Cohen replied: “It’s better if he’s not, for me, because it gives me more to talk about in the future.”

After the jury went home Monday, with the prosecution having rested, Mr Blanche asked New York State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan to dismiss the case.

Mr Blanche argued there has been no evidence of intent to defraud by Trump and that Mr Cohen “lied to this court repeatedly”.

“His entire testimony should not be considered by the jury,” Mr Blanche told Judge Merchan.

Judge Merchan responded: “You say his lies are irrefutable. You think he’s going to fool 12 New Yorkers?” referring to the jurors.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo counter-argued Trump had set in motion the events that caused the false ledger entries to be made, and the evidence of Mr Cohen’s 2017 payments being a hush money reimbursement, not a legal retainer, is “overwhelming”.

Mr Colangelo said: "The trial evidence overwhelmingly supports each element of the offence."

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