Trump’s legal team attempts to undermine credibility of star witness Michael Cohen

Former president accused of falsifying records to cover up hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in run-up to 2016 election

Donald Trump’s lawyer on Thursday accused star witness Michael Cohen of lying at the former US president’s trial about a phone conversation he claimed to have had with Mr Trump about a hush-money payment to an adult film star shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said the phone conversation was about harassment from a prank caller and not, as Mr Cohen had asserted in previous testimony, about a $130,000 payment that bought the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels and which is at the centre of the month-long trial.

“That is a lie,” Mr Blanche said. “You can admit it.”

“No, sir, I can’t, because I am not certain that is accurate,” Mr Cohen responded. He said he believed that he spoke with Mr Trump’s then-bodyguard Keith Schiller about the harassment and also spoke briefly with Mr Trump about the payment.


“We are not asking for your belief,” Mr Blanche said, raising his voice.

The exchange followed several hours of questioning by Mr Blanche designed to cast Mr Trump’s former fixer as a spiteful turncoat eager to see his former boss in jail.

Mr Blanche played jurors audio clips of Mr Cohen saying the case “fills me with delight” and that he felt “giddy with hope and laughter” imagining Mr Trump and his family in prison.

He told them that Mr Cohen had previously lied to Congress and to the US justice department and had lied in court as well. He pointed out that Mr Cohen had privately sought a pardon from Mr Trump while publicly saying he would not accept one.

Mr Cohen agreed that he had blamed others, including Mr Trump, in the wake of his own criminal convictions on tax and campaign finance charges.

“Does the outcome of this trial affect you personally?” Mr Blanche asked.

“Yes,” Mr Cohen said, maintaining his composure while answering questions, in contrast with his aggressive and often profane public comments.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty in the first criminal trial of a former US president and denies having a sexual encounter with Ms Daniels. The New York case, one of four criminal prosecutions he faces, is likely to be the only one with a jury verdict before his November 5th election rematch with president Joe Biden.

Mr Cohen’s testimony is central to the case.

He testified earlier this week that Mr Trump ordered him to pay Ms Daniels to protect Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, and discussed a plan to reimburse Mr Cohen (57), through a series of bogus invoices for legal fees. Their chats included one in the White House Oval Office when Mr Trump was president in 2017, Mr Cohen said.

Mr Trump (77) faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in New York to cover up a payment to Ms Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors say the altered records covered up election law and tax law violations – since the money was essentially an unreported contribution to Mr Trump’s campaign – that elevate the crimes from misdemeanours to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

Mr Trump characterises the case and three other prosecutions as an attempt to interfere with his campaign to take back the White House.

Members of the far-right US House of Representatives Freedom Caucus attended the trial on Thursday and echoed his complaints.

“We’re seeing today what lengths the Democratic Party will go to to try to rig or steal another election,” the group’s chairman, Republican representative Bob Good, said outside the courthouse.

Mr Cohen carries significant baggage as a witness. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance and tax violations related to the Daniels payment and lying to Congress during an investigation into Mr Trump’s Russia ties. He told jurors on Tuesday he lied repeatedly to journalists and others about the Daniels scandal.

Mr Cohen’s testimony has been corroborated by other evidence, including handwritten notes outlining Mr Cohen’s reimbursements and a surreptitious recording made by Mr Cohen of Mr Trump seeming to discuss a hush-money payment made by the National Enquirer tabloid to another woman.

Mr Trump has argued that his monthly payments to Mr Cohen throughout 2017 were for his work as his personal lawyer to the president, meaning there was nothing improper about the word “retainer” being written on the checks Mr Trump signed.

Prosecutors say the reimbursement payments were falsely labelled as legal expenses in the Trump Organisation’s records to conceal the Daniels pay-off, which they say violated US election campaign finance law.

Mr Cohen is the 20th and final witness to be called to testify by prosecutors with Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s office at the trial, which began on April 15th in New York state criminal court. – Reuters