Trump’s team tries to destroy Michael Cohen’s credibility

<span>Michael Cohen testifies during Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan state court in New York City, on 14 May 2024 in this courtroom sketch.</span><span>Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters</span>
Michael Cohen testifies during Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan state court in New York City, on 14 May 2024 in this courtroom sketch.Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

On the docket: Cohen up, Cohen down

Michael Cohen, the star witness in Donald Trump’s criminal case, returned to the stand on Tuesday and offered more incriminating testimony about his former boss – before Trump’s lawyers tried to paint him as a jilted liar who’s seeking revenge.

Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, is the only witness testifying in the case who has direct knowledge of the ex-president’s role in allegedly falsifying business records, the crime at the center of the trial.

That explains why prosecutors brought him as their final witness and why Trump’s fate may rest on whether jurors find Cohen to be credible.

Prosecutors finished questioning Cohen on Tuesday. Trump’s lawyers then got their crack at him in the afternoon, beginning a cross-examination that will continue into Thursday.

The case is nearly over. Here are Tuesday’s biggest moments.

What Cohen told prosecutors:

Cohen says Trump discussed repayment of the hush money at a White House meeting.

Cohen testified that he met with Trump at the White House on 8 February 2017, before Cohen received his first payment to cover the Daniels money, and said Trump checked in to make sure he was being taken care of financially.

“He asked me if I needed money. And I said ‘no, all good’,” Cohen testified. He then said Trump told him to “make sure you deal with Allen.” That’s Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer who set up the hush-money repayment plan that Cohen testifies Trump had approved.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger then showed Cohen an email he sent to a senior Trump Organization official asking for payment for services rendered from the “retainer agreement”. He testified that this was a false description and the real reason for the payment was “reimbursement, to me, of the hush money fee” along with repayment for another service and bonus money.

Hoffinger then walked Cohen through each invoice he submitted and each check he received from Trump as payment. Cohen said each invoice made the same false representation. When asked if any were for legal services, he replied “No, ma’am, they were for reimbursement” for paying off Stormy Daniels. He testified that he did less than 10 hours of total legal work for Trump in all of 2017, when he was paid a total of $420,000.

Cohen said Trump tried to keep him ‘in the fold’ after the FBI raided Cohen’s home.

Cohen’s home and office were raided by the FBI in April 2018. Frightened, he called his boss. Cohen said Trump told him: “Don’t worry, I’m the president of the United States. There’s nothing here, everything is going to be OK. Stay tough. You’re going to be OK.” Cohen said that reassured him and kept him “in the fold, in the Trump camp”.

Cohen said Trump’s inner circle told him to consider Robert Costello for his attorney. Costello told Cohen that he was “as close as you can imagine” to Trump attorney and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Prosecutors then presented an email from Costello to Cohen that said Giuliani thanked Cohen for “opening this back channel” and “asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your family and he will make [sure] to tell the president”. Later that day, Costello emailed: “I spoke with Rudy. Very, very positive. You are ‘loved’.”

When Cohen pleaded guilty, Trump turned swiftly on him.

In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of crimes, including an excessive campaign contribution that he testified was the hush-money payment to Daniels. He said he finally decided to put his family over loyalty to his boss. “I would not lie for President Trump anymore,” he said.

Trump turned swiftly on Cohen, tweeting: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

Cohen testified that he regretted actions he took for Trump. “To keep the loyalty and to do things he asked me to do, I violated my moral compass and I suffered the penalty – as has my family,” he said.

How Trump’s team tried to discredit Cohen

Trump’s attorneys got their shot at Cohen in the afternoon and sought to paint him as a serial liar out to get his former boss.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche got Cohen to confirm that he’d called Trump a “dictator douchebag” in April, after the trial started, and asked Cohen if he recalled saying that he’d like to see Trump in a cage, “like a fucking animal”. Cohen said it “sounds like something I would say” – a refrain he repeated throughout the cross-examination. Blanche got Cohen to admit he wants to see Trump convicted in this case.

He also painted him as a scorned former acolyte who was obsessed with Trump. Blanche pointed out that during the 2016 presidential campaign he’d called Trump a “good man” who was “kind, humble, honest, genuine”, and got Cohen to confirm he’d meant it. “At that time, I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump, yes,” Cohen said.

Blanche then pressed Cohen on how much money he’d made after becoming a public Trump critic, getting him to admit he’d made a combined $3.4m in profit from his two tell-all books ripping into Trump.

Trump’s team will resume their cross-examination of Cohen on Thursday when trial resumes.

Sidebar: Trump’s posse does his dirty work for him

As the trial has proceeded, Trump’s entourage at the courtroom has grown. At first, he was arriving at court with his lawyers and a few political aides. After reporters noted that none of his family were in attendance, Trump’s son Eric began accompanying him. And this week, he’s been joined by a bevy of Republican elected officials.

Tuesday’s entourage included House speaker Mike Johnson, Republican North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and Republican Florida representatives. Byron Donalds and Cory Mills.

Burgum and Ramaswamy, two former rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination turned Trump acolytes, are viewed as possible vice-presidential running mates. A third potential running mate, Ohio senator JD Vance, attended court on Monday, along with Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville and New York representative Nicole Malliotakis. Florida senator Rick Scott was there last Friday.

This isn’t (just) about Trump’s ego. It seems like Trump has finally decided that it’s a bad idea to keep violating Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order barring him from attacking the jury and trial witnesses. His solution: let his surrogates do the dirty work for him.

Vance ripped Cohen as a “convicted felon” on Monday. Tuberville went after the “supposedly American citizens in that courtroom”, a seemingly shot at the jury. On Tuesday, Johnson attacked Cohen, calling him “a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge”.

Trump was asked on Tuesday if he was “directing” his surrogates. “I do have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully,” he responded.

In other news

A New York state appellate court rejected Trump’s request to have his gag order removed, writing that Merchan was correct when he determined Trump’s public statements “posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses”.