June 13, 2024

Michael Cohen Testifies in Trump’s Hush-Money Trial: Live Updates

Michael D. Cohen, once one of Donald J. Trump’s closest confidants and his loyal protector, offered an account Monday that could convict the man he used to refer to as “boss” and now calls an enemy.

Testifying in the first criminal trial of an American president, Mr. Cohen said that he had made a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who in testimony last week described a brief sexual encounter she said she had with Mr. Trump in 2006. On the stand Monday, Mr. Cohen said he paid Ms. Daniels to ensure her silence before the 2016 presidential election, saying her story would have been “catastrophic.”

The $130,000 payment led to the charges against the former president: that Mr. Trump falsified 34 business records to hide a reimbursement to Mr. Cohen. Mr. Trump, 77, has denied the charges and says he did not have sex with Ms. Daniels. If convicted, he could face prison or probation.

Here are five takeaways from Mr. Trump’s 16th day on trial:

Cohen said Trump’s wife suggested ‘locker-room talk.’

According to Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, offered a oft-quoted turn of phrase after the “Access Hollywood” tape was revealed in early October 2016, a recording in which Mr. Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. Mr. Cohen said that, according to Mr. Trump, she recommended calling it “locker-room talk” to explain it away.

That wasn’t her only mention Monday. Mr. Cohen contradicted one possible defense argument — that Mr. Trump paid Ms. Daniels only because he was worried about her story’s effect on his family and marriage. He said that the former president “wasn’t thinking about Melania” when Ms. Daniels’s story threatened to become public.

Donald J. Trump arriving to court in Lower Manhattan on Monday. Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“This was all about the campaign,” Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen said that when he mentioned both Ms. Daniels and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, the candidate’s reaction had to do with them both being “beautiful.”

Cohen brought four weeks together in one day.

Since testimony began April 22, prosecutors have been stitching together the motive and methods of the $130,000 payment, using phone logs, emails, text messages and witness testimony. Mr. Cohen brought many of those moments to life, describing Mr. Trump’s micromanagement and his campaign’s panic after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Mr. Cohen also bolstered testimony by David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher, establishing a deal to suppress unflattering stories about Mr. Trump. And he ratified the account of Keith Davidson, Ms. Daniels’s onetime lawyer, about buying her story.

But Mr. Cohen’s credibility will be aggressively challenged during cross-examination. Whether the jury finds Mr. Cohen believable could determine its verdict.

A cryptic phrase could be damning.

It was a direct accusation of intent: Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Trump had made it clear in late October 2016 that he wanted to pay off Ms. Daniels.

“He expressed to me, ‘Just do it,’” Mr. Cohen said.

He also said that during a conversation with Mr. Cohen and Allen Weisselberg, then the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Mr. Trump had been apprised of the plan for Mr. Cohen to pay Ms. Daniels and then be repaid.

That arrangement forms the basis for the charges of falsifying business records. “Once I received the money back from Mr. Trump, I would deposit it and no one would be the wiser,” Mr. Cohen said.

Gagged, Trump is letting other allies attack the case.

For some Republicans, the trial is an opportunity to show loyalty to the former president, and burnish their reputations in his eyes.

On Monday, that included Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, considered a possible vice-presidential candidate. He also held a news conference blasting Democrats, whom he and Mr. Trump blame for the case, and Mr. Cohen. It was public criticism of a witness whom the defendant is barred from attacking because of a gag order.

Mr. Vance was just the latest Republican to drop by. Senator Rick Scott of Florida and Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, have visited in weeks past.

On Monday, Senator Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach from Alabama, complained about the courtroom’s aesthetics.

“That courtroom,” he said, “is depressing.”

Cohen was described as a maniac. But he wasn’t one Monday.

Prosecutors had allowed witnesses to disparage Mr. Cohen, presumably to get ahead of defense arguments about his being unreliable. People painted him as a maniac, an explosive figure with an ax to grind. That could blunt the defense’s cross-examination, which could cover his time in federal prison.

But the Michael Cohen on the stand was calm. He did describe his temper flaring, including when he saw his bonus sharply cut for 2016, which he called “insulting.”

“I didn’t expect more,” he said. “But I certainly didn’t expect less.”

Mr. Cohen’s direct examination by prosecutors — who said last week that they may finish with their witnesses this week — will continue Tuesday morning. The defense will surely try to rattle his composure later in the day, when cross-examination is expected to begin.

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