Michael Cohen pressed on his crimes and lies as defense attacks key Trump hush money trial witness

NEW YORK — With prosecutors’ hush money case against Donald Trump barreling toward its end, defense lawyers pressed former attorney Michael Cohen on his criminal history and past lies Thursday as they worked to convince jurors not to believe the star witness’ pivotal testimony.

Cohen was back in the hot seat for a third day of testimony as defense lawyers painted Trump’s fixer-turned-foe as a spurned former employee who will say whatever it takes to put the presumptive Republican presidential nominee behind bars.

Cohen is prosecutors’ final witness — at least for now — as they try to prove Trump schemed to suppress a damaging story he feared would torpedo his 2016 presidential campaign and then falsified business records to cover it up. Cohen’s cross-examination is a crucial moment for Trump’s team to try to chip away at Cohen’s credibility, which could determine the former president’s fate in the case.

Under questioning from defense attorney Todd Blanche, Cohen admitted to lying under oath when he pleaded guilty to federal charges, including tax fraud, in 2018 as well as lying to Congress about work he did on a Trump real estate deal in Russia.

“It was a lie? Correct?” Blanche asked Cohen about whether he lied to the late U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III at a court hearing about not being pressured into pleading guilty.

“Correct,” Cohen said.

Over several days on the witness stand, Cohen placed Trump directly at the center of the alleged scheme to stifle negative stories to fend off damage to his White House bid. Cohen told jurors that Trump promised to reimburse him for the money he fronted and was constantly updated about efforts to silence women who alleged sexual encounters with him. Trump denies the women’s claims.

Trump, who insists the prosecution is an effort to damage his campaign to reclaim the White House, says the payments to Cohen were properly categorized as legal expenses because Cohen was a lawyer. The defense has suggested that he was trying to protect his family, not his campaign, by squelching what he says were false, scurrilous claims.

“The crime is that they’re doing this case,” he told reporters Thursday before entering the courtroom, flanked by a group of congressional allies that included Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.

The former president has been joined at the courthouse in recent days by a slew of conservative supporters, including some considered potential vice presidential picks and others angling for future administration roles. House Speaker Mike Johnson appeared Tuesday.

Gaetz later posted a photo on social media of him standing behind Trump in court, with the words, “Standing back, and standing by, Mr. President.” That is a phrase that the Proud Boys, an extremist group whose leaders were convicted of seditious conspiracy after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, have used since Trump, during a 2020 campaign debate, said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

While questioning Cohen, defense lawyers have not focused on the hush money scheme or the criminal charges at issue. Instead, they have peppered him with questions about his own misdeeds and his new persona as fierce Trump critic to attack Cohen’s credibility and motivations.

Blanche confronted Cohen with profane social media posts, a podcast and books he wrote about the former president, getting Cohen to acknowledge that he has made millions of dollars off slamming Trump. In one clip played in court Thursday, Cohen could be heard using an expletive and saying he truly hopes “that this man ends up in prison.”

“It won’t bring back the year that I lost or the damage done to my family. But revenge is a dish best served cold,” Cohen was heard saying. “You better believe that I want this man to go down.”

Cohen acknowledged he has continued to attack Trump, even during the trial.

In one social media post cited by the defense attorney, Cohen called Trump an alliterative and explicit nickname, as well as an “orange-crusted ignoramus.” Asked if he used the phrase, Cohen responded: “Sounds correct.”

Cohen, in earlier testimony, told jurors how his life and relationship with Trump were upended after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in 2018. Trump initially showered him with affection on social media and predicted that Cohen would not “flip.” Trump’s tone changed when, months later, Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign-finance charges and implicated him in the hush money scheme. Trump was not charged with a crime related to the federal investigation.

Cohen also described a meeting in which he says he and Trump discussed with Allen Weisselberg, a former Trump Organization chief financial officer, how the reimbursements for Cohen’s $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels would be paid as legal services over monthly installments. That’s important because prosecutors say the reimbursements were falsely logged as legal expenses to conceal the payments’ true purpose.

Defense lawyers are expected to question Cohen through the end of the day on Thursday. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has said it will rest its case once he’s done on the stand, though it could have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Trump’s lawyers put on witnesses of their own.

The defense isn’t obligated to call any witnesses, and it’s unclear whether the attorneys will do so. Blanche told Judge Juan M. Merchan on Tuesday that the defense may call one expert witness and that there was still no determination on whether Trump would take the stand.

In any event, the trial will take Friday off so Trump can attend the high school graduation of his youngest son, Barron.

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