Michael Cohen faces day-long grilling by Trump lawyer on his character and credibility

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Michael Cohen’s character faced a daylong grilling in the witness box Thursday as a lawyer for Donald Trump sought to convince a jury not to give weight to the words of the former president’s nemesis.

Over about five hours, Todd Blanche struggled to get a rise out of the notoriously testy Cohen while attacking his credibility, laying bare details of his criminal conviction, disbarment, and history of lies.

Prosecutors need the jury to believe Cohen to prove Trump was aware of the reimbursement of hush-money funds to his former fixer. The defense is expected to argue next week that a selfish Cohen has consistently changed his tune and is motivated by money and revenge.

After meandering lines of questioning throughout the morning, Blanche picked up the pace before lunch in a bid to disprove a phone call Cohen testified about earlier in the week.

On Monday, Cohen told prosecutor Susan Hoffinger that he reached out to Trump on Oct. 24, 2016, via Trump’s personal bodyguard Keith Schiller to let him know he’d resolved a $130,000 hush money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Blanche confronted him with phone records showing he contacted Schiller the same evening about prank calls he received from a “dope” teenager, accusing him of lying and that he’d actually been talking to Schiller “about the fact that you were getting harassing phone calls from a 14 year old.”

Defense attorney Todd Blanche stands making the
Defense attorney Todd Blanche cross examines Michael Cohen, as Donald Trump, left, looks on with Judge Juan Merchan presiding on Thursday. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Raising his voice until he was shrieking, Blanche pushed back on Cohen’s answer that he discussed both the prankster and the porn star in the short phone call.

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

“No, sir. I can’t,” Cohen said, later adding, “I believe that I also spoke to Mr. Trump and told him everything regarding Stormy Daniels matter was being worked on and it’s going to be resolved.”

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan sustained multiple objections during the often hard-to-follow interrogation. It seemed to invigorate the presumed Republican presidential nominee, who looked perkier than usual as he sat at the defense table.

Trump arrived with an expanded entourage of his campaign surrogates, strolling into the courtroom around 9:20 a.m. with a parade of GOP lawmakers in tow, including Reps. Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, who sat in the front row stroking his chin as Blanche grilled Cohen.

The 77-year-old former president, facing four criminal cases as he vies for the presidency again, is charged with 34 felonies in his Manhattan case alleging he covered up reimbursement to Cohen for the payoff to Daniels — by classifying it as payment for legal fees — to disguise an underlying scheme to hide information from the voting public.

Cohen, 57, went to federal prison for the payment to Daniels after pleading guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance laws by silencing her claims of an extramarital tryst with Trump to influence the election, cementing his bitter feud with Trump. He also pleaded guilty to perjury for lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia and tax evasion.

On his direct examination with Hoffinger, Cohen knitted together bank records, texts, calls and emails displayed during testimony from more than a dozen other witnesses. The jury had already seen most of the evidence presented during his account, introduced from others’ perspectives. He said Trump was intimately involved in a conspiracy to hide lewd details about his past from the electorate and that he only answered to Trump from the day of his 2007 hiring until the feds closed in on him more than a decade later, bullying, threatening and lying to make his boss happy.

When Trump won the White House, Cohen said he hoped to get a top job like chief of staff but was hung out to dry, which Blanche hammered him about as a motive for revenge. Cohen conceded that his ambition was ego-driven and that he ended up with an empty role as personal attorney to the president — which he previously testified only included 10 hours of work for all of 2017.

Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Steven Hirsch/Pool Photo via AP)
Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York on Thursday. (Steven Hirsch/Pool Photo via AP)

The $35,000 checks he received monthly in 2017, all signed by Trump, were reimbursement for paying off Daniels, the jury has heard, grossed up for taxes and with additional compensation tacked on.

Cohen alleged the reimbursement was organized by Trump’s convicted former finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, now serving jail time for perjury, and got the green light from Trump at a January 2017 Trump Tower meeting. He said Trump promised he was getting paid back weeks later during a conversation inside the Oval Office.

Zeroing in on the nondisclosure agreement with Daniels, Blanche pressed Cohen on whether it was legal. The defense, while denying Trump knew he’d reimbursed Cohen for the payoff, has contended that any efforts on his part to bury sex scandals were made to protect his family, not win him the White House.

“Make no mistake, this was a completely legal, binding contract, right?” Blanche said, pulling up a copy of Daniels’ NDA.

“Yes, sir,” Cohen said.

After jurors were sent home for the day around 4 p.m., Blanche said he expected to spend about an hour and a half cross-examining Cohen when the trial resumes Monday. He said the defense still hadn’t decided whether to put on a case or Trump on the stand.

Merchan told Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors at the Manhattan district attorney’s office to be prepared to deliver their closing arguments on Tuesday.

Trump gave the Daily News a thumbs up outside the courtroom when asked about his defense attorney’s performance. On his way home, he lamented the case in an 11-minute diatribe, accusing Merchan of conspiring to railroad him to a conviction before the election.

“I’m spending a lot of time, and I’m spending a lot of money, which is what they want,” Trump said. “They want me to spend my time and my money.”

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