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Trump Defense Gets Boost From Tough Cohen Cross-Examination

Trump Defense Gets Boost From Tough Cohen Cross-Examination
Former US President Donald Trump, center left, and Todd Blanche, attorney for former US President Donald Trump, center right, speak to members of the media at Manhattan criminal court in New York, US, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged scheme to silence claims of extramarital sexual encounters during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Donald Trump’s lawyer at his hush money trial grilled Michael Cohen for hours on the witness stand Thursday about possible inconsistencies in his testimony and his well-documented history of lying under oath.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche took a far more aggressive tone with Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, than earlier in the week, questioning whether he really got approval from Trump for the hush money payment at the center of the case and drawing out embarrassing details on how he reacted to prank phone calls and at other times how he leaked stories to the media.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to conceal the true nature of a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election, to keep her quiet about an alleged affair. Earlier testimony by Cohen, the Manhattan District Attorney’s star witness, bolstered the case with first-hand accounts of his conversations about the payments with Trump, who denies wrongdoing.

The cross examination may be Trump’s best chance to undermine Cohen’s credibility and sow doubt in the minds of jurors. Blanche suggested Cohen lied dozens of times, getting under his skin as Trump watched, with the former president alternating between resting his eyes and watching Blanche closely.

In one of the more dramatic exchanges, Blanche pointed to Cohen’s testimony earlier this week about a phone call — that lasted little more than 90 seconds — Cohen said he had with Trump on Oct. 25, 2016, finalizing the Daniels payoff. Cohen testified earlier that he had called Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller, who then handed the phone to Trump. The testimony was backed up by his phone records.

But Blanche presented text messages suggesting Cohen had called Schiller for a completely different reason — to discuss harassing phone calls he was getting from a minor.

“That was a lie because you were actually talking to Keith Schiller about harassing phone calls from a 14-year-old,” Blanche said, demanding to know if Cohen was being truthful. In one text, Cohen threatened to turn the teenage caller over to the Secret Service.

“Based upon what was going on and based upon the other text messages and so on regarding the Stormy Daniels matter, yes I believe I was telling the truth,” Cohen said.

“We are not asking for your belief,” Blanche said. “This jury doesn’t want to hear what you think happened.”

Closings Tuesday?

While Blanche will resume the questioning Monday, Justice Juan Merchan told the lawyers to be ready to give closing arguments as soon as Tuesday. But defense lawyers said they haven’t made a decision on whether Trump will testify yet and it’s unclear whether they will call any other witnesses.

During his questioning Thursday, Cohen conceded that the hush agreement with Daniels was legal and that Trump didn’t actually sign the document.

“But you agree there’s nothing illegal with a settlement contract with two parties and their lawyers,” Blanche asked.

“That’s correct,” Cohen said.

To be sure, prosecutors have never claimed the agreement was illegal. The case has always centered on how Trump accounted for his reimbursement to Cohen, which the government said was paid in monthly installments for “legal services” that he didn’t provide. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the case, also says the payout violated election laws because it benefitted Trump’s presidential campaign.

The jury was methodically reminded by Blanche that Cohen lied to Congress in testimony about Trump’s real estate plans in Moscow and lied again to a federal judge when Cohen pleaded guilty to tax crimes and said under oath that he took responsibility. Cohen, who now says he shouldn’t have been charged, conceded he perjured himself because the outcome affected him personally.

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

“Yes,” Cohen said.

Lied Under Oath

Cohen admitted he lied under oath when he told the late US District Judge William H. Pauley, who sentenced him for tax crimes, that he took responsibility for his wrongdoing. In reality, Cohen said, he didn’t believe he should have been charged. Cohen, getting defensive at times, said he “never denied the underlying facts.”

“I just felt I should have never been criminally charged,” Cohen said, adding that he only pleaded guilty because he believed he needed to in order to prevent his wife from being unfairly charged too.

Blanche asked Cohen if he believed Pauley would have wanted to know he didn’t really believe he should have been charged.

“I am certain he would have,” Cohen said.

Cohen was also forced to admit that he frequently recorded conversations with many people, including Trump and journalists. At times he would tape his calls with reporters, without their consent, and then leaked the tapes to another reporter at the New York Times.

During Cohen’s testimony this week, groups of Republican politicians have attended court to show their support for Trump, the party’s presumptive candidate for president in the November election. On Thursday, the group included Representatives Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, who later tweeted a picture of himself and others behind Trump at the courthouse.

As Trump left the courthouse Thursday, he huddled with his advisers before addressing reporters as he typically does before and after each day of the trial.

The former president reiterated his frequent complaint that the case was a sham, and he read off a list of articles he claims support his views.

“They tried to rush to get it done before the election, so that they can harm me, so they can hurt their political opponent,” Trump said.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    I really hope The Chump’s lawyers decide he should take the stand. The only shame is that the case isn’t being televised. Either way the jury will see what a tosser he actually is – if he doesn’t take the stand it’ll prove that he’s guilty.

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