Fraudulent checks, mob-like threats and TikToks: Takeaways from Michael Cohen’s second day of testimony at Trump trial

Prosecutors questioned Trump’s former fixer, who is expected to be their final witness, before the defense started its cross examination as the former president snoozes in court

Kelly Rissman,Alex Woodward
Wednesday 15 May 2024 00:33 BST
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Donald Trump endured — and partially napped through — Michael Cohen’s second day on the stand at the former president’s hush money trial in Manhattan.

Cohen appeared composed as the prosecution directly addressed his credibility, asking him about pleading guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress, lying on behalf of his former boss, and most crucially, a series of checks and invoices that contained “false” descriptions that outline the fraud at the center of the case.

Jurors saw the $35,000-per-month payments, which were signed by Mr Trump and labeled as routine legal fees to his then-attorney Michael Cohen.

But those payments were actually Mr Trump’s “reimbursement” for Cohen’s $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, according to Cohen.

In the afternoon, Mr Trump’s attorneys attacked Cohen’s shifting opinions for his former boss, from his “obsession” to his desire to see him convicted.

Here are the key takeaways from Mr Trump’s 17th day in Manhattan criminal court:

False invoices, fraudulent checks

Prosecutors started off the day by running through Cohen’s monthly invoices from 2017, which he wrote for “services rendered” (for work he says he didn’t do) that were “pursuant to a retainer” (that didn’t exist).

Those invoices and checks are the allegedly fraudulent business documents at the heart of the charges against the former president.

Cohen leaves his apartment building as he heads for Manhattan criminal court
Cohen leaves his apartment building as he heads for Manhattan criminal court (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Cohen had previously testified that he paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 on behalf of his then-boss as part of an agreement that she would stay quiet about having sex with Mr Trump in 2006.

Mr Trump has denied even meeting Ms Daniels beyond a photograph they posed for at a celebrity golf tournament.

“Did you continue to send them monthly?” asked Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger.

“Yes ma’am,” Cohen replied.

“And did each of those make the same false representation that it was for services rendered for that month, pursuant to the retainer?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am,” he said.

‘You are loved’: Cohen faced mob-like pressure against ‘flipping’

After a federal law enforcement raid at his home and office, Mr Trump called him, reassuring him that “everything’s going to be OK,” according to Cohen.

“You are loved,” others in Mr Trump’s orbit told him, he said. “Don’t worry. He’s got your back.”

Others promised him that Mr Trump is “most powerful guy in the country, if not the world.”

“You’re going to be OK,” they told him, according to Cohen.

Mr Trump then posted on Twitter, claiming that journalists “are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’”

What Cohen heard from then-President Trump’s message: “Stay in the fold. Stay loyal. I have you. You’re a fine person. Don’t flip.”

The court saw a series of emails from Robert Costello, an attorney with ties to former Trump-connected attorney Rudy Giuliani, who appeared to pressure Cohen into retaining him as an attorney while he was under investigation – hoping to open a “back channel” of communication to Mr Trump.

He was “pressuring me,” Cohen said.

Cohen ended up pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and other charges later that year.

That phone call from Mr Trump was the last time they ever spoke, Cohen told the court.

Cohen testifies against his former boss on May 14
Cohen testifies against his former boss on May 14 (REUTERS)

Prosecutors address Cohen’s weaknesses head-on

Manhattan prosecutors seemed to want to confront any of their key witness’ vulnerabilities before handing him to the defense for cross-examination.

Ms Hoffinger pressed Cohen about his guilty plea in 2018 for lying to Congress and tax evasion.

“I regret doing things for him that I should not have,” Cohen said. “Lying. Bullying people in order to effectuate a goal.”

He does not regret working for the Trump Organization, “but to keep the loyalty and to do things that he had asked me to do, I violated my moral compass, and I suffered the penalty, as did my family.”

Trump appears to nod off

Just moments into his defense attorney cross-examining his ex-personal attorney, Mr Trump slumped in his chair and closed his eyes. He appeared to be dozing off.

Mouth open, the former president’s head then dropped slightly. He then appeared to wake up, jolting up and tilting his head to the left or right.

His eyes stayed shut.

‘Crying little s***’ and ‘dictator douche bag’

Defense attorney Todd Blanche turned to one of Cohen’s TikTok videos from April 23 before asking, “You called me a ‘crying little s***, didn’t you?”

A stone-faced Cohen replied: “Sounds like something I would say.”

Later, to paint Cohen as vengeful of Mr Trump, Mr Blanche asked whether Cohen referred to Mr Trump on 23 April as a “dictator douche bag?”

Again, Cohen replied plainly: “Sounds like something I would say.”

Mr Blanche also pressed the star witness about whether Cohen profited from his TikTok videos or podcasts loaded with insults about the former president.

He also pulled up a website showing merchandise from Cohen’s Mea Culpa podcast, revealing a shirt with a photo of Mr Trump in an orange jumpsuit, behind bars, a “Convict 45” sticker and a mug emblazoned with “send him to the big house not the White House.”

Cohen clarified that he was not personally selling this merchandise.

The defense started its cross-examination of Cohen on Tuesday
The defense started its cross-examination of Cohen on Tuesday (REUTERS)

Cohen wants to see Trump convicted

Mr Blanche asked Cohen whether he would like to see the former president convicted.

“I would like to see accountability,” Cohen said. “But that’s not up to me. It’s up to the jury.”

“Yes or no?” Mr Blanche pressed. “Do you want to see Mr Trump get convicted?”

“Sure,” he said. “Yes.”

Cohen was ‘knee deep’ in Trump’s ‘cult’

Much of Mr Blanche’s cross-examination so far has revolved around Cohen’s shift in opinion of his former boss.

Cohen agreed that he had read Mr Trump’s book Art of the Deal twice and had indeed described it as a “masterpiece.” Cohen also admitted that when he worked for Mr Trump, he “admired him tremendously.”

Mr Blanche also ran through a series of Cohen’s praise for Mr Trump in the years before 2018.

“At that time you weren’t lying, right?” Mr Blanche asked.

“At that time I was knee-deep in the cult, yes,” Cohen replied.

Trump fails to stop gag order

A New York appeals court on Tuesday rejected Mr Trump’s request to toss the trial’s gag order.

The appeals court wrote that New York Justice Juan Merchan “properly determined that petitioner’s public statements posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses.”

The judge had imposed the order in March, barring Mr Trump from talking about jurors, potential witnesses, staff from the district attorney’s office, court staff and their families, after he had targeted Cohen, Ms Daniels and the judge’s daughter in online posts.

Trump appears before his trial in Manhattan for the 17th day
Trump appears before his trial in Manhattan for the 17th day (AP)

Trump surrogates Mike Johnson and Vivek Ramaswamy flock to court

House Speaker Mike Johnson – the nation’s highest-ranking Republican – joined a fleet of Trump allies in the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, a remarkable moment in American politics that pitted the GOP and its presidential candidate against the judicial system.

GOP Reps Byron Donalds and Cory Mills and former Republican presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Doug Burgum sat behind Mr Trump in the courtroom.

Mr Johnson held a press conference outside the courthouse to rage against the case.

On Monday, Republican senators JD Vance and Tommy Tuberville joined Mr Trump in court.

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