Key takeaways from day 18 of Trump’s hush money trial

Trump’s lawyer sought to discredit Cohen as a revenge-seeking liar during cross-examination on Thursday

Alex Woodward
from Manhattan criminal court
,Ariana Baio
Friday 17 May 2024 23:16
Trump arrrives at hush money trial flanked by surrogates in court

Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen faced another day of fiery cross-examination on Thursday as the former president’s defense attorney Todd Blanche sought to discredit the one-time “fixer” as a revenge-seeking liar.

Mr Blanche launched several attacks against Cohen’s credibility and history of deception, including past false statements and guilty pleas for financial crimes – some related to the hush money payments at the center of Mr Trump’s trial.

Mr Blanche zig-zagged through Cohen’s dubious history as an admittedly self-interested figure in Mr Trump’s universe to undermine bombshell testimony in the case against his former boss.

Here are the key takeaways from the 18th day of proceedings.

Defense depicts Cohen as a serial liar

Mr Blanche argued that Cohen’s turn against the former president was only motivated by his self-interest and that he was lying both on the stand and throughout his career.

He argued that Cohen lied when he said he stated he hadn’t been offered nor would he accept a pardon from Mr Trump, and that he was angry when Mr Trump didn’t pick him for a White House role.

Cohen said he only wanted a job offer for his “ego.”

Former President Donald Trump waves as he returns to the courtroom after a break in his trial at Manhattan criminal court Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York (AP)

Cohen celebrates Trump indictment

Mr Blanche played audio from Cohen’s podcast Mea Culpa where he celebrated the 34-count indictment against the former president last year.

“I truly f***ing hope this man ends up in prison,” Cohen said in an October 2023 episode. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

“You better believe I want this man to go down and rot for what he did to me and my family,” he added.

Trump’s lawyer shouts at Cohen

Mr Blanche was furious with Cohen during cross-examination and accused Cohen of lying about a pivotal phone call that tied Mr Trump to the conspiracy at the center of the case.

Cohen previously testified that he spoke to Mr Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, after finalizing a deal to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016.

But Mr Blanche suggested Cohen was only calling Mr Schiller to complain about some harassing phone calls he was receiving at the time.

Mr Blanche yelled at Cohen: “That was a lie, wasn’t it!”

Michael Cohen is asked about taking an oath as he is cross-examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial (REUTERS)

‘Crime-fraud exception’

Cohen testified that he regularly recorded phone calls with journalists over the years – and even recorded a few with Mr Trump.

Mr Blanche noted it was unethical for an attorney to record client phone calls.

“Yes, except of course in crime-fraud exception,” Cohen replied.

Under the crime-fraud exception, a client’s statements to lawyers are not protected by attorney-client privilege if they are meant to further or conceal a crime.

Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz show up at court

MAGA Republican Reps Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz became the latest lawmakers to show up at the courthouse for their “surrogate” duties in a bid to circumvent the gag order.

On X, Ms Boebert attacked Justice Merchan’s daughter, claiming she was being paid “millions and millions of dollars by Democrat campaigns”.

Meanwhile, Mr Gaetz echoed Mr Trump’s call to far-right extremists the Proud Boys prior to the 2020 election. “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President,” he posted on X.

US Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, listens as former US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before his trial (via REUTERS)

The week ahead

On Monday morning, Mr Blanche will finish his interrogation of Cohen.

Manhattan prosecutors will not introduce any further witnesses, defense attorneys are deciding whether to introduce rebuttal witnesses when – or if – they decide to make a case, and Judge Merchan instructed attorneys to prepare for closing arguments as soon as Tuesday.

Mr Trump still has not indicated to his attorneys whether he will testify in his defense.

The defense hopes to introduce one expert witness – Bradley Smith, a former chair of the FEC – but want to expand the scope of what he can talk about.

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