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The Latest | Michael Cohen takes the stand as testimony in Trump hush money case enters 4th week

By The Associated Press - | May 13, 2024

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

NEW YORK (AP) — The fourth week of witness testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial could be a doozy: Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, has taken the stand.

The long-anticipated testimony on Monday from Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer follows a breathtaking buildup by prosecutors of a case that ultimately hinges on record-keeping. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records to cover up hush money payments that Cohen made as part of efforts to buy and bury stories that might hurt the former president’s 2016 campaign.

Text messages, audio recordings, notes and more have all been introduced or shown to jurors in recent weeks to illustrate what prosecutors say was a scheme to illegally influence the election that year. And sometimes dramatic testimony from witnesses that included former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, ex-Trump staffers and porn actor Stormy Daniels added to the intrigue.

The prosecution could wrap its case this week after telling the judge on Friday that they expected to call just two more witnesses.

The trial is in its 16th day.

In addition to Daniels’ recounting of a 2006 sexual encounter she said she had with Trump — which he denies — last week saw two failed bids by the defense to have a mistrial declared, attempts to have the gag order squashed or at least altered and more.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts.

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.

Currently:

— Michael Cohen: A challenging star witness in Trump’s hush money trial

— Trump trial turns to sex, bank accounts and power: Highlights from the third week of testimony

— Key players: Who’s who at Trump’s hush money criminal trial

— The hush money case is just one of Trump’s legal cases. See the others here

Here’s the latest:

COHEN DESCRIBES HOW HE WORKED TO QUASH STORY ABOUT ALLEGED AFFAIR WITH PLAYBOY MODEL

Michael Cohen, called to the stand by the prosecution in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan, testified he went to Trump immediately after the National Enquirer alerted him to a story being peddled that alleged Trump had had an affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Cohen recalled going to Trump’s office, asking Trump if he knew McDougal or anything about the story.

Cohen said Trump then told him to make sure that the story doesn’t get released.

Cohen said he communicated regularly with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and editor Dylan Howard to stop the story from getting out. He said the tabloid executives updated him regularly on their discussions and that he kept Trump apprised of developments.

Cohen said he thought the story would have a “significant” impact on Trump’s presidential campaign if it became publish.

The McDougal news came on the heels of the National Enquirer paying $30,000 to squash a doorman’s false rumor about Trump having a child out of wedlock.

COHEN TESTIFIES ABOUT HOW TABLOID OFFERED TO HELP TRUMP

Michael Cohen, who is testifying for the prosecution in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan, offered his side of an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower where former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified he’d offered to look out for negative stories before they were published.

Cohen testified that Pecker offered to publish positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents. He said the publisher also offered to “keep an eye out for anything negative about Mr. Trump and that he would be able to help us know in advance what was coming out and try and stop it from coming out.”

Cohen said he was seeking to harness the power of the National Enquirer to Trump’s benefit, given its high visibility next to the cash registers at tens of thousands of supermarkets across the U.S.

Cohen also testified about his role in brokering a deal to buy a potentially damaging story — which claimed, falsely, that Trump had a child out of wedlock — from a Trump Tower doorman in order “to take it off the market.”

Cohen, 57, worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017 as Trump’s lawyer and fixer. Cohen broke with Trump after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in 2018. He has been a fierce critic ever since.

COHEN TESTIFIES ABOUT HIS 10 YEARS WITH TRUMP, SAYS TRUMP NEVER HAD AN EMAIL ADDRESS

Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial testified that he reported directly to Trump during his decade-long tenure as his executive vice president and special counsel.

He recalled being tasked to renegotiate bills on Trump’s behalf, including a law firm invoice that Trump felt wasn’t “fair, reasonable, justified” and outstanding invoices from 50 vendors of Trump’s failed Trump University project.

Cohen testified that he managed to trim most of the Trump University bills by more than 80%, sparing Trump from having to cover costs behind the $2 million left in the project’s bank account.

Cohen also testified he spoke with Trump — either in person or by phone — multiple times a day. But Trump was wary of using email, Cohen said.

“Mr. Trump never had an email address,” Cohen said. Trump knew too many people who had “gone down” as a result of emails that prosecutors were able to use against them in legal cases, Cohen said.

Though now a fierce critic of Trump, Cohen testified that his decade working for him was largely a “fantastic” experience.

MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP’S FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY, TAKES THE STAND

He once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. Now Michael Cohen is prosecutors’ star witness in the former president’s hush money trial.

Cohen is expected to testify about his role in arranging hush money payments on Trump’s behalf during his first presidential campaign, including to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who told jurors last week that the $130,000 that she received in 2016 was meant to prevent her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in a hotel suite a decade earlier.

Cohen, 57, worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017 as Trump’s lawyer and fixer. Cohen broke with Trump after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in 2018. He has been a fierce critic ever since.

Cohen first came to Trump’s attention as a condo board member who took the developer’s side in a dispute between residents and management at a Trump building where he lived in Manhattan.

TRUMP, FLANKED BY SUPPORTERS, SPEAKS BEFORE TRIAL BEGINS

As Donald Trump entered the criminal courtroom in Lower Manhattan on a pivotal day of his hush-money trial, he stopped to talk to reporters to proclaim his innocence. He also called the case a “political witch hunt.”

His comments come moments before the expected beginning of testimony of a pivotal witness: his former lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen, now one of his sharpest critics.

Some of Trump’s political allies lined up behind him as he spoke, including Republican Ohio Sen. JD Vance. Vance, who has become a close ally of the former president, is considered one of the top contenders on Trump’s shortlist of vice presidential candidates.

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York were also among the crowd. It was by far the biggest showing of support from Trump’s Republican allies after one-off appearances in recent days by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.

Trump has started inviting supporters to join him in court as he is subject to a gag order that prohibits him from criticizing the witnesses and others.

TRUMP ARRIVES AT THE COURTHOUSE

Donald Trump’s motorcade has arrived at the criminal courthouse in Lower Manhattan for the start of the 16th day of the former president’s hush money trial.

The trial involves allegations that he falsified his company’s records to hide the true nature of payments to Michael Cohen, who helped bury negative stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. He’s pleaded not guilty.

Cohen, who was once Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, is expected to take the stand as the prosecution’s star witness.

Prosecutors have spent weeks building up a case that largely hinges on record-keeping. They’ve presented witnesses, text messages, notes and audio recordings to illustrate what prosecutors have said was a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and burying negative stories that might hurt Trump’s campaign.

TRUMP AND HIS GAG ORDER ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

While Donald Trump seized on his legal woes Saturday in front of a Jersey Shore campaign rally crowd, a judge’s gag order — and the threat of jail — limit Trump’s ability to comment publicly on witnesses, jurors and some others connected to the New York trial, which is expected to consume much of the month. The judge in the case already has fined Trump $9,000 for violating the order and warned that jail could follow if he doesn’t comply.

The order doesn’t include references to Judge Juan M. Merchan, whom Trump called “highly conflicted” or District Attorney Alvin Bragg, both of whom Trump said are “doing the bidding for crooked Joe Biden.”

Trump’s responsibilities as a defendant have limited his ability to win over voters on the campaign trail.

COHEN LEAVES HIS NEW YORK HOME

Michael Cohen has left his New York home on Monday morning.

Donald Trump’s fixer-turned-foe is expected to take the witness stand in the former president’s hush money case.

In criminal trials, many witnesses come to the stand with their own criminal records, relationships with defendants, prior contradictory statements or something else that could affect their credibility.

Cohen has a particular set of baggage.

In testimony, he will need to explain his prior disavowals of key aspects of the hush money arrangements and to convince jurors that this time he is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

OVER THE WEEKEND, TRUMP CALLED HIS HUSH MONEY CASE A ‘BIDEN SHOW TRIAL’

Sandwiched between his appearances in court, Donald Trump headed on Saturday to the Jersey Shore, where he repeatedly blamed President Joe Biden for the criminal charges he’s facing as the presumptive nominees prepare to face off in the November election and called his New York hush money case ” a Biden show trial.”

Blasting the Democratic president “a total moron,” Trump before a crowd of tens of thousands repeatedly characterized the cases against him as politically motivated and timed to harm his ability to campaign.

“He’s a fool. He’s not a smart man,” Trump said of Biden. “I talk about him differently now because now the gloves are off.”

Trump has repeatedly accused the Biden administration and Democratic officials in New York of using the legal system to block his return to the White House.

The hush money case was filed by local prosecutors in Manhattan who do not work for the Justice Department or any White House office. The Justice Department has said the White House has had no involvement in the two criminal cases against Trump brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

TRIAL WILL ONLY MEET FOR 3 DAYS THIS WEEK

Court proceedings in Donald Trump’s hush money trial will be held on just three days this week — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Wednesday is the trial’s usual day off during the week and court will not be in session on Friday to allow the former president to attend his son Barron’s high school graduation.

COULD WEISSELBERG MAKE AN APPEARANCE AFTER ALL?

Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, could make an appearance at Donald Trump’s hush money trial after all.

On Friday, Judge Juan M. Merchan asked prosecutors to see if they could get him to court before seeking instead to introduce evidence to explain his absence.

Weisselberg, 76, is currently jailed at New York City’s Rikers Island complex, serving a five-month sentence for lying under oath in his testimony in the state attorney general’s civil fraud investigation of Trump. He pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced last month. His plea agreement does not require his cooperation or testimony in the criminal case.

“Right now it’s seems to me we’re trying to jump the gun. We’re trying to explain why he’s not here without making any effort to get him here,” Merchan said.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove noted that his absence “is a very complicated issue” and may require a jury instruction about uncalled witnesses.

Prosecutors had argued that subpoenaing Weisselberg to testify would probably be a waste of time due to his loyalty to Trump and the likelihood that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

WITNESS TESTIMONY IN TRUMP’S HUSH MONEY TRIAL ENTERS 4TH WEEK

Donald Trump is due back in court on Monday morning as witness testimony in his criminal trial enters its fourth week.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, is the star prosecution witness in Trump’s hush money trial. Cohen is set to take the stand Monday and is by far the Manhattan district attorney’s most important witness in the case.

Prosecutors say they may wrap up their presentation of evidence by the end of the week.

Cohen is expected to testify about his role in arranging hush money payments on Trump’s behalf during his first presidential campaign, including to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who told jurors last week that the $130,000 that she received in 2016 was meant to prevent her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in a hotel suite a decade earlier.

Defense lawyers have teed up a bruising cross-examination of Cohen, telling jurors during opening statements that the fixer-turned-foe is an “admitted liar” with an “obsession to get President Trump.”

The trial is in its 16th day.

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