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Michael Cohen testifies during Donald Trump's hush money trial on Monday, May 13. (Jane Rosenberg via CNN Newsource)

Cohen ties Trump to hush money payment

May 14, 2024

By Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell, CNN

(CNN) — Michael Cohen implicated his former boss Donald Trump in the hush money scheme to pay Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election, saying he doled out $130,000 at Trump’s direction and was promised reimbursement.

Cohen’s testimony ties together the prosecution’s allegations that Trump broke the law by falsifying business records to reimburse Cohen and conceal the hush money payment that Cohen said he made at Trump’s direction. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies having an affair with Daniels.

Cohen and Trump mostly avoided eye contact while he testified Monday. Cohen looked directly at prosecutor Susan Hoffinger throughout most of his testimony, occasionally scanning the room or looking in the jury’s direction. Trump spent long stretches of Cohen’s questioning with his eyes closed or thumbing through a stack of news stories.

Trump’s attorneys are likely to get their chance to question Cohen on Tuesday. Trump attorney Todd Blanche is expected to try to shred Cohen’s credibility with the jury during cross-examination by painting him as a convicted perjurer who has changed his story more than once.

Here are the takeaways from Day 16 of the Trump hush money trial:

Cohen ties Trump to the Daniels hush money payment

Through roughly five hours of testimony Monday, Cohen walked jurors through how he worked with former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker on Trump’s behalf during the 2016 campaign to kill negative stories; how he kept Trump apprised of his hush money negotiations with Keith Davidson, the attorney for Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal; and how Trump approved and was aware of how Cohen would be falsely repaid in 2017 for the Daniels payment as legal services.

Cohen is the glue that brings together the other witnesses the jurors have heard from so far, connected through text message email and phone calls to Pecker, Davidson, Dylan Howard, Hope Hicks and others who were allegedly involved with the hush money payments.

Cohen described his conversations with Trump during the Daniels hush money negotiations, which prosecutors backed up using Cohen’s phone records to show when the two had spoken. He also connected the payment to Trump’s campaign.

“I had to get this done,” Cohen said on the stand.  “This would be catastrophic to the campaign.”

After Cohen and Davidson agreed to a $130,000 settlement payment on October 11, 2016, Cohen said he tried to drag out the process until after the election at Trump’s direction – claiming he would need 10 days to get the money together and noting that the office was closed on Yom Kippur.

Hoffinger asked why Cohen did that.

“Because after the election, it wouldn’t matter,” Cohen said.

“According to who?” Hoffinger asked.

“Mr. Trump,” Cohen said.

Daniels got fed up with the delays, leading to Davidson briefly canceling the settlement agreement, before they renewed the deal at the end of October.

The day before Cohen wired the money, he had two calls with Trump the morning in which he said he told Trump he was going to open the account for the LLC that would wire the money to Daniels.

“I wanted to ensure that once again he approved what I was doing because I require approval from him on all of this,” Cohen said.

Hoffinger asked whether Cohen would have gone to the bank without Trump’s approval.

“No,” Cohen said. “Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off; on top of that, I wanted the money back.”

Cohen described how he lied on his bank statements – lies that led to federal charges against him in 2018 – by saying that Essential Consultants LLC was being used for real estate consulting.

When asked whether his bank would have opened the account had he been truthful, Cohen said, “I believe that they probably would not.”

Cohen ties the hush money reimbursement to Trump, too

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records – 11 invoices, 12 vouchers and 11 checks – records that prosecutors say stem from the monthly reimbursements Cohen received in 2017 for the hush money payment he made to Daniels.

On Monday, jurors heard through Cohen for the first time evidence directly connecting Trump to those reimbursements.

Cohen described how he was furious in December 2016 when his annual Christmas bonus had been cut by two-thirds.

He said he immediately went to Trump’s then-chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, “and in some colorful language expressed to him how truly pissed off and angry I really was. This makes no sense at all.”

“I was even for myself unusually angry,” Cohen said. “I used quite a few expletives.”

After the new year, Cohen said he went to Weisselberg about getting repaid for the $130,000 payment. “Let’s do it,” he said Weisselberg told him.

The jury was then shown Cohen’s First Republic bank statement, which showed the $130,000 settlement payment and Weisselberg’s handwriting detailing how Cohen should be repaid $420,000.

Cohen testified that he saw Weisselberg write on the document, while telling jurors that his money would be “grossed up” to account for taxes, because he was being paid in monthly installments as income, instead of as a reimbursement.

Importantly, Cohen said that after their meeting, he and Weisselberg went to Trump’s office to speak to him about it. Cohen said he was given the title of personal attorney to the president around the same time but wasn’t going to be paid for that title.

Hoffinger asked whether he was being paid for future legal services.

“That was what it was designed to be,” Cohen said.

“What was it actually?” Hoffinger asked.

“Reimbursement of my money,” Cohen said.

Cohen describes being Trump’s protector

Cohen, who used to say he’d take a bullet for Trump in the height of their relationship, testified Monday about everything he did to protect his former boss.

As Cohen described each media story he killed and nondisclosure agreement he locked down ahead of the 2016 election, it was always in the name of protecting Trump.

When it came to the settlement agreement with Daniels, Cohen said he kept control of a document revealing the identities of “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson” so that he could protect Trump.

And he testified that he used the Essential Consultants LLC to facilitate the payment to Daniels “to protect him and to isolate him from the transaction.”

Hoffinger asked Cohen whether he would sometimes bully people. Cohen confirmed he would.

“The only thing that was on my mind was to accomplish the task to make him happy,” Cohen said of Trump.

Cohen also testified that it’s “fair” to say he was once Trump’s “fixer” and told the jury he’d sometimes lie for Trump – including to his own wife.

Cohen said he opted to front the $130,000 to Daniels from his home equity line of credit on his personal property because his wife would’ve noticed the large sum missing from their joint personal bank account.

Cohen painted Trump – whom he often called “boss” – as a micromanager who insisted he be kept informed of the ongoings of any situation, including the more discreet instances like the nondisclosure agreements with McDougal and Daniels.

Cohen admitted he also kept Trump constantly informed because he wanted credit for handling Trump’s matters, whether it was negotiating invoices or suppressing negative media stories.

Cohen said he always wanted Trump to know situations were handled and he wanted “to get credit for accomplishing the task.”

No fireworks in Trump, Cohen showdown

Unlike his typical public persona, the jury saw a subdued Cohen who gave slow and deliberate answers on direct examination.

Cohen rarely looked over at Trump sitting at the defense table, training his eyes mostly on the prosecutor questioning him.

And aside from reviewing some documents and passing a few notes to his attorneys, Trump spent the majority of the day with his eyes closed. The former president glanced up at Cohen a few times, but there was never an obvious moment of eye contact.

Cohen did prompt a few headshakes of what looked like disapproval from Trump, including when Cohen mentioned Trump’s wife, Melania.

Cohen claimed Trump wasn’t worried about his wife’s feelings when the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape went public before the election – testimony contrary to what former Trump aides Hicks and Madeleine Westerhout told the jury.

He testified, “‘Don’t worry, he goes, ‘How long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long.’ He wasn’t thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign.”

At one point, it seemed like Trump had heard enough of Cohen’s devoted-employee story, shaking his head with a pursed-lipped smile when Cohen testified that he used a shell company to pay Daniels to protect Trump.

Trump shook his head with a sarcastic smile when Cohen admitted he was disappointed he wasn’t considered for chief of staff when Trump took office.

Trump’s entourage grows for Cohen’s testimony

Throughout the four weeks of the trial, Trump has looked to having supporters at court – both on the streets outside of the Manhattan courthouse and within the confines of Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom – and has complained about not having more support.

Last week, Trump’s son Eric Trump; his senior campaign adviser, Susie Wiles; and Sen. Rick Scott of Florida all appeared in the gallery behind the former president.

On Monday, Trump had his biggest entourage of GOP lawmakers yet – including potential vice presidential hopefuls.

Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama were in court, as was New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis from Trump-friendly Staten Island, and the attorneys general of Alabama and Iowa.

They joined Trump for the high-profile Cohen testimony, sitting in the gallery behind the former president at the defendant’s table. Eric Trump and attorney Alina Habba were also there to support Trump.

The Republican politicians stood behind Trump while he gave his news conference before entering the courtroom Monday morning. And after the first break of the morning, they went outside to give their own account to the cameras to denounce the proceedings they had just witnessed.

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