Bragg’s star witness Michael Cohen to testify in Trump’s hush money trial

Michael Cohen is set to take the witness stand Monday to deliver to the jury in Donald Trump’s hush money trial the only firsthand account of how the former president allegedly knew in 2017 that he was party to an illegal payment scheme.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is relying on Cohen to say Trump willfully concealed in his financial records the $130,000 hush money payment that Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 presidential election. Bragg, an elected Democrat, is banking on the jury believing Cohen’s testimony despite the ex-lawyer having deep-seated credibility problems.

Cohen worked as Trump’s attorney and “fixer,” as he is often described, in 2016. He later pleaded guilty to numerous felonies and has since been on a warpath, criticizing his former client at every opportunity.

Prosecutors plan to conclude presenting their case by the end of this week, and Cohen’s appearance will serve as part of their finale, according to multiple reports from Friday’s courtroom proceedings.

Cohen’s role

Bragg charged Trump with falsifying records of payments to Cohen, which would normally be a misdemeanor. However, the district attorney attached to the charges the allegation that Trump acted “with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof,” elevating them to low-level felonies.

Bragg’s charges center on $420,000 that Trump paid Cohen in 11 installments in 2017. According to evidence that prosecutors have presented during the trial, the amount included a reimbursement for the payment Cohen made to Daniels, a bonus for Cohen, a payment for unrelated technology services, and money to cover taxes.

The payments were categorized as “legal expenses” in the Trump Organization’s records. Trump’s defense team has argued that was the best available way to categorize payments to an outside lawyer, while Bragg has said Trump’s books inaccurately conveyed that Cohen provided the former president with legal services when really no services were rendered.

Bragg has been unclear about which specific additional crime Trump committed, but has raised violations of state and federal election laws and skirting taxes as possibilities.

A former Trump financial executive testified that although Trump signed the checks to Cohen, ex-Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was the mastermind behind the payment plan. Prosecutors have not proven Trump had awareness of the details of the plan, and they are aiming for Cohen to bridge that gap.

Trump, for his part, has stood by his company’s records of the payment.

“We paid a lawyer expense payments,” Trump told reporters last week. “We didn’t put it down as construction costs, the purchase of Sheetrock, the electrical cost. The legal expense that we paid was put down as ‘legal expense.’ There’s nothing else you could say.”

Credibility complications

For prosecutors, Cohen’s track record is far from ideal.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in 2018 to lying to a bank, evading taxes, and violating campaign finance laws. One of his crimes involved taking out a loan under false pretenses to issue the $130,000 payment to Daniels.

Cohen also pleaded guilty later that year to lying to Congress, and Republicans have repeatedly urged the Department of Justice to investigate what they say were additional instances of Cohen perjuring himself.

For his initial charges in 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison.

Cohen’s crimes alone raise questions about his trustworthiness, as well as his incentives to cooperate with law enforcement.

However, the public persona Cohen has cultivated in recent years has also worked to undermine his credibility and opened an invitation for Trump’s defense attorneys to conduct a brutal cross-examination of him.

Cohen eventually blamed Trump for encouraging his criminal activity, and Trump’s attorneys have signaled through court papers that they plan to highlight how Cohen has profited from publicly bashing Trump. Cohen has made money by peddling salacious claims about his former client, defense attorneys are expected to argue.

Cohen wrote a book about Trump in 2022 called Revenge. In the lead-up to the trial, he went on a controversial media bender, teasing his anticipated testimony and tearing into Trump. Even after the trial started, Cohen hosted livestreams on TikTok to talk to his hundreds of thousands of followers about Trump, and Cohen appeared to cash in on the events.

After drawing criticism, Cohen vowed to stop talking about the trial while it was ongoing. But after he appeared on TikTok last week in a T-shirt depicting Trump behind bars, Trump’s attorneys asked Judge Juan Merchan to impose a gag order on Cohen until the trial was over. Merchan declined to do so.

Prosecutors revealed at that time that they had already scolded Cohen behind the scenes.


“We have repeatedly, repeatedly, asked the witnesses not to do that,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said, noting that his team had “repeatedly instructed all of the witnesses in this case to the extent we have control over it.”

Merchan agreed to direct Bragg to instruct Cohen to cease talking publicly about the case or Trump until the end of the trial.

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