Prosecution in Trouble as Trump Defense Traps Michael Cohen on Witness Stand

Former Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, departs his home for Manhattan Criminal Court for th
Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty

Defense attorneys for former President Donald Trump stunned observers in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday with a devastating cross-examination of the prosecution’s star witness, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying business records related to a non-disclosure agreement with adult film star Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) in 2016. The statute of limitations had expired for misdemeanor charges under state law, so District Attorney Alvin Bragg had to find a way to charge Trump with a felony. He did so by alleging that Trump falsified records to conceal a federal crime, though prosecutors have not told the court what that crime was.

Cohen had testified earlier in the week that Trump had directed him to falsify records related to the payments to Daniels, which Cohen borrowed money to pay from his personal funds. Cohen testified that Trump reimbursed him through a misleading legal retainer agreement, and did so to avoid reporting the payments to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

(Neither the FEC nor federal prosecutors have alleged that Trump committed any wrongdoing — possibly because previous prosecutions of politicians for similar payments have failed, and because it is difficult to prove that non-disclosure payments made to protect one’s personal reputation are primarily campaign expenses.)

Cohen, who has already been convicted of lying to Congress, unraveled on the witness stand Thursday as defense attorney Todd Blanche attacked key details of his story. For example, Cohen testified for the prosecution on direct examination Tuesday that he discussed the payments to Daniels in an October 2016 phone call. But that claim fell apart after Blanche showed text messages and call logs that suggested the phone call was about another subject.

Even CNN’s Elie Honig and Anderson Cooper — hardly fans of Trump — thought Cohen’s credibility had been shot:

“I think if I was a juror in this case watching that, I would think this guy is making it up as he’s going along,” Cooper said.
Defense attorneys also prodded Cohen to testify that the non-disclosure agreement was “private” in nature, and that there was nothing illegal about the agreement itself.

They also damaged Cohen’s claim that Trump instructed him to write a check to model Karen McDougal as part of another non-disclosure agreement. Cohen had testified that Trump’s use of the word “cash” referred to writing a check, but Blanche’s cross-examination produced answers that suggested “cash” simply referred to a payment made without borrowing money, as in real estate transactions.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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