'A big family': At trial, Michael Cohen recalls when he and Trump arranged hush-money as co-conspirator besties

  • Michael Cohen is on the witness stand at Donald Trump's hush-money trial in New York.

  • He is the key witness behind prosecutors' "election conspiracy" theory.

  • Cohen began by describing an allegedly conspiratorial heyday before the two men hated each other.

It may be hard to believe, but 10 years before he coined the online taunt "Donald 'Von ShitzInPants," Cohen saw Donald Trump as his co-conspirator bestie.

That's the story Cohen told jurors at the GOP front-runner's ongoing hush-money trial in New York on Monday — in testimony that has come the closest yet to placing Trump at the head of what prosecutors say was an illegal 2016 election conspiracy.

The two men — one a billionaire businessman and TV star, the other his loyal attorney and "fixer" — spoke "multiple times a day," the key prosecution witness told jurors.

And when one decided to run for president, the two men were often side-by-side, Cohen testified.

Trump was laser-focused on protecting his campaign against sex scandals, Cohen said.

A courtroom sketch of Michael Cohen while under questioning by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger at Donald Trump's Manhattan hush-money trial.
A courtroom sketch of Michael Cohen while under questioning by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger at Donald Trump's Manhattan hush-money trial.REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

"You know when this comes out," Cohen said, quoting Trump in the days before the 2016 presidential run was announced, "just be aware there's going to be a lot of women coming forward."

And there were— more than two dozen. But Trump cared most about two: former Playboy Bunny Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, who threatened to sell their stories in the months before the election, Cohen said.

"Just take care of it!" Cohen said Trump told him, angrily, when he heard in October 2016 that Daniels wanted to sell her story of having a sexual encounter with him.

Prosecutors say Trump falsified business records to hide $130,000 in hush money paid to Daniels just 11 days before the election.

"'This is a disaster. A total disaster. Women are going to hate me," Cohen said Trump erupted.

"This is a real disaster. Women will hate me," Trump continued, according to Cohen. "Guys, they'll think it was cool. But this is going to be a disaster for my campaign."

Trump didn't want to part with his own money though. Instead, he wanted to stall Daniels and her lawyer, Cohen testified.

"Just get past the election, because if I win, it has no relevance — I'm president," he said Trump told him. "And If I lose, I don't even care," Cohen said Trump added.

Trump "wasn't thinking about Melania — this was all about the campaign," Cohen told jurors.

Cohen said Trump told him he'd met Daniels in 2006, while playing golf at a celebrity golf tournament with football star Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger.

"He said she liked Mr. Trump and that women preferred Trump even over someone like Big Ben," Cohen added.

Told of McDougal coming forward, Trump's first reaction was to praise her beauty, Cohen said.

His second reaction? Kill the story. Prosecutors say a $150,000 cash payment to silence McDougal was also part of the election conspiracy underlying Trump's indictment.

Michael Cohen, the ex-lawyer for former President Donald Trump, departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump's criminal hush-money trial.
Michael Cohen, the ex-lawyer for former President Donald Trump, departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump's criminal hush-money trial.REUTERS/Mike Segar

"She's really beautiful," Cohen said Trump responded. "I said, 'OK, but there's a story being shopped.'"

"Make sure this story doesn't get released," Cohen said Trump told him, ordering his fixer to acquire — and suppress — the story.

Trump reacted with apparent glee, telling Cohen, "It's fantastic. It's unbelievable," when told of plans for National Enquirer stories that attacked his opponents, including one mocking Hillary Clinton's thick glasses and suggesting she might have a brain injury.

But he reacted with panic when the Access Hollywood story broke a month before the election, Cohen said.

"He told me we needed to put a spin on this," Cohen testified. "And the spin that he wanted to put on it was that this is locker-room talk, something that Melania had recommended — or at least that's what he told me that Melania had thought it was."

Happier times

When Trump asked him to work as his attorney at the Trump Organization in 2007, "I was honored," testified Cohen, who once boasted he'd take a bullet for the GOP-frontrunner.

"It was fantastic," Cohen testified Monday of his decade working for Trump, calling the Trump Organization "a big family."

"Working for him, especially during those 10 years, was an amazing experience in many, many ways," Cohen told the jury.

Prosecutors have been striving all trial to cast Cohen as the loyal top lieutenant who conspired with mastermind Trump and National Enquirer editor David Pecker to change the course of the 2016 election.

The three men met at Trump Tower in August, 2015, soon after Trump announced his run for office, prosecutors say.

Michael Cohen and Donald Trump
Michael Cohen pictured standing behind Donald Trump.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

With Trump at the helm, they hatched a plan. The Enquirer would smear Trump's opponents, write favorable stories about him, and "catch" negative, salacious stories that could damage the campaign.

Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying business records to hide the $130,000 hush-money payment that buried one of those salacious stories — porn star Stormy Daniels' tale of an unpleasant, one-night fling at a Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament in 2006.

Cohen held a unique role in Trump's life, acting as a "fixer" and following in the footsteps of the hard-charging personal attorney who worked for Trump earlier in his life, the political operative and mob lawyer Roy Cohn.

Cohen did not work in the Trump Organization's general counsel office. He reported directly to Trump, and often took care of personal matters. On Monday, Cohen testified about an incident where he got a taxi cab driver to pay for repairs after hitting Trump's limousine.

Trump has tried to distance himself from his personal lawyer ever since the FBI first raided Cohen's residence in 2018.

At the trial, his attorneys have also tried to downplay his central role in Trump's life. Jeff McConney, the longtime corporate controller for the Trump Organization, appeared to give a deep sigh when he was first asked about Cohen on the witness stand.

"He said he was a lawyer," McConney said, to some laughter in the courtroom.

Former President Donald Trump and attorney Emil Bove attend his New York criminal hush-money trial.
Former President Donald Trump and attorney Emil Bove attend his New York criminal hush-money trial.Spencer Platt/Pool via REUTERS

Hope Hicks, Trump's communications director at the Trump Organization, 2016 campaign, and White House administration, agreed with his lawyer that Cohen was "not helpful" at times and "went rogue."

"I used to say that he liked to call himself a 'fixer' or 'Mr. Fix It,' and it was only because he first broke it that he was able to come and fix it," Hicks testified.

One of Cohen's roles included shaping the perception of Trump in the press, trying to keep negative stories out of the papers. He said he lied and bullied people to please Trump.

"The only thing that was on my mind was to accomplish a task to make him happy," Cohen said.

Prosecutors said Friday that Cohen is the second-to-last witness in their case, which they expect will conclude this week.

Trump's lawyers have said they will call two defense witnesses. They have not said if one of those witnesses will be Trump himself, but the former president has said he will take the stand.

Cohen and his former boss last faced each other as courtroom adversaries in October, at the Trump civil fraud trial.

Cohen's time on the stand there was highly damaging.

He testified that Trump would set a highly-inflated, target number for his net worth on annual financial statements that banks used to lend Trump money.

Cohen said he and the Trump Organization's then-CFO would falsely "reverse engineer" the supporting data to hit that target net-worth goal.

This story has been updated.

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