Cohen admits stealing from Trump as he tried to rig a poll

Michael Cohen, right, testifies on the witness stand
Michael Cohen, right, testifies on the witness stand - Elizabeth Williams/via AP

Michael Cohen admitted to stealing from Donald Trump as he was questioned by the former president’s lawyer on his final day of cross-examination.

He told Mr Trump’s criminal trial in New York that he had taken $30,000 (£24,000) by overcharging the Trump Organisation, allegedly for a repayment that included “hush money” paid on behalf of his former employer.

“You didn’t just steal the $30,000 because it was grossed up, it was $60,000,” Todd Blanche, acting for the defence, said. Cohen, who acted as Mr Trump’s “fixer” for a decade, confirmed this.

Under questioning from Mr Blanche, Cohen said he had told multiple prosecutors about the theft but had never had to plead guilty to it or repay the Trump Organisation.

The defence team had its final opportunity on Monday to undermine Cohen’s reputation. Although he is the prosecution’s star witness, he suffers from credibility issues as a convicted criminal who openly says he would like to see his former boss behind bars.

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen's reliability as a witness has been called into doubt - Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Cohen said the payment was part of a scheme to rig a poll and inflate Mr Trump’s position in a survey of influential businessmen.

He allegedly handed over $20,000 in a “brown paper bag” to the head of RedFinch, a tech company, at the behest of his employer to ensure he would “rise significantly” in the rankings.

“Initially he wanted to be number one but we didn’t think that would be a good idea,” Cohen said, suggesting this would raise “red flags”. Mr Trump eventually took ninth position.

But it is claimed he refused to pay for the work because CNBC, the US broadcaster, had stopped reporting on the poll. “He didn’t feel that he had got the benefit of what the services were supposed to ultimately provide,” Cohen said.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday - Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

Cohen said he was eventually reimbursed with $20,000 as part of a calculation made by Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer.

He was paid $420,000 delivered in a series of $35,000 monthly cheques. According to prosecutors this took account of the RedFinch payment along with a $130,000 fee to adult film star Stormy Daniels, grossed up for tax.

It ties together three strands of the prosecution’s case: that Mr Trump was frugal with spending money, media conscious and that he was reimbursing Cohen rather than paying him a monthly retainer.

Cohen’s money was recorded as a legal fee in the Trump Organisation ledger, which prosecutors say amounts to a falsification of business records. Mr Trump faces up to four years in prison if found guilty.