Judge Wants Michael Cohen To Stop Commenting About Trump Hush Money Case — Update

UPDATE: Judge Juan Merchan told the prosecutors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial to pass along a message to one of their likely witnesses, lawyer Michael Cohen: Please stop talking or posting on social media about the case.

Moments before the day in court ended early around lunchtime, Judge Merchan took up a request from defense lawyer Todd Blanche, who said, “Mr. Cohen continues to speak publicly about this trial.”

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Blanche cited a TikTok post this week by Cohen wearing a white t-shirt with a picture of Trump behind bars. He asked that Cohen — the lawyer whose $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in 2016 triggered the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation — be ordered to not talk about Trump or the criminal proceedings against him.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass replied, “We have repeatedly asked the witnesses not to do that. And not just Mr. Cohen. All the witnesses.”

“We have no remedy,” Steinglass added.

Merchan offered one, even if it doesn’t have the force of law. “I will direct the people to communicate to Mr. Cohen that the judge is asking him to refrain from making any more statements about this case,” Merchan said, encouraging Steinglass to let Cohen know “you are communicating that on behalf of the bench.”

It was the last piece of Trump trial business on a shortened day with a handful of witnesses, most in the “custodian of records” category that prosecutors are using to lay out paper trials, phone calls, texts and other records behind their theory of the case.

Cohen paid adult entertainer Daniels days before the 2016 election to stay quiet about her claim of a sexual liaison years earlier with the presidential candidate. Prosecutors say that Trump, as president, disguised the repayment to his then-lawyer and self-styled fixer — now one of Trump’s most prominent antagonists — as taxable income for routine legal work.

The 34-count indictment charges that the reimbursement relied on falsified business records intended to conceal an undeclared campaign contribution — the $130,000 Cohen paid using a home equity loan that he routed through a shell company to Daniels’ lawyer. The D.A. says the charges are felonies because the covert repayments amounted to Trump, in tandem with Cohen, attempting to illegally influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Trump has denied having sex with Daniels at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, and outside court today he continued to maintain that the “legal expense” for Cohen was something handled by a “very good” Trump Organization bookkeeper. “I didn’t do the bookkeeping, I didn’t even know about it,” he said.

But today prosecutors — over an objection from the defense — showed jurors a lawyerly-sounding Trump tweet from 2018 that appeared to demonstrate some degree of knowledge about the arrangements surrounding Daniels’ hush money. It read in part, “Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.”

The tweet was read aloud by Georgia Longstreet, a paralegal in the D.A.’s office called back to the stand to share a few more of Trump’s social media posts and a string of texts that she and co-workers culled from the prosecution’s evidentiary haul.

The texts today were from a series of exchanges in October of 2016 between Daniels’ manager, Gina Rodriguez, and Dylan Howard, the tabloid editor who helped broker two hush-money payments benefitting Trump.

Starting on October 8, 2016, when the Access Hollywood tape surfaced of Trump boasting about his sexual aggression towards women, Rodriguez and Howard discussed Daniels selling her story to the National Enquirer or going public with it at a press conference.

At various points they haggled over price. “125k,” Rodriguez texted. “Lol,” Howard replied.

The negotiations ended when Howard’s boss, Trump friend and American Media CEO David Pecker, refused to participate because Trump had never reimbursed him for a $150,000 “catch and kill” fee paid to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed she’d had a long-running affair with the married Trump during his Celebrity Apprentice days.

But Howard helped Daniels and her lawyer, Keith Davidson, come to terms with Cohen even after Davidson had threatened to walk away because he thought Cohen was trying to stall until after the election. The last text highlighted, from Howard on October 26, read, “Good news I hear.”

The trial resumes on Monday with Cohen still on the witness list and expected to testify soon. Merchan also urged prosecutors to try to get the former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg on the stand. Weisselberg is currently serving a jail sentence for perjury in a civil case against Trump.

PREVIOUSLY: Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed today with testimony from a former White House aide who was fired for talking with reporters about what she saw around the Oval Office.

But Madeleine Westerhout has made clear there are no hard feelings toward her former boss. Trump’s onetime executive assistant cried on the stand Thursday and said, “I don’t think he’s treated fairly,” as she talked about her dismissal and her memoir covering 2 1/2 years in Trump’s inner circle. She had sat just steps away from the Oval Office.

Today, Westerhout also helped bolster Trump’s argument that he wasn’t in on the details of the hush money arrangement at the heart of the Manhattan District Attorney’s case. She testified that among the “stacks of checks” regularly sent to the White House from Trump Tower for Trump’s signature, he didn’t review every one that he signed.

Westerhout was one of a string of comparatively low-profile witnesses called by prosecutors after the two-day tempest that was Stormy Daniels, the adult entertainer who accepted a $130,000 payment to stay quiet about her claim of a sexual liaison with Trump and then turned into a vocal antagonist of the three-time GOP presidential contender.

Westerhout gave jurors a glimpse into the Trump White House and, of interest to prosecutors, an idea of who from the Trump Organization still had the commander in chief’s attention while he was busy running the country.

Questioned by Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Mangold, Westerhout listed lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller. The latter joined Trump’s presidential team as a deputy assistant and Oval Office operations director. Westerhout testified this week that checks sent to Schiller from Trump Tower in New York then went to her, and she would walk them into the Oval Office for the president to sign and then overnight them back to Trump Tower.

Mangold asked Westerhout if sending checks by mail through Schiller was “an end run around the White House’s security protocols.”

“It was just a way to get things to him faster,” she said.

Prosecutors have suggested that the check traffic between Trump Tower and the White House included monthly reimbursements in 2017 to Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to Daniels. The DA’s case relies on proving to jurors that the repayments were falsified as income for routine legal work and became felonies because they were intended to conceal an undeclared campaign contribution — the $130,000 — and illegally influence the 2016 election.

Westerhout also talked about a White House visit by Cohen that she helped to schedule, and a prompt from Trump that she passed along to White House communications director Hope Hicks. “Hey,” Westerhout wrote to Hicks in a text shown to jurors, “the president wants to know if you called David Pecker again.”

Pecker was the CEO of American Media, the tabloid publisher that bought and buried former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of a long-ago affair with the married Trump.

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