Trump nemesis Michael Cohen testifies: 5 takeaways

Trump nemesis Michael Cohen testifies: 5 takeaways

Former President Trump’s nemesis in his New York trial took the stand Monday.

Michael Cohen worked for more than 10 years as Trump’s attorney and fixer. At one time, Cohen famously said he would take a bullet for Trump.

Cohen has become a staunch critic of the former president after he himself pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and tax evasion in 2018. Cohen later pleaded guilty to lying to Congress as well. He received a prison sentence and was eventually released, after a period of house arrest, in late 2021.

Trump’s legal team will seek to use this history to destroy Cohen’s credibility.

The attorney is a central figure in the trial because he paid $130,000 in hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen was later reimbursed for this payment by Trump and a Trump trust.

Prosecutors contend that Trump falsely classified the reimbursements as a legal expense to conceal their true purpose — to improve his chances of winning the election by stopping Daniels from going public with her claim she had sex with Trump back in 2006.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels and denies any legal wrongdoing, arguing the payments to Cohen were indeed legal expenses.

The former president is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Here are five takeaways from Cohen’s first day of testimony.

Cohen emphasizes how Stormy Daniels posed a danger to Trump’s campaign

One vital issue in the case is whether Trump wanted to silence Daniels for electoral reasons or simply to stave off personal embarrassment.

This matters because the offense with which he is charged is usually only a misdemeanor, unless it can be shown to have been committed in furtherance of another crime.

Prosecutors are arguing that the allegedly falsified business records ultimately amounted to election interference, since the purpose of paying off Daniels was to conceal information from voters that they otherwise would have known. Trump’s team denies this.

Cohen’s testimony sought to underline the degree to which Trump was concerned that Daniels’s story could sink his White House hopes.

He said that Trump, upon learning Daniels might go public with her allegation of a sexual encounter, told Cohen: “This is a disaster, total disaster,” adding that while male voters might consider his alleged exploits “cool,” “this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.”

Cohen also testified that Trump seemed relatively unbothered by the impact on his wife, Melania. Trump allegedly said that he would not be “on the market” for long if things went awry with his wife.

Is the courtroom an audition stage for Trump’s VP slot?

Trump has been accompanied by an expanding entourage during the most recent days of the trial.

On Monday, Sens. JD Vance (R-Ohio) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) showed up at court, as did Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.). Last Thursday, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) appeared.

Three of those four — everyone except Vance — seemed to be there simply as a show of GOP support.

Last week, Scott also made the kind of attacks from which Trump is restrained by a gag order, including attacking the daughter of Judge Juan Merchan for her work with a Democratic digital consulting firm.

Vance’s appearance stirred speculation about Trump’s hunt for a running mate, however. The Ohio senator is widely considered to be one of the front-runners for that position.

Vance, an erstwhile Trump critic, has transformed himself into a staunch loyalist.

On Monday, in a multipost thread on the social platform X, Vance asserted that he was “now convinced the main goal of the trial is psychological torture.”

A secret tape explained

Cohen’s testimony cleared up a question that had floated around the edges of the trial.

Jurors had already heard a covert recording of Trump that Cohen made back in 2016 — and they did so again Monday.

The tape features Cohen and Trump discussing a $150,000 agreement with another woman who said she had a sexual relationship with Trump — former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

It was not clear until Monday why Cohen had recorded that one conversation with Trump but — he says — no others.

Cohen told the court that he had made the recording so that he could convince David Pecker, the magazine executive who was making the deal directly with McDougal, that he would get reimbursed.

Pecker “would hear the conversation, and he would know that we’re going to be paying him back, that Mr. Trump was going to be paying him back,” Cohen testified.

In the end, Pecker did not seek reimbursement.

The real drama may be still to come

Cohen’s testimony had been highly anticipated, but it did not reach the dramatic heights that had been seen last week when Daniels testified.

Reporters in the courtroom noted that there were some occasions when members of the jury looked as if they were becoming a bit bored with his testimony.

There will be more fireworks once Trump’s team gets a chance to question Cohen.

Trump stirs over bonus detail

Trump had his eyes closed for much of the day, renewing questions as to whether he has been snoozing through much of the trial.

Reporters who are present firmly believe he has been doing so, including today.

Earlier this month, Trump posted on social media to contest these stories, arguing “I simply close my beautiful blue eyes” at times in order to “listen intensely.”

In any event, he clearly stirred from his peaceful state Monday at a telling moment — when Cohen was testifying to his disappointment with his bonus in 2016.

“Trump’s eyes had been closed for quite a while, but a brief expression of what appeared to be pleasure crossed over his face as Cohen describes Trump stiffing him on his end-of-year bonus,” Jonathan Swan of The New York Times noted.

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