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Cohen’s lies, loyalty, a gag order upheld: Tuesday Trump hush money trial takeaways

May 14, 2024, 2:04 PM | Updated: 7:32 pm

Image: Former President Donald Trump talks to the press with his attorney, Todd Blanche, right, out...

Former President Donald Trump talks to the press with his attorney, Todd Blanche, right, outside the courtroom of his trial in Manhattan criminal court Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York City. (Pool photo: Curtis Means via AP)

(Pool photo: Curtis Means via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — The attorneys for Donald Trump started grilling prosecutors’ star witness in his hush money trial Tuesday, portraying former attorney Michael Cohen as a media-obsessed liar who’s determined to see the former president behind bars.

Cohen endured intense questioning by defense attorney Todd Blanche after providing pivotal testimony tying the presumptive Republican presidential nominee directly to the hush money scheme at the heart of the case.

Trump’s former fixer will return to the witness stand Thursday for more cross-examination before prosecutors rest their case alleging a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election by silencing women who alleged sexual encounters with him. Trump denies that he had sex with the women and denies wrongdoing in the case.

Here are some key takeaways from Tuesday’s proceedings:

Trump trial: All of Cohen’s lies

Prosecutors confronted Cohen’s history of falsehoods head-on in an attempt to get ahead of an issue Trump lawyers are seizing on to attack the now-disbarred lawyer’s credibility. Prosecutors also sought to paint Cohen as a devoted Trump loyalist, whose crimes were committed on the former president’s behalf.

Under questioning from prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress during an investigation into potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, admitting that he lied, among other things, about the number of times he spoke with Trump about a real estate project in Moscow.

Hoffinger also asked Cohen about concerns that he may have lied on the witness stand at the former president’s civil fraud trial last year. In that trial, Cohen insisted he didn’t commit tax evasion, and said he had lied to the judge who accepted his guilty plea on the charge in 2018.

Cohen told Hoffinger he did not dispute the facts of his guilty plea, but that he didn’t think he should’ve been charged with a crime “as a first-time offender who always paid his taxes on the due date.”

Cohen also told jurors he lied repeatedly for Trump, including after Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her from going public right before the 2016 election with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump.

Asked by Hoffinger why he would do so, Cohen said: “Out of loyalty and in order to protect him.”

John and Jake: Gonzaga graduate gets inside look at Trump hush money trial

No longer loyal

Cohen described to jurors how his life and relationship with Trump were upended after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in 2018. That would lead to Cohen pleading guilty to federal charges and implicating Trump in the hush money scheme. Trump was never charged with any crime related to that federal investigation.

Asked by the prosecutor how he felt at the time, Cohen said: “How to describe your life being turned upside-down? Concerned. Despondent. Angry.”

Initially, Cohen said he felt comforted because Trump, who was in the White House at the time, assured him not to worry. Trump’s lawyers were also continuing to pay his legal fees and he remained part of a joint-defense agreement with Trump and his lawyers, he testified.

But his family eventually convinced him to turn on Trump, Cohen said.

“My family, my wife, my daughter, my son, all said to me: ‘Why are you holding onto this loyalty? What are you doing? We’re supposed to be your first loyalty,’” Cohen told jurors.

After Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump bashed him on Twitter, writing: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

Defense attorney Todd Blanche cross examines Michael Cohen in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York City. Cohen returned to the witness stand Tuesday, testifying in detail how former president was linked to all aspects of a hush money scheme that prosecutors say was aimed at stifling stories that threatened his 2016 campaign.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche cross examines Michael Cohen in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York City. Cohen returned to the witness stand Tuesday, testifying in detail how former president was linked to all aspects of a hush money scheme that prosecutors say was aimed at stifling stories that threatened his 2016 campaign. (Image: Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Defense’s turn to grill

Trump’s team opened their cross-examination by pressing Cohen about critical comments and vulgar social media posts he’s made about the former president since the trial began. The defense’s questions Tuesday didn’t address the facts at the heart of the case but were designed to portray Cohen as a Trump-fixated loyalist who, spurned by his ex-boss, is now on a mission to get fame and revenge.

“Is it fair to say you’re motivated by fame?” Blanche, Trump’s lawyer, asked Cohen.

“No sir, I don’t think that’s fair to say,” Cohen replied. Later he added — in response to a question about whether he was motivated by publicity — that he is “motivated by many things.”

Blanche asked Cohen to listen through headphones to an October 2020 podcast episode in which the former lawyer said Trump needs to wear handcuffs and that “people will not be satisfied until this man is sitting inside a cell.”

Cohen told Blanche he didn’t recall saying that, but added: “I wouldn’t put it past me.”

Blanche also pressed Cohen on whether he wants to see Trump convicted in the case. Cohen initially hedged, saying: “I would like to see accountability. It’s not for me. It’s for the jury and this court.”

But asked again, Cohen responded: “Sure.”

Gag order upheld

While jurors were hearing testimony from Cohen, Trump suffered another legal blow when an appeals court upheld a gag order that limits what he can say about the case.

Trump had challenged the gag order, which bars the former president from commenting publicly about jurors, witnesses and others connected to the case, including the judge’s family and prosecutors other than District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The appeals court ruled that Judge Juan M. Merchan “properly determined” that Trump’s public statements “posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses.”

Trump challenged restrictions on his ability to comment about Matthew Colangelo, a former Justice Department official who is a part of the prosecution team, and Merchan’s daughter, the head of a political consulting firm that has worked for Trump’s rival Joe Biden and other Democratic candidates.

Trump’s lawyers argued the gag order is an unconstitutional curb on the presumptive Republican nominee’s free speech rights while he’s campaigning for president and fighting criminal charges. The judge has fined Trump for repeatedly violating the gag order and has warned the former president that future violations could send him to jail.

Supporters outside the Trump trial

Limited by what he can say publicly about the case, Trump has been joined at the courthouse by a growing entourage of Republican supporters who echo his complaints about the prosecution. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson was the latest to do so Tuesday, attacking the legal system as “corrupt” and the case against Trump a “sham.”

It was a striking moment, underscoring Trump’s political power even as he stands trial on criminal charges.

In remarks to reporters outside the courthouse, Johnson slammed Cohen as a man who has “trouble with the truth” and is “clearly on a mission for personal revenge.” Painting Trump as the victim of a politically motivated legal system, Johnson said the case is “not about justice.”

“The people are losing faith right now in this country, they’re losing faith in our system of justice,” Johnson said. “I came here again today on my own to support President Trump because I am one of hundreds of millions of people and one citizen who is deeply concerned about this,” he said.

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Cohen’s lies, loyalty, a gag order upheld: Tuesday Trump hush money trial takeaways