Michael Cohen Testifies on White House Deal That Led to Trump’s Trial

Little more than two weeks into Donald J. Trump’s presidency, he and his personal lawyer met in the Oval Office for a private conversation about money.

“I was sitting with President Trump and he asked me if I was OK,” the lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, recalled on Tuesday from the witness stand at Mr. Trump’s criminal trial. “He asked me if I needed money,” Mr. Cohen added, and volunteered that a check would be forthcoming.

When monthly checks started arriving — most bearing Mr. Trump’s signature — they disguised the nature of the payments, Mr. Cohen testified. The stubs described the checks as part of a legal “retainer” agreement, but they were in fact reimbursements for hush money that Mr. Cohen had paid to silence a porn star’s story of sex with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Trump was present when a plan to fictionalize the records was cooked up weeks earlier in New York.

The testimony marked a pivotal moment for prosecutors. They charged Mr. Trump with falsifying the checks and other records, and Mr. Cohen’s recounting drove those accusations home. It offered the jury its first and only personal account tying the former president to the documents at the crux of his case.

Mr. Trump has denied the allegations and the sex, and his legal team soon sought to sweep Mr. Cohen’s revelations aside in cross-examination. The lead defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, attacked Mr. Cohen’s credibility, portraying him as out of control and bent on exacting revenge on Mr. Trump after his patron abandoned him.

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