Trump trial: Michael Cohen will be last prosecution witness in hush money case

Former U.S. President Donald Trump (C) sits next to his lawyers Todd Blanche (L) and Emil Bove as he arrives for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to an extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, U.S., May 14, 2024. 

Michael M. Santiago | Via Reuters

Michael Cohen, the former fixer and personal lawyer for Donald Trump, will be the final witness for the prosecution at the criminal hush money trial of the ex-president, a prosecutor told the judge in the case Tuesday.

And it is not clear whether Trump’s lawyers will call any witnesses, including Trump himself, at the trial after defense attorney Todd Blanche completes a cross-examination of Cohen expected to end Thursday after the trial takes Wednesday off.

Blanche told Judge Juan Merchan at a sidebar conference Tuesday that he could not commit to calling any witnesses, a transcript of that discussion revealed.

Blanche also said that one expert witness he might call to testify is not available until Monday. But that person might not have to testify if jury instructions are written a certain way that leaves the defense feeling the testimony is unnecessary.

The disclosures about witness scheduling suggest that closing arguments in Trump’s trial might take place within days, and that the jury right after that would begin deliberating a verdict in the first-ever criminal case against a U.S. president, former or otherwise.

Cohen on Tuesday testified that Trump told him, “Don’t worry, I’m the president of the United States” after FBI agents raided Cohen’s home and office in New York.

Cohen told jurors that he was “concerned, despondent, angry” after the April 2018 raid, which was conducted as part of a federal criminal investigation of Cohen.

That probe later led to Cohen pleading guilty to campaign finance violations that are related to the hush money allegations against Trump in the current criminal case.

“Were you frightened?” assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Cohen replied, “Yes, ma’am.”

Cohen then testified that he left a message for Trump asking him “to call me to let him know what was taking place.”

When Trump responded, “He said to me ‘don’t worry. I’m the president of the United States. There’s nothing here. Everything’s going to be okay. Stay tough. You’re going to be okay,’ “Cohen recalled on the witness stand.

Hoffinger then asked: “Have you spoken directly with Mr Trump since that time?”

Cohen answered, “No, ma’am.”

Cohen said his call to Trump was important for him because “I wanted some reassurance that Mr. Trump had my back. Especially as this dealt with issues that related to him.”

“I felt reassured because I had the president of the United States protecting me,” Cohen said. “It’s his Justice Department, should go nowhere.” 

Cohen said he initially maintained his ties to Trump after the raid through other people which he thought was “extremely” important to do.

Michael Cohen is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger before Justice Juan Merchan while a reimbursement check is shown on screen, as former U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyer Emil Bove watch during Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. May 14, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Trump listened closely to Cohen’s testimony about that point.

Hoffinger then showed jurors a Trump tweet sent out after the raid, which accused New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman of trying to “destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip’ ” which refers to cooperating with prosecutors.

Trump in the tweet called Cohen “a fine person with a wonderful family” whom Trump had “always liked and respected.”

Hoffinger asked Cohen what Trump’s statements meant to him at the time.

“Reinforced my loyalty, and my intention to stay in the fold,” said Cohen, whose legal fees at that time were being paid for by the Trump Organization.

Asked about his understanding of Trump’s reference to cooperating with law enforcement, Cohen said, “That Mr. Trump did not want me to cooperate with the government, or certainly not provide information or flip.”

But within months, Cohen pleaded guilty in the federal case to the campaign finance charges and other crimes and agreed to cooperate with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in its criminal investigation of Trump.

Cohen on Monday delivered a damning account of the former president’s involvement in hush money payments to a porn star and a Playboy model during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyer Emil Bove watch as Michael Cohen is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger during Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. May 14, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Cohen told jurors Monday that Trump had complained, “This is a disaster!” when he learned that adult film actress Stormy Daniels wanted to go public shortly before Election Day 2016 with her account of having sex with Trump one night in 2006.

Eight years later, the same account might once again be a disaster for Trump.

A prosecutor used Cohen’s testimony Monday to give jurors extensive direct evidence for the first time of Trump’s alleged awareness that his reimbursement to Cohen for paying Daniels $130,000 was not a payment for “legal services.” Instead, it was to pay Cohen back for having neutralized a threat to Trump’s 2016 electoral chances, Cohen testified.

Cohen testified that Trump told him, “Just do it,” to keep Daniels quiet.

As Cohen spoke, the former president sat just a few feet away from him at the defense table.

“Meet up with Allen Weisselberg, and figure out this whole thing,” Trump said, according to Cohen.

Weisselberg was the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, the real estate company that is the foundation of Trump’s empire.

Cohen also testified that he kept Trump apprised of efforts by the publisher of The National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, to buy the silence of Playboy model Karen McDougal about her alleged affair with Trump.

Michael Cohen is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. May 14, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

“Fantastic,” Trump said after being told that effort had succeeded, keeping another woman quiet about claims that could harm his 2016 campaign, Cohen testified.

Trump is accused of nearly three dozen felony counts of falsifying Trump Organization business records, which claimed that his and the company’s reimbursements to Cohen for the Daniels payment were for legal expenses.

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While legal commentators were impressed Monday that the often excitable and talkative Cohen kept a cool composure under direct examination from Hoffinger, Trump’s defense lawyer Todd Blanche is certain to try to get under Cohen’s skin during cross-examination, which could begin later Tuesday.

Cohen has a track record of lying, and a federal criminal record that relates in part to his involvement in the payouts to Daniels and McDougal.

Trump, who denies having sex with Daniels or McDougal or committing any crime, railed against the case Monday afternoon after jurors were dismissed for the day, with Cohen still in the middle of direct examination by Hoffinger.

“There’s no crime here,” Trump told reporters. “This is four weeks of keeping me from campaigning.”

The former president called the trial’s judge, Juan Merchan, “corrupt,” saying Merchan “ought to let us go out and campaign and get rid of this scam.”

Trump has fumed for weeks that Merchan has forced him to be in court every day during the trial, which normally takes a break only on Wednesdays. He says that Merchan, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and others are trying to harm his chances against President Joe Biden in November’s election.

Trump was joined at his criminal trial Tuesday by House Speaker Mike Johnson and several other Republican politicians.

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference after attending the trial of former President Donald Trump for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, U.S., May 14, 2024. 

Cheney Orr | Reuters

The Louisiana lawmaker is the latest in a string of GOP members of Congress who have traveled to the courthouse in lower Manhattan to show solidarity with the party’s 2024 presumptive presidential nominee.

In addition to Johnson, other Republicans attending Tuesday’s trial session to support Trump are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Reps. Byron Donalds and Cory Mills, both of Florida, and Vivek Ramaswamy, who ran in the GOP presidential primaries.

This is developing news. Check back for updates.

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