Former Trump Organization Executive Details Reimbursement To Michael Cohen For Hush Money Payments

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UPDATE, 3:04 PM: The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial hasn’t tossed the ex-president behind bars yet for violating a gag order, but the former Celebrity Apprentice host won’t be getting out of the courtroom anytime soon either.

On a dry day in front of Judge Juan Merchan, the jury saw prosecutors put another Trump Organization accounting employee on the stand this afternoon in the start of the third week of Trump’s trial to walk jurors through the gritty details and record-keeping behind checks signed by the Art of the Deal author to his fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen.

Deborah Tarasoff, who still works for Trump as an accounts payable supervisor, followed her former boss, the company’s retired comptroller, Jeffrey McConney on Monday in the Manhattan courtroom.

With cable news jumping to a possible ceasefire in Gaza for parts of the day, Tarasoff and McConney’s testimony took up almost the entire day in court. As the talking heads played legal keepy uppy, Tarasoff’s turn after lunch produced the only real courtroom fireworks. Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche complained to Judge Merchan that prosecutors gave him just 30 minutes of advance notice that Tarasoff was their next witness.

After Tarasoff was done and jurors were sent home, Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass took exception to Blanche’s complaint. “I don’t like the impression being left that we’re somehow sandbagging the defense,” Steinglass said, adding that Trump’s legal team has the prosecution’s entire witness list, just not where they are in the queue.

Steinglass cited the judge’s contempt rulings against Trump for his public statements about other case witnesses — Cohen and hush-money recipient Stormy Daniels — as a reason for limiting the defense team’s access to the prosecution’s witness calendar.

Steinglass also said the prosecution needs about two more weeks from tomorrow to finish its case, but called that “a very, very rough estimate.”

Outside the court, Trump, who has clinched the GOP nomination for his third presidential run, told pool reporters, “The government just said they want two to three more weeks. That means they want to keep me off the trail for two to three more weeks. Now, anybody in there would realize there’s no case, they don’t have a case.”

“This is just a political witch hunt,” Trump added. “It’s election interfering, and this is really, truly election inference and it’s a disgrace, it’s a disgrace. And every poll I’m leading by a lot.”

Tarasoff, questioned by Assistant District Attorney Chris Conroy, identified the invoices, vouchers, ledger entries, pay stubs and signed checks that prosecutors say are the falsified business records at the heart of their case. They went month by month through a year’s worth of payments to Cohen totaling $420,000, with Conroy repeating questions to the plain-spoken, white-haired Tarasoff.

“Do you recognize the signature?” Conroy said, meaning Trump’s spiky, Sharpie-width handwriting.

“Yes,” Tarasoff replied.

“Whose signature is that?” Conroy asked.

“Mr. Trump’s,” Tarasoff replied in an exchange repeated multiple times.

The payments to Cohen in 2017 were coded as a “legal expense” in the company’s electronic ledger, Tarasoff testified. Prosecutors say the payments in 2017 weren’t for legal work: They were reimbursements puffed up to $420,000 and disguised as monthly taxable income so Trump could quietly cover the $130,000 Cohen paid to Daniels in 2016.

Cohen paid Daniels for her silence during the 2016 election about a claim of a sexual encounter years earlier between her and the married real estate mogul and Celebrity Apprentice star. Trump denies the encounter never happened. His lawyers have suggested that Cohen — who accused guilty and went to jail on charges related to the payment — was acting alone.

They’ve also argued that non-disclosure agreements like this one are routine — and legal — in business, that Trump was trying to spare his family embarrassment whether or not stories of infidelity were true, and that he also had a right to protect himself from salacious claims in the middle of an election.

“There is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election: It’s called democracy,” Blanche said in opening arguments.

The case resumes on Tuesday. Steinglass said he also wants to recall an earlier witness, Georgia Longstreet, a paralegal in the DA’s office who scoured Trump’s social media history for tweets and posts on Trump’s Truth Social network that jurors saw last week. One post from October of 2016 read, “Nothing ever happened with any of these women. Totally made up nonsense.”

Steinglass said Longstreet had more posts to share, but her testimony was kept short to accommodate a juror who needed to leave early for a medical appointment. Over objections from Blanche, Judge Merchan said he’ll allow Longstreet another turn in the witness box later this week, where she is expected to share more Trump posts. He ordered Steinglass to give Trump’s lawyers 24 hours notice of Longstreet’s testimony schedule so they can prepare their defense and cross-examination.

PREVIOUSLY, 11:20 AM: Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial walked jurors through the financial specifics of their case against the former president.

A former chief of accounting at the Trump Organization testified today that he was instructed to pay $420,000 to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, using a form of reimbursement that was totally unfamiliar to him.

“Allen said we had to get some money for Michael,” former Trump company comptroller Jeffrey McConney said on the stand, referring to Cohen and to McConney’s supervisor, Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg, who is now in jail.

The company’s chief financial officer called McConney into a meeting in January of 2017 — the month of Trump’s inauguration as president — and presented him with a bank statement from Cohen that also contained handwritten notes and dollar amounts from Weisselberg.

The bank statement listed a $130,000 payment to a lawyer representing porn actor Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors say the bank account was for a shell company set up by Cohen to pay Daniels’ lawyer.

Weisselberg’s notes showed dollar amounts totaling $420,000 to be paid to Cohen in monthly installments of $35,000 beginning in February of 2018.

McConney spent three hours on the stand — over numerous defense objections — combing through invoices, emails, Trump company ledger entries, tax forms, and a government ethics filing as he was questioned by a prosecutor and then a defense lawyer about the payments to Cohen, which were billed by the company as legal work covered by a retainer agreement between Trump and Cohen.

Prosecutors say the payments in 2017 weren’t for legal work, but were instead reimbursements disguised as monthly taxable income so Trump could pay Cohen back for a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels. According to prosecutors, the payments were made using illegally falsified documents including invoices from Cohen and official Trump company ledger entries.

Weisselberg’s notes included an instruction to double the total amount that Cohen was claiming for expenses — $130,000 for the payment to Daniels’ lawyer, Keith Davidson, plus $50,000 to a tech company — to $360,000, which McConney interpreted as a way to cover Cohen’s tax obligations . Weisselberg also said to add a $60,000 bonus.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo asked McConney if he was aware of anyone at the company ever asking for an expense reimbursement — which isn’t something normally reported to the IRS — to be doubled to cover a tax bill. “No,” McConney said.

McConney testified that Weisselberg told him to hang on to Cohen’s bank statement, which McConney placed into a payroll ledger kept in a locked cabinet in his office at Trump Tower. Weisselberg — who is serving a jail sentence on Rikers Island for perjury in connection with a civil case against Trump — never told him what specifically the payments were for beyond what he saw on the bank statement, McConney testified.

But McConney, who recently retired after more than three decades with the Trump Organization, showed some skepticism of Cohen’s legal capabilities.

“What was his position?” Colangelo asked.

“He said he was a lawyer,” McConney replied curtly.

Within days of McConney’s meeting with Weisselberg, he was receiving Cohen’s monthly invoices — forwarded by Weisselberg with no covering note — for $35,000 apiece “for services rendered” for each month there was an invoice. McConney forwarded the invoices to one of his staffers for payment. The checks to Cohen came initially from a trust that Trump set up to control his assets during his presidency, and later from Trump’s personal bank account — which meant that Trump had to personally sign the checks.

“Somehow we’d have to get a package to the White House,” McConney testified.

Emil Bove, a Trump defense lawyer, cross-examined McConney by highlighting email traffic between Cohen and Weisselberg that appeared to show Cohen was, in fact, still handling personal legal affairs for the president — now as Trump’s private attorney. After January 2017, Cohen was no longer employed by the Trump Organization.

Bove also pointed out that the obligations to Cohen were disclosed in the government ethics form that Trump signed and dated in May 2018, and that the ethics officer who reviewed and signed the document wrote, “I conclude that the filer is in compliance with applicable laws .”

Over objections from the defense, Colangelo asked McConney if he had later come to learn that there were “matters that Allen Weisselberg kept you in the dark about.” McConney said yes.

Ted Johnson & Dominic Patten contributed to this report

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