Cornered by defense lawyers, Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen admits to stealing from the Trump Organization

Cornered by defense lawyers, Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen admits to stealing from the Trump Organization
Cornered by defense lawyers, Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen admits to stealing from the Trump Organization

Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted Monday to jurors in the Republican candidate’s trial that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from Mr. Trump’s company, as defense lawyers s seized on the misdeeds of the star witness to attack his credibility.

The historic trial resumed with the cross-examination of Michael Cohen by the defense. His crucial testimony directly linked Donald Trump to the alleged secret payment scheme last week. Defense lawyers have already questioned Mr. Cohen for hours about his criminal history and past lies to paint him as a serial fabulist who is waging a revenge campaign aimed at overthrowing the former president.

While pressed by defense attorney Todd Blanche, the witness admitted to pocketing money purported to be reimbursement for a $50,000 payment that Michael Cohen claimed he made to a technology company. But he actually only gave $20,000 to the tech company, he confessed.

“So you stole from the Trump Organization,” M askede White.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Cohen replied. He admitted that he never repaid the Trump Organization. The former lawyer was never accused of theft from Donald Trump’s company.

Michael Cohen is the prosecution’s final witness, and it’s not yet clear whether defense attorneys will call any witnesses, let alone the presumptive Republican presidential nominee himself.

After more than four weeks of testimony on sex, money, tabloid machinations and record-keeping details of Mr. Trump’s business, jurors could begin deliberating as early as next week to decide whether the Republican candidate is guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first criminal trial of a former US president.

The charges stem from internal Trump Organization files, in which payments to Michael Cohen were marked as legal fees, when prosecutors say they were actually reimbursements for Stormy Daniels’ secret payment.

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say there was nothing criminal about the deal with Mme Daniels or how Mr. Cohen was paid.

“There is no crime,” Mr. Trump told reporters after arriving at the courthouse on Monday. “We paid legal fees. Do you know how it’s marked? A legal expense. »

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is expected to rest its case once Mr. Cohen leaves the stand, but prosecutors would have the opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Mr. Trump’s lawyers cite their own witnesses. Judge Juan M. Merchan, citing scheduling issues, says he expects closing arguments to take place May 28, the Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday.

Defense attorneys said they had not yet decided whether Donald Trump would testify. And the billionaire did not respond to journalists’ questions asking him if his lawyers had advised him not to take the stand.

Defense attorneys are generally reluctant to put their clients on the witness stand and subject them to intense questioning from prosecutors because it often does more harm than good.

Vulnerable to attacks, calm at the helm

Michael Cohen is the prosecution’s most important witness, but he is also vulnerable to attack.

The now-disbarred attorney admitted on the witness stand to lying under oath and other lies, many of which he said were intended to protect Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty to various federal charges, including lying to Congress and a bank and engaging in campaign finance violations related to the secret payments scheme.

And he has made millions of dollars from scathing books about the former president, whom he regularly criticizes on social media in often crude terms.

The key witness told jurors that the defendant was intimately involved in the scheme to pay Stormy Daniels to prevent her from going public late in her 2016 presidential campaign with allegations of a sexual relationship with Mr. Trump in 2006. The former president says nothing sexual happened between them.

Mr. Cohen told jurors about meetings and conversations with Donald Trump, including one in 2017 in which the former lawyer said he, Mr. Trump and then-Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg, discussed how Mr. Cohen would recoup his expense for paying Ms. Daniels and how the reimbursement would be billed as “legal services.”

Known for his short-tempered nature, Michael Cohen remained mostly calm on the witness stand, despite the defense’s sometimes heated questioning about his own misdeeds and the allegations in the case.

A key moment came on Thursday, when Me Blanche accused Mr. Cohen of lying about the purpose of a phone call to Donald Trump’s bodyguard days before he wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer.

Mr. Cohen told jurors that he spoke to Mr. Trump during that call about the secret payment. Me Blanche confronted the witness with text messages to claim he had in fact spoken to Mr Trump’s bodyguard about harassment calls from a teenage prankster.

“It was a lie. You didn’t speak to President Trump that night… Can you admit that? » asked Me White.

“No, sir, I can’t,” Michael Cohen responded, saying he believed he had also spoken to Mr. Trump about the Daniels deal.

The billionaire’s lawyers said they may call Bradley A. Smith, a Republican law professor appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the Federal Election Commission, to refute the prosecution’s claim that the secret payments constituted campaign finance violations.

The judge has limited what Mr. Smith can address, however, and the defense may ultimately decide not to call him.

There are often restrictions around expert testimony on legal issues because it is up to the judge – not an expert hired by one side or the other – to instruct jurors on the applicable laws in a case.

Mr. Merchan ruled that Mr. Smith could provide a general overview of the Federal Election Commission, the laws it enforces and definitions of terms such as “campaign contribution.” But it cannot interpret how federal campaign finance laws apply to the facts of Mr. Trump’s case or rule on whether the former president’s alleged actions violate those laws.

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