The Latest | Defense in Trump's hush money trial argues Cohen had White House ambitions

By The Associated Press
Posted 7:29AM on Thursday 16th May 2024 ( 1 month ago )

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors' star witness in the hush money case against Donald Trump was back in the hot seat Thursday as defense lawyers tried to chip away at Michael Cohen’s crucial testimony implicating the former president.

The trial resumed in Manhattan with potentially explosive defense cross-examination of Cohen, whose credibility could determine the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s fate in the case.

Cohen is prosecutors’ final witness — at least for now — as they try to prove Trump schemed to suppress a damaging story he feared would torpedo his 2016 presidential campaign, and then falsified business records to cover it up.

The trial is in its 18th day. The defense is not expected to call many witnesses.

Over two days on the witness stand, Cohen placed Trump directly at the center of the alleged scheme to stifle negative stories to fend off damage to his White House bid. Cohen told jurors that Trump promised to reimburse him for the money he fronted and was constantly updated about efforts to silence women who alleged sexual encounters with him. Trump denies the women’s claims.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts.

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.


— The jurors are getting a front row seat to history — most of the time

— Lies, loyalty and a gag order upheld: Tuesday’s Trump hush money trial takeaways

— Speaker Mike Johnson’s appearance is a remarkable moment

— Trump hush money case: A timeline of key events

— Key players: Who’s who at Trump’s hush money criminal trial

Here's the latest:


The defense in Donald Trump's hush money trial sought Thursday to undermine Michael Cohen’s repeated contention that he had no aspirations to work in the White House following Trump’s election victory.

“The truth is, Mr. Cohen, you really wanted to work in the White House, correct?” defense attorney Todd Blanche asked. “No sir,” Cohen replied.

Blanche then referred to a series of text messages, first presented by prosecutors earlier in the week, showing private conversations he’d had in November 2016. In one message, Cohen texted his daughter that he still had a shot of becoming the president’s chief of staff. Another shows Cohen telling a friend that she could serve as his assistant once he gets the position.

Reiterating his previous testimony, Cohen said that while he may have wanted to be considered as chief of staff for “ego reasons,” he was seeking a role as personal attorney to the president.

“I don’t think you’re characterizing this correctly at all,” Cohen said. “My conversations with my daughter, I wanted a hybrid position where I would still have access to President Trump but I would not be a White House employee.”


Outside the courthouse during a Thursday morning break in Donald Trump's hush money trial, conservative Republican lawmakers immediately lit into Michael Cohen’s credibility, levying criticism against him and others that Trump is prohibited from delivering himself.

Rep. Matt Gaetz called Cohen a liar “who committed these lies for his own benefit” and colorfully referenced the case against Trump as the “Mr. Potato Head of crimes, where they had to stick together a bunch of things that did not belong together.”

Gaetz and others, including House Freedom Caucus members Reps. Anna Paulina Luna and Ralph Norman, also criticized the judge’s daughter, something a gag order specifically prohibits Trump from doing. Norman called the whole proceeding “a kangaroo court, plain and simple.”

Throughout the lawmakers’ comments, people nearby shouted criticism and obscenities at them.


Some of the lawmakers who accompanied Donald Trump to court Thursday sat in the front two rows, directly behind the former president, while others were relegated to the back of the gallery because there wasn’t enough room in the rows reserved for the Trump’s entourage.

Those in the front row at Trump's hush money trial appeared to look at their phones for large chunks of the morning, rather than up at the proceedings.

Earlier in the week, the former president’s squad of supporters mostly donned Trump’s favored look of a navy suit and red tie, a display of solidarity.

Trump himself wore the look Thursday, as did Reps. Matt Gaetz, Eli Crane and Andy Ogles. But others showed more color. Rep. Andy Biggs opted for a light gray suit, while Rep. Michael Waltz chose a bright turquoise tie.

At one point, when Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche was discussing one of Michael Cohen’s past appearances before Congress, he drew a chuckle from some of the House members when he observed: “When congressmen ask you questions they tend to go on and on.”

Biggs flashed a knowing grin.


Donald Trump's defense attorney Todd Blanche on Thursday pushed Michael Cohen, repeatedly and emphatically, on his admission that he lied when pleading guilty to some federal charges, including tax fraud, before Judge William Pauley.

Cohen — Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, being cross-examined in the ex-president's hush money trial — does not dispute the bulk of the defense’s characterizations, though he has couched some of his answers in legalistic terms. Blanche appeared intent on connecting the words “lie” and “lying” to Cohen as often as possible.

In one exchange, Blanche asked Cohen if he agreed “that when you plead guilty to a crime and you’re lying, that’s not accepting responsibility for your conduct?”

After Cohen expressed ambivalence, Blanche continued, “You lied, you lied to the judge when you pleaded guilty,” adding: “Do you think Judge Pauley would have liked to know that you lied to him?”

Cohen initially said he wasn’t sure, before conceding the point. “I am certain he would have,” he said.

The court soon after broke for its morning recess. Trump, who had been sitting placidly with his arms folded across his chest, flashed a thumbs up as he left the courtroom after a reporter asked, “How's Todd doing?”


Donald Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche cut off the ex-president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen on Thursday as he attempted to explain why he pleaded guilty to certain offenses he didn’t think he should’ve been charged with.

“I took the global plea that was provided to me,” Cohen said as he was cross-examined at Trump's hush money trial.

“Sir, please don’t make a speech,” Blanche interjected.

Judge Juan Merchan then instructed Cohen to answer Blanche’s questions and avoid tangential answers.

In a lightning round of questions and answers, Blanche pointed out that Cohen has, over time, blamed various other people for his problems, including his accountant, a bank, federal prosecutors and a federal judge.

And, Blanche asked, “You blamed President Trump?”

“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied.


Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen explained Thursday at the ex-president's hush money trial his own role in New York City’s taxi medallion system, the unusual and archaic economic model that underpins the city’s for-hire vehicle industry.

Cohen owned 32 medallions of an estimated 13,000 citywide that he leased out to Evgeny Freidman, a figure known locally as New York’s “Taxi King.” Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges that included hiding more than $1.3 million in income that he received from Freidman. Freidman was later sentenced to probation for tax fraud.

“It would be no different than if you were leasing an apartment from somebody,” Cohen said of his relationship with Freidman. “He would lease my medallion or medallions in agreement with the contract, and he would pay me a sum every month whether he made money or not.”


Donald Trump's defense attorney Todd Blanche grilled Michael Cohen on Thursday at the former president's hush money trial about Cohen's 2018 guilty plea to federal charges, including for lying to Congress about a Trump Tower Moscow project.

As he did when pleading guilty, Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, conceded on the witness stand that he lied to two congressional committees about his contacts with Russian officials. He also said he lied when he said he never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and never discussed with Trump plans to travel to Moscow to support it.

“Just related to that issue, you lied under oath, correct?” Blanche asked.

“Yes sir,” Cohen said.

Blanche dug at Cohen’s motivations for the admitting to prior lies to Congress. Blanche noted that Cohen has repeatedly said he lied out of loyalty to Trump.

Cohen went on to testify that he does accept responsibility for what he did.


Donald Trump’s attorneys in his hush money trial gave jurors a picture Thursday of his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s on-air persona, playing two clips of his podcasts over the years in which he discussed Trump and the potential charges.

In the recordings played in the courtroom, Cohen’s voice was louder, high-pitched and much more animated than the reserved and concise way he’s been answering questions. In one clip from an episode defense lawyer Todd Blanche said was from October 2020, Cohen uses an expletive and says he truly hopes “that this man ends up in prison.”

“It won’t bring back the year that I lost or the damage done to my family. But revenge is a dish best served cold,” Cohen says in the clip. He adds: “You better believe that I want this man to go down.”

Blanche asked Cohen if he continued to call Trump various names on his podcasts and when he did interviews on CNN, and Cohen said he did.

“And that has continued even during this trial?” Blanche asked.

“Correct,” Cohen said.


Defense attorney Todd Blanche asked as he cross-examined Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen about TV interviews he did when news of the former president's indictment in the hush money case emerged last year.

One included a CNN hit in which he compared himself and Trump to the biblical David and Goliath.

Cohen confirmed that, in text messages not shown to jurors, an investigator with the prosecutors’ office complimented him on at least one of the interviews, though prosecutors had asked Cohen to refrain from talking to the news media about the case.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger disrupted Blanche’s efforts to get the exchanges shown to jurors or read into the record. Hoffinger noted that the messages were heavily redacted, which Cohen said deprived them of important context.


Donald Trump’s hush money trial got off to a slow start Thursday morning, with attorneys halting proceedings to have several sidebar conversations with the judge, including an extended discussion to start the day.

Judge Juan Merchan apologized to the jurors for the delay. The judge told them that it may be necessary to hold the trial next Wednesday because of scheduling, with days off including Memorial Day and this Friday, when Trump will attend son Barron’s high school graduation.

The trial has been taking Wednesdays off so Merchan can attend to other matters.

The stop-and-start continued as defense attorney Todd Blanche began cross-examining former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and prosecutors objected to the phrasing of several questions.

Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Bob Good sat with Trump’s son Eric in the first row of the gallery, behind the former president and the defense table. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna sat in the second row.


Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen entered the courtroom in the ex-president's hush money trial carrying a bottle of water and his eyeglasses case in his left hand.

He strode confidently and briskly to the witness stand, not looking in Trump’s direction. Trump also did not look toward Cohen, instead gazing straight ahead.

The defense's cross-examination of Cohen resumed soon after.

Beforehand, an officer instructed lawmakers in the audience to put their cellphones away, a rule that applies to everyone in the courtroom to watch the trial.

“People are going to ask about it,” the officer said, noting the big concern is people taking pictures of the proceedings, which is forbidden.


Donald Trump returned to court Thursday in his hush money trial and once again complained about it, telling reporters before entering the courtroom that “the crime is that they’re doing this case.”

Trump was flanked by a large group of congressional allies, including Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Bob Good of Virginia. Trump said the members joining him are “up in arms over this.”

He also complained about the security presence outside the courthouse.

“Outside it’s like Fort Knox, you can’t get within three blocks of this place if you’re a civilian,” Trump said, even though the area is accessible to the public.

Trump folded papers in his hand as he entered, followed by his lawyers, a cadre of Republican lawmakers and support staff.

Some lawmakers who joined Trump in court were forced to sit in the back row of the gallery because there wasn’t enough room in the rows reserved for the entourage.


The chair of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Bob Good, of Virginia, appeared Thursday morning with Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Florida, outside Trump Tower to support Donald Trump shortly before the indicted former president left for court.

Gaetz is not a member of the Freedom Caucus but is a top Trump ally. Several other Republicans were expected Thursday at the court.

The House Oversight Committee, led by Republicans, postponed a morning meeting until evening, as GOP lawmakers made their way to New York.

As part of their attack on the justice system, Republicans on the panel are considering Thursday a contempt-of-Congress resolution against U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in a separate matter, over their investigation of President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

The former president waved before getting into his motorcade and heading to the courthouse for the day.


After months of questions about whether general election debates would happen, President Joe Biden and Republican nominee Donald Trump have agreed to participate in two of them: one in June and one in September.

The first debate will play out in a jam-packed and unsettled political calendar, before either candidate becomes his party’s official nominee at the summer conventions.

The June 27 match-up will come after the expected conclusion of Trump’s criminal hush money trial in New York, foreign trips by Biden in mid-June to France and Italy, and the end of the Supreme Court’s term.

The second debate would take place before most states begin early voting — though some overseas and military ballots may already be in the mail.


Some of the most explosive moments in Donald Trump’s hush money trial have played out for most of the world to see — except for the people who are actually deciding his fate: the jury.

The 12-person panel is shown evidence and witness testimony so they can decide whether the former president is guilty of a scheme to buy up and bury seamy stories in an effort to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election. But it’s a highly curated experience; jurors are not getting the full picture seen by those who follow along each day.

They don’t even witness Trump enter or exit the courtroom. He’s already there by the time they are brought into the room, and he stays until they are dismissed. This is by design.


Donald Trump is seeking to have New York’s highest court intervene in his fight over a gag order that has seen him fined $10,000 and threatened with jail for violating a ban on commenting about witnesses, jurors and others connected to his hush money criminal trial.

The former president’s lawyers filed a notice of appeal Wednesday, a day after the state’s mid-level appellate court refused his request to lift or modify the restrictions. The filing was listed on a court docket, but the document itself was sealed and not available.


It wasn’t until after a decade in the fold, after his family pleaded with him, after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room, Michael Cohen testified Tuesday, that he finally decided to turn on Donald Trump.

The complicated break led to a 2018 guilty plea to federal charges involving a payment to the porn actor Stormy Daniels to bury her story of an alleged sexual encounter with Trump and to other, unrelated crimes.

And it’s that insider knowledge of shady deals that pushed Manhattan prosecutors to make Cohen the star witness in their case against Trump about that same payment, which they say was an illegal effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP)
Former President Donald Trump arrives for talking to the media outside Manhattan criminal court in New York, on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

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