Trump prosecutors’ hard evidence bolsters Michael Cohen’s testimony, experts say By Reuters

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers at his New York criminal trial have portrayed his estranged former fixer Michael Cohen as a liar and Trump-hater who acted alone to pay off a porn star, but legal experts say prosecutors have largely backed up his testimony with the accounts of others, phone logs and other hard evidence.

Trump’s onetime lawyer, Cohen testified for the prosecution this week that Trump directed him to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet before the 2016 election about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter. He testified that Trump then approved a plan to fudge records to cover up the deal.

During cross-examination, defense lawyer Todd Blanche sought to undermine Cohen’s credibility, portraying him as a turncoat falsely implicating his former boss out of spite. The defense laid the groundwork to argue that Trump was not involved in the details of the reimbursements to Cohen at the heart of the case.

Although prosecutors failed to fully corroborate Cohen’s versions of his one-on-one conversations with Trump, they largely established Trump was aware of the scheme, portraying him as a micromanager of his family business and finances, said Professor Rebecca Roiphe at New York Law School.

A longtime New York businessman whose first entry into politics was a run for the White House, Trump wrote books, the jury was told, with such statements as: “Ask to see all of the invoices” and “If you don’t know every aspect of what you’re doing, down to the paper clips, you’re setting yourself up for some unwelcome surprises.” 

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A former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Roiphe said: “Part of what the prosecution did well is to corroborate other pieces of Michael Cohen’s testimony so completely,” adding: “There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence connecting Trump to the payments.”

Trump, who at 77 is 20 years Cohen’s senior, has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records by portraying reimbursements to Cohen for the Daniels hush money as a retainer for the lawyer’s legal services.

Prosecutors say the altered records covered up election-law and tax-law violations – since the money was essentially an unreported contribution to Trump’s campaign – that elevate the crimes from misdemeanors to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

The first U.S. president past or present to face a criminal trial, Trump denies he had sex with Daniels and calls Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case a partisan attempt to interfere with his Republican campaign to take back the White House from President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

For Trump to be found guilty, the 12-member jury must unanimously agree that prosecutors have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. After completing cross-examination of Cohen on Monday, defense lawyers will have the chance to call their own witnesses.

They are likely to argue that Trump – at the time transitioning into the most powerful job in the world – delegated the minutiae of business matters to deputies like Cohen and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer.

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Defense lawyers have also said there was nothing wrong with labeling payments to a lawyer as legal fees.


But experts said prosecutors presented plenty of circumstantial evidence that suggested it was implausible that Trump did not realize he was covering up a crime:

* David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, testified that he promised to be the campaign’s “eyes and ears” for women coming forward with unflattering stories during an August 2015 meeting with Trump and Cohen. 

* Prosecutors played a surreptitious recording Cohen says he made of Trump in September 2016 appearing to discuss a $150,000 hush money payment to Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who says she had a year-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. Trump denies an affair. 

* Jurors have seen call logs suggesting Cohen and Trump were in frequent contact during the frenzied negotiations with Daniels’ lawyer in October 2016. They saw Weisselberg’s handwritten notes outlining how Cohen would be reimbursed. Hope Hicks, Trump’s former communications aide on the campaign and in the White House, testified that Trump was a micromanager.   

“We just have reams of evidence and documents that have been put in before Cohen even took the stand,” said George Grasso, a retired New York state judge who has been attending the trial and is not involved in the case. “Obviously he testifies to a lot of that, but it’s already been corroborated.”


Despite the plethora of circumstantial evidence, Cohen’s accounts of two pivotal conversations with Trump went uncorroborated.

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Cohen testified that he and Trump discussed a plan for him to be reimbursed for the Daniels payment through a series of bogus invoices and checks designed to appear as legal retainer payments at a meeting in Trump Tower shortly before his January 2017 inauguration. Cohen said they had a similar conversation in the Oval Office the next month. 

The lack of backup could give the jury pause, especially given the absence from the trial of Weisselberg, who could be in a position to confirm or refute some of Cohen’s statements.

According to Cohen, Weisselberg was also present at the January 2017 Trump Tower meeting. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers have said they do not plan to call Weisselberg, 75, who is serving a five-month sentence for perjury while testifying in a separate civil fraud trial over Trump’s business practices.

Outside jurors’ presence on May 10, prosecutors said Weisselberg would likely invoke his right under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination if called. 

Weisselberg’s lawyer declined to comment.

“The elephant in the room – or rather the elephant not in the room – is Weisselberg,” said Justin Danilewitz, a former federal prosecutor and current partner at law firm Saul Ewing.

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