Michael Cohen admits he stole from Trump Org. during heated cross-examination



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Prosecutors rested their case against Donald Trump on Monday after another dramatic day of testimony from his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted he conned Trump and his company out of money while also maintaining his former boss signed off the hush money payment at the heart of trial.

Despite Trump’s pre-trial claim he would “absolutely” testify in the trial, the first criminal trial of a former president, it seems unlikely he will take the stand. Defense attorney Todd Blanche told the judge that their side plans to call at least two brief witnesses when the prosecution is done with their case before resting themselves. The first defense witness was a paralegal from Blanche’s office who was testifying about Cohen’s phone records.

Blanche began his questioning of Cohen by focusing on the period around when Cohen paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to buy her silence on Trump’s behalf. Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and self-described “fixer,” spoke to Trump twice on Oct. 26, 2016, the day Cohen moved money to the account he was using to pay Daniels.

Blanche suggested there were other issues going on at the time that consumed Cohen’s attention. Cohen acknowledged he was also busy trying to close a $7 million deal involving taxi medallions and an extortion threat involving Trump’s daughter Tiffany. He said he spoke to Tiffany Trump twice on Oct. 25.

Asked if he discussed the situation with Tiffany Trump with her father in the Oct. 26 calls, Cohen said he did not, and the calls were focused on Daniels. Asked on redirect examination by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger whether he’d been “too busy in October 2016 to get Trump’s approval on the Stormy Daniels payment,” Cohen replied, “No, ma’am.”

Blanche had continued questioning Cohen for about two hours in the morning, including about another matter he said Trump repaid him for in addition to the Daniels’ sum — $50,000 Cohen said he’d paid to end a dispute with a technology company called Red Finch. The reimbursements were “grossed up” — doubled — in order to spare Cohen from taking a tax hit.

Cohen said the bill related to efforts to fix a CNBC poll on the most famous businessmen of the past century. Cohen said Trump didn’t want to pay because despite the company’s efforts, he only placed ninth on the list. NBC News has reached out to CNBC for comment.

Blanche asked Cohen if he actually paid Red Finch $50,000, and he acknowledged he’d only paid the company about $20,000. Asked if that meant he “stole from the Trump Organization,” Cohen said, “Yes, sir.”

Hoffinger asked him why he’d done so, and Cohen said it was because he was “angry” that Trump had slashed his annual bonus in 2016, despite his work getting salacious stories about the then-president-elect killed. “It was almost like self-help,” Cohen said.

Hoffinger also pushed back on what had been Blanche’s most dramatic line of questioning on Thursday, when he challenged Cohen on his account of Trump signing off on the Daniels deal on Oct. 24, 2016, after Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller put Trump on the phone.

Blanche noted that Cohen said he got Schiller on the phone at 8:02 p.m. to speak to Trump about “the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it.” Blanche noted that Cohen had reached out to Schiller at 7:48 p.m. for help with a prank caller who’d been vexing him, and that Schiller had texted Cohen to “call me” at 8:02.

Blanche pointed out the call lasted 96 seconds and that at 8:04 p.m., Cohen texted Schiller the phone number of the teenaged prankster, and called Cohen’s claim that he spoke to Trump in that time period “a lie.” Cohen insisted he did speak to Trump, but said he may have also mentioned the teen to Schiller.

On Monday, Hoffinger showed the jury a picture of Trump with Schiller at 7:57 p.m., when the pair were leaving a campaign rally, showing the two were together at about the time of the call.

Cohen said he spoke to Trump about Daniels approximately 20 times and asked if he had any doubt he’d gotten final signoff for the payment from him, he answered, “No, ma’am.”

On cross, Cohen acknowledged doing some legal work for Trump in his family in 2017 and also went into detail about the roughly $4 million he made doing legal and consulting work for others that same year, while often doing little actual work. Cohen has acknowledged he was able to pull in the lucrative contracts thanks to his position at the time as the president’s personal attorney. Cohen told Blanche the money was the most he’d ever made in his life.

Following live updates from the trial

At the start of court Monday, the judge announced that closing arguments, which he had tentatively scheduled to begin on Tuesday, would be pushed back one week because of the holiday weekend. They’re now tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, May 28.

Trump looked noticeably upbeat and animated Monday morning as two rows of prominent allies were seated behind him in court.

Cohen, 57, is a key witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump and the only one to directly tie Trump to the alleged falsifying business records scheme.

Cohen paid Daniels the $130,000 in return for a nondisclosure agreement barring her from talking about her claim of having had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier after they met at a celebrity golf tournament. Trump denies her claim.

Cohen said Trump authorized the deal and assured him he’d pay him back.

Prosecutors say Trump did so in a series of payments falsely recorded as legal expenses in a bid to conceal the real reason for them. He was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors had made it clear to jurors in his direct examination that Cohen had a track record of lying publicly, and they elicited testimony about his 2018 guilty pleas to various criminal charges, including some related to the Daniels payment and another of lying to Congress. Cohen said he’d lied to protect his then-boss Trump.

Blanche had also suggested he might call former Federal Election Commission chair Bradley A. Smith to testify about election laws but also said he might not. He also said he might call other witnesses, whom he didn’t identify in open court. He said the witnesses’ testimony would be brief if they do testify.

Prosecutors have said that if the defense does end up calling Smith, they might put on a witness to rebut his testimony. Their expert would be brief, as well, they said.



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