Former president Donald Trump has sued the key witness in his criminal case, accusing one-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen of “vast reputational harm” for talking publicly about the hush-money payments at the heart of the case.
The lawsuit, filed in Miami, offered a preview of arguments that are sure to be featured in Mr Trump’s defence against charges that he falsified internal business records to disguise payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of extramarital sexual encounters.
The suit accused Mr Cohen of breaking a confidentiality agreement he signed as a condition of his employment, violating ethical standards for lawyers and “spreading falsehoods” about Mr Trump “with malicious intent and to wholly self-serving ends.”
It seeks more than half a billion dollars from Mr Cohen.
Mr Cohen’s spokesman, attorney Lanny Davis, said the lawsuit will not deter Mr Cohen’s cooperation with prosecutors.
“Mr Trump appears once again to be using and abusing the judicial system as a form of harassment and intimidation against Michael Cohen,” Mr Davis said.
“It appears he is terrified by his looming legal perils and is attempting to send a message to other potential witnesses who are cooperating with prosecutors against him.”
The suit is the latest effort by Mr Trump to use the legal system to go after his political enemies and is another example of the former president turning on a once-loyal aide after their relationship imploded.
A judge in Florida sanctioned Mr Trump and one of his attorneys in January, ordering them to pay nearly one million dollars for filing what he said was a bogus lawsuit against Mr Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton and others.
Mr Davis predicted this lawsuit would also fail.
“Is there anyone in America, aside from a shrinking minority base of believers, who takes Mr Trump seriously when he files these apparently frivolous lawsuits?” Mr Davis asked.
The criminal case against Mr Trump, brought last week by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, accuses the former president of falsifying 34 business records at his company to hide the true nature of 11 checks paid to Mr Cohen to reward him for work covering up Mr Trump’s extramarital affairs.
Those checks, prosecutors said, reimbursed Mr Cohen for a 130,000 dollars payment he made on Mr Trump’s behalf to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who had been in negotiations to sell her story of an alleged sexual encounter with the Republican.
Mr Cohen also played a role in arranging payments to the Playboy model Karen McDougal and to a Trump Tower doorman.
Mr Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges and says the alleged encounters with Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal never happened.
Mr Bragg’s office on Wednesday declined to comment on Mr Trump’s lawsuit against Mr Cohen.
Mr Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax evasion, lying to Congress, and campaign finance violations regarding the payments to Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal.
He was sentenced to three years in prison, although the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic enabled him to serve the majority of the sentence under house arrest.