Cohen says he stole from Trump’s company as key hush money trial witness quizzed

Former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted to jurors in the Republican’s hush money trial that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company as defence lawyers attack his credibility.

The landmark trial returned with defence cross-examination of Mr Cohen, whose pivotal testimony last week directly tied Trump to the alleged hush money scheme.

Defence lawyers already have questioned Mr Cohen for hours about his criminal history and past lies to paint him as a serial liar who is on a revenge campaign aimed at taking down Trump.

While being pressed by defence attorney Todd Blanche, Mr Cohen admitted that he pocketed cash that was supposed to be reimbursement for a 50,000 dollars payment Mr Cohen claimed he had shelled out to a technology firm.

But Mr Cohen actually gave the technology firm just 20,000 dollars, he said.

“So you stole from the Trump Organisation,” Mr Blanche asked.

“Yes, sir,” Mr Cohen replied.

Trump Hush Money
Former president Donald Trump sits in Manhattan criminal court in New York (Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP, Pool)

He is the last prosecution witness, and it is not yet clear whether Trump’s attorneys will call any witnesses, let alone the presumptive Republican presidential nominee himself.

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

The charges stem from internal Trump Organisation records where payments to Mr Cohen were marked as legal expenses, when prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for porn star Stormy Daniels’ hush money payment.

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

“There’s no crime,” Trump told reporters after arriving at the courthouse on Monday. “We paid a legal expense. You know what it’s marked down as? A legal expense.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is expected to rest its case once Mr Cohen is off the stand, but prosecutors would have have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Trump’s lawyers put on witnesses of their own.

Judge Juan M Merchan, citing scheduling issues, says he expects closing arguments to happen May 28, the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Defence lawyers said they have not decided whether Trump will testify. And Trump did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about whether his lawyers have advised him not to take the stand.

Defence attorneys generally are reluctant to put their clients on the witness stand and open them up to intense questioning by prosecutors, as it often does more harm than good.

Mr Cohen is prosecutors’ most important witness, but he is also vulnerable to attack.

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Stormy Daniels on the witness stand (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

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 hush money scheme.

And he has made millions of dollars off critical books about the former president, whom he regularly slams on social media in often profane terms.

Mr Cohen told jurors that Trump was intimately involved in the scheme to pay off Ms Daniels to prevent her from going public late in his 2016 presidential campaign with claims of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump says nothing sexual happened between them.

Mr Cohen told jurors about meetings and conversations with Trump, including one in 2017 in which Mr Cohen says he, Trump and then-Trump Organisation finance chief Allen Weisselberg discussed how Mr Cohen would recoup his outlay for the Daniels payment and how the reimbursement would be billed as “legal services”.

Known for his hot temper, Mr Cohen has remained mostly calm on the witness stand despite sometimes heated interrogation by the defence about his own misdeeds and the allegations in the case.

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

Mr Cohen told jurors he talked to Trump on that call about the hush money payment. Mr Blanche confronted Mr Cohen with text messages to argue that Mr Cohen had actually been talking to Trump’s bodyguard about harassing calls from a teenage prankster.

“That was a lie. You did not talk to President Trump on that night … You can admit it?” Mr Blanche asked.

“No, sir, I can’t,” Mr Cohen replied, saying he believed he also spoke to Trump about the Daniels deal.

Trump’s lawyers have said they may call Bradley A Smith, a Republican law professor who was appointed by former president Bill Clinton to the Federal Election Commission, to refute the prosecution’s contention that the hush money payments amounted to campaign-finance violations.

The judge has limited what Mr Smith can address, however, and the defence could decide not to call him, after all.

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