Cohen acknowledges stealing from Trump at hush money trial

His admission to stealing from Trump Organization could chip away at his credibility as a star witness

By Reuters

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Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York. — Photo: AFP
Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York. — Photo: AFP

Published: Mon 20 May 2024, 7:39 PM

Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen testified on Monday that he stole money from Trump's company, an admission that could chip away at his credibility as a star witness at the former US president's hush money trial.

Questioned by Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche, Cohen acknowledged stealing from the Trump Organization by including a reimbursement to a technology company in his bonus package and pocketing most of the money.

"So you stole from the Trump Organization, right?" Blanche asked.

"Yes sir," Cohen, 57, testified.

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Cohen said he paid roughly $20,000 of the $50,000 that Trump's company owed to the tech company in cash, handing it off in a brown paper bag at his office. He said he kept the rest. He was reimbursed $100,000 total by the Trump Organization for that payment.

Cohen is the final and most important witness for New York prosecutors as they seek to convince a jury that Trump broke the law by covering up a $130,000 payment that bought the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

But as a convicted felon and admitted liar, Cohen is a problematic witness. Prosecutors have buttressed his testimony with documentary evidence, while Trump's lawyers have sought to undermine Cohen's credibility through his cross-examination.

After his testimony concludes, Trump's lawyers will have a chance to present evidence and witnesses of their own.

It was unclear whether Trump would take the witness stand. Defence lawyers often opt not to call witnesses or present their own evidence when they believe prosecutors have failed to make their case.

Though Trump said before the trial began that he planned to testify, Blanche told the judge last week that it was no longer certain. Outside the courtroom on Monday, Trump did not tell reporters whether he would testify or not.

At the outset of Monday's session, Justice Juan Merchan said he expected the prosecution and the defence to wrap up their presentations this week and make their closing arguments next week.

The first former president to face a criminal trial has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up the payment to Daniels, who had threatened to go public with her account of an alleged 2006 sexual encounter — a liaison Trump denies.

Outside the courtroom, Trump, 77, has blasted the trial as a politically motivated effort to hobble his attempt to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 election.

Inside the courtroom, Trump has sat at the defendant's table listening to Daniels tell her account of their time together in lurid detail. Other witnesses, including Cohen, have discussed efforts to bury unflattering stories at a time Trump faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehaviour.

Trump's lawyers said last week they did not think they would need much time unless Trump opted to testify.

"That's another decision that we need to think through," Blanche said on Thursday, the last day the trial convened.

If he chooses to testify, Trump will have the opportunity to convince jurors that he was not responsible for the paperwork at the heart of the case, and rebut Daniels' detailed account of their meeting in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

He would not be restrained by a gag order that bars him in other settings from criticising witnesses, jurors and relatives of the judge and prosecutors.

However, he would face cross-examination by prosecutors, who could try to expose inconsistencies in his story. Any lies told under oath could expose him to further criminal perjury charges.

Trump last appeared as a witness in a civil business-fraud trial last year, delivering defiant and rambling testimony that aggravated Justice Arthur Engoron, who was overseeing the case. Engoron would go on to order him to pay $355 million in penalties after finding he fraudulently overstated his net worth to dupe lenders.

The hush money trial is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces, but it is likely the only one to go to trial before the election. Trump faces charges in Washington and Georgia of trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden and charges in Florida of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty in all three cases.


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