Cohen faces fresh grilling as Trump’s hush money trial enters final stretch

20 May 2024, 11:24

Michael Cohen
Trump Hush Money. Picture: PA

The former US president denies falsifying business records.

Donald Trump’s hush money trial is heading into the final stretch, with prosecutors’ star witness set to return to court for another grilling.

The landmark trial will resume in Manhattan with more defence cross-examination of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, whose pivotal testimony last week directly tied the former US president to the alleged hush money scheme.

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

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

Donald Trump
It is the first criminal trial involving a former US president (AP)

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

The charges stem from internal Trump Organisation records where payments to Cohen were marked as legal expenses, when prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for a 130,000-dollar (£102,000) hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

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

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is expected to rest its case once Mr Cohen leaves court, but prosecutors would have have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Trump’s lawyers put on witnesses of their own.

The judge has told lawyers to be prepared for closing arguments as early as Tuesday, though the timing will depend on whether the defence calls any witnesses, which it is not obliged to do.

Defence lawyers said they have not decided whether Trump will testify. Generally, they are reluctant to open their clients up to intense questioning by prosecutors, as it often does more harm than good.

Stormy Daniels
The allegations relate to alleged payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels (AP)

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

The now-disbarred lawyer has admitted in court to previously lying under oath and other falsehoods, many of which he claims were meant to protect Trump. Mr Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty to various federal charges, including lying to US congress and a bank and engaging in campaign finance violations related to the hush money scheme.

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 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.

He also 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.

By Press Association

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