4 Ways Michael Cohen Threw Cold Water on Trump’s Hush-Money Defense

Michael Cohen may have directly transferred the funds, but he says it was at the behest and benefit of Donald Trump that he made the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

After four days on the witness stand, the prosecution’s key witness stepped down on Monday following a barrage of fast-paced questions and quick-shifting topics from Trump’s defense team. Cohen’s testimony covered his various consulting gigs and legal work he did for the Trump family, as well as his actions leading up to the Daniels hush-money payment and how, with Trump’s blessing, he allegedly falsified business records to pay himself back for the payment.

With Trump unlikely to take the witness stand, the former self-described fixer provided the only inside look at what was happening before, during, and after Daniels’ story came to light.

Trump is alleged to have not only known of but also directed Cohen and those below him to falsify 34 fraudulent business records intended to reimburse Cohen for his payment to Daniels. The Trump team has long contended Trump was unaware of Cohen’s actions and that the records — a combination of invoices, checks, and ledgers — were what he believed to be a retainer for Cohen’s legal services.

Aided by Cohen, prosecutors have painted a picture of the internal chaos that besmirched the Trump campaign in the weeks leading up to the November 8, 2016 election — from the Access Hollywood tape leaking in October to just four days before the election when news surfaced of the National Enquirer’s attempts to cover up former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump.

During this time, Daniels was in talks to sign a non-disclosure agreement and sell her story for $130,000 in an attempt to “catch and kill” her story. Cohen was tasked to punt payment to Daniels until it was no longer relevant. “What he said to me is, ‘What I want you to do is push it out as long as you can, just get it past the election because if I win, it would have no relevance because I’m already president and if I lose, I don’t really care,’” Cohen testified Trump told him.

As closing arguments are expected to wrap up next week, here’s every argument Trump’s team put forth that Cohen deconstructed in his testimony.

Trump didn’t know about the payment

Because Trump had his hands in everything, Cohen and everyone else had to get final confirmation from “the boss” before carrying out a task – especially spending money.

“It was actually required,” Cohen said of getting confirmation from Trump. “When he would task you with something, he would then say, ‘Keep me informed, let me know what’s going on.’ And as soon as you had a result or answer you would go straight back, especially if it was a matter that he was worried about.”

“If you didn’t immediately provide him with information and he learned it in another manner, that wouldn’t go over well for you,” Cohen testified. As a result, when he first caught wind of Daniels’ story, he told Trump immediately. “Take care of it. I thought you had this under control. Just take care of it,” Trump responded, according to Cohen.

When Daniels made clear she would go forward with the story should she not receive payment in the days preceding the election, Cohen testified to telling Trump they could no longer wait. Cohen says Trump directed him to speak with Trump Organization Chief Financial Allen Weisselberg, who said the two had to “think of creative ways we can raise” the funds to pay off Daniels without having Trump’s name attached to the payment.

What came next is at the crux of the trial: Cohen and Weisselberg, operating under the direction of Trump, thought of a scheme in which Cohen would transfer the funds from his personal bank account and Weisselberg would then authorize funds from the Trump Organization to repay Cohen for the payment, all in an attempt to remove Trump’s name from the original payment to Daniels.

Cohen explained that he had to get Trump’s confirmation before transferring funds to Daniels.“I wanted to ensure that once again he approved of what I was doing because I required approval from him about all of this,” Cohen said.

Cohen was acting alone

Trump’s defense argues Cohen acted alone to pay Daniels off. Multiple times during other witness testimony, prosecutors asked if it was plausible for Cohen to make the out-of-pocket payment out of his own volition and kindness of his heart.

“It would certainly be out of character for Michael,” former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks said during her testimony.

Cohen directly dismantled much of the defense’s argument, saying he needed approval from Trump to make the payment not just because it was standard operating procedure but also to ensure he would be reimbursed.

“Everything requires Mr. Trump’s sign-off,” Cohen said on the first day of his testimony. “On top of that, I wanted the money back.”

Cohen immediately squashed claims that he was acting alone, instead testifying he was “doing everything I could and more in order to protect my boss … but I would not have laid out the $130,000 needed for an NDA needed for somebody else.”

Perhaps Cohen’s greatest argument in response to Trump’s defense is what he would do with Daniels’ story. “I had no reason to own, no need to own the life rights,” Cohen testified. “What I was doing, I was doing at the direction and the benefit of Mr. Trump.”

The only reason Trump would have made the hush-money payment is to protect Melania 

Not straying from his public persona, Trump’s defense team has argued Trump would have made the hush-money payments anyway to protect his personal brand – and out of love for Melania Trump.

The argument was supported by Hicks’ testimony, who said earlier in the trial that Trump “was concerned how it would be viewed by his wife, and he wanted me to make sure that other newspapers weren’t going to deliver to their residence that morning.”

That was not the case, Cohen testified, saying it was he who had brought up Melania’s feelings to Trump, who didn’t seem too concerned with the fate of his marriage.

“I asked how are things gonna go upstairs,” Cohen testified to asking Trump once news of the affair went public. “He goes, ‘Don’t worry. How long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long,’” Cohen answered.

When asked to clarify what he thought Trump meant, Cohen testified: “He wasn’t thinking about Melania, this was all about the campaign.”

Daniels’ lawyer Keith Davidson corroborated Cohen’s testimony, saying his frequent attempts to reach Cohen left the impression that Trump truly did not care about Daniels’ story going public. “It seems like he was trying to kick the can until after the election,” Davidson testified earlier in the trial.

Davidson’s and Cohen’s testimony directly support one of the prosecution’s key arguments: that the hush money payment was made to directly “influence” the election, and that is the reason why Trump allegedly hid the payment in the first place, knowing it was election interference and that he had to remove his name from the payment.

Cohen was in it for the money and his vendetta against Trump

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche attempted to discredit Cohen for holding a personal grudge against the former president, getting Cohen to testify he has amassed over $4.4 million since the fall of 2020, in part from the publication of two books and his podcast on his journey.

Cohen described himself as an eager-to-please lawyer looking to protect “the boss,” as he often called Trump. “I wanted to ensure that Mr. Trump was safe,” Cohen testified early on.

However, Blanche’s cross-examination left much to be desired in his attempts to discredit Cohen. In a telling moment at the end of Cohen’s recross-examination, Blanche asked the former fixer if he had a financial interest and wanted to see Trump convicted.

“The answer is no. It’s better that he’s not for me because it gives me more to talk about in the future,” Cohen retorted, drawing laughter from the courtroom.

It’s up to the jury to decide whether they will accept Cohen’s testimony as someone speaking the truth to bring Trump to justice. Just before resting their case, prosecutors asked Cohen what he has gone through since coming forward about Trump, perhaps earning some sympathy with the jury.

“My entire life has been turned upside down as a direct result. I lost my law license, my businesses, my financial security, my family’s happiness — just to name a few things,” Cohen concluded.

After prosecutors rested their case on Monday, Blanche argued to the court for early dismissal, arguing the defense successfully caught Cohen in a series of lies.

An unsatisfied Judge Merchan quashed the argument. “You said his lies are irrefutable. You think he’s going to fool 12 New Yorkers?”

“I certainly hope he doesn’t fool 12 jurors,” Blanche responded.

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