Trump Attorney Challenges Michael Cohen On His Memory Of Key Phone Conversations In Hush Money Case — Update

UPDATE: Michael Cohen appeared to win a battle this afternoon over how reliable his memory is of eight-year-old phone calls with Donald Trump, after faltering in an earlier round of cross-examination questioning today in the former president’s hush money trial in New York.

Before a lunch break, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche got Cohen to admit that his memory of a key call with Trump in late October 2016 — to discuss paying off porn star Stormy Daniels — was largely a product of reviewing phone logs provided by prosecutors.

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Blanche showed Cohen texts from the same exact time frame that suggested another matter — a 14-year-old prank caller — was the reason Cohen rang Trump’s bodyguard.

Cohen said he still believed that the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, handed the phone to Trump so he could report to the presidential candidate that a deal with Daniels was close. Cohen was getting ready to pay her $130,000 to remain silent about a claim of a sexual liaison with Trump years earlier.

But the revelation that Cohen’s stated memory didn’t match up to the timing of texts with Schiller, and with the youthful prankster, registered as a blow to his earlier testimony.

After lunch, Blanche raised another set of calls to Schiller — in June of 2016 — that Cohen had testified were also to talk to Trump. The subject then was former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who had a story to sell about an alleged yearlong affair with the real estate mogul and Celebrity Apprentice star turned political office-seeker.

Cohen agreed that as Trump’s personal lawyer he had tens of thousands of phone calls, all told, in the years surrounding Trump’s campaign and election. He also agreed that he couldn’t specifically recall the June 16, 2016 call to Schiller, absent logs provided by prosecutors to refresh his memory.

But he went on to say the “sum and substance” of his calls with Trump about steps he took to defuse potential sex scandals that could have derailed the campaign stayed with him, even if exact dates and times eluded him.

“These phone calls are things I’ve been talking about the last six years,” Cohen testified. “They were extremely important and all-consuming.”

Blanche then asked Cohen about a lengthy call with then-CNN anchor Chris Cuomo immediately after the June 2016 calls to Schiller. Cohen appeared more confident that his memory of calling to discuss an upcoming appearance on Cuomo’s show was independent of any pre-trial preparation. “It was over an hour,” he said, and he recorded it.

With that, Blanche turned back to another subject: a conversation with Trump about a payoff for McDougal that Cohen secretly recorded.

“You understand that it’s not ethical for a lawyer to record a conversation with his client?” Blanche said. Cohen agreed it was not, but protested that there is a “crime fraud” exception to the rule.

Cohen didn’t say he recorded the conversation at Trump Tower under that exception. “I’m just giving you an example,” he testified.

Cohen also talked about the relationships with several reporters he courted before and during the presidential campaign to produce positive coverage of his boss or to soften negative stories. He also recorded dozens of those calls, he said.

Over an objection from prosecutors, Cohen testified that he told a former assistant Manhattan D.A. that he believed Daniels and her lawyer, Keith Davidson, “were extorting Mr. Trump,” by demanding payment for Daniels’ silence in the last weeks of the presidential campaign — after the infamous Access Hollywood tape had surfaced of Trump boasting that he could grab women by the genitals and get away with it.

Cohen also agreed with Blanche that the $130,000 non-disclosure agreement with Daniels, which Cohen paid out of his own pocket using a home equity loan, was legal.

“But in your mind, then and now, this is a perfectly legal contract, correct?” Blanche said. “Yes, sir,” Cohen replied.

Prosecutors say the payment was an undeclared campaign contribution and that Trump broke the law by secretly repaying Cohen using falsified business records to disguise the reimbursement as taxable income for routine legal work.

Cohen returns to the stand on Monday. After jurors were sent home, the finish line of the unprecedented trial of a former U.S. president started to come into view. Blanche said he expected to finish cross-examining Cohen on Monday morning.

The defense can put on rebuttal witnesses, but the only one discussed today was a campaign finance expert. Blanche said a decision on whether Trump will testify has not yet been made. Judge Juan Merchan told everyone to prepare for the possibility that closing arguments could begin on Tuesday.

On his way out of court, Trump told hallway pool reporters, “I’ve been sitting here for almost four weeks and we still have a long way to go. And I just want to thank all the lawyers involved because they’ve been really working hard. And I’m spending a lot of time and I’m spending a lot of money which is what they want. They want me to spend my time and my money.”

PREVIOUSLY: As Michael Cohen returned to the stand for cross-examination this morning, Donald Trump’s attorney loudly accused him of lying about the nature of a phone call eight years ago, which Cohen said was to discuss with then-candidate Trump a payoff to the porn star Stormy Daniels.

“That was a lie,” said Todd Blanche, his voice rising. “You did not talk to President Trump on that night.”

As proof, Blanche pointed to texts between Cohen and Trump’s bodyguard in the exact same time frame, in late October of 2016, about another matter entirely: A string of prank calls Cohen was getting from a 14-year-old.

The moment was a highlight of today’s proceedings in the hush money trial of the former president.

Cohen was Trump’s former attorney and so-called fixer. He testified on Tuesday that he reached Trump by calling the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, that day, October 24, 2016, and that he spoke to Trump on Schiller’s phone to let him know that a deal with Daniels was close. Cohen said this afternoon that his recollection was based on his review of phone records provided by prosecutors. But he admitted that he didn’t remember the problem with the prankster until seeing the texts with Schiller today.

“I believe I also told Trump — ” Cohen began, referring to the 90-second call over Schiller’s phone.

“We are not asking your for belief,” Blanche snapped, cutting him off. “This jury doesn’t want to hear what you think happened.”

The comment drew an objection from Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Susan Hoffinger. The trial paused for lunch shortly after that exchange.

On his second day of cross-examination, Cohen faced more skeptical questions from Blanche about his character, motives, past lying under oath, and penchant for sounding off about the man he used to affectionately call “Boss” before legal troubles partly tied to the $130,000 payment landed him behind bars.

Blanche had jurors listen to Cohen saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” last October in a podcast. Cohen said in the same podcast that he wanted Trump to go to prison, just as he had.

Prosecutors in New York say — and Cohen has testified — that Trump ordered Cohen to pay off Daniels in the home stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign to stay silent about her claim of an extramarital sexual encounter years earlier with Trump, who used falsified business records to secretly reimburse Cohen.

Blanche, plowing through multiple prosecution objections, took repeated aim at Cohen’s testimony this week in an apparent effort to damage his credibility with jurors — as when Cohen testified on Tuesday that he never wanted to work in the Trump White House. Blanche confronted Cohen with conversations and correspondence that showed his interest in becoming Trump’s chief of staff or attorney general.

Cohen today repeated that he just wanted to be asked about those roles. “That was for my ego,” Cohen said.

Cohen did admit to lying under oath on previous occasions: He said he lied in 2018 to the federal judge accepting his guilty plea on tax and banking charges.

Cohen said that he should not have faced criminal charges as a first-time tax offender but felt pressured by federal investigators who were threatening to also charge his wife — information Cohen admitted he didn’t share with the judge.

“I believe you still feel you did not engage in tax fraud, but you felt you had to protect your wife and family,” Blanche said. “Correct,” Cohen replied.

Cohen said he still thinks that judge — William H. Pauley III, who died in 2021 — colluded with federal prosecutors from New York who were targeting him on orders from the Trump White House. That’s largely the thesis of Cohen’s book, Revenge.

Blanche said that Cohen, far from “accepting responsibility” for his crimes — as he has said under oath that he did — had at different points blamed his accountant, banker, federal law enforcement officials or the Trump White House for his legal woes.

“I don’t dispute the facts of the case but I should not have been prosecuted,” Cohen testified today.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2017 about Trump’s business activities in Moscow. Today, Blanche reminded Cohen of problems with a written statement that Cohen delivered under oath to Congress two years later. Cohen declared in that 2019 appearance on Capitol Hill that he would never ask for, or accept, a pardon from then-President Trump.

In truth, Cohen had previously directed his lawyers to explore the possibility of a pardon. Cohen said today that his congressional statement was true when he made it, but acknowledged that his lawyers went back to Congress to correct the record.

The prosecution’s case against Donald Trump is winding down in court, but the background noise around the proceedings may be getting louder. This morning, on his way into the courtroom, Trump singled out Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo, a former U.S. Department of Justice official before joining the local DA’s office and its Trump prosecution team.

Trump baselessly called Colangelo’s involvement proof that President Biden “is running this trial.”

Trump is still contesting the gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan: He’s appealed to New York state’s highest court to remove a restriction that has already seen him fined $10,000 and threatened with jail for public statements about jurors, witnesses and other trial participants or their families.

On Tuesday, Trump supporters led by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson — the third-highest ranking elected official in government — stood with Trump in the hallway outside the courtroom and also held a press conference in front of the courthouse to denounce the trial as a “sham.”

This morning’s entourage included Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, Republican House members known for bashing the former president’s critics and regularly making news themselves for their own behavior. Boebert and Gaetz took seats directly behind Trump in the gallery next to Trump’s oldest son, Eric Trump.

One question this week is whether Trump is using surrogates to get around Judge Merchan’s gag order, and whether the Manhattan District Attorney’s office will make an issue of it. A reporter covering the trial for New York magazine told MSNBC on Tuesday evening that he saw Trump in court that day marking up a document with talking points used by his allies outside the courthouse.

Merchan’s gag order forbids Trump from criticizing trial participants, or directing others to do so, but it’s not clear if prosecutors will again ask the judge to intervene and sanction the defendant.

Johnson on Tuesday was openly critical of Merchan’s daughter, a Democratic campaign worker who is protected under the gag order but remains the unnamed source of Trump’s ongoing complaints about a “conflicted” trial judge. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, told reporters he was “disappointed in looking at the American — supposedly American — citizens in that courtroom,” a remark widely interpreted as a dig at the jury.

Tuberville later clarified that he meant other people, not jurors, “trying to transition this country into something that it’s not.” He also said he hopes to “overcome this gag order.”

On Tuesday morning, as Trump entered court, a hallway pool reporter asked if he was directing surrogates to speak on his behalf. “I do have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully,” Trump replied.

Cohen, the former Trump lawyer and self-styled “fixer,” spent Tuesday afternoon on the stand quietly parrying questions from Blanche about his credibility. So far the particulars of the DA’s case against Trump haven’t come up in cross examination.

The core allegation is that Trump sought to illegally influence the 2016 election using falsified invoices, checks and pay stubs to disguise the repayment to Cohen as ongoing legal work. Trump denies Daniels’ claim that they had sex in 2006 at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, when he was married and had a newborn son.

Trump’s lawyers defend the non-disclosure agreement with Daniels as routine business and a legal exercise of his right as a candidate to head off bad news in the heat of a political campaign.

Cohen is reportedly the prosecution’s last witness before the defense gets its turn to put on a case in a trial that has gone by more quickly than many observers expected. In a sidebar conference with the judge on Tuesday, out of earshot of jurors, Blanche said he still didn’t know whether his client will decide to testify.

The trial has gotten quieter by one measure: Since testimony began, public protests outside the courthouse have been low-key to nonexistent. This morning Trump blamed the heavy security. “Outside, if you take a look, it looks like Fort Knox. So many police and they don’t allow people to come. You’re not allowed to have friendly protests, we’re not allowed to have anything here.”

The park across the street from the courthouse, in fact, remains open to protestors. But their numbers, small to begin with compared to the throngs that showed up for Trump’s arraignment last year, have dwindled down to single digits or zero on any given day.

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