Manhattan DA pushes back on Trump’s request to block Michael Cohen from testifying at hush money trial

Manhattan prosecutors say that Donald Trump’s effort to disqualify Michael Cohen as a witness at this month’s criminal trial related to hush money payments is “unprecedented” and unwarranted.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said in a filing Tuesday that it opposes several of the former president’s motions to prevent jurors from seeing certain evidence in the case, including Cohen’s testimony and the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Trump’s arguments read “more like a press release than a legal filing,” the district attorney’s office said.

“Defendant is entitled to zealous advocacy. He is not entitled to ‘alternative facts,’” the prosecutors added.

Trump is attempting to exclude testimony from Cohen, his former attorney, and evidence related to other alleged “catch and kill” schemes Trump’s circle executed ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen is a central witness in the case against Trump. Cohen facilitated a $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election to stop her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump more than a decade earlier. Trump reimbursed Cohen and falsified business records to disguise it as a legal payment, prosecutors allege. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied the affair.

Trump and his legal team asked Judge Juan Merchan to bar Cohen from testifying because he’s committed perjury more than once, most recently at Trump’s civil fraud trial. (Cohen was not charged with perjury in that trial .)

Prosecutors said they expect Cohen to give truthful testimony at the upcoming trial that will be corroborated by evidence and other witnesses, their most recent filing says. They also cite the recent civil fraud decision against Trump in which Judge Arthur Engoron found that Cohen was credible and “told the truth” on the stand last fall at that trial.

“To the extent that defendant nonetheless believes the jury should disbelieve Cohen’s testimony at trial, he may challenge Cohen’s credibility by cross-examining him about a variety of topics, including his previous guilty pleas,” prosecutors said.

‘Catch and Kill’ scheme and Access Hollywood tape

Evidence of other “catch and kill” schemes is relevant and should also come in at trial, the district attorney’s office says.

Prosecutors plan to introduce evidence of two situations where American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, and its then-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David Pecker worked directly with Trump to suppress negative press in support of his presidential campaign – that scheme led to a series of transactions involving Daniels, Dino Sajudin and Karen McDougal.

AMI did not make the payment to Daniels – Cohen did – but the way in which the other transactions were executed shows the “unified nature” of the scheme, prosecutors say, so the jury should be able to consider it as supporting evidence.

Bragg’s team says the court should reject Trump’s argument that acknowledgements of guilt from Cohen and AMI do not injure their credibility but actually make them more reliable witnesses. Cohen’s guilty plea and the AMI non-prosecution agreement “explain why the witness possesses firsthand knowledge,” prosecutors say.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in 2018 to federal charges related to the scheme at issue in this case and Pecker signed a non-prosecution agreement that requires him to cooperate and testify at trial.

The DA’s filing also reiterates their argument that the notorious Access Hollywood tape should come in at trial. Prosecutors cite the E. Jean Carroll federal defamation case against Trump in which Judge Lewis Kaplan allowed the Access Hollywood tape into evidence, ruling it “is uniquely probative” of Trump’s state of mind.

Prosecutors also say the timing of the tape’s public release in fall 2016 is linked to the deal with Daniels.

“Indeed, the evidence will demonstrate that the release of the Access Hollywood Tape caused a panic within the campaign about defendant’s electoral prospects and ultimately served as the catalyst for consummating the Stormy Daniels payoff.”

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