Tensions boil over as Michael Cohen, Trump attorney spar during cross-exam

NEW YORK — Former President Trump’s attorney hammered Michael Cohen on Thursday as tensions in the courtroom boiled over on the second day of intense cross-examination of prosecutors’ star witness.

For hours, Todd Blanche, Trump’s lead defense attorney, attempted to paint Cohen as a liar, pointing out that Trump’s ex-fixer was untruthful under oath in numerous venues.

It was the “same oath” Cohen took before testifying in Trump’s ongoing trial, Blanche repeatedly noted to the jury, eventually accusing the witness of lying on the stand this week when he told prosecutors about an alleged call with Trump to finalize the hush money deal at the center of the case.

“That was a lie!” Blanche exclaimed, deliberately pausing after each word. “You did not talk to President Trump on that night.”

Instead, Blanche asserted the call in question was a conversation with Trump’s bodyguard, when Cohen expressed concerns about harassing calls he was receiving at the time.

As Trump’s onetime fixer and personal attorney, Cohen offered some of the most damaging testimony against his former boss when questioned by prosecutors earlier this week, tying Trump to key documents at the heart of the case and the broader election interference conspiracy prosecutors say underpins the felony charges the former president faces.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche attends the trial of former US President Donald Trump for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 16, 2024. Trump’s defense team Thursday continues the questioning of Michael Cohen, the key witness in the criminal trial of the former president. (Photo by JEENAH MOON / POOL / AFP)

On Thursday, Blanche’s questioning marked the most heated cross-examination yet of the trial, trying to portray to the jury that Cohen was a serial liar who can’t be trusted.

Although he did appear frustrated and seemed to be answering some questions begrudgingly, Cohen, known for his loudmouth tendencies and bad temper, generally kept his cool on the stand. The two men were clearly at odds, however, sometimes telling each other “thank you,” “your welcome” and other pleasantries clearly meant in jest.

But even in the more heated moments, the confrontation stood in stark contrast to Cohen’s previous bouts on the witness stand, which were defined by heated back-and-forth, quippy outbursts and undeniable rage.

Trump turned his body toward Cohen for most of the day, keeping his eyes open much more than the former president did earlier this week. But he remained subdued, only whispering occasionally to his lawyers.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche stands making the “swearing in” hand gesture when cross examining Michael Cohen, as Donald Trump, left, looks on with Judge Juan Merchan presiding, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

The former president brought one of his largest entourages of the trial to observe Cohen’s cross-examination, bringing upwards of a dozen sitting members of Congress that included conservative firebrands like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). So many attended that they couldn’t all fit in the courtroom gallery rows reserved for Trump’s guests, so a few lawmakers had to sit in the back.

Many of the lawmakers directed their gaze toward Cohen as he testified, though some at turns were on their phones. They stood behind Trump in the hallway in the morning as he addressed reporters, and some of them also spoke just outside the courthouse, including some who were heckled by those nearby.

Inside the courtroom, Blanche tried to use Cohen’s words against him, bringing up his name-calling or other past statements suggesting a giddiness to see Trump convicted. Cohen conceded to the same sentiment Tuesday, but with less zeal.

“I truly f—ing hope that man ends up in prison,” Cohen said during a podcast episode that was played for jurors.

Blanche also tore into Cohen over statements he’s made about his innocence since pleading guilty to federal campaign finance and other charges.

Blanche raised testimony Cohen gave in Trump’s civil fraud trial last year, where he was tripped up by different Trump attorneys after denying he admitted to certain crimes to which he previously pleaded guilty. The attorneys accused Cohen of either lying when he took the plea before U.S. District Judge William Pauley III or on the stand that day.

“You committed perjury in that proceeding, didn’t you?” Trump attorney Alina Habba pressed during the fraud trial. “Did you lie to Judge Pauley when you said that you’re guilty?”

“Yes,” Cohen replied.

A different federal judge now overseeing Cohen’s criminal case, as Pauley has since died, suggested in March that Cohen must have perjured himself during the fraud trial because of the conflicting accounts. He chided Cohen for “ongoing and escalating efforts to walk away from his prior acceptance of responsibility.”

Top Stories from The Hill

Cohen has repeatedly tried to clarify his position — that he doesn’t dispute the underlying facts of his guilty plea but believes he should not have been charged. Since breaking from Trump, Cohen has repeatedly said he “accepted responsibility” for his actions.

But Blanche asserted Thursday that Cohen was only doing so by continuing to lie.

“When you got the credit at sentencing for accepting responsibility, you got that credit even though you lied!” Blanche said. “You lied to the judge when you pled guilty!”

Cohen eventually conceded that his sentencing judge “would have” wanted to know he wasn’t being truthful.

Cohen is expected to be the Manhattan district attorney’s final witness in its criminal case against Trump.

Jurors were largely paying attention during the testimony, their heads moving back and forth between Cohen and Blanche as they each spoke. But as the proceedings dragged on, some jurors seemed to lose focus at moments, staring toward the gallery and taking fewer notes. A few rubbed their eyes.

The former president faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment Cohen made to a porn actress to keep her alleged affair with Trump a secret ahead of the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty.

After Cohen’s cross-examination concludes, prosecutors will seek to rehabilitate their star witness’s credibility before Trump’s attorneys get the chance to present their own case in the former president’s defense.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.