Trump's lawyer attacks Michael Cohen in hush-money trial

Donald Trump's legal team sought on Tuesday to dismantle the credibility of the star witness in the ex-president's criminal trial, Michael Cohen.

Mr Trump showed no reaction as his lawyer, during cross-examination, cast Cohen as a man with a personal vendetta against his former boss.

Throughout the legal showdown weeks in the making, Cohen remained calm.

He also said he hoped Mr Trump would be found guilty of fraud in the hush-money case.

Cohen was on the stand for a second day of blockbuster testimony. He was called by prosecutors to testify about making a $130,000 (£104,300) hush-money payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, to prevent her from telling a story about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump.

Donald Trump now faces 34 counts of business fraud for allegedly disguising reimbursements for the payment to Cohen as legal expenses. The former president pleaded not guilty to the charges and denies having sex with Ms Daniels.

At one point, his lawyer Todd Blanche asked bluntly if Cohen wanted to see Mr Trump convicted in the case.

After being pressed, Cohen responded: "Sure."

Over the course of two hours, Mr Blanche tried to undermine Cohen, who was imprisoned after pleading guilty to tax evasion, fraud and campaign finance violations. He brought up his guilty plea for lying to congress, and sought to portray Cohen as being motivated by hate and fame. He also sought to show that Cohen seeks to profit from the legal woes of a man he blasts daily in public.

The lawyer dredged up Cohen's prolific social media posts, podcasts, and media appearances attacking Donald Trump, often in unprintable language.

BBC graphic saying 'Trump on trial'

BBC News reporters are in the Manhattan courtroom covering the historic first criminal trial of a former US president. You'll find their updates and analysis on the BBC news website and app, and across TV, radio and podcasts.

At the start of the cross-examination, Mr Blanche asked about a comment Cohen made about him on social media.

Is it true, Mr Blanche asked, that Cohen had called him a "crying little [expletive]".

Cohen quickly replied: "Sounds like something I would say."

Justice Juan Merchan swiftly struck the answer from the official record, but the exchange set the tone for the afternoon.

Mr Blanche later displayed some of Cohen's podcast merchandise, including a t-shirt that showed Mr Trump in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed.

But by the close of Tuesday's session, the lawyer had not cross-examined Cohen on the most damaging testimony he had given prosecutors: that he had kept Mr Trump informed at every stage of the payment to Ms Daniels, and that the former president had approved the allegedly fraudulent reimbursement plan.

Despite previous witnesses testifying to Cohen's belligerent nature, Cohen remained composed under cross-examination.

Jeffrey Levine, an attorney who represents Cohen, said in a statement that "my understanding is Mr Cohen came across credibly."

His testimony will continue when court is back in session on Thursday.

Michael Cohen (centre) enters court on Tuesday

Prosecutors took a risk calling Cohen, given his online posts and criminal record. But as the man who actually carried out the hush-money payment to Ms Daniels, his testimony was crucial for the New York district attorney's case.

Prosecutors also hope he will help prove another part of their case - that allegedly covering up the payment was election interference.

In a pivotal moment, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen why he made the payment.

"To ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr Trump's chances of becoming president of the United States," he told the court.

Ms Hoffinger asked on whose behalf he committed that crime.

"On behalf of Mr Trump," Cohen replied.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump entering the courtroom on Tuesday [AFP]

Although Cohen said he didn't regret working for Donald Trump or his organisation, he said he had "violated my moral compass" in order to do Mr Trump's bidding.

The FBI raided Cohen's apartment in April 2018. He spoke to then-President Trump, who told him "stay tough, you're going to be OK."

"I felt reassured because I had the president of the United States protecting me," Cohen testified.

But it was the last direct conversation between the two men. Cohen - who once said he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump - testified that, after speaking to his family about being targeted by a federal investigation, he decided not to continue lying on behalf of his most famous client.

After court wrapped up on Tuesday, Mr Trump told reporters that his team had "a very good day" and criticised a gag order limiting what he can say publicly about the judge's family and others involved in the case.

A number of Mr Trump's Republican allies and possible running mates for November's election have attended the trial this week.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, currently the top Republican in the US government and in line to succeed the president after the vice-president, was present on Tuesday and spoke to reporters outside.

Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida also attended the trial.

North Dakota Gov Doug Burgum
North Dakota Gov Doug Burgum speaking outside the courtroom [Reuters]

Prosecutors indicated during arguments on Tuesday that Michael Cohen would be the last witness they call.

Donald Trump has indicated that he wants to take the witness stand to testify in his own defence - but whether he actually does so remains to be seen.