Who is Michael Cohen, Trump's ex-lawyer testifying in the former president's hush money trial?

Will the former "fixer" to Donald Trump make or break his future?

Michael Cohen, former attorney to Donald Trump.
Michael Cohen, seen leaving the district attorney's office in New York on March 13, 2023, is expected to testify on Monday in the former president's hush money trial. (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

Michael Cohen, once a fierce ally to former President Donald Trump, was called to the witness stand at Trump’s hush money trial on Monday. Billed as a “star witness” for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Cohen’s name has come up repeatedly since witness testimony in the trial began on April 22.

Here’s what you need to know in light of his highly anticipated testimony.

Cohen worked for the Trump Organization for more than a decade as Trump’s attorney, starting in 2006. During that time, he became known as Trump’s “fixer” due to his role in covering up Trump’s problems.

Cohen was first introduced to Trump in 2006 by Donald Trump Jr. After consulting with the real estate mogul on a few legal matters, Cohen quickly became executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump. As he explained to Vanity Fair in 2017, he was so devoted to Trump at the time that he said he “would take a bullet” for him.

Cohen said that shortly before the 2016 presidential election, he made a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels as she was shopping her story to major media outlets about an alleged affair she had with Trump in 2006. He said the payment was intended to silence Daniels from speaking to the media and compromising Trump’s presidential future.

According to Cohen, Trump reimbursed him for the payment after he became president through a shell company that Cohen had opened for that sole purpose. Prosecutors claim that Trump falsified the paperwork of those payments by masking them as legal services. The paper trail of those payments make up the 34 alleged falsified records that Trump is charged with.

Cohen also played a role in coordinating two other so-called catch-and-kill deals — one involving a former doorman at Trump Tower who claimed that Trump had an illegitimate baby with a maid, and another involving Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump from 2006 to 2007.

David Pecker, the former CEO of American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer, testified on the witness stand that Cohen helped facilitate deals made by American Media to the doorman and McDougal for the full rights to their stories. The stories ultimately were buried and never published.

In January 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke the story about Cohen’s hush money payments to Daniels. Seven months later, in August 2018, and unbeknownst to Trump, Cohen made a deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts. At the time, he said he “participated in this conduct for the principal purpose” of influencing the 2016 presidential election.

The following month, it was revealed that Cohen had participated in hours of interviews with investigators from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In November 2018, he struck a second deal — this time with Mueller — and pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Russian investigation. Trump changed his tune about Cohen shortly thereafter, calling him a “weak person.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison at the end of 2018 for various crimes, including tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations relating to hush money payments made to Daniels. Ultimately, he served a little over a year in federal prison and spent the rest under home confinement. He was released in November 2021.

Cohen is expected to directly link Trump to the 34 allegedly falsified records at the center of the case through testimony and evidence, which includes documents and recorded conversations between himself and his former boss.

Meanwhile, Trump’s team is expected to attack Cohen’s credibility and past criminal record, portraying him as a “scorned underling seeking revenge against the former president,” reports the New York Times.

On May 10, Judge Juan Merchan, who’s overseeing Trump’s hush money trial, directed Cohen to keep quiet about Trump ahead of his testimony this week. The order came after Trump’s lawyers complained about a video Cohen shared on social media wearing a shirt that depicted Trump behind bars.