Witnesses line up to slam Michael Cohen ahead of Trump trial star’s turn

Witnesses line up to slam Michael Cohen ahead of Trump trial star’s turn

NEW YORK — In 2011, Stormy Daniels’s manager phoned a lawyer to complain that “some jerk” had called her up threatening to sue over a blog post claiming the porn actor slept with Donald Trump.

“I hate to ask it this way,” Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said Tuesday while questioning the lawyer, “but who was that jerk?”

Keith Davidson, on the stand in Trump’s first criminal trial, frequently paused before answering Steinglass’s questions. But not this one.

“Michael Cohen,” Davidson replied without hesitation.

A onetime personal attorney and fixer to Trump, Cohen is expected to be a star witness for the district attorney’s office’s case against the former president on 34 counts of falsifying business records connected to hush money deals. Trump pleaded not guilty.

Cohen’s conduct is at the heart of the case. Prosecutors hope to convince a jury of 12 New Yorkers who will determine Trump’s fate that Cohen, now working against his former boss, is credible.

But the image of Cohen portrayed to jurors, at this point, is hardly one of valor.

Some of the prosecutors’ witnesses have torn into him, casting Cohen as difficult to work with to the point where they actively wanted to avoid him.

At one point, Davidson likened Cohen to the dog in Disney’s “Up” who repeatedly becomes distracted by squirrels.

“He was highly excitable, sort of a pants-on-fire kind of guy. He had a lot of things going on,” Davidson said. “I’d frequently be on the phone with him, he’d take another call, he’d be talking out of two ears.”

Cohen paid the hush money to Daniels that prosecutors say Trump unlawfully concealed and helped set up two other so-called catch-and-kill arrangements to keep quiet negative stories about Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

Davidson, who represented Daniels and another woman paid off, told jurors that Cohen “created the drama,” describing how he would make up excuses and contradict himself.

Daniels and her manager, Gina Rodriguez, were also repeatedly voicing frustration during the negotiations. In addition to calling Trump’s ex-fixer a “jerk,” Rodriguez on one occasion referred to him as “that asshole Cohen,” according to Davidson.

Even Cohen’s old banker, Gary Farro, who testified earlier in the day, said Cohen was handed off to him as a client because he was skilled at working with people “who may be a little challenging.”

It has made Trump’s fixer-turned-foe an easy punching bag for defense attorneys, who seek to portray him as untrustworthy and self-serving.

“I submit to you that he cannot be trusted,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche said during his opening statement.

The district attorney’s office has warned the New Yorkers who will decide Trump’s fate that Cohen has “some baggage,” but prosecutors hope to convince the jury that their star witness can still be trusted. During jury selection, Steinglass and other prosecutors looked to weed out people who would shut their ears to Cohen.

“The evidence will also show why you can credit Michael Cohen’s testimony, despite those past mistakes,” Steinglass said during his opening statement.

Cohen’s former legal adviser, Lanny Davis, told The Hill the negative characterizations attributed to Cohen by witnesses are things of the past.

“All of the characterizations and personal accusations, and everything else about Michael Cohen, is in past tense,” he said. “Ever since he raised his hand in front of the American people and around the world, in public, under oath, he’s owned all of his misdeeds on behalf of Donald Trump.”

Cohen once said he’d take a bullet for Trump, defending his former client so fiercely that he earned a nickname as the former president’s personal “pit bull.”

“It means that if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen told ABC News of the nickname in 2011. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”

Cohen first came out against Trump in 2018, months after the FBI raided his office, Park Avenue hotel room and home as part of a federal probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Millions of electronic files, including emails and bank records, plus eight boxes of documents, were seized.

It was then he decided to “tell the truth” for his “family and country” — and “take the punishment,” Davis said.

“He apologized for what he had done for Donald Trump,” he said.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to federal campaign finance and other charges, though he was granted early release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, he’s become one of Trump’s loudest critics, hurling insults online or in the news media while also testifying against his former client in numerous venues.

During Trump’s civil fraud trial earlier this year, Cohen testified he “reverse-engineered” Trump’s net worth to reach a number the former president liked. But on cross-examination, past contradictions caused him to backtrack — an exchange that has served as lasting fodder for Trump and his lawyers.

The New York judge in that case ultimately determined that Cohen’s testimony was credible, which Davis cited as a reason to believe Cohen now.

In recent weeks, Cohen posted a smattering of online attacks against Trump, calling the former president derogatory names and taunting him over a gag order that the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, imposed on his speech.

But Cohen recently swore off posting commentary about Trump until after he testifies in the former president’s trial “out of respect for Judge Merchan and the prosecutors.”

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