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One-time Trump political fixer Michael Cohen admits he has often lied


Michael Cohen departs his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, in New York, May 16, 2024.
Michael Cohen departs his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, in New York, May 16, 2024.

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's one-time political fixer, conceded Thursday that in years past he has been a serial liar, telling a jury at the former president’s New York criminal trial that sometimes he told lies to help Trump and other times to protect his family.

Under a withering series of questions, Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche sought to portray Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, as someone who cannot be believed, that essentially, he is dishonest, deceptive and shady.

In one instance, Cohen recalled the lies he told to a congressional panel about how many times he spoke to Trump about a planned Trump Tower construction project in Moscow that never materialized.

Cohen said the lies were intended to help Trump at the time, but Blanche asked him, “You knew you were lying, correct?”

“Yes,” Cohen responded.

On another occasion, Cohen said he lied to a federal judge in a tax evasion case because he wanted to keep his wife, Laura, from being charged in the case. He also recounted lies he had told at various times to investigators looking to probe his and Trump’s actions before and during his presidency that ran from 2017 to 2021.

Blanche suggested that Cohen also lied in denying he had sought a pardon from Trump before Trump left office. Cohen replied that he had only explored the idea with his lawyer but did not pursue it with Trump.

Cohen is the prosecution’s 19th and last witness against Trump and came at the end of four weeks of testimony in the first ever criminal trial of a U.S. president.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press on arrival at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, May 16, 2024.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press on arrival at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, May 16, 2024.

Blanche has tried to show the 12-member jury that Cohen, who turned against Trump after being his loyal minion for years, was partly motivated by revenge because Trump did not appoint him to a high-level position in his new administration when he assumed the presidency.

Cohen said that for his own ego he wanted to be considered for appointment as Trump’s White House chief of staff, but acknowledged telling his daughter he was disappointed when he was bypassed. He has said he was Trump’s personal attorney during the first 15 months of his presidency but did little legal work for him.

Blanche played a tape of Cohen gleefully celebrating on his podcast when Trump was indicted in the New York case a year ago.

In one clip, Cohen said he hoped “that this man ends up in prison,” and “you better believe I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to me and my family.”

“He is about to get a taste of what I went through, and I promise you it's not fun," Cohen said on one of his podcasts.

Blanche was trying to undercut Cohen’s testimony earlier this week that Trump sanctioned a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels just ahead of the 2016 election to keep voters from learning about her claim of a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

“Just do it,’” Cohen quoted Trump as telling him.

The hush money payment became public knowledge in early 2018. On Thursday, Blanche elicited from Cohen that he deceptively led reporters to believe that neither the Trump Organization nor the 2016 Trump campaign had anything to do with it.

"My concern was they would expand on it to Mr. Trump personally or some other account," Cohen said. "I wanted them to believe [the claim of Trump’s non-involvement] was true."

Cohen acknowledged Blanche’s contention that he often secretly recorded phone calls without telling the people he was talking with, including Trump one time.

In all, Cohen agreed that 95 secretly recorded calls were found on his cellphone. The recordings were not illegal because in New York only one person on a call needs to consent for it to be recorded, in this case Cohen.

But Cohen rebuffed Blanche’s contention that he had been dishonest about the purpose of a call he made to Keith Schiller, Trump’s bodyguard, in late October 2016, to pass on the fact that he had completed the hush money payment to Daniels.

At the time, a teenager had been repeatedly pranking Cohen with unwanted phone calls, and Cohen threatened to pass on the boy’s phone number to the Secret Service. Cohen reported the harassing calls to Schiller, with Blanche claiming on Thursday that that was the purpose of his call, not to report to Trump that the porn star had been paid to stay silent.

Directly accusing Cohen of lying, Blanche said, “You can admit it.”

“No sir, I can’t,” Cohen responded.

The trial is in recess on Friday so Trump can attend his son Barron’s high school graduation in Florida. Blanche’s cross-examination of Cohen resumes on Monday, with prosecutors then having another opportunity to question Cohen about their version of the events surrounding the 2016 election and the extent to which Cohen has lied over the years.

Supporting the crux of the case against Trump, Cohen has testified that Trump approved repayment of the hush money to Cohen but falsified his Trump Organization records to make it appear the repayment was for Cohen’s legal work.

The hush money payment, Cohen testified, was aimed at influencing the outcome of the 2016 election that Trump narrowly won, not, as the Trump defense has claimed, an attempt to keep personally embarrassing information from his wife, Melania.

During that period, Cohen told the jury earlier this week, Trump twice approved reimbursement to Cohen of the hush money payment he made to Daniels, including once at the White House, after he had become president.

The deception that the money repaid to Cohen was for legal work is at the crux of the 34 charges Trump faces at the trial, that he falsified business records and that it was aimed at helping him win the election.

Trump has denied Daniels’ claim of a sexual encounter with him at a celebrity golf tournament and the entirety of the indictment against him.

But if convicted, Trump could be placed on probation or sentenced to up to four years in prison. He is now the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate in the November election against President Joe Biden.

The question for the jurors is Cohen’s credibility. He pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation in connection with the hush money payment and other offenses, including perjury for lying to a congressional panel about the Moscow project.

Cohen served 13½ months in a federal prison and a year-and-a-half in home confinement.

In his initial cross-examination of Cohen on Tuesday, Blanche suggested that Cohen is not to be believed and is still obsessed with Trump, makes money by hawking anti-Trump merchandise and books he wrote about Trump, and seems intent on paying back Trump for turning his back on him.

After Cohen’s testimony, Trump’s lawyers say they have an expert witness to testify in his defense, although the subject matter has not been disclosed.

The most significant remaining witness question is whether Trump will testify about his version of the events that have unfolded in four weeks of testimony. He has said he wants to take the witness stand, but whether he actually will is unknown.

Should Trump testify, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan has already ruled that prosecutors can question him about two civil cases he lost in the past few months for which he was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Only one Trump relative has occasionally shown up at the trial, his second son, Eric.

But numerous Republican congressional supporters of Trump have flown to New York in a show of support. One of them, Florida House member Matt Gaetz, was there Thursday and posted a note on the X social media platform, saying, "Standing back and standing by, Mr. President.”