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Onetime Trump fixer testifies he wants former president convicted     


Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York City, May 14, 2024.
Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York City, May 14, 2024.

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's onetime political fixer, told a jury at the former president's New York trial on Tuesday that he wants Trump convicted.

While cross-examining Cohen, Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche portrayed him as a Trump loyalist who for years did whatever Trump wanted before turning against him in 2018.

And now, Blanche suggested, Cohen 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.

"Do you want President Trump to get convicted in this case?" Blanche asked Cohen.

"Sure," Cohen responded.

During about nine hours of questioning over two days by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, Cohen told a 12-member jury that as voters were heading to the polls in the 2016 election, Trump tried to influence the outcome by ordering him to make a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The aim, Cohen said, was to silence her claim that she had a one-night tryst with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the liaison and all 34 charges he faces in New York in the first-ever criminal trial of a U.S. president.

If convicted, he could be placed on probation or sentenced to up to four years in prison.

Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, is accused of falsifying business records at his Trump Organization real estate conglomerate to disguise the $130,000 reimbursement to Cohen in 2017 for the hush money payment to Daniels as payment he was owed for his legal work.

But Cohen testified that Trump twice approved the arrangement for the hush money reimbursement, including at a meeting in the White House Oval Office less than three weeks after Trump assumed the presidency in January 2017.

As he turned against Trump in 2018, Cohen said he apologized to the American public "for lying to them, for acting in a way that suppressed information that the citizenry had a right to know in order to make a determination on the individual who was seeking the highest office in the land."

Yet Cohen was a flawed witness for the prosecution after pleading guilty to several offenses, including a campaign finance violation linked to the hush money payment and perjury for lying to a congressional panel about a prospective Trump Tower real estate deal in Moscow that never materialized.

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

Trump seemed to doze off during much of Cohen's testimony. Later, he told reporters, "I think it was a very good day."

Under Blanche's questioning, Cohen told jurors that as Trump grandly entered the American political scene in 2015 with his ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in New York, "I admired him tremendously."

He said Trump paid him $375,000 a year plus an annual bonus of $150,000, except for 2016.

"At that time, I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump, yes," Cohen said, adding, "I was not lying, it's how I felt." He said that at one point, he would have taken a bullet for the man he called "the boss," and that he viewed Trump and his immediate relatives as his own surrogate family.

But that changed after FBI agents raided his then-home, a New York hotel room, in April 2018, months after news of Cohen's hush money payment to Daniels became public knowledge.

Agents seized his cell phones and many of his documents, Cohen said.

Cohen said he was frightened by the raid, but that Trump told him, "Don't worry. I'm the president of the United States. There's nothing here. Everything's going to be OK. Stay tough. You're going to be OK."

Cohen said it was the last time he talked with Trump, and soon Trump and his allies started balking at paying Cohen's legal bills to defend him. Cohen said he turned against Trump after his wife and children questioned why he should remain loyal to him.

"My family — my wife, my daughter, my son — all said to me, 'Why are you holding on to this loyalty? What are you doing? We're supposed to be your first loyalty."

"I made a decision based again on the conversation I had with my family that I would not lie for President Trump anymore," he testified.

As Cohen pleaded guilty to some of his offenses in 2018, Trump tweeted, "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!"

Blanche asked Cohen whether in February 2019 he had renounced his reverence for Trump and told a congressional panel that Trump was "a con man, and you were ashamed."

"I said that, yes," Cohen said.

More recently, Cohen said, he has written two Trump-related books for which he has earned $3.4 million in royalties and promoted the sale on his website of such anti-Trump bric-a-brac as a T-shirt depicting a handcuffed Trump in an orange jumpsuit and a coffee mug that reads, "Send him to the big house, not the White House."

Blanche asked if Cohen, speaking on his four-times-a-week podcast, called Trump a "boorish cartoon misogynist."

"Sounds like something I would say," Cohen said.

Blanche then asked if Cohen has called Trump a "Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain."

"That also sounds like something that I said," Cohen responded.

Blanche also sought to portray Cohen as conveniently forgetful in his recollections, unable to recall recent multiple conversations with the prosecutors who asked him to end his attacks on Trump during the trial yet able to recall 2016 conversations with Trump about the hush money payment to Daniels.

"I remember all the phone conversations with Mr. Trump at the time, yes," Cohen testified.

With the trial in recess on Wednesday, Blanche's cross-examination of Cohen will resume on Thursday.

The case is nearing a conclusion. Prosecutors said Cohen was the last of their 19 witnesses, while Trump's team said it had an expert witness to testify in his defense, although the subject matter was not disclosed.

Assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger, center, questions Michael Cohen, far right, as Donald Trump, far left, looks on, in Manhattan criminal court, in New York City, May 13, 2024. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
Assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger, center, questions Michael Cohen, far right, as Donald Trump, far left, looks on, in Manhattan criminal court, in New York City, May 13, 2024. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

The most significant remaining witness question is whether Trump will testify about his version of the events that have unfolded in more than three 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, his second son Eric, has occasionally shown up at the trial.

But the proceedings have become increasingly politicized, with Trump encouraging key Republican supporters to fly to New York and sit in the courtroom as a show of support.

Senators Tommy Tuberville and J.D. Vance were at the trial Monday, and House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson showed up Tuesday.

Johnson called it a "sham of a trial" and characterized Cohen as "a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge and who is widely known as a witness who has trouble with the truth. He is someone who has a history of perjury and is well known for it."