Accessibility links

Breaking News

Trump's one-time political fixer, Michael Cohen, recounts 2016 hush money deals


Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York, May 13, 2024.
Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York, May 13, 2024.

Donald Trump’s one-time political fixer, Michael Cohen, told a New York jury Monday how deeply concerned Trump was when he learned just before the 2016 election that porn film star Stormy Daniels was trying to market her claim that she and Trump had a one-night tryst a decade before.

Cohen said that when he learned Daniels was trying to sell her story, he realized her claim would be “catastrophic” for Trump’s campaign, especially since her story would be emerging within days of the disclosure of a 2005 videotape of an outtake from the celebrity-driven “Access Hollywood” interview in which Trump bragged that he could grope women with impunity because he was a star.

Cohen testified that Trump, as he heard of Daniels’ effort to sell her story, told him, “‘This is a disaster, a total disaster, women are going to hate me. This is really a disaster. Women will hate me. Guys, they think it’s cool. But this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.’"

Cohen, who loyally did Trump’s bidding since the early 2000s until their relationship soured in 2018, said Trump ordered him to stop Daniels’ story from getting out, quoting him as saying, “‘I want you to just push it out as long as you can, just get past the election, because if I win, it will have no relevance because I'm president, and if I lose, I don't even care.’"

Cohen said Trump expressed no concern about Daniels’ story reaching his wife Melania.

"‘Don't worry,’ he goes, ‘how long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long.’ He wasn’t thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign,” Cohen testified.
Trump, listening in the courtroom during Cohen’s testimony, smirked and shook his head when Cohen offered his remarks about Melania Trump.

Cohen, the key prosecution witness, testified at the start of the fifth week of the trial.

The 77-year-old Trump is accused in a 34-count indictment of falsifying his Trump Organization business ledgers to hide reimbursements to Cohen for a $130,000. That was the amount of the hush money payment Cohen eventually paid Daniels just before voters headed to the polls eight years ago to keep her from talking about her claim of the affair with Trump.

Daniels, in sometimes graphic detail, last week described the tryst during two days of testimony.

Trump has denied Daniels’ claim of a liaison at a Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament in the Western state of Nevada. He said the 2017 reimbursements to Cohen were for his legal work. Trump also has denied all the criminal charges he faces.

The Trump defense has suggested that the motivation behind the hush money payment was to keep Daniels’ story from Melania Trump, not to try to influence the outcome of the election as prosecutors have alleged.

Cohen, a convicted perjurer and now disbarred lawyer, told jurors how, at Trump’s behest, he also helped orchestrate hush money payments to two other people. The effort was to keep them quiet about their salacious claims against Trump in the run-up to the election that he narrowly won, sending him to the White House for a four-year term.

Cohen testified how he negotiated a $30,000 payment to a doorman at a Trump property in New York who was making what turned out to be a false allegation, that Trump had fathered an out-of-wedlock child.

Later, Cohen told the 12-member jury he helped negotiate, through the grocery store tabloid National Enquirer, a $150,000 hush money deal with Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep her from talking publicly about her claim of a 10-month affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007.

Cohen said that when he first mentioned McDougal’s name to Trump, he said, “She’s really beautiful.” But when Cohen warned Trump that McDougal was shopping her story, Trump told him to “make sure it doesn’t get released.”

Trump has denied McDougal’s claim of an affair, and she is not expected to be called as a witness in the case.

But Cohen’s account supported earlier testimony at the trial from the tabloid’s publisher, David Pecker, about how he paid McDougal for her story with no intention of publishing any information about the alleged liaison with Trump. It was a scheme that came to be known as “catch and kill,” to buy stories with negative information about Trump and then bury them, to help him win the White House.

Cohen, 57, described how he worked for Trump since the early 2000s, doing “whatever he wanted” and reported only to Trump at the Trump Organization.

Cohen became disillusioned with Trump in 2018 when Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation linked to the hush money deal with Daniels and other offenses, including perjury for lying to Congress about a prospective Trump real estate deal in Moscow. Cohen served 13½ months in a federal prison and a year-and-a-half in home confinement.

Since his release, he has been on something of a mission to disparage Trump. Despite prosecutors’ efforts to rein in his contempt for Trump, Cohen recently posted a TikTok video of himself wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Trump behind bars.

With Trump making another White House run this year and at the same time sitting in a courtroom as a criminal defendant, Cohen played off that in another TikTok comment, saying, “Trump 2024? More like Trump 20-24 years."

If convicted, Trump could be placed on probation or be imprisoned for up to four years.

Cohen’s name has been mentioned almost daily during three weeks of testimony. Prosecution witnesses often described him as demanding, volatile, profane and always loyal to Trump — until he wasn’t and became the state’s key witness. One witness, Keith Davidson, Daniels’ lawyer, called Cohen a “jerk” and avoided talking to him whenever he could.

Prosecutors have often elicited such a negative portrait of Cohen, knowing full well that Trump’s defense lawyers, when they cross-examine him, will brand him as a convicted liar not to be believed.

But prosecutors are poised to have Cohen tell the jurors how, just before the election eight years ago, "at the direction of” Trump, he made the hush money payment to Daniels. They allege that Cohen then met with Trump in the White House’s Oval Office just weeks after Trump was inaugurated to discuss the reimbursement plan.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan the prosecution could wrap up its case this week with testimony from Cohen and one other unnamed witness.

When the prosecution completes its case, Trump’s team will have a chance to present its defense. Trump has said he plans to testify in his own defense to deny Daniels’ liaison claim and the criminal charges.

It is not clear, though, whether Trump will take the witness stand knowing that he will face a vigorous cross examination from prosecutors.