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What to know about Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen’s pivotal testimony in the hush money trial

What to know about Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen’s pivotal testimony in the hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Once Donald Trump’s loyal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen pointed the finger at his former boss Monday in pivotal testimony about hush money payments at the center of the first criminal trial of a former American president.

Cohen provided jurors with an insider’s account of payments to silence women’s claims of sexual encounters with Trump, saying the payments were directed by Trump to fend off damage to his 2016 White House bid.

Michael Cohen testifies on the witness stand with a National Enquirer cover story about Donald Trump displayed on a screen in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Michael Cohen testifies on the witness stand with a National Enquirer cover story about Donald Trump displayed on a screen in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Cohen is expected to be on the witness stand for several days, and face intense grilling by Trump’s attorneys, who have painted him as a liar who’s trying to take down the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

While prosecutors’ most important witness, he’s also their most vulnerable to attack — having served time in federal prison and built his persona in recent years around being a thorn in Trump’s side.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Here are some takeaways from Cohen’s testimony so far:

‘JUST DO IT’

Cohen tied Trump directly to the hush money scheme, recounting meetings and conversations with his then-boss about stifling negative stories in the waning weeks of the 2016 campaign.

“He expressed to me: Just do it,” Cohen said of the $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who was threatening to go public with claims of a sexual encounter with Trump decade earlier. Trump denies they ever had sex.

Less than two weeks before the election, Cohen finalized the payments to buy Daniels’ silence. Immediately, he went to Trump to inform him the deal was done, he testified.

“The task he gave to me was finished, accomplished and done,” Cohen testified, before pointing to a second reason for updating his boss: “to take credit for myself so that he knew I had done it and finished it, because this was important.”

About another story of an alleged affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Cohen said Trump told him, “Make sure it doesn’t get released.” Cohen testified that he personally had no interest in acquiring the rights to McDougal’s story, telling jurors, “What I was doing was at the direction of and benefit of Mr. Trump.” Trump also denies having an affair with McDougal.

Cohen also recounted going to Trump after learning about a Trump Tower doorman who claimed, falsely, that Trump had a child out of wedlock.

In reply, Trump told him, “You handle it,” according to Cohen.

Cohen described being angry when he wasn’t initially reimbursed for the Daniels hush money payment. Eventually he met with Trump and then Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg in Trump Tower to discuss the debt owed to him, Cohen told jurors. There, Weisselberg informed Cohen the reimbursements would be paid as “legal services” in monthly installments, he testified.

That’s important because the 34 counts of false business records Trump is charged with stem from paperwork such as invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in company records. Prosecutors say those payments largely were reimbursements to Cohen for Daniels’ hush money payment.

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

ALL ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN

Cohen testified that Trump feared Daniels’ story would be a “disaster” for his presidential campaign, which was already reeling at the time from the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women sexually without their permission.

That testimony could be key for prosecutors, who are trying prove that Trump schemed to illegally influence the 2016 race by burying unflattering stories that could damage his campaign.

The defense has sought to show that the former president was trying to protect his family and reputation — not his campaign — by shielding them from embarrassing stories about his personal life.

Cohen testified that Trump was angry when he learned about Daniels’ story, telling him, “I thought you took care of this.”

Trump told Cohen: ’This is a disaster, total disaster. Women are going to hate me. Women will hate me. Guys, they think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign,” Cohen testified.

Cohen said he asked Trump how the story might impact his marriage with his wife, Melania. Cohen said Trump told him, “Don’t worry,” adding: “How long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long.”

Cohen said that comment led him to conclude that “this was all about the campaign.”

A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP

Cohen spoke in glowing terms about his early days working for Trump, telling jurors he was surprised and honored when the former president first offered him a job. Cohen said he and Trump were so close in the decade Cohen worked for him that the two spoke in person or by phone multiple times every single day.

Cohen did everything from talking with the media to renegotiating bills on Trump’s behalf, including outstanding invoices from 50 vendors of Trump’s failed Trump University project. The praise he got from Trump afterward made him feel like he was “on top of the world,” he told jurors.

“The only thing that was on my mind was to accomplish the task and make him happy,” Cohen said, referring to Trump.

He also lied and bullied on Trump’s behalf, he said. Part of his job included reaching out to reporters whose stories upset Trump, asking them to make changes or take them down — and sometimes threatening legal action. Asked if he had done so in a “strong and threatening manner,” Cohen said he did.

But overall, Cohen told jurors, the job was “fantastic.”

“It was an amazing experience in many, many ways,” he added. “There were great times. There were several less than great times.”

Michael Cohen, left, testifies on the witness stand in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Michael Cohen, left, testifies on the witness stand in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

A HANDS-ON BOSS

Cohen portrayed Trump as deeply involved in the details and decisions of his company, the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors throughout the trial have been trying to elicit such testimony to support the idea that Trump would have known about the payment to Daniels and subsequent reimbursement to Cohen.

Cohen testified that Trump wanted to be updated immediately about any developments regarding the tasks he assigned. Cohen said Trump had an “open-door policy” so executives could meet him in his office, without appointment, and keep him apprised of developments.

“When he would task you with something, he would then say, ‘Keep me informed,’ ‘Let me know what’s going on,’” Cohen testified. That was especially true “if there was a matter that was troubling to him.”

If Trump “learned of it in another manner, that wouldn’t go over well for you,” Cohen testified.

THE SECRET RECORDING

With Cohen on the stand, jurors again heard the audio recording he secretly made of a meeting with Trump in September 2016 in which they discussed the plan to purchase McDougal’s silence. In the recording, Trump can be heard saying: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Cohen testified that it was the only time that he had ever recorded a conversation with Trump. He said made the recording so Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher, could hear the conversation and be assured that Trump was going to pay him back.

Cohen testified that the recording abruptly cut off because he was receiving an incoming call to his phone, a claim substantiated by cell phone carrier records shown in court. Cohen said the number listed in the carrier records belonged to a bank official who was trying to get ahold of him.

Cohen said the recording was not altered and sounded exactly the same as the day it was recorded. Prosecutors’ questions eliciting that testimony were meant to rebut a suggestion previously raised by the defense that Cohen may have altered the tape.

Earlier in the trial, Trump’s attorneys pressed a witness about the “gaps” in the handling of the phone after Cohen made the recording, along with the abrupt cut-off at the end of the tape.

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Associated Press reporter Jake Offenhartz in New York contributed. Whitehurst and Richer reported from Washington.

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