Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Saturday, July 20, 2024 76° Today's Paper


Top News

Cohen testifies stealing from Trump was ‘self-help’

REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ
                                Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump’s criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in New York City, today.
1/1
Swipe or click to see more

REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ

Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump’s criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in New York City, today.

NEW YORK >> Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen testified that he stole money from Trump’s company as a form of “self-help” as prosecutors rested their case on Monday at the former U.S. president’s hush money trial.

The prosecution’s most important and final witness, Cohen acknowledged on his last day of testimony that he pocketed most of a sum of money that was meant for a technology company that did work for Trump’s company.

The testimony, under cross-examination by Trump’s lawyers, had the potential to chip away at Cohen’s credibility with jurors who will be charged with deciding whether Trump should be found guilty at the first trial of a former U.S. president.

Shortly after Cohen left the witness stand, prosecutors rested their case and Trump’s lawyers began calling witnesses. It was unclear whether Trump would testify in his own defense.

Cohen, 57, said he paid roughly $20,000 in cash to the tech company out of the $50,000 that it was owed, handing it off in a brown paper bag at his office. He said he kept the rest. The Trump Organization later reimbursed him $100,000 in total.

Cohen testified he stole the money because he was upset about his annual bonus being cut after he fronted $130,000 of his own money to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels, who was threatening shortly before the 2016 election to go public with her account of an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

“I just felt it was almost like self-help,” Cohen said.

New York prosecutors they seek to convince a jury that Trump broke the law by covering up that payment to Daniels.

He testified that he discussed that payment more than 20 times with Trump in October 2016, at a time when Trump was facing multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Cohen previously testified that Trump worried that Daniels’ story would hurt his appeal to women voters. That undercut the argument by Trump’s legal team that he was seeking only to protect his family from embarrassment.

But as a convicted felon and admitted liar, Cohen is a problematic witness. Prosecutors have buttressed his testimony with documentary evidence, while Trump’s lawyers have sought to undermine Cohen’s credibility through his cross-examination.

WILL TRUMP TESTIFY?

Defense lawyers often opt not to call witnesses or present their own evidence when they believe prosecutors have failed to make their case.

Though Trump said before the trial began that he planned to testify, Blanche told the judge last week that it was no longer certain. Outside the courtroom on Monday, Trump did not tell reporters whether he would testify or not.

At the outset of Monday’s session, Justice Juan Merchan said he expected the prosecution and the defense to make their closing arguments next week followed by jury deliberations.

The first former president to face a criminal trial has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up the payment to Daniels, who had threatened to go public with her account of an alleged 2006 sexual encounter – a liaison Trump denies.

Trump, 77, has blasted the trial as a politically motivated effort to hobble his Republican Party campaign to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

If he chooses to testify, Trump will have the opportunity to convince jurors that he was not responsible for the paperwork at the heart of the case, and rebut Daniels’ detailed account of their meeting in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

He would not be restrained by a gag order that bars him in other settings from criticizing witnesses, jurors and relatives of the judge and prosecutors.

However, he would face cross-examination by prosecutors, who could try to expose inconsistencies in his story. Any lies told under oath could expose him to further criminal perjury charges.

Trump last appeared as a witness in a civil business fraud trial last year, delivering defiant and rambling testimony that aggravated Justice Arthur Engoron, who was overseeing the case. Engoron would go on to order him to pay $355 million in penalties after finding he fraudulently overstated his net worth to dupe lenders.

The hush money trial is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces, but it is likely the only one to go to trial before the election. Trump faces charges in Washington and Georgia of trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden and charges in Florida of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty in all three cases.

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines. Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.