Home US Why Michael Cohen could make or break the case against Donald Trump: The prosecution and defense have already spent days preparing the jury for a very difficult witness

Why Michael Cohen could make or break the case against Donald Trump: The prosecution and defense have already spent days preparing the jury for a very difficult witness

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Michael Cohen has come under intense criticism from witnesses in Donald Trump's hush money trial, even without setting foot in the Manhattan courtroom.

Even before he set foot in Room 1530, Michael Cohen’s role as a key witness in Donald Trump’s secret money case put the former president’s lawyer and fixer at the center of the process.

Famed attorney Keith Davidson, for example, was asked about a message he received asking him to “call that asshole back.”

‘Who was that idiot?’ prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked him during the second week of the trial.

‘Michael Cohen’, he responded with laughter in the public gallery.

It is one thing for Trump’s defense to begin to cast doubt on the testimony of a disbarred lawyer who changed his story about the $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels; and a very different one for the prosecution, which will rely on Cohen’s testimony to establish a direct link between Trump and the payment, to highlight his deficiencies.

Michael Cohen has come under intense criticism from witnesses in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, even without setting foot in the Manhattan courtroom.

Copies of checks from Donald Trump to lawyer Michael Cohen from 2017, shown as evidence by prosecutors in hush money trial.

Copies of checks from Donald Trump to lawyer Michael Cohen from 2017, shown as evidence by prosecutors in hush money trial.

However, legal experts see both sides in the case laying out their strategies for a courtroom showdown when he finally appears on Monday.

The defense is planting the idea with the jury that someone who served prison time after pleading guilty to federal crimes in 2018 can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Meanwhile, the prosecution is happy to get the dirty laundry out of the way, with a series of witnesses who have gently ridiculed Cohen.

“I think the prosecution hopes that the jury, when they see it, won’t be surprised,” said Catherine Christian, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney.

“That could be a double-edged sword. Will the jury say, “Oh, here’s that liar. We’re not going to believe what he says.”

So far, the inquiries have come from insiders in Trump’s world, like Hope Hicks, who went to the White House with her boss.

He was asked about Cohen’s role as Trump’s fixer. “I used to say that he liked to call himself “a fixer” or “Mr. Fix It, “and only because he broke it first could he come fix it,” he said.

And the comptroller of the Trump Organization drew laughter when asked if it was correct to say that Cohen was a lawyer. “It’s okay,” was his blunt response.

Trump denies 34 felony charges of falsifying documents to hide hush payments

Trump denies 34 felony charges of falsifying documents to hide hush payments

Trump and Cohen in happier times, photographed in 2011 during a visit to New Hampshire amid intense speculation that the New York real estate mogul was about to enter politics.

Trump and Cohen in happier times, photographed in 2011 during a visit to New Hampshire amid intense speculation that the New York real estate mogul was about to enter politics.

A series of prosecution witnesses, including former Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, have disparaged Cohen from the witness stand.

A series of prosecution witnesses, including former Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, have disparaged Cohen from the witness stand.

Davidson, another prosecution witness, compared Davidson to the anxious dog character in the animated movie ‘Up,’ who is repeatedly thrown off course by random things.

Cohen is central to the prosecution’s case. He alleges that Cohen helped his boss, who was then a presidential candidate, silence Daniels and prevent a damaging story from being published just before the 2016 election.

The court has seen documents showing how Daniels entered into a confidentiality agreement for $130,000 and was shown invoices and checks signed by Trump for $35,000 a month until 2017.

Prosecutors have traced the path from Cohen to Trump Organization employees, showing how a scheme developed.

But Christian said there was still a missing link: “So far, no witnesses have said that Donald Trump ordered me to do this.”

That’s where Cohen’s testimony will likely prove crucial and where the defense will have its best opportunity to sabotage the case.

Cohen began working for the Trump Organization in 2006, after helping the real estate mogul in a fight with the condo board at Trump World Tower.

The court also saw the handwritten note that the Trump Organization's comptroller had taken while discussing a payment plan for Cohen.

The court also saw the handwritten note that the Trump Organization’s comptroller had taken while discussing a payment plan for Cohen.

The court has seen text messages sent between Cohen and Hicks when the story broke, days before the 2016 election, about money payments to women to maintain their silence.

The court has seen text messages sent between Cohen and Hicks when the story broke, days before the 2016 election, about money payments to women to maintain their silence.

He soon reveled in the idea that he was Trump’s enforcer, telling ABC News in 2011: “If someone does something that Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to solve it for the benefit of the Mr. Trump.”

“If you do something wrong, I will come to you, grab you by the neck, and won’t let go until I’m done.”

Days before the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Cohen had made a secret payment to Stormy Daniels.

The loyal mediator, who once said he would take a bullet for Trump, initially insisted he acted alone.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign…refunded my payment,” he said in 2018.

But he turned on his former employer midway through the Trump presidency as federal investigators closed in. He was ultimately sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud, related in part to the hush money schemes.

In 2019, he told a congressional committee: “I am ashamed because I know who Mr. Trump is.” He is a racist. He is a scammer. He is a cheater.

However, that was just the beginning of his credibility problems.

Cohen initially said he acted alone to arrange payment for Stormy Daniels (pictured), but later changed his story to say he was acting for Trump.

Cohen initially said he acted alone to arrange payment for Stormy Daniels (pictured), but later changed his story to say he was acting for Trump.

Trump Organization Controller Jeff McConney Testified About Payments Made to Cohen

Trump Organization Controller Jeff McConney Testified About Payments Made to Cohen

Last year he appeared in New York state court in a civil fraud case against Trump and claimed, under oath, that he had not committed tax evasion. He said he had lied to the judge in 2018 when pleading guilty.

Trump’s lawyers used that to ask the judge in the Manhattan criminal case to bar Cohen from appearing and warned of the risk of “new perjury” if he appeared.

Judge Juan Merchán denied his request without offering much praise to Cohen, simply noting that there was no law or statute barring witnesses whose credibility had been called into question.

All of this means that prosecutors must not only prepare the ground for their testimony, but they must also prepare their witnesses properly.

Andrew Weissmann, a former top prosecutor at the Justice Department, said: “They need to prepare him to recognize his wrongdoing and not be insensitive.” Easier said than done.

“I don’t think they can identify him quickly because he has a lot of information relevant to the trial.”

Cohen, meanwhile, has done nothing to suggest he is anything more than a highly partisan witness, using a podcast and social media platforms to demand that the former president go to prison.

‘Trump 2024?’ he said in a recent TikTok post. “More like Trump 20-24 years.”

Christian said it was one thing for prosecutors to prepare for witnesses with credibility issues…

‘Michael Cohen is different. I must say that I had witnesses who had criminal records, including for violence,” he said.

“I’ve never had a witness who had a conviction for lying… ever.”

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