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Cohen gives insider details at trial as Trump’s defense attorney accuses him of seeking vengeance

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

NEW YORK (AP) 鈥 It wasn’t until after a decade in the fold, after his family pleaded with him, after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room, , that he finally decided to turn on Donald Trump.

The complicated break led to a 2018 guilty plea to to bury her story of an alleged sexual encounter with Trump and to other, unrelated crimes.

And it鈥檚 that insider knowledge of shady deals that pushed Manhattan prosecutors to make Cohen the star witness in their case against Trump about that same payment, which they say was an illegal effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.

鈥淭o keep the loyalty and to do the things that he had asked me to do, I violated my moral compass, and I suffered the penalty, as has my family,鈥 Cohen testified Tuesday.

But defense attorneys sought to portray Cohen as motivated by vengeance on his former boss, confronting him on the witness stand with his own profane social media about Trump and wanting to see the former president in handcuffs.

The most stunning moment came outside the courtroom Tuesday, when showed up with Trump, who used his powerful bully pulpit to turn his political party against the rule of law by declaring the trial illegitimate. He and other GOP lawmakers are serving as surrogates while Trump himself remains barred by a gag order in the case following an appeals court ruling Tuesday.

鈥淚 do have a lot of surrogates, and they鈥檙e speaking very beautifully,鈥 Trump said before court as the group gathered in the background. 鈥淎nd they come … from all over Washington. And they鈥檙e highly respected, and they think this is the greatest scam they鈥檝e ever seen.鈥

The Republican presidential nominee has pleaded not guilty and denies that any of the encounters took place.

As prosecutors laid out their case, Cohen testified about purposefully mislabeled checks, false receipts and blind loyalty that placed Trump at the center of the scheme. The testimony, somewhat dry for a man who was defined for years by his braggadocio as Trump鈥檚 problem-zapper, underscored the prosecution鈥檚 foundational argument 鈥 that the case isn鈥檛 about the spectacle of what Trump was paying for, but rather his effort to illegally cover up those payments.

Cohen has testified in detail about how the former president was linked to , and prosecutors believe Cohen鈥檚 testimony is critical to their case. But their reliance on a witness with such a checkered past 鈥 he was disbarred, went to prison and 鈥 could backfire, especially as Trump鈥檚 attorneys continue to cross-examine him.

Blanche spent no time Tuesday asking about the allegations at the center of the trial, instead working to raise doubts about Cohen鈥檚 credibility and his motivation for helping prosecutors try to put Trump behind bars.

Amid rapid-fire objections from prosecutors, Blanche probed Cohen鈥檚 hyperfocus on Trump, suggesting he’s attempted to parlay his insider knowledge into a reduced prison sentence and court supervision for his own crimes, and a new career making millions of dollars criticizing Trump.

Cohen was asked to listen through headphones to a snippet of his podcast. Blanche asked Cohen if he recalled one episode in which he said Trump 鈥渘eeds to wear handcuffs and to do the perp walk鈥 and that 鈥減eople will not be satisfied until this man is sitting inside the cell.鈥

“I don’t recall saying that, but I wouldn鈥檛 put it past me,鈥 Cohen testified.

At another point, Blanche asked, “Is it fair to say that you are motivated by fame?

鈥淣o sir, I don鈥檛 think that鈥檚 fair to say,鈥 Cohen said, later adding, 鈥淚鈥檓 motivated by many things.鈥

Cohen will be the prosecution’s last witness. Trump’s defense will begin after Cohen, though it’s not clear whether his lawyers will call any witnesses or if Trump will testify in his own defense.

Jurors have already heard how Trump and others in his orbit were reeling after the leak just a few weeks before the 2016 election of an 鈥淎ccess Hollywood鈥 tape in which he bragged about grabbing women by the genitals without their permission. The publication of the tape hastened the payments to Daniels, according to testimony.

Cohen testified that Trump was constantly apprised of the behind-the-scenes efforts to bury stories feared to be harmful to the campaign. And after paying out $130,000 to Daniels in order to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter, Trump promised to reimburse him.

Jurors followed along as Hoffinger, in a methodical and clinical fashion, walked Cohen through that reimbursement process. It was an attempt to show what prosecutors say was a lengthy deception to mask the true purpose of the payments.

As jurors were shown business records and other paperwork, Cohen explained their purpose and reiterated again and again that the payments were reimbursements for the hush money 鈥 they weren鈥檛 for legal services pursuant to a retainer.

It鈥檚 an important distinction because prosecutors allege that the Trump records falsely described the purpose of the payments as legal expenses. These records form the basis of 34 felony counts charging Trump with falsifying business records. All told, Cohen was paid $420,000, with funds drawn from a Trump personal account.

鈥淲ere the descriptions here on this check stub false?鈥 Hoffinger asked.

鈥淵es,鈥 Cohen said.

鈥淎nd again, there was no retainer agreement, is that right? Hoffinger asked.

鈥淭hat’s correct,鈥 Cohen replied.

Prosecutors also spent time working to blunt the potential credibility issues, painting Cohen as a longtime Trump loyalist who committed crimes on behalf of the former president.

On the witness stand, Cohen described in detail the April 2018 raid that marked the beginning of the end of his time being devoted to Trump.

鈥淗ow to describe your life being turned upside-down? Concerned. Despondent. Angry,鈥 Cohen told jurors.

鈥淲ere you frightened?鈥 Hoffinger asked.

鈥淵es, ma鈥檃m,鈥 he said.

But he was heartened by a phone call from Trump that he said gave him reassurance and convinced him to remain 鈥渋n the camp.鈥

He said to me, 鈥楧on鈥檛 worry. I鈥檓 the president of the United States. There鈥檚 nothing here. Everything鈥檚 going to be OK. Stay tough. You are going to be OK,鈥欌 Cohen testified.

Cohen, who once boasted that he would 鈥渢ake a bullet鈥 for Trump, told jurors that he 鈥渇elt reassured because I had the president of the United States protecting me … And so I remained in the camp.鈥

It was his wife and family who finally made him see how sticking by Trump was detrimental.

鈥淲hat are you doing? We鈥檙e supposed to be your first loyalty,鈥 Cohen testified. Asked what decision he made, he responded, 鈥淭hat it was about time to listen to them,鈥 he said.

Throughout Cohen鈥檚 testimony Tuesday, Trump reclined in his chair with his eyes closed and head tilted to the side. He occasionally shifted and leaned forward, opening his eyes and talking to his attorney before returning to his recline. Even some of the topics that have animated him the most as he campaigns didn鈥檛 stir his attention.

It was a far cry from the scene last October, when the once-fierce allies faced off at Trump鈥檚 civil fraud trial and Trump walked out of the courtroom after his lawyer finished questioning Cohen.

鈥淢r. Cohen, do you have any regrets about your past work for Donald Trump?鈥 Hoffinger asked as she concluded her questioning.

鈥淚 do,鈥 Cohen said. 鈥淚 regret doing things for him that I should not have. Lying. Bullying people in order to effectuate a goal. I don鈥檛 regret working for the Trump Organization ’cause as I expressed before, some very interesting, great times.”

___

Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in New York and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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