Prosecution rests in Trump hush money trial, after former fixer Cohen is grilled

By: - May 20, 2024 4:07 pm

Former President Donald Trump appears in court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 20, 2024, in New York City. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial. (Photo by Steven Hirsch-Pool/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — New York state prosecutors rested their case against Donald Trump Monday after four days of testimony from their key witness, Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, who says the former president was well aware of a hush money cover-up. The defense paints Cohen as a liar.

The Manhattan criminal trial, the first ever for a former president, now in its sixth week, was poised to reach closing arguments as early as Tuesday. But New York Justice Juan Merchan indicated Monday that proceedings would stretch beyond Memorial Day.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche, in a lengthy, and at times slow and disjointed cross- examination Monday, continued wringing Cohen for proof that would convince jurors the former fixer cannot be trusted.

Cohen’s earlier testimony that Trump reimbursed him for paying a porn star to stay quiet before the 2016 presidential election is at the crux of the prosecution’s case.

Trump is charged with falsifying 11 invoices, 11 checks, and 12 ledger entries as routine legal expenses rather than reimbursement of the hush money, amounting to 34 felony counts.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and maintains he never had a sexual relationship with adult film actress and director Stormy Daniels. She testified otherwise in excruciating and awkward detail in early May.

Monday’s proceedings were beset with objections and technology issues, and wrapped with tense testimony from the defense’s second witness, Robert Costello, Cohen’s legal counsel, who promised backdoor communication to Trump after Cohen was under the FBI’s thumb in 2018.

The day ended with a long shot, but expected, request from the defense to throw the case out. Merchan dismissed the court, saying he’d issue his ruling Tuesday. The defense is likely to rest its case then as well.

Closing arguments are expected after the holiday.

On a ‘journey’

Blanche began the day grilling Cohen on his previous business dealings, income and the money he’s made since breaking ties with the former president.

Cohen testified that he’s made millions of dollars on his books “Disloyal” and “Revenge,” and his podcast “Mea Culpa,” all of which sharply criticize the man from whom he used to seek praise, as he testified days earlier.

Prompted by Blanche, Cohen confirmed he’s mulling over a third book, has a television show in the works titled “The Fixer” and is considering a run for Congress because he has “the best name recognition” out there.

When Blanche suggested Cohen’s name recognition hinges on Trump, Cohen disagreed.

“I wouldn’t characterize it that way. My name recognition is because of the journey I’ve been on,” Cohen said.

“Well the journey you’ve been on … has included daily attacks on Trump,” Blanche responded.

Through the course of Blanche’s questioning, Cohen again acknowledged his previous crimes and also fessed up to stealing $30,000 from the Trump Organization when Trump lagged on paying a tech company to rig a CNBC poll of famous businessmen.

Minutes later, Blanche asked, “Do you have a financial interest in this case?”

“Yes, sir,” Cohen responded.

When Blanche pressed about whether a guilty verdict is Cohen’s preferred outcome, Cohen responded, “The answer is no. It’s better if he’s not (guilty) for me because it gives me more to talk about in the future.”

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger conducted her redirect at a tidy and speedy clip, leading Cohen through each of Blanche’s doubting lines of questioning to reaffirm for the jury Cohen’s testimony that Trump’s hand was behind the hush money reimbursements.

“They’ve asked you a lot of questions about how you’ve made money and (your) podcast… Putting aside financial matters, how has telling the truth affected your life?” Hoffinger asked.

“My entire life has been turned upside down as a direct result,” Cohen responded.

Before the prosecution rested its case, the defense lobbed a lengthy objection to a still frame of a C-SPAN video depicting Trump with his bodyguard Keith Schiller just before 8 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2016. The parties eventually agreed to admit it.

Evidence that Trump and Schiller were together that night looms large for Cohen’s claim that he spoke to both of them on the phone about paying off Daniels.

Trump’s support inside the courtroom

A steady flow of high-profile Republican supporters has shown up for the GOP’s presumed 2024 presidential nominee.

Monday’s supporters included Trump ally and attorney Alan Dershowitz; legal adviser Boris Epshteyn, who himself is indicted in Arizona for trying to subvert the 2020 presidential election results; and Chuck Zito, an actor and one of the founders of New York City’s Hells Angels chapter in the 1980s.

Several Republican lawmakers, including vice presidential hopefuls, have flocked to Manhattan for the trial.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio and former GOP primary hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy attended May 13. Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama also made appearances last week, alongside Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird.

House Speaker Mike Johnson delivered remarks outside the courthouse May 14, slamming the “sham trial” and accusing New York prosecutors of only wanting to keep the former president off the campaign trail.

The Louisiana Republican cast Trump as a victim of a “travesty of justice.”

Nearly a dozen far-right Republican House members showed up Thursday, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. Accompanying Gaetz were other right-wing House Freedom Caucus members: fellow Floridian Reps. Anna Paulina Luna and Mike Waltz; Eli Crane and Andy Biggs of Arizona; Lauren Boebert of Colorado; Ralph Norman of South Carolina; Diana Harshbarger and Andy Ogles of Tennessee; Mike Cloud of Texas; and caucus Chair Bob Good of Virginia.

Speaking on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, Gaetz described the charges as the “Mr. Potatohead doll of crimes,” accusing the prosecution of combining things “that did not belong together.”

Reps. Byron Donalds and Cory Mills of Florida attended earlier in the week.

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Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.