Trump lawyers vie to discredit key witness Cohen at trial

Former US president Donald Trump speaks to the press on arrival at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital trysts (ANGELA WEISS)
Former US president Donald Trump speaks to the press on arrival at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital trysts (ANGELA WEISS)

Donald Trump's lawyer took cracks at key witness Michael Cohen during wide-ranging cross-examination Thursday, questioning his memory and poking at his credibility during the first criminal trial of a former US president.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records as he reimbursed Cohen for a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, when her story of a sexual encounter with Trump could have doomed his campaign.

The defense team has sought to instill doubt by casting Cohen as a disgruntled ex-employee who habitually lies and is out for blood at the trial, which is being heard just six months before election day when Trump hopes to retake the White House.

Under the close watch of Trump, defense attorney Todd Blanche kicked off his second round of questioning by emphasizing Cohen's history of lying, especially under oath.

In addition to listing Cohen's myriad deceptions -- which he has admitted to in the past including during direct questioning -- the defense also played clips of the witness's podcast episodes that frequently discussed the former president.

"You better believe I want this man to go down," he said in one 2020 episode.

Cohen has said repeatedly he takes "responsibility" for his actions and has faced the consequences. Prior to the trial, including in his books, he had done little to hide his contempt for his former boss.

Trump meanwhile has complained his election campaign for another White House term is being stymied by the weeks-long court proceedings, which he has to attend every day.

Branding the case as politicized, he has been supported an entourage of leading Republicans at the New York trial, with his latest crew of allies including lawmakers Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert.

Outside the court, Trump again raged against "what a scam this whole thing is."

"I've been sitting here for almost four weeks. And we still have a long way to go," he said.

The defense did not finish questioning Cohen and will continue Monday. There is no hearing on Friday due to the high school graduation ceremony of Trump's youngest son, Barron.

- Will Trump testify? -

Blanche appeared to be crystallizing his tactics Thursday after a meandering start this week, when yawns betrayed some jurors' fatigue.

He has striven to ruffle Cohen, who has a reputation for a temper that could hurt him on the stand.

But Trump's fixer-turned-foe has stayed largely composed and on topic.

As Blanche tried to catch Cohen in a lie regarding a call to Trump's bodyguard, Blanche worked to crank the drama, the pitch of his voice rising.

"That was a lie," Blanche said. "Admit it."

"No sir," Cohen replied. "I can't."

Prosecutors have indicated Cohen, 57, is their last witness in the case.

His story has generally lined up with Daniels and David Pecker, the tabloid boss who said he worked with Trump and Cohen to suppress negative coverage during the Republican's 2016 White House run.

Trump, who appeared alert Thursday after spending some time over recent days with his eyes closed, denies he ever had sex with Daniels.

After the prosecution rests, the defense can present a case, but Trump's lawyers have remained vague on whether their client will testify.

The businessman famously considers himself his own best champion -- but legal analysts believe he could be a liability on the stand.

The defense has indicated they wish to call one expert witness to explain campaign finance statutes.

But the prosecution has voiced opposition, saying that only the judge should explain how the law applies.

When the jury begins deliberating, the oft-salacious testimony will likely linger front-of-mind, but they'll also have stacks of documents to pore over.

The charges hinge on financial records, and whether falsifying them was done with the intent to sway the 2016 presidential vote.

Prosecutors this week walked Cohen and the jury through the issue of 11 checks -- most signed by Trump -- in return for invoices Cohen said were falsified to cover up the reimbursement, with Trump's knowledge.

They have said their redirect of Cohen will last approximately an hour when the defense finishes with him, which is expected by Monday midday.

Unless Trump opts to testify, closing arguments could come as soon as Tuesday.

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