Michael Cohen challenged on whether Trump Org payments were a retainer at hush money trial

NEW YORK — Michael Cohen testified that he stole from the Trump Organization when he returned to the witness stand for the end of his cross-examination Monday at Donald Trump’s hush money trial in Manhattan, as defense lawyers continued to attack the former fixer’s credibility.

Trump lawyer challenges Cohen on retainer

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche pulled up a 2017 email where then-Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg asked Cohen to “please prepare the agreement” for a monthly payment, suggesting this disputed Cohen’s previous testimony that there was no retainer agreement with Trump or the Trump Org.

Cohen has testified that the $35,000 monthly checks he received were reimbursements for the payment he made to buy porn star Stormy Daniels’ silence on an alleged tryst with Trump, not for his work as personal attorney to the president, which he said actually encompassed about 10 hours of labor for the whole year. He has said the invoices he billed the company for a “retainer” were fraudulent.

Blanche also went over Cohen’s other legal work for Trump, including helping wife Melania Trump with an issue relating to her wax statue at Madame Tussauds’ museum in Manhattan.

He grilled Cohen about millions of dollars he made in 2017 on lucrative consulting gigs for companies including AT&T and Columbus Nova — appearing to be comparing them to Cohen’s job role for the then-president.

Cohen acknowledged that some of them required little work and said that Trump didn’t have detailed knowledge of the deals.

Merchan sustained an objection from the prosecution when Blanche described the consulting agreements as retainer agreements.

Blanche’s tough questions about the Red Finch expense and Cohen’s consulting work petered out after 11 a.m., when he pulled up his emails with Bob Costello, the New York defense attorney and Rudy Giuliani associate who sought to represent him after the FBI raids — dangling a back channel to the White House.

Blanche, who’s sought to portray Cohen as being driven by money, fame, and hatred of Trump, later zeroed in on how much money Cohen had made between pleading guilty to breaking federal campaign finance laws and publishing his first book. Cohen estimated around $4 million.

Cohen says he stole from Trump Org

Blanche resumed his questioning Monday morning by digging into Cohen’s credibility, eliciting testimony that he had paid $20,000 to a tech company that had done online polls for the Trump campaign, but requested reimbursement for $50,000 — pocketing the difference.

“So you stole from the Trump Organization, right?”

“Yes sir,” Cohen replied.

Blanche asked if it was accurate that he deceived longtime Trump Org finance chief Allen Weisselberg about this in the same January 2017 meeting where he says they discussed covering up his reimbursement for paying Daniels. Cohen said yes.

“And you told multiple prosecutors in the DA’s office that story?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you ever have to plead guilty to larceny?”

“No, sir.”

Cohen said he never paid back the extra money he took.

Blanche also established through questions to Cohen that the then-fixer was communicating with David Pecker in October 2016 about issues unrelated to hush money, which Cohen said he had.

The presumed GOP nominee for president walked into court holding a stack of printed-out news articles at around 8:40 a.m. flanked by his biggest entourage yet, including a cavalcade of sitting Republicans, his son, Eric Trump, and famed defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Bernie Kerik, former New York City Police Commissioner and Chuck Zito, former president of the New York chapter of the Hells Angels.

State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan began the day’s proceedings early, telling both sides that closing arguments will likely occur next week due to the upcoming holiday weekend.

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records connected to his alleged reimbursement to Cohen for issuing a $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels 11 days out from the 2016 election.

Prosecutors allege the reimbursement was falsely logged in the books as payment for legal fees to mask an underlying conspiracy to influence Trump’s chances of winning the election.

Cohen, during three days on the stand last week, described being Trump’s right-hand man for a decade after his 2007 hiring, telling jurors he threatened, lied, and bullied to complete tasks and make the boss happy.

He said the payoff to Daniels was executed as part of a task he was assigned at an August 2015 Trump Tower meeting attended by him, Trump, and former tabloid publisher David Pecker, which included boosting positive stories about Trump in the National Enquirer, hitjobs on his opponents, and identifying and negative rumors that could come to light to be bought and buried.

On cross-examination, defense lawyer Todd Blanche has attempted to discredit Cohen — who’s admitted to lying to Congress — in the eyes of the jury.

Cohen is expected to be the prosecution’s final witness in the case.