Michael Cohen trouble, judicial fireworks: 5 takeaways from the Trump trial

Michael Cohen trouble, judicial fireworks: 5 takeaways from the Trump trial

The prosecution rested its case Monday in the New York criminal trial of former President Trump.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney-turned-enemy, was the last witness for the prosecution. Much of last week was dominated by Cohen’s testimony. He endured some more rough moments Monday.

The defense has now moved onto its shortlist of witnesses. Closing arguments will likely be delivered next week.

Trump is the first former president to be charged in a criminal trial. He faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. If he were convicted he could face prison time, though a custodial sentence would be unusual for a first-time offender.

The charges relate to a $130,000 hush money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Daniels alleges she had sex with Trump at a celebrity golf event in Lake Tahoe in 2006. Trump denies this. Either way, the $130,000 was intended to stop her from going public with her allegations.

Cohen paid the money to Daniels. He was later reimbursed, and paid additional sums, from a Trump trust and Trump’s own bank account.

The prosecution alleges that this money was falsely categorized as a legal expense to conceal its true purpose — silencing Daniels and thereby boosting Trump’s chances of prevailing in the election.

Trump denies wrongdoing, saying that the money paid to Cohen was indeed a legal expense and contending his prosecution is politically motivated.

Here are the main takeaways from Monday.

More trouble for Michael Cohen

Cohen’s credibility had come under harsh attack from the defense toward the end of last week, and that process ramped up Monday.

Trump’s team has a lot to work with as it seeks to undercut Cohen. The attorney served jail time after pleading guilty to offenses including tax evasion, violations of campaign finance law and lying to Congress.

But on Monday other rather tawdry details were presented.

One episode involved Cohen seemingly defrauding the Trump Organization by claiming he had paid more out of his own funds than he really had done in a matter unrelated to Stormy Daniels.

The story involved a company, Red Finch, that had been hired to tilt an online poll about famous businesspeople in Trump’s favor.

According to Cohen, Trump owed Red Finch $50,000 for its work and was dodging payment. Cohen himself paid the owner of the company $20,000 in cash.

Cohen then pretended he had paid the full $50,000 when he claimed, and received, reimbursement from the Trump Organization.

“You stole from the Trump Organization, right?” Trump attorney Todd Blanche asked Cohen.

“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied.

Later in the day, defense witness Robert Costello cast doubt on Cohen’s central claim — that the hush money payment to Daniels was made with Trump’s knowledge and at his behest.

Costello testified that Cohen “said numerous times that President Trump knew nothing about these payments, that [Cohen] did this on his own.”

The upside of being on Trump’s downside

Trump is known to have a particular loathing for anyone profiting directly from his name.

Monday’s testimony will have given him a few more reasons to dislike his former attorney.

Cohen testified that he had made about $4.4 million from his media endeavors — primarily podcasts and books — in the past four years.

Cohen is vigorously anti-Trump in all his public appearances — something that came up earlier in his testimony, as some of his gloating comments about the former president’s legal troubles were read into the record.

Cohen also revealed that he was trying to sell a TV show based on his exploits, tentatively called “The Fixer.”

Cohen admitted that no network had yet commissioned the show. Maggie Haberman of The New York Times noted that this statement provoked “chuckles from the row of Trump allies at the back of the room.”

Judge scolds defense witness

There were unexpected fireworks toward the end of the day when Judge Juan Merchan took exception to Costello’s behavior on the stand.

Costello, a veteran New York lawyer, appeared exasperated by objections raised by the prosecution during his testimony.

On occasion, he continued to talk even after objections were raised.

But the breaking point for Merchan came when the judge sustained one of those prosecution objections and Costello responded, “Jeez.”

“I’m sorry? I’m sorry?” Merchan shot back.

In short order, the jury was cleared from the courtroom, and the judge admonished Costello over the need to maintain “proper decorum in my courtroom.”

Apparently still dissatisfied with what he interpreted as Costello’s defiant demeanor, Merchan went on: “Are you staring me down right now? Clear the courtroom!”

After a brief break, Costello’s testimony resumed.

Trump appears unlikely to testify

Nothing is ever certain with Trump, but it looks highly unlikely he will testify in his own defense.

The former president’s lawyers indicated to the judge that they plan to call only one more significant witness, at most, after Costello. The final witness — if he testifies — is an expert in election law.

There could, of course, be a last-minute dramatic shift. But the risks of putting Trump on the stand would be considerable. He and his lawyers look disinclined to roll the dice.

A date for closing arguments

Merchan indicated Monday that closing arguments may begin on May 28.

As recently as last weekend, it appeared possible those arguments could take place a full week earlier, on Tuesday.

But Merchan noted the disruption of the Memorial Day weekend, as he has before. The court was always going to be out this Friday and the following Monday because of the holiday.

The judge is reluctant to have the long weekend interrupt the flow of proceedings, preferring to try to engineer a natural break around it.

In any event, the near-definite date was a reminder that the historic trial is in its final stretch.

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