Former fixer Cohen testifies Trump approved hush money payment

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court for the trial of former US president Donald Trump for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs (ANGELA WEISS)
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court for the trial of former US president Donald Trump for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs (ANGELA WEISS)

Donald Trump's one-time fixer and the star prosecution witness at the former president's criminal trial testified Monday how the then-Republican candidate directed him to pay a porn actress to bury revelations of an alleged tryst.

Michael Cohen, who once took pride in being Trump's attack dog, methodically delivered evidence against his former boss, glancing at Trump who sat slouched at the defendant's table as the crux of the case against him was laid out.

The state of New York accuses Trump of falsifying business records to reimburse Cohen for a $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election, when her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump could have doomed his campaign.

"I spoke to Mr Trump and we expressed to him that I was going to front the money for it, for which he was appreciative," Cohen said of a conversation he and Trump's now-jailed, then-finance chief Allen Weisselberg had with the mogul.

"He stated to me, 'Don't worry, you'll get the money back'," Cohen told the court.

"I was doing everything I could and more in order to protect my boss, which was something I had done for a long time."

Cohen is critical to the prosecution's case -- but the defense is expected to rail on his credibility, having already painted him as a pathological liar.

He spent 13 months in jail and another year-and-a-half under house arrest after pleading guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress and committing financial crimes.

- 'Catastrophic' allegations -

Cohen has long acknowledged arranging the hush money payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence about the 2006 alleged sexual liaison -- a situation Cohen described as "catastrophic" and "horrible for the campaign."

Under questioning from prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, Cohen said he lied and bullied people when working as Trump's personal lawyer.

"It was what was needed in order to accomplish the task," Cohen told the courtroom, as Trump looked on less than six months before the election in which he hopes to retake the White House.

Daniels and Trump -- under the respective pseudonyms Peggy Peterson and David Dennison -- were party to a nondisclosure agreement prepared by Cohen that has emerged in court filings.

Cohen also voiced his fury over a docked holiday bonus just before the inauguration and his repayment for the Daniels payoff being delayed.

He explained that Weisselberg hatched a plan with him to cover up the repayments in the form of a salary for legal services -- and Trump stamped his approval on the falsification.

The payment to Daniels was revealed by The Wall Street Journal in 2018 and forms the basis for the charges that Trump faces in the trial.

Cohen recalled saying to Trump that "we need to take care of it" and Trump replied "absolutely, take care of it, do it."

"'This is a disaster" Cohen claimed Trump said in response to the situation. "Women will hate me."

- 'Catch and kill' -

The ex-president's former personal counsel detailed how Trump demanded he work with one-time tabloid boss David Pecker, whose testimony Cohen corroborated, to "get control over this."

Under direct questioning, Cohen detailed a plan to purchase the lifetime rights to the story -- and also put off paying as long as possible.

"'Just get past the election because if I win it has no relevance, I'll be the president, and if I lose, I don't really care'," Cohen recalled Trump saying.

Cohen told the jury how the Trump campaign would seek to buy unflattering stories, a practice known as "catch and kill."

Last week, Daniels told jurors of the encounter she had with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament, and of the financial settlement.

Trump, 77, has vehemently denied having sex with Daniels, and his lawyers last week asked Judge Juan Merchan for a mistrial on the grounds her graphic testimony was prejudicial.

Trump, who is on trial while also campaigning to avenge his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden, could still stand in the November election and be sworn in as president if he was to be convicted and even jailed.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He has also been charged in Florida with mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House, but that case has been postponed indefinitely.

Trump again railed to reporters after proceedings on Monday, deriding the trial as "a scam" to keep him from campaigning.

Cohen will continue his testimony Tuesday.

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