Cohen testifies at Trump’s hush-money trial

May 14, 2024

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen officially took the stand on Monday morning, May 13, in what was expected to be the biggest day of testimony so far in Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan, reports New York Magazine.

Cohen testified that he and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg worked out the process for reimbursing him after he took out a personal loan to make Stormy Daniels’s payment. The final payment also included money that Cohen was owed by the company,

The two men—Weisselberg and Cohen—then went to Donald Trump’s New York office to obtain the CEO’s approval of the $420,000 final sum; which was to be paid to Cohen over a span of 12 months. Trump immediately sanctioned the expensive agreement—indicating to Cohen that his boss had discussed the arrangement previously with Weisselberg.

Cohen would be required to submit an invoice and would later be issued a check for “legal services rendered.” He would henceforth be known not as a Trump Organization staff member, but as personal lawyer to the president.

Why Cohen made the Daniels payment

Going back to his payment to Stormy Daniels, ADA Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen if he would’ve made the payment without Trump’s approval. He said no. “Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off,” he said. “On top of that, I wanted the money back.” Cohen said he informed Trump as soon as he received Daniels’s signed agreement.

“This matter is now completely under control and locked down,” Cohen told Trump at the time, he testified.

Describing the need for the payment, Cohen said that he was abroad in London when he received a call from Hope Hicks about the Access Hollywood tape. He recalled thinking at the time that the tape would be “significantly impactful especially with women voters.”

He said Trump described the words on the tape as “locker-room talk,” attributing the term to Melania Trump. Not long after the tape’s release, Cohen learned that adult-film star Stormy Daniels was trying to sell her story of a sexual encounter with Trump. When asked about his reaction to the story potentially coming out, Cohen said it would’ve been “catastrophic” for the campaign.

When Cohen relayed the news to Trump, he recalled Trump saying it would be a “total disaster” for the campaign and saying that “women will hate me.”

The defense has argued that Trump was motivated to make a deal with Daniels to protect his family, but Cohen said differently on the stand. Cohen recalled asking Trump what Melania might think. “He goes, ‘How long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long.’ He wasn’t thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign,” Cohen said.

The prosecution displayed an email from Keith Davidson, Daniels’s attorney with the original $130,000 deal between Daniels and Trump. Cohen took credit for the punitive damages clause that would fine Daniels $1 million per violation of the non-disclosure agreement, adding that it was “to ensure that she didn’t speak.”

Cohen confirmed that he lied on the bank paperwork to form Resolution Consultants, LLC, the company he initially planned to use to transfer the money to Daniels. “I’m not sure if they would’ve opened it if it stated to pay off an adult film star for a nondisclosure agreement,” he said. He would go on to create a second LLC, Essential Consultants, for that purpose. Cohen was shown the wire transfer between himself and Davidson.  Although the reason for the payment was listed as “retainer,” Cohen confirmed that this was false and that the money was in exchange for the rights for Daniels’s story.

Cohen’s secret recording

In September 2016, Cohen secretly recorded a conversation between himself and Trump discussing the deal with Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had a yearlong relationship with Trump.

In the clip, which was played for the jury, Cohen says he’s talked to Weisselberg about opening up an LCC to transfer info to “our friend David,” an apparent reference to David Pecker of The National Enquirer, who helped to broker the hush-money deal with McDougal. Trump can be heard saying, “pay with cash,” though Cohen testified that he was against this idea. Cohen said he recorded the conversation for Pecker’s benefit, so he would know his repayment was being discussed. He confirmed that he sought to open an LLC in order to have “separation” from Trump. Per Cohen, the recording cuts off because he received an incoming call at the time.

When Cohen asked Trump if he knew McDougal, he responded, “She’s really beautiful.” Cohen told Trump that she was shopping her story, prompting him to order Cohen to “make sure it doesn’t get released.

Cohen testified that he was in the room as Trump took a call on speaker with Pecker about the McDougal story. When Pecker said that it would cost $150,000 to “control the story,” Trump responded, “No problem, I’ll take care of it.” When Cohen informed Trump once the deal was complete, he seemed pleased. “Fantastic,” Trump said.

In connection with Pecker, Cohen testified about the key 2015 meeting at Trump Tower between himself, Trump, and American Media CEO Pecker at which the three discussed placing positive stories about Trump in The National Enquirer while running negative ones about Trump’s rivals during the election season. Cohen said

Pecker’s offer also went beyond what went into print. “What he said was that he could keep an eye out for anything negative about Mr. Trump, and that he would be able to help us to know in advance what was coming out and try to stop it from coming out,” he said.

Cohen described Trump warning him ahead of his presidential campaign launch that stories might emerge once he jumped into the race. “You know that when this comes out, meaning the announcement, just be prepared, there’s going to be a lot of women coming forward,” Cohen recalled Trump saying.

Research contact: @nymagazine