Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen testifies in hush-money trial

Personal fixer says former president told him to 'just do it', with payment to silence Stormy Daniels

Michael Cohen is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger as Donald Trump sits with his eyes closed in Manhattan state court. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer, entered the witness box on Monday in the former president's criminal hush-money case in New York, which is now in its fourth week.

Mr Cohen paid an adult film actress in 2016 to keep quiet about a previous alleged affair with the former US president, and his testimony is likely to prove pivotal in the case.

The “fixer” said he helped Mr Trump with legal issues, worked to renegotiate specific bills and dealt with negative press, CNN reported.

“The only thing that was on my mind,” Mr Cohen said, was to accomplish the task “to make him happy”.

Mr Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records to cover up hush-money payments that Mr Cohen made as part of efforts to buy and bury stories that might have hurt his 2016 campaign.

He has pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony counts.

A major focus of the case is a $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress, who gave evidence last week.

Daniels said that she had wanted to take her story to the press in 2016, when Mr Trump was in the middle of his campaign, but that he and Mr Cohen had paid her for her silence.

“He expressed to me: just do it,” Mr Cohen said of the payment, according to AP, adding Mr Trump had advised him to meet Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg about it.

Weisselberg baulked at paying, so Mr Cohen decided to come up with the money himself.

“I ultimately said, ‘OK, I’ll pay it',” he said.

Mr Cohen said he was “required” to keep Mr Trump up to date on his actions, calling his former boss a micromanager. He testified that he “immediately” notified Mr Trump when the payment was made.

Text messages, audio recordings, notes and more have been introduced or shown to jurors in recent weeks to illustrate what prosecutors say was a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election.

During his testimony, Mr Cohen spoke of Karen McDougal, who also claims to have been paid to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Mr Trump.

He also spoke about the “doorman” incident, which involved squashing the story of a former employee at a building Mr Trump owned, who claimed the former president had a secret child out of wedlock.

Mrf Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to felony charges tied to the hush-money deals, as well lying to Congress and tax evasion. He was sentenced to three years in jail but was freed in 2020.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 8:33 PM