Prosecutors Rely on Michael Cohen in Donald Trump's Hush Money Trial

Trump's Fate Hinges on Michael Cohen's Testimony in Hush Money Trial

by Faruk Imamovic
Prosecutors Rely on Michael Cohen in Donald Trump's Hush Money Trial
© Getty Images/Spencer Platt

In a pivotal week for Donald Trump's legal battles, prosecutors in Manhattan have pinned their hopes on the testimony of Michael Cohen, the former president's onetime fixer and attorney. Cohen's appearance is central to the prosecution's case that Trump was directly involved in a scheme to conceal a hush money payment just before the 2016 presidential election. Despite Cohen's checkered past, including a conviction for lying to Congress, his testimony is seen as crucial to linking Trump to the alleged crimes.

The High Stakes of Cohen's Testimony

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has faced a significant challenge in this case. Many witnesses have testified about their interactions with Cohen concerning the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, a porn actress who claims she had an encounter with Trump in 2006. However, none could directly connect Trump to the transaction. This gap made Cohen's testimony indispensable, as he alone could place Trump at the center of the scheme.

Trump faces 34 charges of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty. The crux of the prosecution's case is that Trump directed the hush money payment and later falsified business records to cover it up. Cohen's nearly two days of direct testimony painted a picture of Trump orchestrating the payment and then approving a plan to disguise the reimbursement to Cohen as legal fees.

Cohen recounted how Trump instructed him to make the payment to Daniels and later agreed to reimburse Cohen in monthly installments falsely labeled as legal retainers. Despite Cohen admitting under cross-examination that he harbors a desire to see Trump convicted, legal experts assert that his testimony has, thus far, supported the prosecution's narrative.

The Defense's Counterattack

Trump's defense team is expected to challenge Cohen's credibility aggressively. Their strategy includes highlighting Cohen's previous convictions and portraying him as an opportunistic criminal. However, the testimony presented by Cohen, which included direct quotes from Trump and corroboration of earlier witness statements, has fortified the prosecution's position.

One of the most significant moments in Cohen's testimony involved his detailed account of a series of meetings discussing how he would be reimbursed for the payment to Daniels. According to Cohen, Trump and Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, agreed to repay him $420,000 in monthly installments of $35,000, disguised as legal retainers.

Cohen testified that even after Trump became president, he continued to reassure Cohen about the payments. In a private meeting in the Oval Office, Trump asked Cohen if he was "okay" and offered to "get a check," further solidifying Cohen's claim that Trump was aware and approving of the repayment scheme.

Former President Donald Trumps Hush Money Trial Continues In New York
Former President Donald Trumps Hush Money Trial Continues In New York© Getty Images

A Question of Credibility

While Cohen's past actions undoubtedly cast a shadow over his credibility, the prosecution's reliance on his testimony is not without precedent. Legal experts emphasize that securing a conviction often involves presenting testimony from witnesses with credibility issues. Cohen's detailed accounts and corroboration of key elements of the case have so far reinforced the prosecution's arguments.

The case's outcome, however, remains uncertain. The defense will continue its cross-examination, aiming to expose inconsistencies and undermine Cohen's reliability. Ultimately, the jury's perception of Cohen's credibility will be pivotal in determining Trump's fate.

Matthew Galluzzo, a former Manhattan prosecutor, remarked on the unfortunate necessity of relying on a witness like Cohen. "It’s unfortunate for the prosecution that it has to come from Cohen," Galluzzo said. "Because he is the worst in terms of credibility. But sometimes that’s the hand you are dealt as prosecutors."

The Impact on Trump's Defense

Cohen's testimony has also addressed a critical point the prosecution must prove: that the hush money payment was campaign-related. Cohen recounted that Trump's primary concern was the potential damage to his election prospects, rather than the personal repercussions of the Daniels story becoming public. This assertion is crucial, as the prosecution needs to demonstrate that Trump falsified business records to conceal campaign finance crimes.

Cohen quoted Trump reacting to the news that Daniels intended to go public with her story: "This is a disaster, total disaster." He elaborated on Trump's concern that the scandal would alienate female voters, a significant demographic for his campaign.

Legal analysts like Anna G. Cominsky, a New York Law School professor, argue that Cohen's testimony is essential for the prosecution's case. "They laid the bricks. Trump knew of the payments and he approved them," Cominsky stated. "If they didn’t have Cohen they couldn’t win the case."

Ron Kuby, a veteran New York defense attorney, noted that Cohen's role is not just as a witness but as someone who can tie together various pieces of evidence. "Michael Cohen helps tie it all together and takes all the different pieces of evidence and assembles them," Kuby said.

While the trial progresses, the defense team will continue to scrutinize Cohen's account, aiming to cast doubt on his reliability. However, the consistency between Cohen's testimony and earlier witness statements has so far bolstered the prosecution's case.

The Uncertain Road Ahead

The final verdict in this high-stakes trial will ultimately depend on the jury's interpretation of the evidence and their assessment of Cohen's credibility. Despite the challenges presented by Cohen's past, his testimony has provided critical insights into Trump's alleged involvement in the hush money payments.

Trump's legal battles are a significant chapter in the ongoing scrutiny of his actions, both during his presidency and beyond. The outcome of this trial could have profound implications for his future, both politically and legally.

Donald Trump