Michael Cohen Faces Grilling from Trump Lawyer in Hush Money Trial

Blanche and Cohen Clash in Dramatic Courtroom Showdown

by Faruk Imamovic
Michael Cohen Faces Grilling from Trump Lawyer in Hush Money Trial
© Getty Images/Michael M. Santiago

Day 18 of the Trump hush money trial saw tensions flare as Todd Blanche, attorney for Donald Trump, aggressively cross-examined Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness. The courtroom drama peaked when Blanche accused Cohen of fabricating a phone call with Trump, which Cohen insists was crucial to the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels’ attorney in October 2016. This exchange marked a pivotal moment in the defense’s strategy to discredit Cohen and cast doubt on his recollection of events.

Phone Call Dispute

The intense cross-examination began after hours of methodical questioning by Blanche. The crux of Blanche's argument rested on an October 24, 2016, phone call that Cohen claims involved Trump. According to Cohen, the call was about resolving the Stormy Daniels matter. However, Blanche presented text messages Cohen sent to Keith Schiller, Trump's bodyguard, just before the call, discussing unrelated matters.

Blanche’s scrutiny of these messages aimed to undermine Cohen's testimony. "Who can I speak to regarding harassing calls to my cell and office the dope forgot to block his number," Cohen had texted Schiller. Blanche seized upon this, stating, “That was a lie, you did not talk to President Trump, you talked to Keith Schiller – you can admit it,” to which Cohen calmly replied, “No sir, I don’t know that it’s accurate.”

Blanche's demeanor grew increasingly animated as he tried to depict Cohen's memory as unreliable. “But now your memory is you were testifying truthfully on Tuesday. A 1 minute, 36 second phone call and you had enough time to update Schiller about all the problems you were having and also update President Trump about the status of Stormy Daniels’ situation because you had to keep him informed,” Blanche pressed. Cohen, maintaining his composure, responded, “I always ran everything by the boss immediately, and in this case, it would have been saying everything had been taken care of, it’s been resolved.”

Blanche’s aggressive tactics were designed to shake Cohen’s credibility. He continued to challenge Cohen's memory, particularly concerning phone calls from 2016, suggesting inconsistency in Cohen’s testimony. Despite the relentless questioning, Cohen defended his recollections, emphasizing the significance and lasting impact of those calls in his life. “Because these phone calls are things that I have been talking about for the last six years. They are and they were extremely important and they were all-consuming,” Cohen said. “So while I did not know that it took place at 8:02 p.m., what I did recall is the conversation that I had had.”

Scrutiny of Cohen’s Past Statements

Blanche's cross-examination strategy extended beyond the specific phone call, delving into Cohen's history of inconsistent statements to undermine his reliability as a witness. The attorney scrutinized Cohen's 2018 guilty plea on tax charges, his ambitions to work in the Trump White House, and his statements regarding a pardon from Trump. Blanche repeatedly questioned Cohen on his guilty plea, highlighting that Cohen has since claimed parts of it were lies under oath. “You blame a lot of people over the years for the conduct that you were convicted of?” Blanche asked, to which Cohen replied, “I blame people, yes.”

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen© Getty Images/Michael M. Santiago

The defense aimed to portray Cohen as someone who has shifted his narrative over time for personal gain. Blanche suggested Cohen only feigned accountability for his crimes to secure a reduced sentence. He also questioned why federal and state prosecutors never treated Cohen as a cooperator despite his guilty plea to campaign finance charges linked to the hush money scheme. This line of questioning aimed to paint Cohen as unreliable and opportunistic.

Cohen's Motivation for a Pardon

Blanche also brought up Cohen's aspirations to work in the Trump White House, citing private communications with his daughter and Pastor Darrell Scott, whom Cohen asked to advocate for him. Despite these revelations, Cohen insisted he only ever wanted to be Trump’s personal attorney, the role he held until he became the target of a federal investigation.

Cohen's previous public statements about never seeking a pardon from Trump came under fire as well. On the stand, Cohen admitted he explored a pardon through his attorneys because Trump had “dangled” the idea. “I wanted this nightmare to end,” Cohen explained. His testimony sought to reconcile past contradictions, urging the jury to trust his current statements over those made in the past, including under oath.

Trump Perks Up for Cohen’s Cross-Examination

Throughout much of Cohen's testimony, Trump appeared disengaged, often sitting with his eyes closed. This changed dramatically during Blanche's cross-examination. Trump became visibly more attentive, sitting up and directly facing Cohen as the questioning intensified. The focus on Cohen's interactions with reporters, particularly New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, seemed to pique Trump’s interest. When Cohen revealed he had recorded approximately 40 conversations with reporters, Trump and his attorney Susan Necheles exchanged smirks, highlighting the contentious nature of Cohen's media interactions.

Cohen, meanwhile, remained composed, carefully choosing his words and speaking slowly, even as Blanche’s pacing and tone escalated. This contrast was starkly illustrated when Blanche played a recording of Cohen's “Mea Culpa” podcast, in which Cohen's tone was markedly more animated and vehement. “I truly f**king hope that this man ends up in prison,” Cohen said on the podcast. “But revenge is a dish best served cold, and you better believe I want this man to go down and rot inside for what he did to my family.”

Trial Nearing an End?

Judge Juan Merchan indicated that summations could begin as early as Tuesday, with the jury possibly receiving the case next week. Prosecutors have no additional witnesses, and the defense plans to call a campaign finance expert, although this is not set in stone. There is also speculation that former Cohen attorney Bob Costello might testify, potentially adding another layer of complexity to the case.

With only three court days next week before the Memorial Day holiday, Merchan emphasized the importance of maintaining momentum. He suggested the possibility of an early start or extended sessions to ensure the jury receives final instructions without undue delay.