Trump lawyer takes aim at Cohen trying to paint him as liar

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Todd Blanche cross-examines Michael Cohen on the stand trying to paint him as a liar.

By Kayla Epstein & Phil McCausland
Reporting from court in New York, BBC News

Donald Trump’s attorney levelled a blow against prosecutors Thursday, accusing the case’s star witness of lying about a key conversation with Mr Trump.

Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former fixer, previously said he called the ex-president’s bodyguard 24 October 2016 to tell Mr. Trump about a hush-money payment to an adult-film star.

But attorney Todd Blanche all but shouted Cohen’s testimony was “a lie.”

He offered evidence he said showed they really talked about some prank calls.

Cohen, however, maintained on the stand that his previous testimony was true, and that he spoke to Mr Trump about the payout to Stormy Daniels on that call.

Mr Blanche’s alternate theory of the phone call was designed to sow doubt on Cohen’s third day on the stand, as the jury watched the escalating exchange with intense focus.

Following the heated exchange, he stormed back to the defence table and sat down next to his client. When the judge announced an afternoon recess, there was a collective exhale in the room.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, for allegedly disguising payments to Cohen as legal expenses when they were in fact reimbursements for paying off Ms Daniels, who claims she had sex with him.

Prosecutors allege Mr Trump sought to keep damaging information from the public to protect his 2016 presidential campaign. Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to all counts and denied having sex with Ms. Daniels.

Earlier this week, prosecutors asked Cohen about the October call to help establish Mr Trump’s alleged direct knowledge of the payoff scheme. Cohen testified that he kept his boss aware during every step of the process of paying Ms Daniels.

As the man at the centre of the payout, Cohen’s testimony is crucial for prosecutors to prove whether or not Mr Trump had knowledge of the allegedly fraudulent reimbursement plan.

But Cohen’s criminal record, history of lying to Congress, and profane public criticism of Mr Trump makes him a flawed witness.

Mr Trump’s teams seized on Cohen’s credibility issues for nearly two days and sought to paint him as a liar with a vendetta against Mr Trump.

On Thursday morning, Mr Blanche played recordings from Mr Cohen’s podcast, Mea Culpa, where the witness expressed a desire to see the former president go through the booking process and said of Mr Trump, “I want this man to go down.”

Mr Blanche also confronted Cohen with an X post where he called the former president “Dumb*** Donald.”

“Does the outcome of this trial affect you personally?” Mr Blanche asked him.

“Yes,” Cohen replied.

The president’s attorney pressed Cohen repeatedly about his guilty plea for lying to Congress, and aggressively questioned Cohen about previous statements that he did not believe prior tax evasion charges he pleaded guilty to were fair.

Several hours of similar questioning all led to the dramatic showdown over the 24 October 2016 phone call.

Mr Blanche first asked Cohen if he recalled receiving harassing calls in late October 2016. Cohen confirmed he had.

Mr Blanche then displayed communications between Cohen and Mr Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, on 24 November discussing how to deal with the prank calls.

Amid their discussions about the prank caller, is a call between Cohen and Mr Schiller, that Cohen previously testified he made to discuss the payout to Ms Daniels with Mr Trump. That call lasted a minute and 36 seconds.

Mr Blanche expressed scepticism that Cohen could have discussed both the prank caller and the six-figure payout in such a brief period.

But Cohen countered that part of that call was about “the 14-year-old” who was behind the calls. He knew that Mr Schiller was with their boss at the time, and the call was about more than just the harassment, he said.

Cohen insisted he always ran “everything by the boss” immediately, and that he did so on that call.

The response drew a dramatic reaction from Mr Blanche: “That. Was. A. Lie,” he declared loudly.

Numerous Republican members of Congress filled the benches behind Mr Trump on Tuesday in a show of partisan support.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman attended, as did his son, Eric Trump.

Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Andy Biggs were among the entourage, which was so large that some lawmakers had to sit in the back of the courtroom.

Cohen’s testimony has piqued public interest. The line to get into court stretched down the block Thursday morning, and journalists and members of the public had hired line sitters to save them a spot overnight.

One line sitter, whose employer did not show, offered others in line $400 for her spot.

Despite the immense public interest, however, the defendant did not express much enthusiasm in the courtroom: Mr Trump sat back silently in his seat for most of the morning session.

Though one of his biggest public nemesis sat just a few feet to his right, most of the time, Mr Trump just stared straight ahead.


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