Trump’s lawyer attacks Cohen in hush-money trial

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Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pictured testifying in a court sketch on Tuesday. No photos are permitted inside the courtroom when court is in session

By Kayla Epstein & Mike Wendling
Reporting from court in New York

Donald Trump’s legal team sought to dismantle the credibility of key prosecution witness Michael Cohen in his Manhattan trial on Tuesday.

Cohen, Mr Trump’s former lawyer, testified about hush-money payments to adult-film star Stormy Daniels.

The ex-president showed no reaction while his current counsel, Todd Blanche, attacked Cohen’s motivations.

Cohen, portrayed by other witnesses as being quick to anger, stayed calm during two hours of tense exchanges.

Mr Blanche sought to cast him as a man with a personal vendetta against the former president, and one who sought to profit from Mr Trump’s legal woes and openly yearned for a conviction.

At one point Mr Blanche asked bluntly if Cohen wanted to see Mr Trump convicted in the case, the first criminal trial of a former president.

After being pressed, Cohen responded: “Sure.”

Cohen, who was imprisoned for tax evasion, fraud and campaign finance violations in relation to the payment, was called by the prosecution mainly to testify that Mr Trump was aware of the scheme pay off Ms Daniels $130,000 (£104,300).

Mr Trump faces 34 counts of business fraud for allegedly reimbursing Cohen for the payment through transactions disguised as legal expenses.

Prosecutors charge that concealing the payment, made just before the 2016 presidential election, qualifies as election interference. The former president pleaded not guilty to the charges and denies having sex with Ms Daniels.

BBC News reporters are in the Manhattan courtroom covering the historic first criminal trial of a former US president. You’ll find their updates and analysis on the BBC news website and app, and across TV, radio and podcasts.

LIVE UPDATES: How Monday in court unfolded

VIDEO WRAP: What Michael Cohen said at Trump trial

ANALYSIS: Key players at centre of case

BACKGROUND: How Cohen’s relationship with Trump soured

In his cross-examination of Cohen, Mr Blanche dredged up Cohen’s prolific social media posts, podcasts, and media appearances in which the ex-aide had attacked his former boss.

At the start of the cross-examination, Mr Blanche asked about a comment Cohen made about him on social media.

Is it true, Blanche asked, that Cohen had called the former president a “crying little [expletive]”.

Cohen quickly replied: “Sounds like something I would say.”

Justice Juan Merchan swiftly struck the answer from the official record, but the exchange set the tone for the afternoon. Mr Blanche returned to Cohen’s past comments again and again on Tuesday.

Earlier, under questioning from prosecutors, Cohen testified that he had lied for Mr Trump in order to protect the former president.

His testimony will continue when court is back in session on Thursday.

Prosecutors took a risk calling Cohen, who has posted plenty of fodder online for Mr Trump’s lawyers to attack.

But as the man who actually carried out the hush-money payment to Ms Daniels, his testimony was crucial for the New York district attorney’s case.

In a pivotal moment, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen why he made the payment.

“To ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr Trump’s chances of becoming president of the United States,” he told the court.

Ms Hoffinger asked on whose behalf he committed that crime.

“On behalf of Mr Trump,” Cohen replied.

Mr Trump entering the courtroom on Tuesday

Although Cohen said he didn’t regret working for Mr Trump or his organisation, he said he had “violated my moral compass” in order to do Mr Trump’s bidding.

The FBI raided Cohen’s apartment in April 2018. He spoke to then-President Trump, who told him “stay tough, you’re going to be OK.”

“I felt reassured because I had the president of the United States protecting me,” Cohen testified.

But it would be the last direct conversation between the two men. Cohen – who once said he would “take a bullet” for Mr Trump – said he spoke to his family after being targeted by a federal investigation. He testified that at that point, he decided not to continue lying on behalf of his most famous client.

After court wrapped up on Tuesday, Mr Trump told reporters that his team had “a very good day” and criticised a gag order limiting what he can say publicly about the judge’s family, witnesses and others involved in the case.

“I would love to not be under the gag order,” he said.

A number of Mr Trump’s Republican allies and possible running mates for November’s elections have attended the trial this week.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, currently the top Republican in the US government and in line to succeed the president after the vice president, was present on Tuesday and spoke to reporters outside.

Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida also attended the trial.

North Dakota Gov Doug Burgum speaking outside the courtroom

On Monday, Republican senators JD Vance and Tommy Tuberville were in the gallery along with several other elected Republican officials.

Prosecutors indicated during arguments on Tuesday that Mr Cohen would be the last witness they call.

Mr Trump has indicated that he wants to take the witness stand to testify in his own defence – but whether he actually does so remains to be seen.

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