Michael Cohen faces grilling from defense. What you missed on Day 17 of Trump’s hush money trial.

May 15, 2024
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Defense attorney Todd Blanche grew annoyed and raised his voice as he tried to press Michael Cohen into calling himself a liar and Donald Trump’s former fixer tried to skirt the question — it wasn’t quite the fireworks many had expected for the Tuesday cross-examination, but it did illustrate the tense questioning.

Cohen already testified that he had lied repeatedly for Trump.

“I regret doing things for him that I should not have — lying, bullying people in order to effectuate a goal,” Cohen said. “I violated my moral compass.”

But on cross-examination, Cohen became more recalcitrant.

“Was it a lie?” Blanche asked.

“It wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t truthful. If you want to call it a lie, we can call it a lie. I believe the information I gave them is inaccurate,” Cohen dodged.

“But you are not testifying it’s a lie?” Blanche responded.

“Sure, I’ll say it’s a lie,” he finally conceded, still keeping his cool and defying his well-earned reputation as a hothead.

Here’s what else you missed during Day 17 of Trump’s state hush money trial in New York City:

Cross-examination gets off to a bumpy start

Blanche drew an immediate objection as he launched his cross-examination and was quickly admonished by the judge.

“Mr. Cohen, my name is Todd Blanche,” Blanche told Cohen and then added, “You went on TikTok and called me a ‘crying little s—.’”

Judge Juan Merchan called the lawyers to the bench to for a discussion out of earshot of the jury and others in the courtroom.

“Why are you making this about yourself?” Merchan began. Blanche tried to argue he was seeking to show Cohen is biased.“It doesn’t matter if he has bias towards you; it doesn’t matter,” Merchan said. “The issue is whether he has bias towards the defendant.”

He added, “Just don’t make it about yourself.”

Blanche resumed his questioning — which for about two hours bounced among topics and didn’t once address any of Cohen’s testimony during the direct examination by prosecutors.

Cohen can’t recall

Following hours of detailed, dispassionate testimony, Cohen became more combative on cross-examination.

Cohen couldn’t recall being asked by his attorneys to stop talking about the case or his conversations with the Manhattan district attorney’s office would end up in the media. Asked about a 2021 television appearance in which he Cohen discussed the investigation, he responded, “I go on TV often.”

“What was I talking about? I don’t know,” he added.

After initially having sidestepped a question about whether he talks to the media, upon further questioning, Cohen responded, “It sounds correct,” then “it is correct.”

“Let me get this straight, you had very specific recollections yesterday,” including about telephone calls with Trump dating to 2016, Blanche said. Yet Cohen can’t remember conversations with his own attorney last year, Blanche said, incredulously.

Defense probes Cohen’s motive

In a sprawling cross-examination, Blanche tore through many of the probes and public investigations that came to define Trump’s time in office: the Trump Moscow project, the Mueller report and the Steele dossier. Even Anthony Scaramucci, who was Trump’s White House communications director for a week and a half in 2017, made an appearance, as Blanche asked Cohen about a visit in which Scaramucci said Cohen told him that he was seeking to get out of jail early.

Earlier Blanche insinuated that Cohen began to change his story as he sought a path out of federal prison and began meeting with federal prosecutors.

Blanche worked to establish Cohen’s interest in cooperating with the prosecution as he sought an early release from his sentence and wanted the district attorney’s office to publicly announce that he was cooperating.

“I was looking for a reduction in the home confinement portion, not just in this but in the work I was doing,” Cohen said. “I did want to be released, yes.”

Pressured to stay in the fold 

Before cross-examination, Cohen spent the morning under direct examination by prosecutors.

Cohen recalled the FBI raid of his home and office in 2018, when it packed up his tax books and other documents and seized his phones, including one that included the audio recording of Trump.

Asked by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger how he felt, Cohen said he was frightened and despondent. “How to understand your life being turned upside down?” he said, turning to face the jury. “I was scared. … I wanted some reassurance that Mr. Trump had my back, especially with issues that related to him.”

He felt reassured by Trump’s response, he said: “Don’t worry; I’m the president of the United States. There’s nothing here. Stay tough. You’re going to be OK.”

“I had the president of the United States protecting me. … I remained in the camp,” Cohen said.

He was still part of a joint defense agreement as Trump tweeted about Cohen’s being “a fine lawyer with a wonderful family.”

But Trump was also musing publicly that most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble.” The message was “Stay loyal. Don’t flip,” Cohen told the court. He said he understood the tweet as meaning Trump didn’t want him to cooperate with the government.

But that sentiment seemed to evaporate quickly.

Cohen said he was inundated with calls from a lawyer with ties to Rudy Giuliani, who was then representing Trump. Cohen told him he was considering hiring a different lawyer, who wouldn’t be part of the joint defense agreement.

“He was angry that I would sit down with the other attorney and not sit down with him, and I’d had enough and I told him,” Cohen testified.

Cohen soon decided to cooperate with prosecutors, saying he made a decision with his family not to lie for Trump anymore.

My family “said to me: ‘Why are you holding on to this loyalty? What are you doing? We’re supposed to be your first loyalty.’” Cohen testified. He added that he decided “it was about time to listen to them.”



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