Courts & Litigation Criminal Justice & the Rule of Law Democracy & Elections

Michael Cohen on the Stand, Part I

Anna Bower, Tyler McBrien, Katherine Pompilio, Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, May 15, 2024, 11:08 PM
Wherein we finally hear from the case’s key witness.
Trump's motorcade in front of the courthouse. (Photo credit: Tyler McBrien, Lawfare)

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Previously on Trump New York Trial Dispatch: “Stormy Daniels Steps Down

May 13, 2024

You know today is going to be different, because Donald J. Trump enters wearing a blue and white diagonally striped tie. We haven’t seen that before. The day may actually mark the beginning of Trump’s blue period: All of the male defense lawyers also have blue ties. It’s like there was a memo or something.

Per the hallway pool, a new member of Trump's entourage today: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing Staten Island since 2021.

A reporter shouts "Nicole!" at her, but she doesn’t answer any questions.

Also spotted in the hallway milling about, according to other reporters: Author-turned-Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Football Coach-turned-Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). 

It’s 9:22 a.m. when Trump walks in, entourage in tow, maybe his largest yet: Eric, Alina Habba, Tuberville, Vance, Malliotakis, Boris Epshteyn, and more. His defense team, Todd Blanche, Emil Bove, and Susan Necheles, join him.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg takes his seat now too. Epshteyn, who usually slings a large arm over an empty pew seat next to him, is jammed in between two members of Trump's entourage.

And now it’s resplendent-in-robes time. Justice Merchan sweeps in with unusual grandeur, his robes trailing behind—resplendently, of course—the judicial authority which emanates from the very being trailing slightly behind as well and catching up to surround him as he reaches his black chair.

He begins by addressing the separation agreement between the Trump Organization and its former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. The prosecution had wanted to introduce this agreement as evidence to explain to the jury why Weisselberg is unavailable to testify; its terms forbid him from cooperating with or talking to law enforcement absent compulsion. Justice Merchan says he has considered the matter over the weekend and is not going to admit it. It would be used, he says, to explain why a certain witness is not here, but it doesn’t go into any element of the offense. It’s not really probative of the crime. So he’s going to deny the prosecution’s application to have it admitted.

This is actually a biggish deal. It means that Weisselberg will probably not be hauled out of his jail cell on Rikers Island to see what he would say if he were on the stand.

Oh, well. Score one for trial management efficiency (and the defense) over great media moments (and the prosecution). 

Let’s get the jury, please, Justice Merchan declares. The jury files in.

The people call Michael Cohen. It’s 9:39 a.m., May 13, of the Year of Our Lord 2024. And the “fixer” to the former president of the United States is testifying against his former boss.

Cohen, for his part, did not get the blue tie memo. He’s wearing a pink tie. The prosecution must have heaved a sigh of relief that he did not show up wearing the shirt he wore in a TikTok video last week, which featured an image of Trump behind bars.

Cohen, speaking slowly in his thick Long Island accent, talks about his family and educational background.

He says he’s 57 years old, married going on 30 years, has two children in their twenties, and he’s testifying today under subpoena. Cohen says he grew up in Lawrence, New York, on Long Island. His father was a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to Toronto and went to medical school. He then came to the United States and had four children, of which Cohen is one.

Cohen went to American University in Washington, D.C., where he studied law and government. He went straight to law school, he says. Asked why he wanted to be a lawyer, he says he didn’t. His grandmother wanted him to be a lawyer. Everyone in his family were lawyers or doctors. "I wanted to go to Wall Street and my grandma said that's not gonna happen." He was admitted to practice law in 1992 and has lived in New York City ever since.

Cohen started out, he testifies, in a personal injury and medical malpractice firm. Along the way, he also bought part of a business that owned taxi medallions, when one of his clients was leaving the country and his departure opened up an investment opportunity. He also bought Trump properties as real estate investments. He had Trump properties in a development called Bridge Tower on 60th Street. Ultimately, he went into business with a friend with whom he grew up and the two started purchasing buildings.

He became a partner at a law firm, which he left in 2007 when he was offered an opportunity to work at the Trump Organization as special counsel to Trump himself. At the instigation of prosecutor Rebecca Mangold, he identifies Trump with specific reference to his blue and white tie. Blue tie karma. 

Cohen was introduced to Trump by the latter’s son, Donald Jr. Cohen had come to their notice, because, as Cohen puts it, there had been an issue on the co-op board of the Trump Tower. We ended up taking over the board and resolving the issue to Trump’s satisfaction. Impressed, Trump asked Cohen to do some other legal matters—all of them unpaid.

Cohen reports that he eventually sent Trump an invoice when he was asked to review a set of documents that dealt with Trump entertainment resorts. The project was quite lengthy, and Cohen says he resolved it to Trump’s satisfaction. His bill was approximately $100,000, he says. In response, Trump invited him to meet at the office. 

I asked about the bill, Cohen says, and in response, Trump asked if I was happy at my “sleepy old firm.” I said I was. He offered me a job. I accepted. But the bill still didn’t get paid. And when I asked about it again, he asked me if I wanted to get fired on the first day. They negotiated a base salary of $375,000 with a bonus to be discussed. He sent over some guys to clean out my office, Cohen reports. I got Ivanka Trump’s old office.

Cohen worked at the Trump Organization for approximately 10 years. He says he doesn’t recall how old he was when showed up—but still in his thirties. His title was executive vice president and special counsel to Donald Trump. His total compensation by the time he left was $525,000.

His practice involved handling whatever matters concerned Trump, to whom he reported directly. He was not part of the general counsel’s office. Sometimes he renegotiated bills. A law firm might send an invoice Trump didn’t believe was fair or justified, and he would be assigned to renegotiate it. An incident arose with Trump University in which 50 vendors had not been paid. Cohen says he offered them 20 percent of the value of their invoices. All but two accepted. The rest got stiffed entirely. "They just ... went away," Cohen says of the two.

Cohen says he would always go into Trump’s office to inform him—to “get credit” for his work.

Cohen would also threaten to sue people and companies that had upset Trump in some way. And a part of his job involved interacting with the press.

He moved to an office 50 or 60 feet from Trump’s office. He spoke to him multiple times a day either in person or by phone. When they weren’t in the same place, he reached Trump through Rhona Graff or Keith Schiller, one of the children, or Hope Hicks.

Trump never had an email address. Emails are like written papers, he used to complain; too many people have gone down because of emails. 

Cohen didn’t need an appointment to see him in his office. Trump had an open-door policy, and his meetings thus generally weren’t recorded in his calendar. You would just walk in. And when he would task you with something, Cohen reports, he would say, “Keep me informed.” And Cohen reported back frequently—that was important for the credit. Cohen says he wanted Trump to understand that he was "accomplishing what he wanted." After his work in the Trump University matter, for example, Cohen remembers that Trump said, "That's fantastic."

How'd that make you feel? Like I was on top of the world.

He affirms that Trump was a micromanager—far from the absent-minded high-altitude guy the defense is portraying him as. We called him “Boss” or “Mr. Trump,” he notes. And he is not altogether negative about his Trump Organization years. Working for him was “fantastic,” “an amazing experience in many many ways,” he says. “There were great times. There were some less-than-great times.” 

Did you at times lie for him? I did. It was what was needed to accomplish a task.

Did you at times bully people for him? Yes, ma’am. To accomplish the task.

And in exchange, he got new titles. He was placed on the board of the Miss Universe pageant. He got involved with Trump Productions.

Was the title “fixer” unreasonable? It’s fair.

One example: Cohen "brought an arbitration against" a pageant contestant who defamed the pageant organization, which they resolved. Did you negotiate for Trump in a strong or threatening matter? "I would say so," Cohen responds with a note of regret in his voice. "Not all the time, but often."

More matters: getting a settlement from a yellow cab that hit a Trump car, handling adjustment with the insurance company about a residence bathroom, and, more to the point, working with the press to minimize negative stories and enhance positive stories about Trump and his business.

Susan Hoffinger, for the prosecution, asks about the two cell phone numbers at issue in the case. Did you provide those phones in January 2023? Yes, that sounds correct. Cohen explains why one of the phones has so many contacts. He and Trump ultimately decided, he said, to have Trump’s full contact list synced to Cohen’s cell phone as well, so that it would be easier when we traveled together, he explains.

Hoffinger asks whether Cohen knows David Pecker. Yes, they initially met at a function on Long Island, before Cohen worked at the Trump Organization, but they were "reintroduced" once Cohen became executive vice president for Trump. Did you communicate with Pecker using Signal? Sometimes, Cohen says, when we thought that encryption and not having the message traceable would be beneficial.

Before 2015, Cohen communicated with Pecker on only a few matters. One example: trying to place a positive story that Trump had donated to Harlem for Hoops.

Prior to Trump announcing his run for the presidency, did AMI ever pay to suppress negative stories of Trump? No, ma'am.

Do you know someone named Dylan Howard? Yes, he worked for Mr. Pecker to the same extent that I worked for Mr. Trump.

Cohen says he also communicated with Howard using Signal if “it was a matter we wanted to keep private."

In 2011, Cohen says he saw a poll showing that six percent of respondents thought Trump should be the president, and he showed Trump. It's interesting, we should look into it, Cohen reports Trump said to him. In response, Cohen started a website:


Ultimately Trump decided not to run, but he promised Cohen he would do it in the next election cycle. This was a subject of continuous conversation between them in the years leading up to 2015.

What was your campaign role? I wasn't going to be part of the campaign. I was just going to be a surrogate—someone who speaks on behalf of the candidate and defends him in the press. Cohen says one of the things he noticed about the Trump campaign is that it was very white; he said that if we were going to win, we were going to need diversity.

Prior to the campaign announcement, did Trump express any concern about his past? He said that when the presidential announcement happens, just be prepared for a lot of women to come forward.

Cohen now describes the meeting with Pecker: the power of the National Enquirer in terms of its location at the cash registers of so many supermarkets and bodegas enabled it to place positive stories about Trump and negative stories about others. 

In the course of the election, did AMI preview for Trump and Cohen some of the positive and negative stories they planned to run? Yes, Cohen says, and he describes some of the negative ones: Hillary Clinton wearing very thick glasses with allegations that she had brain injury, photos of Ted Cruz's father with Lee Harvey Oswald, Marco Rubio in a swimming pool with other men on some kind of alleged drug binge.

Cohen says they would also review the cover material, which he would show immediately to Trump to "show David was loyal."

Hoffinger now shows People's Exhibit 166: it's an email from Cohen to Barry Levine of AMI, copied to Howard. Levine had sent Cohen some positive stories, and Cohen had responded: "Take out the part of the penthouse pet Sandra, as it offers nothing," along with another bit about Atlantic City. 

The email was from Jan. 6, 2016, and Cohen thought the Penthouse Pet bit would be negative for Trump insofar as it dealt with women and Penthouse Magazine. AMI agreed to take it out. The article eventually ran as: " World Exclusive: The Donald Trump Nobody Knows!"

Now Cohen turns to examples of suppressing negative Trump stories, starting with AMI's payment to Dino Sajudin, Trump's former doorman. After Cohen learned a story was circulating, he spoke to Trump about it, "to get his direction on what he wanted me to do." Did you provide his name? Yes, I provided all the information. Cohen says Trump told him to make sure this doorman story doesn't get out: "You handle it."

What did you do? I worked with Pecker and Howard in order to obtain the door man’s "life rights" to "take it off the market."

Along the way did you update Trump about the matter? Immediately.

Did you tell AMI that Trump would be grateful? Absolutely.

And was Trump grateful? Absolutely.

Cohen describes refinements he made to the doorman’s non-disclosure agreement (NDA): What I found was that the agreement had what I considered to be an end date, so I thought why not make it in perpetuity?

He also added teeth to the agreement. Cohen puts on glasses to read an email about the liquidated damages amendment he added, which included the now familiar $1 million damages clause continuing forever.

Cohen told Trump about getting the damages clause inserted "to get credit for accomplishing the task"—and Trump said it was great.

In June 2016, did you hear about a story from a Karen McDougal? Yes, Cohen learned in a call, from either Pecker or Howard, that there's a story on the market about a Playmate about her relationship with Trump.

What effect did you think it would have on his campaign? Significant. When Cohen initially asked Trump about the McDougal story, Trump just said, "She's really beautiful."

Cohen responded: "I said okay, but do you realize there's a story that's being shopped around?" 

Finally, Cohen says that Trump asked him to handle it—which is to say to kill the story by one means or another. We discuss the catch-and-kill scheme for the McDougal story.

Did you want to make sure AMI was doing it? Yes.

An objection from Blanche is sustained.

Cohen looks up at Justice Merchan, apparently confused about what he should do, but Hoffinger continues. After a few quick questions in succession in which Cohen cuts her off, Hoffinger gently urges him: Let me finish the question; then you can answer, for the sake of the court reporter too. Cohen takes a sip of water and agrees.

We see texts from June 16, 2016, between Howard and Cohen about a meeting concerning McDougal. Now we see People's Exhibit 262, which are texts between Cohen and Schiller.

Cohen to Schiller: Can we speak…I need you?

No response.

Cohen to Schiller: You there? (a few stifled laughs from the press).

Schiller to Cohen: On Dallas

Cohen to Schiller: Where's the boss?

Schiller to Cohen: Next to me

Cohen says he was trying to reach Trump on the "Karen McDougal matter" that day, to give him an "update that I thought was important."

Hoffinger now turns to the June 20, 2016, texts between Cohen and Howard, still about the McDougal matter.

Did Howard tell you that he believed that McDougal had a relationship with Trump?

Blanche pops up quickly with an objection, which Justice Merchan sustains.

We move to a bit later in June 2016 and a phone call between Trump and Pecker. Cohen was present too in Trump's office when the call took place. Cohen recalls that Trump asked him how things were going with the matter, and Pecker said, we have this under control, and we'll take care of this.

Cohen says Pecker went on to say that it would cost them more than $100,000 to control the story, to which Trump said, "no problem, I'll take care of it." It was discussed that AMI would "lay out the funds" and understood that Trump would pay them back, though details were not discussed. Cohen says Trump asked Pecker to keep him updated.

More texts—these ones from July 28, 2016—between Cohen and Howard. "Can you call me," Cohen wrote. Howard responds: “I've not heard back from our guy yet. So no update. Let me call him this AM and get the latest. Does that work?”

Hoffinger asks: Who was “our guy”? Cohen pauses, as if to recall the name: I believe it was Keith Davidson. 

On July 28, 2016, Howard sent the following text to Cohen: “They rejected the offer. I told them to come back to me by EOD with a realistic number. He agreed to do that. He fears she’s been convinced to tell her story to ABC, and really wants to. I implored my guy to GET IT DONE. He's getting back to me.”

Why were you pressing Howard for this information? First, Cohen says, because I wanted to know what the number was as I would have to report that back to Trump, and second, I needed to know what day I could update Trump.

What were the terms of the AMI agreement going to be? There would be compensation of $150,000, as well as 24 penned articles that would bear her name. In addition, she was going to be on two covers of one of the magazines they owned. Did Pecker tell you the agreement was "bulletproof"? Yes.

What did you understand that to mean? That they got it, that it was locked down, that we prevented the story from being released on ABC News. Effectively the story has now been "caught." 

Cohen says he had worked with Davidson back in 2011, when the story about Stormy Daniels on had arisen, that Daniels had actually wanted to get it taken down, "And we had worked together to effectuate that."

We now see People's Exhibit 62, an email from August 5, 2016—just after AMI signed the deal with McDougal—from Davidson to Cohen: "Michael, Please call me at your convenience."

Cohen describes the substance of the call that ensued. He says he told Davidson: Great job; the boss will be very happy about it; the matter is now resolved.

After AMI finalized the deal and paid out $150,000, did Cohen have any conversations with Trump about him reimbursing Pecker? Yes, Pecker asked Cohen when he should anticipate the reimbursement—he needed it back because it was too much money for him to hide. Plus he had just laid out $30,000 previously for the doorman. So, Cohen says, he was putting pressure on me to speak to Mr. Trump and get the money back.

Pecker raised the issue several times, and he was "very" upset in these conversations. Cohen says Pecker asked him if he would meet him at his favorite Italian restaurant, and he expressed his anger once again: I need to get this money back, Pecker said. Cohen just said, in response, Trump said you'll get this money back, so you'll get it back.

Apparently there was a locked drawer with files related to Trump in Pecker's office. And Pecker, meanwhile, was being considered for CEO at Time, Inc. Cohen says he expressed concern about these papers to Trump "if he goes."

Hoffinger turns now to a recorded conversation from Sept. 26, 2016, between Trump and Cohen about purchasing the life rights to McDougal's story; it was the only conversation Cohen ever recorded of Trump, he says. 

Cohen says he recorded it so he could play it for Pecker and thus reassure him that he would be paid. How did you record it? Cohen says he had his cell phone in his hand, turned on the voice memo app, hit record, and walked into Trump's office. Not exactly secret agent stuff, but Cohen says Trump was not aware he was recording.

Hoffinger hands up a thumb drive, including People’s Exhibits 246 and 248, which are a recording and a transcript, respectively. On the recording are Cohen, Trump, and Rhona Graff. The conversation bounces around a bit, as Trump is on the phone at first. The transcript covers the relevant part. "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that -- I’m going to do that right away,” Cohen begins.

She plays the exhibit now in its entirety.

Who was our friend David? Pecker.

What did you mean when you said you needed to open a company “regarding the transfer of all that information”? To open up an LLC, which would be the beneficial owner of all information contained in the drawer that Pecker referenced.

All that information, including the Karen McDougal matter? Yes.

Why were you opening up a company? In order to have separation, keeping it away from Trump.

Why was it important to keep it away from Trump? For privacy purposes and for the benefit of Mr. Trump.

Why didn't you use Pecker's full name? It wasn't necessary; Mr. Trump knew what I was referring to. It was an ongoing conversation we had been having.

Now on to the mention of Weisselberg. Why did you bring him up? Mr. Trump had previously directed me to speak with Weisselberg about getting this matter handled.


Now we hear the rest of the tape.

What was the significance of "all that stuff"? The information that Pecker had accumulated about Trump, including the McDougal story.

What did hit by a truck mean? Pecker was being considered to be the CEO at Time, Inc. and the concern was all the information he had.

You mentioned financing? That was not the best usage. What I really meant was funding, not financing, meaning how much money needed to be paid to Pecker, AMI.

Why did Trump say pay with cash? To pay with green, which would be one way to avoid a paper transaction.

Justice Merchan declares it time for the morning recess.

Cohen flits his head up and looks at the jurors individually as they pass. He then walks out himself, looking a bit uneasy as he heads out the side door. 

Trump walks out the back, his sizable entourage following behind.

The prosecution heads out the side door, District Attorney Bragg in tow. 

*           *           *

When we return, Justice Merchan offers the jury an instruction on the transcript of the recording, which he says should not be treated as evidence. The transcript is just there for your convenience, he says. The evidence is the recording itself.

Now Hoffinger is back up: Why did you think it was a bad idea to pay in cash? Because we needed to acquire the documents, and a check would make it appear to be a proper transaction.

What do you recall about why the recording got cut off? Because I received an incoming phone call.

Was there another reason why you felt comfortable ending the recording? I didn't want to record more. I already had enough to show Pecker that he would receive the $150,000 back.

Hoffinger displays a record of Cohen's call history to corroborate that the incoming call came in when the recording cut off. 

After Cohen ended the recording, he says he continued speaking with Trump. The gist, as he recalls it, was that he was going to head over to Weisselberg's office and would get back to him with more of an update. The point was to convince Pecker he'd receive the money? To appease him that he'd get the money.

Did Weisselberg report directly to Trump? Yes.

Where was Weisselberg's office in relation to Trump's? Also on the 26th floor, closer, toward the back.

Whose office was closer to Trump’s, yours or Weisselberg’s? Initially similar, then I was.

What did you talk about with Weisselberg with respect to the McDougal transaction? I told him we'd need $150,000 to "consummate" the transaction but that doing so with a Trump entity name would defeat the purpose. So, Cohen opened up an LLC. Cohen says he had between 10 and 12 conversations with Weisselberg about the McDougal matter.

Hoffinger now shows People's Exhibit 209—which are communications between Cohen and Daniel Rotstein, an associate at AMI, about five possible names for the LLC. The first message was from Sept. 7, 2016—just one day after the recorded conversation.

Hoffinger is having Cohen walk us through how Cohen set up Resolution Consultants, LLC, and the McDougal NDA, the transfer of the McDougal life rights, and other documents. Why did this agreement reference $125,000 and not $150,000? Pecker said we're going to reduce it from $150,000 to $125,000. But because they were talking to McDougal about penned articles and covers, compensation to her on their books would be $25,000.

At the time this agreement was worked out, had you and Weisselberg determined the logistics of where that $125,000 was going to come from? No.

And who did you understand was ultimately going to pay the $125,000 for the life rights to that material? Trump.

Cohen explains that he never planned on owning the life rights to the McDougal story, and that he was acting at the discretion of and for the benefit of Trump. He also discusses a Sept. 29, 2016, phone call in which he and Trump talked about Cohen’s plans to sign the McDougal agreement the next day and the finalization of the assignment rights. Cohen says he wanted to let Trump know that the matter “was going to be resolved.” 

Hoffinger now pulls up People’s Exhibit 161. It’s a Sept. 21, 2016, invoice from Investor Advisory Services Inc. for $125,000, with the description, “Agreed upon ‘flat fee’ for advisory services.”

Was that a truthful description of this transaction? No, ma’am.

So what was the $125,000 payment supposed to be for? The life rights of Karen McDougal.

And why did you get an invoice from Investment Advisory Services instead of AMI directly? To this day, I don’t know who Investment Advisory Services is. It was clearly just to create a separation to mask the transaction. 

Hoffinger presses on, and asks whether the company—Resolution Consultants—ultimately purchased the Karen McDougal materials and other materials from AMI, to which Cohen replies that it didn’t. According to Cohen, Pecker contacted him and stated that it was no longer necessary to have Trump pay the $125,000. I asked him why, pleased that I wouldn't have to tell Trump he'd have to pay that much money. The reason was that the McDougal Men’s Health front cover had sold more copies than they ever sold.

What about the materials in Pecker's "locked drawer"? David was no longer being considered to be CEO of Time; he was going to stay at AMI. So there was no need to worry about that either, and he believed none of the documents in the locked drawer were detrimental to Trump anyway.

How many conversations did you have with Trump about the Karen McDougal deal? Quite a few, says Cohen. He adds that he never ended up playing the recorded conversation for Pecker: "I just never played it."

Fast forward to Oct. 7, 2015. Where were you on that day? I was in London, for my daughter's twenty-first birthday, as well as my anniversary.

While there, did you become aware of the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape, and how? Yes, I received a phone call from Hope Hicks. Cohen remembers receiving an email forwarded from Steve Bannon about the "Access Hollywood" tape, and Hoffinger shows Cohen that email—which also went to Hicks, Jason Miller, and Kellyanne Conway—on his monitor.

Hoffinger offers People's Exhibit 218 into evidence. The email, from then-Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold to Hicks, bears the subject line “re: URGENT WashPost query,” and asks her for comment on the leak of the tape from "Access Hollywood," with a transcript attached.

Hicks had emailed to Bannon and Miller: "Need to hear the tape to be sure" and then "Deny, deny, deny"—and Bannon forwarded it all to Cohen. 

We have seen this material before. But now we’re seeing the conversation from Cohen’s side. He responded: “Please call me.” He writes in another email to Bannon: "It's all over the place. Who is doing damage control here?"

Were you concerned about the impact of this tape on Trump's campaign? Yes.

We see a log of calls that Cohen took in London while at dinner with family and friends.

What did you do at that time to assist with the damage control effort? I reached out to members of the media to have conversations with them.

What was your understanding about why the press reached out to you about this? The recording was quite damaging, and they wanted comment.

Hoffinger displays People's Exhibit 257, which reflects texts on Oct. 8, 2016, between Cohen and then-CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

Cuomo: You going to defend him?

Cohen: I'm in London.

Cohen: I have been asked by everyone to do shows starting Tuesday.

Cohen was planning to be back in New York on Tuesday.

Cohen: Not sure what I will do

Cuomo: Will be too late. He is dying right now

What did you understand "he is dying" to mean? That this is a tremendously negative story with respect to the Trump campaign.

What did you understand to be the impact of the "Access Hollywood" tape on the campaign?  Cohen says that he understood the "Access Hollywood" tape "would be significantly impactful, especially with women voters."

Hoffinger now displays another email: an email from Cohen to Howard, copied to Pecker. It's about a story from October 2006 in Radar Magazine from before AMI owned the publication. The headline: "Donald Trump, Playboy Man." Cohen says the story talked about a recorded conversation in which Trump talked about just how exacting his “real estate blowhard” standards are with respect to women. Cohen asked Pecker and Howard to immediately take the story down.

With respect to the Radar story, Cohen says he told Trump "the situation has been handled." He did this "to get credit." He adds, "I wanted David Pecker to get credit as well."

We are now hours into the direct examination, and we hear the name "Stormy Daniels" for the first time. When Howard told you on Oct. 8, 2016, that Stormy Daniels's manager was trying to sell her story, did you know who she was? I did, Cohen says, because of the 2011 scenario that I had dealt previously with Davidson on in order to have the story removed from 

In terms of Daniels’s story getting out, what did you think in terms of potential impact on the campaign? That it would be catastrophic, that this is—he pauses—horrible for the campaign.

What did you understand Daniels's job to be? That she was an adult film star.

In 2011, did you have a conversation with Trump about Daniels? Yes, after I received information from Howard, I immediately went to Trump's office, and I told him about the conversation. I asked him if he knew who she was, and he said he did. And I told him that one of the things we needed to do was take care of it, and Trump said, "Absolutely, take care of it."

Did Trump tell you anything about meeting her in 2006? He told me he was playing golf with Big Ben, and they had met Daniels and others there. But she liked Mr. Trump, and that women prefer Trump even over someone like Big Ben.

Did you ask him in 2011 whether he had a sexual encounter with Daniels? I did, but he didn't answer me directly. Cohen says Trump just said that "she's a beautiful woman."

Hoffinger asks about Cohen's efforts with respect to taking down a separate article—one from In Touch magazine, also in 2011—after which Cohen heard nothing about the Stormy Daniels matter from then until 2016. We now see People's Exhibit 177A, which reflects texts from Oct. 9, 2016, between Howard and Cohen.

Howard: Emailed you

Howard: Keith will do it.  Let's reconvene tomorrow

Which Keith do these texts refer to? Keith Davidson, says Cohen after a dramatic pause.

There are so many Keiths mixed up in this case, not even Cohen can keep them all straight.

More texts, these ones from Oct. 10, reflecting a three-way exchange between Howard, Cohen, and Davidson:

Howard: connecting you both  in regards to that business opportunity. Spoke to the client this AM and they're confirmed to proceed with the opportunity. Thanks. Dylan.

Howard: Over to you two.

What was the business opportunity Howard referred to? The acquisition of the life rights to the story of Daniels.

After you learned from Howard and Davidson about Daniels's story, did you speak to Trump? Yes, because it was a matter that affected him, and that was what I always did, to keep him abreast of everything. It was also a very serious matter at this time. 

Trump was very angry, Cohen reports. "I thought you had this under control. I thought you took care of this." We did in 2011, Cohen describes explaining to him. But I have no control over what she goes out and does. Trump recalled to me that there's a previous denial, he says. "Just take care of it," Trump said.  

Cohen says that upon hearing about Daniels's intention to sell her story, Trump told him, "This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women are going to hate me. Guys may think it's cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign." At the time, Cohen says, Trump was polling very poorly with women. And this coupled with the previous "Access Hollywood" tape would be a disaster. He told me: "Get control over it."

Was there any conversation about strategy in dealing with it? He told me to work with Pecker and get control over this; purchase the life rights; just stop this from getting out.

Was there any conversation about the period of time? Yes, during the negotiation, Trump told me to push it out as long as you can, but get it past the election, because if I win the election, it will have no relevance, and if I lose, I won't even care.

Hoffinger asks whether there were any conversations about Melania. Cohen says that he was concerned about Melania, but that Trump told him not to worry about that. "He wasn't thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign," Cohen says.

We see People's Exhibit 63: an email from Davidson to Cohen dated Oct. 11, 2016. The Daniels NDA and the side letter agreement are attached, as are payment details.


Cohen recaps the general terms of the understanding: for $130,000, Daniels would execute an NDA, that the story would never come out and she wouldn't speak of it. There was a very large, $1 million per violation liquidated damages clause. 

Justice Merchan declares it time for lunch.

*           *           *

Hoffinger begins the afternoon session by displaying People's Exhibit 64, emails between Davidson and Cohen on Oct. 12, 2016. “We good?” Davidson wrote first.

“Yes. It’s yom kippur so the office is for all purposes closed. I am in tomorrow but can speak for the next 3 hours via cell if necessary,” Cohen responded.

What was happening at this time? I was trying to delay execution of the documents, the execution of funding, specifically, he says. In this particular case, I used the holiday—Yom Kippur—as a way to delay it, until after the election.

Why then? Because after the election it wouldn't matter and we could walk away from the deal and not pay.

At the time, Cohen says Trump was traveling a lot with his own private plane, though sometimes he was in the office. Cohen spoke to him in person when possible, at other times by telephone.

Now we see People's Exhibit 363, and Hoffinger scrolls down to the attachment: the corporate documents for Resolution Consultants, LLC. 

We’re back to the banking documents now, the First Republic Bank story, as seen through Cohen’s eyes.

Were you familiar with the paperwork at First Republic Bank, and had you had other accounts there? Yes. Multiple.

The purpose of Resolution Consultants, LLC, as the Delaware paperwork describes it: "Resolution Consultants LLC is a consulting firm. Michael Cohen provides individuals and businesses financial services, law firms, technology firms, et cetera, advice on strategy, PR marketing, best practices and procedures, et cetera. All of his clients are in the United States of America."

Were the descriptions accurate at the time? No.

Why didn't you give true reasons on the paperwork? I'm not sure they would've opened it if it stated "To pay off"—he stops and laughs at himself—"an adult film star for a nondisclosure agreement."

Cohen says it "dawned on" him that Resolution Consultants was already the name of a company of a friend of his, who probably wouldn't appreciate the redundancy. So he later changed it to Essential Consultants LLC.

We see emails between Davidson and Cohen about the delay, and Cohen says he intended to keep delaying at Trump's behest.

Finally we see the familiar Oct. 17, 2016, email from Davidson that says that his client—Daniels—considers the agreement void for non-payment. Cohen says this meant: "We were losing control over the settlement of this Agreement in order to prevent the story from coming out. That as a direct result of my failure to wire funds, that Keith Davidson was no longer going to be acting as Stormy Daniels' counsel in this matter."

Texts now, the same day, between Cohen and Howard:

Cohen: Call me

Cohen: Well???

Howard: Not taking my calls

Cohen: You're kidding

Cohen: Who are you trying to reach

Howard: The “agent”

Who was the “agent”? Keith Davidson.

Cohen says he was told the Daniels story would end up in the Daily Mail. So Cohen called Trump on Oct. 16, 2016, "in order to advise him of this situation, that because I didn't forward the funds, she’s now declared the agreement void and that we were not going to be in a position to delay it post the election which is what he wanted me to do." Cohen got Trump’s voicemail.

Now we now see People's Exhibit 249, texts between Melania Trump and Cohen the following day:

Melania Trump: Good morning Michael, can u pls call DT on his cell. Thanks

Cohen: Of course.

The timeline is becoming more compressed now, and Hoffinger goes day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour. 

We're still on Oct. 18, when Cohen decided to go on Wolf Blitzer to respond to questions about Trump's behavior with women.

What did you talk about in the interview? I advocated for Mr. Trump in the best light possible. I wanted to change the direction of the comments.

What, if any pressure, did you feel to spike the Daniels story? With the Daily Mail in the background, they were anxious to sell the story.

“He stated to me that he had spoken to some friends, some individuals, very smart people, and that: It's $130,000. You're like a billionaire. Just pay it. There is no reason to keep this thing out there. So do it,” Cohen says.

So, Cohen says he discussed different options with Weisselberg. He already had the company all set up. He just needed to fund it. We need to do it immediately, Cohen says he told Weisselberg. Among the options: If I knew anyone who wanted to purchase a golf membership at one of Trump's courses, or if someone was having a wedding or bar mitzvah and wanted to pay it then use it as credit for the event, that could work.

Did you discuss with Weisselberg whether he could pay it? I did. I said you're the CFO, making seven figures, why don't you pay it? But he said to me he wasn't in a financial position to do it. He had four grandchildren at prep school. 

“Because of the urgency that was happening and the fact she was heading—or at least they expressed to me they were heading to the Daily Mail, I ultimately said: Okay, I'll pay it,” Cohen says.

Cohen reports that Weisselberg told him, don't worry about it, we'll make sure you get paid back.

Cohen says that he and Weisselberg then spoke to Trump and told him that Cohen would front the money, "to which he was appreciative.” Cohen says Trump went on to say, “Good, good,” and then, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll get the money back.”

"I was doing everything that I could and more in order to protect my boss, which was something I had done for a long time," Cohen adds. 

This is a key moment in Cohen’s testimony. He has now directly accused Trump of both directing him to make the payment and promising to reimburse him for it.

Another call log, this one reflecting calls between Weisselberg and Cohen, of which there are only six in total between July 2015 and February 2018. Hoffinger homes in on one, on Oct. 23, 2016, which is a voicemail Weisselberg left for Cohen lasting one minute and 24 seconds. For what purpose did he call and leave a voicemail? Regarding the funding, and how this was going to get done to fund the NDA.

Two days later, Oct. 25 at 7:23 p.m., the two spoke for three minutes and 24 seconds. "It had to do with the Stormy Daniels matter," Cohen says, about which there was "significant urgency."

Another log, more calls, this time between Cohen and Schiller, whom Cohen called on Oct. 24 in order to speak to Trump, "to discuss the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it," Cohen says, taking off his reading glasses.

What was the plan for funding the Essential Consultants account to transfer money to Davidson? I had a home equity line of credit on my apartment, and that account was paperless. I elected to use this account because my wife, as the CEO of the household, would not understand if there was $130,000 missing from the joint bank account. She would ask me, and I clearly could not tell her the truth, which would have been a problem for me.

Cohen made one last-ditch effort to get AMI to cover the payment. He says he told Pecker and Howard in a call that further delaying payment would "be catastrophic to the campaign. This will further isolate women from the candidate," and asked Pecker to pay.

What'd he say? Not a chance. (This brings a few laughs from the press.)

Back to the Oct. 25 call from Cohen to Weisselberg. What was this about? "In order to discuss the finalization of the funding and just some particulars regarding the execution of the Non-Disclosure Agreement."

Would you have made that payment to Stormy Daniels without getting a sign-off from Mr. Trump? No.

Why? Because everything required a sign-off from Mr. Trump—but on top of that, I wanted the money back.

Welp! There it is. 

Back to banking documents. On a Know Your Customer form from First Republic Bank, Cohen had stated that: “Michael Cohen is opening Essential Consultants LLC as a real estate consulting company to collect fees for investment consultanting [sic] work he does for real estate deals.” 

On Oct. 27, 2016, did you wire $130k payment to Davidson? To his attorney-client trust account, yes.

What's the stated purpose on the wire? Retainer.

Was that truthful? No, ma'am. It was in order to pay Stormy Daniels to execute the NDA and to obtain the story.

After the wire transfer, Cohen says that he received the final, signed NDA and the side letter agreement, with the same general terms sketched out.

Cohen says he let Trump know immediately for two reasons: (1) to let him know it was done and (2) to take credit for himself—because “credit” was, as always, important.

We see the now-familiar NDA, and it's pseudonyms all the way down.

Hoffinger pulls up another call log—zeroing in on a call from Cohen to Trump on Oct. 28, the same day as Cohen signed the NDA and the side letter agreement at 11:48 a.m., a call which lasted for five minutes and 16 seconds. What did you discuss with Trump on this call? That the matter is completely under control and locked down, Cohen says. I told him that all the documentation had been finalized. 

We inch closer to the election, with a stop on Nov. 4 when the Wall Street Journal published its article about the NDA with McDougal. Cohen says that when he heard the Journal article was coming out and that Daniels might be mentioned, he contacted Davidson, Hicks, and Pecker. Why? "So that we can all coalesce around this issue in an attempt to, again, quell the potential effects that would result from an article like this." 

Hoffinger displays People's Exhibit 318—an email between Hicks and Cohen, containing a draft statement on the WSJ article. Cohen reads it aloud into the record. Was she sending you several different options for the campaign to spin regarding this article, and looking for your advice? Yes. Cohen says he reviewed the four options, and offered his own (the top email of the exhibit). It looks like Cohen wanted to include a reference to the "Clinton machine" to add a little flair.

We see a string of Nov. 4 calls between Davidson and Cohen as he struggled to get the McDougal situation “under control.”  There are other calls to Howard and Pecker as well. More calls later that evening, these ones between Cohen and Trump, who was using Keith Schiller's phone.

Was Trump angry, did he express why? Yes, he was angry because there was a negative story that could impact the campaign, as a result of women.

And on that note, Hoffinger suggests it’s time for a break, and Justice Merchan says that this is a "perfectly fine" idea. 

While not wanting to rush them, Justice Merchan asks Hoffinger if she has a sense of how much longer the prosecution will need on direct. 

She expects to go into tomorrow, she says.

We take our afternoon recess. 

*           *           *

 At 3:34 p.m., Trump and his team stroll back in, his entourage having thinned out slightly since this morning.

The prosecution is back as well, and Justice Merchan is at the bench.

Cohen takes his seat.

We’re talking about Cohen’s and Hicks’s triumphant exchange from Nov. 5 about the McDougal story’s fizzling out:

Cohen: So far I see only 6 stories.

Cohen: Getting little to no traction

Hicks: Same

Hicks: Keep praying!! It's working!

Cohen: Even CNN not talking about it. No one believes it and if necessary, I have a statement by Storm [sic] denying everything and contradicting the other porn stars statement. I wouldn't use it now or even discuss with him as no one is talking about this or cares!

More texts between Cohen and Hicks, about reaching David Pecker's cell, after which Hicks said, "The [sic] spoke. All good!" meaning, Cohen says, that Trump spoke with Pecker. 

A few days later, did Trump win the election? Yes.

After he won, was there going to be a continuing role for you in the Trump Organization? No, because my service would no longer be necessary, because I was special counsel to Trump, and he was now president-elect.

Were there some discussions about potential roles for you in the White House? Yes, Reince Priebus offered Cohen a role as assistant White House counsel, which Cohen rejected.

Did anyone offer you chief of staff? No.

Were you disappointed for not being offered chief of staff? Yes. I didn't want the role. I didn't believe it was right for me. I didn't even believe I was competent to be chief of staff. I just wanted my name to be considered—it was more about my ego than anything.

Cohen says he instead pitched the title "personal attorney to the president." He suggested this because "there were still outstanding matters we were dealing with, and every president has a personal attorney." Cohen imagined the role as a way of continuing what he was doing. The job would be to "continue to protect him." 

Even presidents need fixers.

Cohen also had another thought in mind, he candidly admits: consulting. Being the president’s lawyer would be a great means of marketing himself as a consultant—which is to say influence peddling. This option offered him the opportunity to stay in New York "with my son, my daughter, my wife. None of them wanted to go to D.C."

Cohen says he made a "formal pitch" about the personal attorney role. He "sat with the president-elect at the time for about an hour," and went through the importance of having a personal attorney for his protection. Hoffinger shows People’s Exhibit 258, texts between Cohen and his daughter, about the position and the fact that he was not being considered for chief of staff. Cohen sums up the texts: My daughter and I are very close, we're very much connected, and she was concerned that I was upset about not getting the role. But I explained to her that there are so many opportunities. 

When she asked whether those opportunities would be in government, Cohen says he explained to his daughter that it would be "a hybrid" and that "I would still be able to monetize my relationship and my ability with these various different companies." Eventually, Cohen got the role he wanted.

We turn now to a source of major pain for Cohen in this period—one that ends up playing a significant role in the alleged crime for which Trump is on trial.

Was it customary for employees to get an end-of-year bonus? It was for me.

How would you find out what your bonus would be? After Trump left for Mar-a-Lago for the year, Rhona would walk around with a Christmas card signed by Trump and others, and in it would be a check.

And in December 2016, how did you find out? The same way, Rhona and the Christmas card, and Trump had already taken flight for Florida.

How did you feel about your bonus then? Angry—beyond angry.

Why? He cut my bonus by two-thirds.

Had he reimbursed you yet? No. "I was truly insulted, personally hurt by it. I didn't understand it. It made no sense. After all I had gone through in terms of the campaign, as well as things at the Trump Organization, in laying out $130,000 on his behalf to protect him, it was insulting that the gratitude shown back to me was to cut the bonus by two-thirds."

Cohen says he went straight to Weisselberg's office to express his anger in "colorful language."

In Weisselberg's office, Cohen says he told him, "You didn't lay out the money; I did. You weren’t prepared to lay it out; I did. And the best you get for showing loyalty, the best that you get for extending yourself as I did, is to have your bonus cut by two thirds. I didn't expect more, but I certainly didn't expect less."

Cohen says Weisselberg said to take it easy, go and take your vacation, relax. You know we're going to make this right. We'll take care of you, that kind of thing.

Cohen thinks his anger impacted Weisselberg. "I was, even for myself, unusually angry," Cohen says, winning some chuckles from the press.

After a mostly even-keeled testimony all day, Cohen’s emotion, his deep hurt and sense of betrayal, all these years later, bubbles quickly to the surface.

So Cohen went away on holiday with his family. Did Trump call you while you were on vacation? Yes, he said, I hope you're enjoying your holiday. Don't worry about that other thing, I'm going to take care of it when we get back. Cohen took this to be a reference to the two-thirds diminution of his bonus.

After the holiday, a January 2017 meeting took place between Cohen and Weisselberg, in which Cohen asked about the reimbursement: "He said to me: ‘Let's sit down. Let’s meet and let's do it’" and asked Cohen to bring him a copy of the statement showing the $130,000 transfer from First Republic Bank. Cohen now walks us through People's Exhibit 35—the bank statement and handwritten notes. Whose handwriting is bottom-right? Mine, he says, resolving a mystery that has hung over the document since Jeff McConney’s testimony.

And the bottom-left? Weisselberg's, Cohen says, confirming McConney’s account.

What did Weisselberg tell you to do in terms of totaling monies owed to Red Finch and what you paid out to Daniels's lawyer?

He told me to add up the $130,000 with the $50,000 to Red Finch, total it to $180,000, and then he told me he was going to "gross it up" because I was taking it as income. And in order to get back the $180,000, we needed to "double it for tax purposes."

Did he tell you he wanted to gross up that number from $180,000 to $360,000, and why? Yes, because otherwise you wouldn't get back your $180,000. It would obviously be less.

At the Trump Organization, did you ever pay out expenses for business trips, things like that? Yes, Cohen says, but those were usually $1 for $1, not grossed up. It was Weisselberg's suggestion that he should take this as income, not as a reimbursement, he says.

Cohen also explains the $50,000 to Red Finch for services from two years prior. Trump had decided not to pay Red Finch the money they were owed. So Cohen says he ended up paying out money to Red Finch himself. Cohen had known the CEO of Red Finch and expressed to him that this wasn't fair. Cohen says he paid the money himself because he still needed Red Finch for other things. 

He also skimmed a bit off the top. Though he got $50,000 for Red Finch, he says he ended up keeping some for himself—the figure was more than he had paid to Red Finch.

So that's the $360,000, Cohen explains, plus $60,000 for the additional bonus, et voilà, the magic number of $420,000, all there in Weisselberg's chicken scratch. 

And now comes the key moment in Cohen’s testimony. Where did you go with Weisselberg after this meeting? We went to Mr. Trump's office to speak to him about this (right before Trump left for the inauguration).

What happened then? During the conversation with Trump, Allen said to me, what we're going to do is pay you over 12 months. Cohen says all this happened—a discussion about paying Cohen's $420,000 over 12 months—in Trump's office, Weisselberg had the bank statement with both Cohen’s and his handwritten notes in hand. "He approved it," Cohen says of Trump.

After Trump approved the payments, Trump said: "This is gonna be one heck of a ride in D.C."

Either in this meeting, or shortly after, Cohen says that Trump offered him the personal attorney position.

Was the $420,000 payment for future legal services? That was what it was designed to be.

But what was it actually? Reimbursement of the Stormy Daniels payment, the bonus, and the Red Finch money. 

In People's Exhibit 250, Cohen describes the new gig in a text to Gene Freidman, his partner in the taxi medallion company: “Thank you. I leave tomorrow for D.C. And just between us, I will be personal counsel to Pres Trump.” The very next day, Jan. 18, Cohen announced his new role to the world on the Sean Hannity show. In People's Exhibit 251, immediately post-Hannity, Steve Denari congratulated Cohen via text for his new role as "President Trump's personal counsel (consigliere)!"

With respect to payment, Cohen says that Weisselberg told him it would start in February and that he should "just send an invoice to us and just mark down legal services rendered pursuant to the Agreement, and we'll get you a check out."

Did you talk to Trump about compensation for legal work you would do for him in his new role? No.

How were you going to be compensated for the new role? By monetizing the role of personal attorney and engaging in consulting.

Did you ever put together a retainer for your work with Trump? No, ma'am, because there wasn't going to be compensation. Cohen reiterates again that the $420,000 was never intended to pay for future legal work.

Justice Merchan stops things right there for the day and gives his usual instructions to the jury. Cohen takes a sip of water, then another, then downs the cup entirely. He looks relieved. Before today, people warned that Cohen would be unpredictable, unstable, angry on the stand. But today, for the most part, he was slow and steady, even calm.

Cohen is not done yet. And critically, his cross-examination has not yet begun, but he has given the prosecution a lot today.

May 14, 2024

It’s the morning of the second day of Cohen’s testimony, and the Michael Cohen Show is the hottest ticket in town.

The press overflow line is—true to its name—overflowing.

Rumor has it that some enterprising individual sold his spot in the line. Further rumor—which we can neither confirm nor deny—is that Lawfare may have had to buy it to ensure that all of our people get into court today.


The expected cross-examination of Cohen has attracted a number of television stars and media personalities to the drab Manhattan criminal courthouse. There’s MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell, the latter of whom Trump recently called “a real loser” after spotting him in the crowd in court. 

Fox News’s Laura Ingraham is in line, too. It’s her first day in court for Trump’s trial, so one of us explains the Golden Rule of Not Getting Banned from Court: Don’t even think about using your cell phone in courtroom 1530. A court officer will later reprimand Ingraham for an apparent violation of the Golden Rule, but she makes it through the day unscathed.

It’s not just the TV personalities who have been drawn to court for defense counsel’s showdown with Cohen. Before Trump’s arrival, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson appeared alongside Trump in a hallway outside the courtroom.

But when Trump enters the courtroom minutes, just before 9:30 a.m., Johnson is nowhere to be seen. A show of loyalty for the cameras is one thing. Sitting through actual testimony when there are no cameras—that’s asking too much of the third-highest elected official in the nation. Instead, Speaker Johnson is outside of the courthouse talking to a slew of journalists. He tells reporters that the ongoing “sham” of a trial of his “friend” Trump is a “travesty of justice” intended to “keep him off of the campaign trail.”  

Even without Johnson, however, Trump is flanked by a larger-than-usual entourage. In addition to his usual posse—Boris Epshteyn, Alina Habba, Eric Trump—he’s joined by his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump; Congressman Byron Donalds (R-Fla.); rumored vice presidential candidate contender Vivek Ramaswamy; and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R). 

None of which prevents, promptly at 9:30 a.m., a court officer from shouting “All rise!” and the ritual resplendent-in-robes moment from taking place as Justice Juan Merchan takes his seat behind the bench and the judicial authority radiating from his inner core sweeps over the gallery.

He directs his attention to the parties: “Is there anything that we need to go over before we call the witness?” 

Joshua Steinglass, on behalf of the prosecution, replies in the affirmative. Counsel make their way to the bench for a sidebar conference.

A couple of things, judge, Steinglass says as Justice Merchan peers down at him from the bench.

First of all, Steinglass explains, the prosecution previously indicated that it would call another witness after Cohen. That witness was going to be another book publisher, but “we've decided that we really don't need to do that,” he says.

So, it appears that Cohen will be the last witness for the People.                                                             

Related to that, Steinglass tells Justice Merchan that the defense case could begin as early as Thursday. But “we don't know who the defense witnesses are, except for an expert witness and potentially Mr. Trump.” The defense has indicated that the only other witnesses that they intend to call are impeachment witnesses, Steinglass says.

Citing a section of New York state criminal procedure law, Steinglass observes that the defense is entitled to disclose the names of those impeachment witnesses. “We would like to know who those witnesses are. I think we’re entitled to know who they are,” Steinglass says.

Finally, Steinglass addresses scheduling regarding a potential expert witness that the prosecution may call to the stand in rebuttal. The prosecution is entitled to have its rebuttal expert present in court for any expert testimony that the defense may proffer on their case, he says. Because the prosecution’s rebuttal expert lives out of town, Steinglass wants to know when the defense may call its expert witness. “So we can make travel arrangements, so we don’t have to have unnecessary delay,” he explains.

Todd Blanche pipes up to respond on behalf of Trump. “We do not have any rebuttal witnesses as of now, pending the testimony of Mr. Cohen,” he says. Blanche adds that he believes cross-examination will continue “until the end of the day Thursday.”

Regarding the defense’s expert witness, Blanche suggests that “whether we call him depends, in part, on the charge.” He’s talking about the “jury charge,” meaning the instructions the judge gives the jury prior to their deliberations. Blanche says that the defense submitted a proposed jury charge that morning, which he hopes the court can hear “some discussion about” before the defense begins presenting its case next week.                               

And so, what we would hope to be able to do is to at least have some discussion about that before we begin our case, presumably, on Monday. Because, depending on the ruling, we may not call the expert witness to testify.

Justice Merchan, however, doesn’t think it’s the right time to discuss jury instructions. The “pre-charge conference”—the conference during which the court hears argument on the proposed jury instructions—typically doesn’t take place until both the prosecution and the defense rest their cases, he explains. So there may not be a final ruling on the jury instructions until after the pre-charge conference.

Blanche changes tack. Maybe I should rephrase, he says. Acknowledging that the judge already ruled on the scope of expert testimony during the pre-trial phase of the case, Blanche explains that the defense wants an opportunity to revisit that ruling regarding the expert’s anticipated testimony. “So, maybe it’s not a charge conference,” he says.

“Fine,” Justice Merchan replies. “We can do that.”

Then the judge pivots to the lingering question of whether the former president will take to the witness stand to testify in his own defense: “And do you have any indication whether your client is going to testify?”

“No,” Blanche responds. There’s no determination yet.

“So, if I understand you correctly, your only witness on defense, that you know of right now, is the expert, possibly?”

“Correct,” Blanche confirms.

All of which means that this trial will wrap up much earlier than anticipated. This time next week, Donald J. Trump could be an acquitted former defendant or a convicted felon.

With those housekeeping matters behind him, Justice Merchan is ready to call the witness.

Cohen appears through a door on the left side of the courtroom.

Yesterday, he wore a pink tie. Today? He's sporting baby blue.

​​Then the jurors file in, and Susan Hoffinger steps up to the lectern to resume her direct examination on behalf of the prosecution.

She picks up where we left off yesterday: The events that followed a January 2017 meeting between Cohen, Trump, and Allen Weisselberg concerning the plan to reimburse Cohen for his payment to Stormy Daniels.

Not long after that meeting, Cohen received an email from Jeff McConney—the Trump Organization controller who testified during the trial last week.

Now Hoffinger displays that Feb. 6, 2017, email from McConney, which is already in evidence as People’s Exhibit 39. “Mike, just a reminder to get me the invoice you spoke to Allen about,” McConney wrote.

Cohen says that he did not send the invoices right after he received this email; he sent them “a little bit later.” But a few days after he received this email, Cohen visited the White House. There, on Feb. 8, 2017, Cohen met with Trump in the Oval Office, where they discussed the reimbursement plan.

Cohen describes that conversation as follows: “So I was sitting with President Trump and he asked me if I was okay. He asked me if I needed money, and I said, no, all good. He said, because I can get a check. And I said, no. I said, I'm okay. He said, ummm, all right, just make sure you deal with Allen.”

In that same meeting at the Oval Office, Cohen says that Trump told him he would receive forthcoming checks for the months of January and February. At that time, he explains, he had not yet been reimbursed for the Daniels payment.

In an effort to corroborate Cohen’s testimony that such a meeting with Trump took place, Hoffinger asks if Cohen took any photos during his visit to the White House. Cohen confirms that he did, and the prosecution displays a photo that was previously admitted into evidence as People’s 253.

It shows Cohen standing behind the lectern in the White House briefing room, beaming at the camera. Then we see another exhibit. It’s a calendar entry from Cohen’s electronic calendar: “Meeting with POTUS.”

About a week after Cohen’s meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, McConney followed up with another email reminding Cohen to send invoices. Hoffinger displays Cohen’s Feb. 14, 2017, response: “Jeff, sorry for the delay, and thank you for the reminder. Please have the monthly checks for January and February made payable to Michael D. Cohen, Esquire.....hope you are well and see you soon."

You didn't reference invoices here, just that they should send you the checks? Correct.

Why is that? Because there was no need. There was no invoice.

That same day, Cohen says, McConney followed up again, asking him to send invoices so that the Trump Organization could cut Cohen a check. “Jeff, please remind me of the monthly amount,” Cohen replied. “35,000 per month,” McConney replied.

Why were you asking for the monthly amount? “I actually didn't remember it,” Cohen explains. “I didn't have a copy of the document that I had worked on with Allen Weisselberg and then presented to Mr. Trump.”

If you had a retainer agreement with Trump, would it have had a monthly amount in it? Yes, ma'am.

But there was no retainer agreement? No, ma’am. 

Now Hoffinger turns to the monthly invoices that Cohen ultimately did send to the Trump Organization and which form the basis of 11 counts in Trump’s indictment. 

Cohen explains that he sent the first invoices for two months at $35,000 on the same day; this says that it is being submitted "for services rendered" and "pursuant to the retainer agreement."

Cohen testifies that it was not truthful that the invoices were for "services rendered." Nor was it truthful that there was a retainer agreement.

Was this invoice a false record? Yes, ma'am, Cohen replies. 

Cohen says he submitted the emails to Weisselberg and occasionally to McConney. 

Were any of those invoices based on services performed pursuant to a retainer agreement? "No, ma'am, they were for reimbursement." 

We walk through each of the allegedly false invoices submitted by Cohen and each of the checks signed by Trump.

Was this check paid to you pursuant to a retainer agreement? No, ma'am.

So that description on the check stub was false? Yes, ma’am.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Trump's charges are based on 11 allegedly false invoices, 11 checks, and 12 "vouchers" entered in the Trump Org general ledger system.

Lots of lathering, lots of rinsing, lots of repeating. 

We finally make it to December 2017, the last invoice Cohen mailed to Weisselberg and the last check Cohen received from the Trump Organization. Cohen testifies that it was the last check he received because after that payment "the full reimbursement had been paid." 

Hoffinger turns to the work Cohen did during his tenure as Trump's personal counsel. Did you do any work for Trump or his wife during 2017? Minimal, Cohen says. He mentions a trademark matter he worked on for Melania Trump. Cohen also mentions another matter he worked on for Trump that involved "minimal" work. Trump had outside counsel—Mark Kasowitz—for it, Cohen explains. He estimates that he spent less than 10 hours on legal matters for Trump in 2017. He never billed for any of it, because he didn't expect to be paid.

Did you do any legal work for Trump in 2018? Yes. As a result of the Daniels matter, Cohen explains, Trump wanted an arbitration action filed against her for the breach of the non-disclosure agreement.

I was contacted by Eric Trump and Donald Trump about going forward with the arbitration, Cohen explains. I was instructed to work in conjunction with outside counsel on the matter. It was more work in 2018 than it was in 2017. But as he did in 2017, Cohen did not bill for the 2018 work, either.

What about your plan for monetizing your status as Trump’s personal lawyer. Did that work? Yes.

Was that the plan all around? Yes. In 2017-2018, Cohen says, he earned approximately $4 million. He also had a relationship with Squire Patton Boggs that was worth half a million. He had two offices in Manhattan and one in Washington, D.C.

How long did you hold the title of personal counsel to the president? Hoffinger asks. Approximately 15 months, Cohen replies. 

Did you continue to lie for him during that time? Yes, out of loyalty, and out of concern for him.

Then the congressional intelligence committees sought his testimony about the Russia investigation and Trump Tower Moscow. Cohen testifies that he felt a lot of pressure. The Trump Organization was paying for his attorney. There was a joint defense agreement. And he says he needed the power of the presidency to protect him. 

So he made false statements about the time period under which Trump Tower Moscow was under consideration and the number of times he had spoken to Trump about this project and when the project had ended. He continued to lie about Daniels. Why? In order to protect Donald Trump.

Cohen says he learned about the January 2018 Wall Street Journal story about Stormy Daniels right before it ran. He commented publicly on it, he says. He got in touch with Davidson about the story, urging him to write a strong denial for Daniels to sign. Davidson pressured her to sign it, Cohen says.

Hoffinger shows him the statement. Did you know this statement from Daniels was false? Yes. Did you tell Trump you had done it? Yes. Why? To get credit.

The same happened with a second denial statement drafted in response to the Wall Street Journal story. Cohen acknowledges pressuring Davidson to have Daniels sign the statement. He knew at the time it was false.

How did you know? Because I helped him craft it.

Did you know she had received hush money? Yes.

How did you know she had received it? Because I’m the one who paid it.

He acknowledges the same about a letter to the Federal Election Commission, now entered into evidence, which contained the phrase “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither was a party to transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment either directly or indirectly.”

This was intentionally misleading, Cohen says, because the reimbursement was not either from the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. At least the initial payments were from the Trump Revocable Trust. This, he says, was intended to be misleading and to protect Trump.

Cohen notes that Jay Sekulow—who at the time worked as counsel to Trump—texted him a thank you for this statement. Cohen goes on to talk about how he continued to try to protect Trump following publication of the Wall Street Journal story. How he calmed down David Pecker when the Wall Street Journal followed up on AMI’s participation in the payoff and told him that Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, would take care of everything. About how he tried to get a temporary restraining order against Daniels regarding her talking about the incident.

Did you continue to lie about his role in the payoff through much of 2018? Yes, ma’am. 

Cohen even stayed loyal after he was raided by the FBI. At the time, he was living in the Loews Regency hotel because his apartment had flooded. At 7:00 a.m., the doorbell rang, and there was a crowd of FBI agents in the hall. They also executed search warrants against his office, his apartment, and his bank. They seized all kinds of stuff, including the two cell phones at issue in this case. Hoffinger specifically elicits that the audio recording at issue in the case was on the phone at the time, and that he didn’t alter it before the FBI came—indeed, that he didn’t know the FBI was coming.

Trump called in response to Cohen’s message to him after the warrant. The message?  Stay tough. There’s nothing here. I’m president of the United States.

Have you spoken to Trump since that time? No, ma’am.

Was that call important to you? Extremely important.

Why? Because I was scared. I wanted some reassurance. I wanted help with regard to issues that related to him.

How did it affect your behavior? When he said don’t worry, I’m the president, I felt reassured. I remained in the Trump camp and continued to lie. Others reached out and said: He's got your back, don't worry.

Initially, Cohen says he maintained ties to Trump "only through other people," thinking it was "extremely" important to do so.

The prosecution mentioned earlier in the trial that they would trace the moment that Cohen flipped, and explain it for the jury. And now they ask him a series of questions to that end. Cohen reads a series of Trump tweets—one tearing down New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, another supporting Cohen—as we start to trace the narrative-within-the-narrative of when Trump soured on Cohen, who flipped on his former boss.

Hoffinger doubles back to one of Trump's tweets, specifically the line: "Most people will flip if the government lets them get out of trouble." What did you understand that to mean? Cohen says he understood it to mean that Trump didn't want him to cooperate with the government, not to provide info, or flip. 

Blanche trips up Hoffinger with three sustained objections in quick succession, so Hoffinger asks Merchan whether it's a good time to take a break, perhaps thinking it best to regroup before moving forward. 

*           *           *

We’re in the home stretch of Cohen’s direct. Hoffinger retakes the lectern, and Cohen lets out a breath.

Cohen says he was introduced to Robert Costello by another lawyer—Jeffrey Citron—who heard about the raid and put them in touch. Costello is a criminal defense attorney and very close to Rudy Giuliani.

What was your emotional state like at the time just after the raid? Distraught, nervous, concerned, Cohen says.

At a meeting with Costello at the Regency Hotel, Cohen says he showed him the warrants and the receipt of what was taken. The lawyer advised Cohen, who was unfamiliar with criminal law: First, remember what's in those boxes, then consider Costello for representation. 

Cohen repeats that he heard Costello was "close, as close as you can imagine," with Giuliani.

A lawyer close to Giuliani would be advantageous for Cohen—because Giuliani was close to Trump. Cohen says Costello urged him that it was good to secure "a back-channel line of communication to make sure you're still good and still secure."

Cohen says he didn't tell the truth to Costello because he wasn't sure he would hire him—there was something "really sketchy and wrong" about Costello, Cohen says. 

And the "closeness to Rudy" had a flip side: Everything Cohen said to Costello would make it to Trump via Giuliani. Nevertheless, Cohen exchanged emails with Costello to maintain that "back channel" to Trump, whom many people advised against Cohen contacting directly.

Hoffinger now hands up a thumb drive, presumably full of emails between Cohen and Costello.

People's Exhibit 203, accepted into evidence, reflects an April 19, 2018, email from Costello to Cohen: "I am sure you saw the news that Rudy is joining the Trump legal team. I told you my relationship with Rudy could be very very useful for you."

People's Exhibit 204, another email Costello to Cohen: "[Rudy] asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your and your family, and he'll make sue [sic] to tell the President," and he reiterated the back channel.

Now People's Exhibit 205, Costello to Cohen again on April 21, 2018: “I spoke with Rudy. Very, Very positive. You are 'loved.' If you want to call me I will give you the details. I told him everything you asked me to and he said they knew that. There was never a doubt and they are in our corner. Rudy said this communication channel must be maintained. He called it crucial and noted how reassured they were that they had someone like me whom Rudy has known for so many years in this role. Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.”

What if any effect did these emails from Costello have on you? "It let me know that I was still important to the team and to stay the course, that the president had my back," Cohen says. 

Cohen reads People's Exhibit 206, a Costello email from June 17, 2018: "Michael, To prove to you that Rudy Giuliani called me and I did not call him, I photographed the pages from my iPhone which I am attaching," he attached photos of his iPhone call logs, then proceeds to describe a game of phone tag. 

He's demonstrating his close relationship to Giuliani, Cohen explains. 

Costello was relentless, continuing to demonstrate to Cohen his closeness to Giuliani, as Cohen continued to deny retaining him as counsel for months. "Michael, since you jumped off the phone rather abruptly, I did not get a chance to tell you that my friend has communicated to me that he is meeting with his client this evening. If there was anything you wanted to convey, you should tell me and my friend will bring it up for discussion this evening.” Costello emailed Cohen cryptically about the back channel.

Why the smoke and mirrors? To be covert, it's all back channel, sort of I-Spy-ish, Cohen explains mockingly.

Another email from Costello, in which Cohen believes he was talking about "potential pre-pardons," but the email goes on, sounding like Costello was spurned by Cohen's increasingly clear rejection.

Cohen explains that Costello was pressuring him. I stated to him that I was speaking to other counsel, Cohen says, and Costello was angry that I was willing to sit down with another attorney but not them. "So I had had enough, and I told them," Cohen says.

Please remember if you want to communicate something to the President, please let me know, Costello continues in the email, presumably floating the benefit of the back channel one last time, before wondering aloud whether he and Citron had "been played here" by Cohen.

Finally the last of the slew of exhibits just admitted: People's Exhibit 208: Another Costello to Cohen email, July 2018, it's a YouTube link, with the note "Something you should see."

The video: "Giuliani on possibility of Cohen cooperating, Mueller probe."

Cohen responded: Why send this to me?

Costello replied: “The answer to your question will be found in watching the video. It seems clear to me that you are under the impression that Trump and Giuliani are trying to discredit and throw you under the bus to use your phrase. I think you are wrong because you are believing the narrative promoted by the left wing media …. You are making a very big mistake if you believe the stories these 'journalists' are writing about you. They want you to cave. They want you to fail. They do not want you to persevere and succeed. If you really believe you are not being supported properly by your former boss, then you should make your posit ion [sic] known.”

What did you understand Costello to be communicating to you here? “And this is part of the pressure campaign, that everyone is lying to you. That you are still regarded. The President still supports you. Do not speak. Do not listen to what any of the journalists or anybody are saying and stay in the fold. Don’t flip. Don’t speak. Don’t cooperate.”

Mr. Cohen, did you ever tell the truth to Costello about Trump's involvement in the McDougal or Daniels payout? No.

Why not? I didn't trust him, and I still remained loyal to Trump, Cohen says.

Cohen withstood the pressure campaign and ended up hiring other lawyers. 

In the end, what changed Cohen’s mind, he says, was his family. "I made a decision based on a conversation I had with my family, that I would not lie for President Trump any longer," Cohen says.

Did you pay the money to Daniels in order to influence the election for Trump?


Why did you pay it? "To ensure the story would not come out, would not affect Mr. Trump's chances of becoming president of the United States," Cohen replies. 

At whose direction and on whose behalf did you commit that crime? On Mr. Trump's behalf.

What was the purpose of your working with AMI in paying off McDougal? In order to make sure Mr. Trump was protected and also so that the story would never be released, for the purpose of ensuring that it also wouldn't affect the presidential campaign.

At whose direction? "At the direction of Donald J. Trump."

And for whose benefit? "For the benefit of Donald J. Trump."

Justice Merchan now gives the jury special instructions regarding Cohen’s testimony that he pleaded guilty to a Federal Employees’ Compensation Act violation.

Did you also plead guilty to evasion of personal income tax 2012-2016? I did.

And one count of making false statements to a financial institution? I did.

Were those in any way related to Mr. Trump? No, ma'am.

What was it like the day you pleaded guilty? "Worst day of my life," Cohen says hoarsely.

Cohen now reads Trump tweets when Cohen flipped on him. First, "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you not retain the services of Michael Cohen," which gets a few laughs from the press, despite a sadness in Cohen's voice.

Later, on Nov. 29, 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to Congress in connection with the Russia probe. Cohen was sentenced by the Southern District of New York (SDNY) to 36 months' incarceration, followed by 36 months' supervised release, plus about $1.4 million restitution (which stemmed from the tax evasion) and $100,000 in fines. He has paid both.

Three months prior to surrendering himself for his sentence, Cohen testified before Congress. He says that he testified that Trump had directed him to make the payment, and that the payment was for his benefit. He also apologized to Congress, his family, and the American public. 

Did you tell the Mueller investigation the truth about your 2017 congressional testimony? I did not, because I was still holding on to the loyalty to President Trump. 

Cohen says he spent 13 months in prison, cut short as a result of COVID and Cohen's co-morbidities, then at some point was sent back to prison. That decision was reversed, and Cohen was sent back to house arrest.

In addition to the SDNY and the Mueller investigation, Cohen says he provided information to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, as well as to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

We fast-forward to March 2023, when Cohen testified to the grand jury.

By testifying to the grand jury, Cohen automatically received immunity in the case—just as every witness who testified to the grand jury did.

Cohen says he requested SDNY to reduce his sentence, and asked the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to assist in that request.

In 2021, they said they'd consider it, but the SDNY prosecutors denied the district attorney's office request to provide a letter to them to that end. Likely getting out ahead of the defense, Hoffinger asks and Cohen clarifies that despite this ultimately denied request, he told the truth to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office during their numerous meetings.

In 2020, Cohen got his phones back. But in January 2023, he forfeited the two phones again, this time voluntarily to the Manhattan district attorney, and he provided the passwords as well.

At any time did you alter or modify the audio recording with Trump? No, ma'am.

Despite public statements Cohen made after the guilty pleas, in which he took issue with his criminal prosecution and said he had lied in pleading guilty to the tax evasion case, he says that he has never disputed the facts of the case.

Now Hoffinger turns to Cohen’s testimony in the civil fraud case brought against Trump and the Trump Organization by the New York attorney general’s office. Under cross-examination by Trump’s defense counsel in that case, did you say it was unfair that you were criminally prosecuted for tax evasion and bank fraud?

The underlying fact I never disputed, Cohen replies, but it goes back to the issue that SDNY prosecutors gave me 48 hours to accept their plea offer or they were going to indict my wife.

Hoffinger asks for more details of Cohen's downfall: After 30 years of practicing law, Cohen lost his law license. He lost his taxi medallion business, along with all of his real estate except for his primary residence and a secondary apartment. He can only find "media and entertainment" work these days.

We discuss Mea Culpa, Cohen’s podcast, named as such for two reasons: "The first is, it means it’s my responsibility, which I take. The second is because it's my initials."

Are these endeavors you've engaged in conducted largely to support your family? Yes.

And you sell merchandise—any related to Trump? There is one that's reflective of Mr. Trump.

Do you continue to be on the receiving end of Trump's public comments about you? Yes, ma'am.

Mr. Cohen, do you have any regrets about your past work and associations with Trump? Yes, I regret doing things for him that I should not have done. Lying, bullying people in order to effectuate a goal. I don't regret working for the Trump Organization. As I expressed before, I had some very interesting and great times, but to keep the loyalty and do the things that he had asked me to do—they violated my moral compass. And I suffered the penalty. As did my family.

Hoffinger has nothing further. We break for lunch.

*           *           *

We return from lunch for the great confrontation. Cohen is still on the stand, and the Trump defense sends up its champion to take him on. It is Blanche, not Emil Bove, the defense team’s cross-examination specialist. He comes out swinging.

"Mr. Cohen, my name is Todd Blanche," he begins. “You and I have never spoken or met before; have we?”

“We have not,” replies Cohen.

“But you know who I am; don’t you?” I do.

“As a matter of fact, on April 23rd, so after the trial started in this case, you went on TikTok and called me a ‘Crying Little Shit,’ didn’t you?”

Blanche says this with some real venom.

"Sounds like something I would say," Cohen spits back.

 An objection is sustained. Yikes!

Blanche doesn’t back down. He swings again, asking about whether Cohen posted something about him and Necheles. Another objection is sustained. Justice Merchan calls both sides to the bench.

"This is going to be so much fun," one reporter says.

At the sidebar, Justice Merchan flatly asks Blanche why he is “making this about” himself. Blanche pushes back and explains that he has a right to show the witness’s bias against the defendant and his lawyers, to which Merchan replies that it “doesn’t matter if he has bias against you.” The sidebar concludes with one more reminder from Merchan to Blanche to “Please, don’t make it about yourself.”

The question is stricken from the record and with that, we’re back.

Blanche adopts a somewhat more measured tone. You've been following what's happening in this trial? To some extent, yes.

You learned about certain things that happened during jury selection?

An objection is sustained.

You said on TikTok that you heard what a witness in this case testified about, right? You said that David Pecker was corroborating what you have been saying for years? Yes, someone called me and told me that Pecker was corroborating what I'd been saying.

You've been watching CNN and MSNBC coverage of the trial? I have seen CNN and MSNBC, but I am not following the trial.

Meanwhile, Trump is watching the back of his eyelids.

You've watched because this trial is important to you, correct? Yes, but there are other issues too: like the protests, Israel.

But is this trial important to you, Mr. Cohen? Personally, yes.

Blanche continues to dig up recent comments Cohen made on social media, one in which he called Trump a "dictator douchebag"?

Sounds like something I said, Cohen repeats. There are a few subdued chuckles.

You've talked about Trump during this trial? Yes.

You said Trump belongs in a "fucking cage, like an animal"? I recall saying that, yes.

Blanche has not a shred of humor in his voice. He sounds serious, disgusted.

Rewind now to 2021. Is it true that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office told you repeatedly to stop talking publicly about this case? Yes, Cohen says.

Blanche asks about Cohen's former lawyer, Lanny Davis.

On Jan. 15, 2021, there was a leak to the Associated Press. Davis and Cohen denied being the source of the leak to the district attorney's office. Blanche shows an exhibit to Cohen, who has his reading glasses back on, to refresh his memory.

Do you remember the district attorney's office being frustrated around that time that when they would say something to you about the investigation you would say it on TV? I do not recall that, no.

Blanche shows him something to refresh his recollection. Do you remember making promises to your attorney that you would stop going on TV? An objection is sustained.

But you continued to talk to the press? Yes, I talk to the press.

You talk to the press to this day? About many topics.

About this case? Sounds correct.

But is it correct? Yes, that would be correct.

We turn to Cohen's cell phones. Cohen says that he turned over two of his cell phones to an investigator.

And two days later, you told Don Lemon from CNN that you turned over your phones? Cohen says he doesn't recall whether he gave CNN the information about his phones being turned over or if they already had that information and he just confirmed it.

You promised after that that you'd stop going on TV to talk about the case? Again, I don't recall that, Cohen replies.

Do you recall the DA's office was frustrated that you went on TV and said you turned over your phones? But Cohen says he doesn't recall, no.

If you didn't leak it, who else knew that you gave the phones to the DA's office? Well, clearly Lanny Davis knew. There could be others, I don’t know.

Members of the district attorney's office knew too, correct? Yes.

You promised the district attorney’s office in March 2023 that there would be no more TV appearances until after the indictment, correct? But that too, Cohen doesn't recall.

So just so I understand, Blanche says, you testified about very specific recollections of conversations with Trump in 2016. But you can't recall things that happened about a year ago? What I’m saying to you, Cohen says, is that I don’t recall having this conversation with Davis about not going on TV.

Blanche turns to after the indictment. You've been warned repeatedly not to talk about the case? Yes.

What did the district attorney’s office say to you about it? "Please don't talk about the case." They called my attorney, Cohen says.

You don't recall the DA's office telling you that you were unwittingly helping Trump by going on TV? asks Blanche.

No sir, Cohen says, looking at Blanche, then toward the jury box.

Were you called to the DA's office on March 23, 2023, as a possible rebuttal witness to Costello? Yes.

And did you then go on TV that night and said you didn't need to be a rebuttal witness because Costello's testimony lacked veracity? Also yes.

What specifically have prosecutors said to you about speaking to the press?  They say it's "probably better" if I don't speak about it.

How many times have you had this conversation? I don't recall.

More than five? I don't think so, no. Fewer than five times. 

​​You haven't followed that request not to talk about the case? Correct. I'm responding—before Cohen can finish, Blanche cuts him off. He does some witness control: I'm asking you "yes" or "no," he says quickly, before moving on to the next question.

Cohen emphasizes that, whatever prosecutors may request, he has a First Amendment right, but Blanche says he's not asking about his First Amendment rights. Is it fair to say that in the course of this investigation, you've gone on TV several dozen times? I don't recall.

More than 20?

Could be.

Is there any doubt in your mind that it's more than 20? No. 

Well I only do it 6 days a week, Cohen says (chuckles from the press), so I'd say about 6 times a week.

You're active on Twitter? Correct.

And TikTok? Correct.

You do a nightly live TikTok? He’s live on TikTok for more than an hour nightly.

What's the point of doing it? To build an audience, to create community, to vent. I'm having trouble sleeping, so it's an outlet.

You also make money off of it? It does make money, Cohen admits, though it's not significant.

Since Cohen started "TikToking nightly" (Blanche's words) six weeks ago, how many times a week do you talk about Trump? Well I only do it six days a week, Cohen says (chuckles from the press), so I'd say about six times a week.

The district attorney's office gave a binder to study before your testimony? It's a binder of publicly available documents. Cohen says it's documents like his plea allocution statement. They gave it to my attorney, he continues, and I took it home to read. 

Do you want Trump convicted in this case? I would like to see accountability. But that decision is not for me, it's for the jury and the court.

Yes or no, you want Trump convicted? Sure.

Blanche turns to the Trump-themed merchandise sold on Cohen's podcast site. There’s a $32 t-shirt with a picture of Trump in an orange jumpsuit behind bars; a t-shirt that says “CONVICT 45,” also $32; and a $22 coffee mug with the words: “SEND HIM TO THE BIG HOUSE NOT THE WHITE HOUSE.”

And you were wearing the jumpsuit and jail cell t-shirt, and encouraging people to buy it? Well, yes, Cohen says matter-of-factly; it's part of the merch store.

If Blanche thinks he’s embarrassing Cohen before the jury, Cohen does not seem all that embarrassed. He acts as though running a merch store with items urging the jailing of your former boss is a perfectly normal thing to do.

When did you change your view of Trump from what it is now compared to what it was prior? Around the time I went on George Stephanopoulos in 2018.

You enjoyed working for Trump? Very much.

You met him in 2006 for the first time? Correct.

You helped resolve a board dispute? Yes.

You still live in a building with Trump's name on it? I do.

You had success helping the Trump Organization before you began working for them, right? So that's why they gave you a job? I don't know if that's the reason.

You were Trump's personal attorney at the Trump Organization? Yes.

You never answered to anyone there, just Trump? Correct.

You sometimes represented his family? I have, yes.

Who? Melania, Don Jr., I don't believe I ever repped Eric. I can't recall if I ever represented Ivanka.

You admired Trump? Yes, sir.

His success, tenacity? Very much so.

You read "Art of the Deal" twice? Yes.

You called it a masterpiece? Yes.

You were obsessed with Trump? I don't know if I would characterize it as obsessed. I admired him tremendously. 

Blanche now runs through all the nice things Cohen has said about Trump before their relationship soured. You've said that Trump speaks from the heart? He just wants to Make America Great Again? That kind of thing? Yes.

And you weren't lying when you said those nice things about Trump, right? At that time, I was knee deep into the cult of Donald Trump. I was not lying. That's how I felt.

Do you recall a Vanity Fair profile that was done in September of 2017? I do.

You participated in that article? Yes, it was written by Emily Jane Fox.

You said you were the guy who protects the president and the family? I believe so.

You said you'd take a bullet for Trump? Yes. 

You had no intention of writing a book at that time in 2017? I had no intention at that time.

You said there was no money in the world that would get you to disclose anything about the family? OK.

You described the Trumps as a surrogate family? Correct.

You told Hope Hicks in June 2017 that you missed Trump and the people you'd been around for years? Yes, I did. I did say I missed President Trump. I said the same things at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

Because of an ongoing investigation, there was a separation of sorts between you and Trump in 2017? Yes.

And you said it was frustrating because you couldn't spend as much time with Trump or his kids?

Cohen pauses, and then responds: "I’m sorry. Where was that said?"

You testified before Congress in the fall of that year. And that's the testimony in which you said you lied? Regarding the Russia project? Correct.

They asked you about the Trump-Moscow project, and you lied to them? Yes, the information I gave was not accurate.

So is not accurate information a lie in your book? Sure.

Is it a lie? It was inaccurate, yes. So, was it a lie?

Do you recall lying about that or other things as well?

I don't know, I'd have to—he gestures toward the monitor in front of him—refresh my memory. Blanche clarifies that Cohen only had to plead guilty about lying about the Moscow project. That's right, says Cohen.

Were you lying in that testimony when you said you'd always support Trump? That was true at the time.

But at some point in August 2018, you decided that you were going to meet with the special counsel's (Robert Mueller's) office and cooperate? I don't remember the specific date when I decided to cooperate.

You first met with Mueller in August of 2018? Yes.

Had you decided at that point you were going to cooperate? No.

So what were you thinking when you met with them? To protect Trump. To provide answers that might have been deceptive.

Blanche continues to question Cohen, and establishes that when Cohen met with the special counsel, three lawyers from the special counsel’s office, an intelligence analyst, and a forensics analyst were all present.

At that first meeting, you gave them a reason why you were going to meet with them? I'm sure I did.

You lied to the special counsel investigators about the Trump Tower Moscow project? "I believe that the information I gave to them was inaccurate."

But you're not saying that it was a lie? "I'll say it’s a lie." 

Blanche now asks Cohen about his discussions with the special counsel's office regarding the "Access Hollywood" tape during that first August 2018 meeting. Yesterday, Cohen testified about specific calls with Trump and Hicks about the tape. But he didn't disclose those details to the special counsel back in 2018. You didn't recall much when the special counsel's office asked you about the "Access Hollywood" tape in 2018? Cohen says that he was still trying to "protect" Trump then. He was being "deceptive" for that reason.

You were looking in the fall of 2019 for a way to get your sentence reduced? Yes.

Do you recall a visitor named Anthony Scaramucci? Yes.

It’s time for the afternoon break.

"Man, way to make it boring," one reporter laments. She's right. It is starting to drag at the end there. The cross is rambling and unfocused. We haven't spoken about the payments or business records a single time. 

*           *           *

When we return, Justice Merchan begins with scheduling matters. We're not meeting on Friday, and on Thursday, we'll end at 4:00 p.m. because a juror has an appointment. Now it's back to cross-examination.

Blanche resumes by asking about Cohen's first meeting with Manhattan prosecutors. One of the first things you asked the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office about was what the benefit to you would be? Cohen does not deny it.

Your sentence reduction motion was denied by a federal judge right? It was.

And then in September of 2020, your first book was launched, "Disloyal"? Correct.

And you on one of your early podcasts referred to Trump as a "cheeto-dusted cartoon villain"? That sounds like something I said.

In October 2020, the last time you had met with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office was about a year earlier? Correct.

Fast forward to May 2020, when Cohen was transferred to home confinement during COVID.

Now, it’s the summer of 2020, and Cohen's "Redemption Tour," which could very well be a Justin Bieber tour.

Then, in September 2020 Cohen launched his book "Disloyal" (which, again, could very well be a Justin Bieber album).

Blanche reads some of Cohen's greatest hits, calling Trump a "Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain" and a "boorish" misogynist.

Then Blanche quotes him directly—"I truly fucking hope that this man ends up in prison"—which Cohen admits sounds a bit more like him.

Cohen is now listening to his own podcast—Mea Culpa—from the witness stand.

Perhaps struggling with the too on-the-nose irony of Cohen listening to Mea Culpa from the witness stand, Hoffinger objects, and parties approach for sidebar.

You also said in that same podcast, that Trump "needs to wear handcuffs" and to do the perp walk? 

I don't recall saying that, but I wouldn't put it past me, Cohen says.

Your podcast had topped 10 million downloads? Blanche asks.

I think it was more, Cohen says. 

You are making money off podcasts, correct? Yes, sir.

You are motivated by fame? No, sir, I don't think that's fair to say.

Is it fair to say you're motivated by publicity? I don't know that that's fair to say either. I'm motivated by many things.

Do you recall saying in an interview that you wanted private planes, wealth, glamor, and so on? Yes, those are my words.

You love being on CNN, MSNBC, even Fox? I loved it when I was speaking on behalf of Trump.

Do you love it now? Less, but I still do.

You put the money you made from your book—about $2 million—into a trust for your family? It went into a bank account. So after Oct. 30, 2019, you didn't meet with Manhattan prosecutors again until Jan. 11, 2021? Cohen indicates that is correct.

There was someone in the district attorney's office named Mark Pomerantz at that time? Correct.

You started meeting with Pomerantz and others in the office? Yes.

The first of those meetings were on Zoom? Sounds correct.

But back in the February 2021 time frame, you were meeting with the district attorney's office, it wasn't about this case, right? That's correct.

During that 2021 period, you wanted the district attorney's office to publicly acknowledge that you were cooperating? I would say so.

Because you were still serving your sentence at that time? Yes, I was still in home confinement.

What were your restrictions on home confinement? Cohen says that he could go anywhere in Manhattan for three hours a day. He wore an ankle monitor at first, but then he did phone check-ins. 

Blanche is trying to suggest that Cohen was motivated to cooperate with the investigation in order to get a sentence reduction so that he could be released earlier from home confinement. 

So during your home confinement, did you meet with the district attorney at your house or did you go to the district attorney's offices? Possibly both.

And you were still doing TV at this time? I don't remember if I was doing TV while in home confinement.

What about going on MSNBC on Ali Velshi's show in January 2021? I don't remember that date, but I've been on Mr. Velshi's show many times.

At some point you understood that there was a new district attorney? Correct.

Have you met District Attorney Bragg? No, sir.

Then in October 2022, you published your second book, "Revenge." How much money have you made from "Revenge"? I don't know exactly, but I would say about $400,000.

So combined with "Disloyal," you've made about $2.4 million over the last four years? Yes.

In “Revenge,” you talk about your frustration with "President Trump" not being prosecuted? Yes. 

In your book, you called yourself a fixer? Yes.

But are you fixing things that you broke? No, sir. 

It’s a rambling cross with no particular focus, and Cohen is handling it reasonably well. Blanche’s punches aren’t landing except on points on which Cohen is content to let them land. Yes, he hates Trump and wants to see him in jail. Yes, he is motivated by the need to make money. Yes, he has lied. 

Blanche next turns to the subject of Cohen turning over his phones in 2023, but he doesn't get far.

Justice Merchan interjects: Mr. Blanche, is this a good time to stop?

Blanche agrees to put a pin in it until Thursday. Justice Merchan gives the usual instructions to the jurors. Once they file out, Justice Merchan instructs the parties to approach the bench. In this brief conference, Justice Merchan says that he asked the parties if it's possible to finish with the witness by Thursday afternoon. Blanche replies that he hopes to be able to do so by close of business that day. 

We’re done for the day. But in the cross-examination of Michael Cohen, there are miles to go before anybody sleeps.

Anna Bower is Lawfare’s Legal Fellow and Courts Correspondent. Anna holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Cambridge and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. She joined Lawfare as a recipient of Harvard’s Sumner M. Redstone Fellowship in Public Service. Prior to law school, Anna worked as a judicial assistant for a Superior Court judge in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia. She also previously worked as a Fulbright Fellow at Anadolu University in Eskişehir, Turkey. A native of Georgia, Anna is based in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Tyler McBrien is the managing editor of Lawfare. He previously worked as an editor with the Council on Foreign Relations and a Princeton in Africa Fellow with Equal Education in South Africa, and holds an MA in international relations from the University of Chicago.
Katherine Pompilio is an associate editor of Lawfare. She holds a B.A. with honors in political science from Skidmore College.
Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

Subscribe to Lawfare