Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen grilled over social media posts at hush-money trial

Cohen says he paid Stormy Daniels to influence 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favour

Donald Trump’s lawyers sought to use Michael Cohen’s words against him on Tuesday, grilling him about insulting social media posts and television appearances to try to undermine his testimony that Mr Trump authorised a hush money payment to an adult film star.

Under aggressive questioning from Mr Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche, Mr Cohen acknowledged calling the former president a “dictator douchebag” on TikTok and said he had persisted in commenting on the case even after prosecutors expressed frustration about it.

Mr Cohen, who was Mr Trump’s former fixer and now the prosecution’s star witness, spent about nine hours on the witness stand on Monday and Tuesday answering prosecutors’ questions. In detail, he testified that Mr Trump ordered him to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016 to stay quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter, lest it ruin his presidential campaign.

But Mr Cohen’s checkered history – he served time in federal prison for various crimes, including the hush money payment, and has admittedly lied under oath – is a prime target for Mr Trump’s lawyers, who have cast him as a liar with an axe to grind.


The defence showed jurors pictures of Trump-themed merchandise for sale on Mr Cohen’s website, including shirts with an illustration of Mr Trump behind bars and mugs reading, “Send him to the big house, not the White House.”

As Mr Blanche peppered Mr Cohen with questions, Mr Trump occasionally exchanged notes with his lawyers before assuming his customary posture, leaning back with his eyes closed. At one point, his mouth appeared to hang slack for a moment.

Mr Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels in October 2016 is at the heart of Mr Trump’s historic trial, now in its fifth week.

Prosecutors say Mr Trump paid Mr Cohen back after the election by creating false records indicating they were for legal fees. Those disguised reimbursements provide the basis for the 34 counts of falsifying business records that Trump faces.

Trump (77), the 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has pleaded not guilty and denies any sexual encounter with Ms Daniels. He has characterised the case as a partisan attempt to interfere with his campaign to take back the White House he lost in 2020 to president Joe Biden.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Cohen described an Oval Office meeting in February 2017 where Mr Trump told him that Mr Cohen would soon receive the first monthly instalments of a bonus package, which Mr Cohen said included reimbursements for the Daniels payment.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger walked Mr Cohen through a series of invoices and checks – some signed by Trump himself – that Mr Cohen said were falsely marked as paying to retain him for legal services.

“There was no retainer agreement, was there?” Ms Hoffinger asked.

“No, ma’am,” Cohen replied.

Mr Cohen (57), said he lied multiple times to Congress during an investigation into Mr Trump’s Russia ties, eventually pleading guilty to perjury. He also told jurors he lied repeatedly about the payment to Ms Daniels, telling journalists Mr Trump had no involvement.

In 2018, after the justice department began investigating the Daniels payment, FBI agents raided Mr Cohen’s home. He said he called Mr Trump in a panic.

“He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m the president of the United States ... you’re going to be okay,’” Mr Cohen said. That was the last time they spoke directly, Mr Cohen added.

Instead, Mr Cohen testified, a lawyer named Robert Costello who was close to Mr Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani offered a “back channel” to Mr Trump. In emails shown to jurors, Mr Costello passed along Mr Giuliani’s assurances that he had “friends in high places”.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump was defending Mr Cohen on social media and decrying the idea that he might “flip” and co-operate with prosecutors.

It all added up to a “pressure campaign” to keep Mr Cohen in line, he said. But he eventually decided to co-operate after speaking with his family.

Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to federal crimes in 2018, including offences related to the Daniels payment, and said Mr Trump – who was not charged – directed him to make the payment.

“I regret doing things for him that I should not have – lying, bullying people in order to effectuate a goal,” Mr Cohen said when asked to reflect on his many years working for Mr Trump. “To keep the loyalty and to do the things that he asked me to do, I violated my moral compass. And I suffered the penalty – as has my family.”

A day after several Republican lawmakers attended the trial in support of Mr Trump, US House speaker Mike Johnson joined him and later criticised the case outside the court.

While Mr Cohen testified on Tuesday, a mid-level appeals court denied Mr Trump’s latest effort to throw out a gag order that Mr Trump asserted violated his right to free speech.

The order, imposed by judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial, prohibits Mr Trump from making public comments about jurors, witnesses, and families of the judge and prosecutors if meant to interfere with the case.

On Monday, Mr Cohen said Mr Trump approved multiple payments to keep damaging sex-scandal stories out of the public eye, lest they ruin his presidential campaign.

“Everything required Mr Trump’s sign-off,” Cohen said.

In October 2016, Mr Cohen said, he learned Ms Daniels was shopping her story to tabloids. At the time, the Trump campaign was in crisis mode after the release of an audio recording in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals.

“He said to me, ‘This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women are going to hate me,’ Mr Cohen told jurors Mr Trump had said.

Mr Cohen testified that Mr Trump was solely concerned about the impact Mr Daniels’s story could have on his White House bid – and not, as Mr Trump’s lawyers have suggested, about the effect on his wife and family. That distinction is crucial to the prosecution’s case.

Under New York law, falsifying business records can be elevated from a misdemeanour to a felony if the crime helped conceal another offence. In Mr Trump’s case, prosecutors have argued that the payment was effectively a secret contribution to his campaign, violating federal and state laws.

The Manhattan trial is considered less consequential than three other criminal prosecutions Mr Trump faces, all of which are mired in delays.

The other cases charge Mr Trump with trying to overturn his 2020 presidential defeat and mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Mr Trump pleaded not guilty to all three. – Reuters