Trump trial: Key points from Michael Cohen’s cross-examination

Cohen has testified that Trump directed him to pay actor Stormy Daniels to suppress her account of a sexual rendezvous

Michael Cohen faced a fierce cross-examination on Tuesday afternoon in the criminal trial of Donald Trump, as the defence tried to tear down the prosecution’s key witness.

Cohen was repeatedly attacked by Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, who suggested he was being evasive on the stand, had selective amnesia and was a jilted former employee profiting off his hatred of the former president.

Cohen, once Trump’s personal lawyer, has testified that Trump directed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actor, to suppress her account of a sexual rendezvous with him in a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of Cohen. Trump (77), has denied the charges and says he did not have sex with Daniels. If convicted, he could face prison or probation.


Here are five takeaways from Trump’s 17th day on trial:

We could be near the end, but Trump is a wild card

Prosecutors indicated Tuesday that Cohen would be their last witness, and the defence said that it hoped to be done with cross-examination on Thursday, the week’s only remaining day of court.

After that, the defence can present its case, though it is not clear how long that might take. On Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers told the judge, Juan Merchan, that they could begin on Monday, and that the defendant might testify.

“No determination yet?” Merchan asked.

“No,” Blanche said.

No knockout blow in a crucial cross-examination

From his first question, it was clear that Blanche was ready for a fight: He immediately suggested that the volatile Cohen had referred to him online with a vulgarity. The judge stopped that line of questioning, but Blanche was soon peppering the witness with questions about his penchant for talking to reporters, his defiance of prosecutors’ requests to stop speaking and his feelings about Trump.

Blanche grilled Cohen about social media posts. Those included a suggestion that Trump belonged in a cage like an “animal” and a reference to him as a “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain.”

Cohen responded calmly that those sounded like things he would have said, leaving the defence still hunting for a moment that would badly damage his credibility.

Cohen discussed emotions. He didn’t show them

The anticipation that Cohen would melt down seemed high. Late last year, when he testified at Trump’s civil fraud trial, he made legal objections from the witness stand, refused to answer questions and cited court cases in his defence.

But in his first two days of testimony, Cohen has largely kept his composure. He has given short, basic answers and rarely strayed off topic.

While some of Cohen’s insults of Trump were mentioned, he also complimented the president, describing his past admiration for his former boss.

All that, prosecutors probably hope, could reaffirm the idea that Cohen is simply acting out of virtue rather than a desire for revenge.

The case hangs on documents

A month in, the jury has heard about porn actors, pay-offs and campaign panics. But whenever jurors get the case, perhaps before the end of next week, they will also have a raft of documents to evaluate.

These include a series of cheques sent to Cohen, who reaffirmed repeatedly on Tuesday that the description of the cheques as payments for a legal retainer were false.

The jury is also likely to pore over transcripts of Cohen’s testimony about a meeting in the Oval Office in February 2017 in which he says Trump confirmed the plan to reimburse him.

The House speaker is carrying out Trump’s attacks

It was a striking sight: House Speaker Mike Johnson second in line for the presidency, standing in front of a courthouse in Manhattan, calling a criminal prosecution a “sham”.

Johnson blasted Cohen, calling him a man “on a mission for personal revenge,” and saying that “no one should believe a word he says in there”.

The Republican Party has traditionally made support for law enforcement a pillar, but such invective has become the norm in Trump’s trial as the presumptive presidential nominee’s allies come to court to support him. (On Tuesday, those included North Dakota governor Doug Burgum and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.)

Their defence of Trump follows a gag order that bars him from attacking jurors and witnesses like Cohen. Trump has already been cited for 10 violations and threatened with jail if he continues.

Trump said in a morning statement to reporters, “I do have a lot of surrogates, and they are speaking very beautifully.”

Who shows up next is anybody’s guess when court meets on Thursday and the cross-examination of Cohen continues.

– This article originally appeared in The New York Times.