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Michael Cohen Offers Pivotal Testimony in Trump’s NY Hush Money Trial

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By: AP

Once Donald Trump’s loyal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen pointed the finger at his former boss Monday in pivotal testimony about hush money payments at the center of the first criminal trial of a former American president.

Cohen provided jurors with an insider’s account of payments to silence women’s claims of sexual encounters with Trump, saying the payments were directed by Trump to fend off damage to his 2016 White House bid.

Cohen is expected to be on the witness stand for several days, and face intense grilling by Trump’s attorneys, who have painted him as a liar who’s trying to take down the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

While prosecutors’ most important witness, he’s also their most vulnerable to attack — having served time in federal prison and built his persona in recent years around being a thorn in Trump’s side.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Here are some takeaways from Cohen’s testimony so far:

Cohen tied Trump directly to the hush money scheme, recounting meetings and conversations with his then-boss about stifling negative stories in the waning weeks of the 2016 campaign.

“He expressed to me: Just do it,” Cohen said of the $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who was threatening to go public with claims of a sexual encounter with Trump decade earlier. Trump denies they ever had sex.

Less than two weeks before the election, Cohen finalized the payments to buy Daniels’ silence. Immediately, he went to Trump to inform him the deal was done, he testified.

“The task he gave to me was finished, accomplished and done,” Cohen testified, before pointing to a second reason for updating his boss: “to take credit for myself so that he knew I had done it and finished it, because this was important.”

About another story of an alleged affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Cohen said Trump told him, “Make sure it doesn’t get released.” Cohen testified that he personally had no interest in acquiring the rights to McDougal’s story, telling jurors, “What I was doing was at the direction of and benefit of Mr. Trump.” Trump also denies having an affair with McDougal.

Cohen also recounted going to Trump after learning about a Trump Tower doorman who claimed, falsely, that Trump had a child out of wedlock.

In reply, Trump told him, “You handle it,” according to Cohen.

Cohen described being angry when he wasn’t initially reimbursed for the Daniels hush money payment. Eventually he met with Trump and then Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg in Trump Tower to discuss the debt owed to him, Cohen told jurors. There, Weisselberg informed Cohen the reimbursements would be paid as “legal services” in monthly installments, he testified.

That’s important because the 34 counts of false business records Trump is charged with stem from paperwork such as invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in company records. Prosecutors say those payments largely were reimbursements to Cohen for Daniels’ hush money payment.

Cohen testified that Trump feared Daniels’ story would be a “disaster” for his presidential campaign, which was already reeling at the time from the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women sexually without their permission.

That testimony could be key for prosecutors, who are trying prove that Trump schemed to illegally influence the 2016 race by burying unflattering stories that could damage his campaign.

(AP)

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