Trump lawyer in hush money trial attacks key witness Cohen as a liar

In the historic New York hush money trial against Donald Trump, the defense of the former US president attempted to destroy the credibility of key witness Michael Cohen with aggressive questioning. Defense attorney Todd Blanche grilled Cohen, who had gone from being a Trump confidant to being Trump's enemy, in his cross-examination on Thursday and tried to portray him as a chronic liar who was driven by a desire for revenge against his former boss.

It was the third day of testimony by the former Trump lawyer and the second day of his questioning by the defense. Cohen, who is considered the most important witness for the prosecution, reported on Monday that he paid the hush money to former porn actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election with Trump's consent. In the first criminal trial in history against a former US president, Trump is accused of having covered up the hush money by falsifying business documents.

On Thursday, Trump's defense attorney – based on data from a phone call – wanted to prove that Blanche had lied when he said that he had informed Trump in October 2006 that the matter with Stormy Daniels was over. “That was a lie. Admit it!” Blanche said sharply.

However, Cohen stuck to his version. “No, sir,” he countered the defense attorney's request. “I can't do that.” The former Trump loyalist has remained mostly calm and controlled during his three days of testimony so far, even though he is said to have a hot temper.

Blanche on Thursday stepped up his efforts to portray Cohen as a chronic liar, detailing Cohen's previous lies under oath in testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2017. The witness countered that he had accepted to “take responsibility” for those lies.

Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements and other offenses and was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018. He served part of his sentence in prison and part under house arrest. Some of the offenses that earned him the prison sentence related to the hush money for Stormy Daniels, which was classified as illegal campaign financing in Cohen's conviction.

Cohen had worked for Trump for ten years and was considered his cleaner, i.e. a specialist in solving particularly tricky problems. Blanche tried on Thursday to substantiate his accusation that Cohen wanted revenge on Trump. His ego was hurt because Trump did not appoint him to the government team after his election victory in 2016.

The defense plans to continue questioning the 57-year-old former Trump lawyer on Monday. There was an exceptional break in the trial on Friday because Judge Juan Merchan had allowed the defendant to attend the graduation ceremony of his 18-year-old son Barron that day.

Merchan informed the parties that closing arguments could possibly begin as early as Tuesday. Cohen is expected to be the prosecution's last witness, and the defense says it currently only wants to call one witness, an expert in campaign finance law.

Stormy Daniels also testified in the trial last week, describing in detail her alleged sex affair with Trump in 2006. Cohen paid her $130,000 in hush money (about €120,000 in today's terms) before the 2016 election to persuade her not to go public with her sex story.

According to the indictment, Cohen later received the money back from Trump in eleven installments when he was already president. The reimbursements to Cohen were falsely declared as legal fees. The prosecution is trying to prove that this was not only a case of document forgery, but also illegal election manipulation.

Cohen said on Tuesday that he had transferred the hush money to ensure that Stormy Daniels' story would not “impact” Trump's chances of becoming president. Trump faces a prison sentence in the case, but experts consider this unlikely. They expect a suspended sentence or a fine.

Even if he is convicted, Trump is likely to run for president again. The right-wing populist wants to run against his successor Joe Biden in the November election.