Trump's ex-lawyer Cohen reports hush money payments in New York trial

In the historic New York criminal trial against former US President Donald Trump, his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen has assigned the defendant a central role in the hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. The prosecution's key witness, who went from being a Trump confidant to being a Trump enemy, reported on Monday that he paid the hush money shortly before the 2016 election with the consent of his then boss.

In the first criminal trial in history against a former US president, Trump is accused of having covered up the hush money for Stormy Daniels by falsifying business documents and thus covertly interfering in the presidential election. The hush money had been used to force the former porn actress to keep quiet about an alleged sex affair that she says she had with the real estate mogul in 2006.

“Take care of it,” Trump told him when he learned of Stormy Daniels' plans to go public with the sex story, Cohen said. “This has to be stopped,” the ex-lawyer quoted his former boss as saying.

“I spoke with Mr. Trump and we told him I would advance the money for it, which he was very grateful for,” Cohen said of a conversation with Trump and his chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. “Good, good,” Trump reportedly said. “He said to me, 'Don't worry, you'll get the money back,'” Cohen continued.

Cohen then transferred $130,000 (about €120,000 in today's value) to Stormy Daniels. According to the indictment, he was later reimbursed for the money by Trump when he was already president. The reimbursements to Cohen were falsely declared as legal fees.

Trump's defense attorneys do not deny the hush money – but they do deny that their client was aware of the payment. Trump has pleaded not guilty. He also denies having sex with Stormy Daniels. The former porn actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, described her alleged sex with Trump in detail last week in the trial – right down to the physical position that Trump is said to have taken during it.

At the beginning of his testimony, Cohen was asked by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger whether he had previously lied on Trump's behalf and harassed people. The 57-year-old replied: “Yes. (…) When that was necessary to get the job done.”

Cohen then described the “catch and kill” method used by the Trump team during the 2016 election campaign, with which stories potentially damaging to Trump were “captured” and “killed” before they were made public. He thereby confirmed the testimony of the former editor of the scandal sheet “National Enquirer”, David Pecker, who also appeared as a witness in the trial and worked with Cohen to suppress such stories.

According to the statements, the “catch and kill” method was also used on former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who, according to her own account, also had sex with Trump. The National Enquirer bought the exclusive rights to her Trump story for $150,000 – but then did not publish it. Trump has also denied having a sex affair with McDougal.

The former president listened to Cohen's testimony with a largely impassive expression. Cohen expects harsh questioning from the defense, which will try to portray him as a chronic liar.

Cohen had worked for Trump for ten years and was considered his cleaner, a specialist in solving particularly tricky problems. He campaigned for Trump with such vehemence that he was also called his “pit bull”. During Trump's presidency, however, Cohen came under pressure from investigations and became a bitter enemy of his former boss.

Cohen himself was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for tax and financial crimes and making false statements. He served the sentence partly in prison and partly under house arrest. Some of the crimes 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.

Trump describes the New York trial and the three other criminal charges brought against him as politically motivated maneuvers to prevent him from returning to the White House. The 77-year-old right-wing populist wants to run against incumbent Joe Biden in the presidential election in November, against whom he lost in the 2020 election.