Michael Cohen testifies he and Trump worked to suppress news that would hurt 2016 campaign

Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Donald Trump departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump's criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in New York City, Monday.

Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Donald Trump departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump's criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in New York City, Monday. (Mike Segar, Reuters )

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NEW YORK — Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen told jurors on Monday that the Republican presidential candidate was furious that porn star Stormy Daniels was shopping a story in 2016 about an alleged sexual encounter with him, telling Cohen it would be catastrophic for his campaign.

"He said to me, 'This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women are going to hate me,' Cohen testified at Trump's trial in New York state criminal court in Manhattan. "'Guys, they think it's cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.'"

Cohen, the prosecution's star witness, said he learned that Daniels was selling her story at a critical moment for Trump's White House bid, after the release of an audio recording from the TV show "Access Hollywood" in which Trump bragged about grabbing women's genitals.

The tape left the Trump campaign scrambling to contain the damage only weeks before the 2016 Election Day.

Cohen's $130,000 payment to Daniels to buy her silence about the alleged 2006 encounter is at the center of the case.

Prosecutors have said Trump paid Cohen back after the election and hid the reimbursement by recording it falsely as a legal retainer fee in Trump's real estate company's records.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records tied to the reimbursement. Prosecutors say the altered records covered up election law and tax law violations — since the money was essentially an unreported contribution to Trump's campaign — that elevate the crimes from misdemeanors to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

Trump, a former president who is running against Democratic President Joe Biden in November, has pleaded not guilty and denies having had a sexual encounter with Daniels, who testified last week. He argues the case is a politically motivated attempt to interfere with his campaign to take back the White House.

Trump's defense has suggested the payment to Daniels could have been made to spare Trump and his family embarrassment, not to boost his campaign. But Cohen testified that Trump appeared solely concerned with the effect on his White House bid.

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan criminal court, Monday in New York.
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan criminal court, Monday in New York. (Photo: Seth Wenig via Reuters)

"He wasn't thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign," Cohen said, referring to Trump's wife. At the defense table, Trump shook his head.

Cohen added that he recalled Trump saying, "Just get past the election, because if I win it will have no relevance because I'm the president, and if I lose, I won't really care."

Jurors reviewed emails showing that Cohen repeatedly delayed paying Daniels. Cohen said he was trying to put off the deal until after the election at Trump's behest.

Secret payments

Wearing a dark suit and pink tie, Cohen testified earlier in the day that Trump signed off on other payments to bury alleged sex scandal stories that could have damaged his 2016 campaign.

Cohen said he, Trump and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker agreed to use the supermarket tabloid to boost Trump's presidential candidacy while blocking any negative stories that might hurt his chances.

That arrangement included a $150,000 payment from Pecker's company to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to acquire the exclusive rights to her story about a yearlong affair she said she and Trump had, Cohen said.

"Make sure it doesn't get released," Cohen recalled Trump saying.

Jurors were played a recording Cohen said he made of a meeting in which Trump asked him, "So what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?"

Trump can also be heard directing Cohen to pay with cash, which Cohen said was to "avoid any type of paper transaction."

Pecker previously testified at the trial that he bought McDougal's story in order to ensure it was never published and that he eventually decided not to seek reimbursement from Trump.

Cohen also described an earlier instance in 2015 in which Pecker paid a doorman $30,000 to kill a story that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock, a claim that turned out to be false. Trump, Cohen said, had told him to "handle it."

From loyalist to enemy

For nearly a decade, Cohen, 57, worked as an executive and lawyer for Trump's company and once said he would take a bullet for Trump, 77.

Cohen said it was fair to describe his role as a fixer for Trump, testifying that he took care of "whatever he wanted." Rather than work as a traditional corporate lawyer, Cohen reported directly to Trump and was never part of the Trump Organization's general counsel's office.

Among his duties was threatening to sue people and planting positive stories in the press, he said.

Trump, he said, communicated primarily by phone or in person and never set up an email address.

"He would comment that emails are like written papers, that he knows too many people who have gone down as a direct result of having emails that prosecutors can use in a case," Cohen said.

When Trump was preparing to announce his campaign for president, Cohen said, Trump told him that there would be "a lot of women coming forward."

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance law by paying off Daniels and testified that Trump directed him to make the payment. Cohen went to prison. Federal prosecutors did not charge Trump with any crime.

Trump's defense lawyers have told the 12 jurors and six alternates that Cohen is a liar whose testimony cannot be trusted. Cohen has admitted to lying under oath multiple times, providing substantial fodder for the defense to undermine his credibility.

The Manhattan trial is widely seen as less consequential than three other criminal prosecutions Trump faces, but it is the only one certain to go to trial before the election.

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


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