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Defense Presses Cohen on Crimes, Lies  05/17 06:19

   

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump's lawyers accused the star prosecution witness 
in his hush money trial of lying to jurors, portraying Trump fixer-turned-foe 
Michael Cohen on Thursday as a serial fabulist who is bent on seeing the 
presumptive Republican presidential nominee behind bars.

   As Trump looked on, defense attorney Todd Blanche pressed Cohen for hours 
with questions that focused as much on his misdeeds as on the case's specific 
allegations and tried to sow doubt in jurors' minds about Cohen's crucial 
testimony implicating the former president.

   Blanche's voice rose as he interrogated Cohen with phone records and text 
messages over Cohen's claim that he spoke by phone to Trump about the hush 
money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels that is at the heart of the case, 
days before wiring her lawyer $130,000.

   Blanche said that was a lie, confronting Cohen with texts indicating that 
what was on his mind, at least initially, during the phone call were harassing 
calls he was getting from an apparent 14-year-old prankster. Cohen said he 
believed he also spoke to Trump about the Daniels deal.

   "We are not asking for your belief. This jury does not want to hear what you 
think happened," Blanche said, his voice growing even louder, prompting an 
objection from the prosecutor.

   The heated moment was the crescendo of defense cross-examination over two 
days designed to portray Cohen -- a onetime Trump loyalist who has become one 
of his biggest foes -- as a media-obsessed opportunist who turned on the former 
president after he was denied a White House job.

   Whether the defense is successful in undermining Cohen's testimony could 
determine Trump's fate in the case. Over the course of the trial's fourth week 
of testimony, Cohen described for jurors meetings and conversations he said he 
had with Trump about the alleged scheme to stifle stories about sex that 
threatened to torpedo Trump's 2016 campaign.

   Prosecutors have tried to blunt the defense attacks on their star witness by 
getting him to acknowledge at the outset his past crimes, including a guilty 
plea for lying to Congress about work he did on a Trump real estate deal in 
Russia.

   But the cross-examination underscored the risk of prosecutors' reliance on 
Cohen, who was peppered repeatedly with questions about his criminal history 
and past lies. Cohen also testified that he lied under oath when he pleaded 
guilty to federal charges, including tax fraud, in 2018.

   "It was a lie? Correct?" Blanche asked Cohen about whether he lied to the 
late U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III at a court hearing about not 
feeling pressured into pleading guilty.

   "Correct," Cohen said.

   The defense also attacked Cohen's motivations and elicited testimony 
designed to support the defense's argument that the Daniels deal was 
essentially a shakedown of Trump, rather than a plot to keep voters in the 
dark. Cohen acknowledged telling a former prosecutor that he felt Daniels and 
her lawyer were extorting Trump in seeking the $130,000 payment to keep quiet 
about her claim of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

   "Yes, I recall making a statement like that ... that they were extorting Mr. 
Trump," Cohen told jurors.

   He's by far prosecutors' most important witness, placing Trump directly at 
the center of the alleged scheme to silence women who claimed to have had 
sexual encounters with Trump. Trump denies the women's claims. Cohen told 
jurors that Trump promised to reimburse him for the money he fronted and was 
constantly updated about behind-the-scenes efforts to bury potentially 
detrimental stories.

   Cohen also matters because the reimbursements he received form the basis of 
34 felony counts charging Trump with falsifying business records. Prosecutors 
say the reimbursements were logged, falsely, as legal expenses to conceal the 
payments' true purpose.

   Trump, who insists the prosecution is an effort to damage his campaign to 
reclaim the White House, says the payments to Cohen were properly categorized 
as legal expenses because Cohen was a lawyer. The defense has suggested that he 
was trying to protect his family, not his campaign, by squelching what he says 
were false, scurrilous claims.

   "The crime is that they're doing this case," Trump told reporters Thursday 
before entering the courtroom, flanked by a group of congressional allies that 
included Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; and Rep. Bob 
Good, R-Va., the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.

   The hard-right Republican lawmakers stood outside the courthouse and railed 
against a "kangaroo court" and the case, amplifying the former president's 
attacks on the judicial system as they were heckled but also cheered by the 
crowd. The former president has been joined at the courthouse in recent days by 
a slew of conservative supporters, including some considered potential vice 
presidential picks and others angling for future administration roles.

   Among those at the courthouse Thursday were Republican members of the House 
Oversight Committee, which delayed a hearing on an effort to hold Attorney 
General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress so the lawmakers could appear 
alongside Trump in Manhattan.

   Blanche confronted Cohen with profane social media posts, a podcast and 
books he wrote about the former president, getting Cohen to acknowledge that he 
has made millions of dollars off slamming Trump. In one clip played in court 
Thursday, Cohen could be heard using an expletive and saying he truly hopes 
"that this man ends up in prison."

   "It won't bring back the year that I lost or the damage done to my family. 
But revenge is a dish best served cold," Cohen was heard saying. "You better 
believe that I want this man to go down."

   Cohen acknowledged he has continued to attack Trump, even during the trial.

   In one social media post cited by the defense attorney, Cohen called Trump 
an alliterative and explicit nickname, as well as an "orange-crusted 
ignoramus." Asked if he used the phrase, Cohen responded: "Sounds correct."

   Cohen -- prosecutors' final witness, at least for now -- is expected to 
return to the witness stand Monday. The trial will take Friday off so Trump can 
attend the high school graduation of his youngest son, Barron.

   Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office has said it will rest its 
case once Cohen is done on the stand, though it could have an opportunity to 
call rebuttal witnesses if Trump's lawyers put on witnesses of their own.

   The defense isn't obligated to call any witnesses, and it's unclear whether 
the attorneys will do so. Trump's lawyers have said they may call Bradley A. 
Smith, a Republican who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the 
Federal Election Commission, to refute the prosecution's contention that the 
hush money payments amounted to campaign-finance violations. Defense lawyers 
said they have not decided whether Trump will testify.

 
 
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