Friday, May 17, 2024

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Riveting Revelations: Expert Analysis of Michael Cohen’s Day 1 Testimony

Michael Cohen: “He wasn't even thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign”.

Michael Cohen Donald Trump hush money
Sketch: Christine Cornell

As Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and self-described “fixer,” took the stand in the former president’s criminal trial on Monday, a damning portrait emerged of Trump’s deep involvement in the illicit hush money payments made to bury allegations of extra-marital affairs. 

Cohen’s testimony, corroborated by recordings, texts, phone records, and other witness testimony, painted a picture of a candidate driven not by a desire to protect his family—as Trump’s legal team claims—but by the overriding goal of winning the 2016 election at all costs.

Despite attempts by Trump’s defense to discredit Cohen as a “serial liar,” the proceedings revealed the former fixer’s critical role as an insider doing Trump’s dirty work. All but two of Cohen’s criminal convictions stemmed from his unwavering loyalty to Trump, for whom he admitted lying to Congress to align with the former president’s “political messaging.” In the end, Cohen became a serial liar to benefit Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump’s Explicit Orders to Suppress Affairs

As Michael Cohen recounted, his efforts to suppress stories about Trump’s alleged affairs with former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels were driven by Trump’s explicit directives. 

When informed of McDougal’s story being “shopped around,” Cohen testified that Trump instructed him to “make sure it doesn’t get released,” recognizing the story’s potentially significant impact on his campaign. Similarly, upon learning of Daniels’ allegations, Trump deemed it a “disaster” and a “catastrophe,” demanding that Cohen “just take care of it” and “push it out as long as you can” until after the election.

The prosecution’s meticulous questioning revealed the lengths to which Trump went to maintain control over these narratives. Cohen described using encrypted messaging apps like Signal to communicate with David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who had agreed to “keep an eye out for anything negative about Mr. Trump.” 

Michael Cohen Contradicts Trump’s Claimed Ignorance

The prosecution’s case was significantly bolstered when Michael Cohen’s testimony directly contradicted Trump’s claimed ignorance of the payments. The former fixer recounted informing Trump of the $150,000 cost to “control the story” about McDougal, to which Trump responded, “No problem, I’ll take care of it.” 

According to Cohen, Trump was a “micromanager” who knew every detail of the hush money deals and approved them every step of the way. “Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off,” Cohen stated, contradicting the defense’s claim that the former president was merely an unwitting bystander in this saga.

The prosecution’s forensic examination of banking records further undermined Trump’s defense. Cohen explained that the “retainer” listed as the wire transfer’s purpose was a deliberate falsehood, with the true intent being “to pay Stormy Daniels to execute the non-disclosure agreement and to obtain the story, her life rights.” This deception extended to the Trump Organization’s internal records, which falsely classified the reimbursements to Cohen as legal fees.

Trump’s aversion to email trails, revealed through Michael Cohen’s testimony, only heightened suspicions of a cover-up. As Cohen recounted, Trump believed “emails are like written papers” that could ensnare people, reaffirming his penchant for operating in the shadows and disdain for transparency.

Access Hollywood Tape Amplifies Campaign Panic

While Trump’s legal team sought to portray the hush money payments as a personal matter, Cohen’s testimony exposed the inextricable link between Trump’s political ambitions and his efforts to suppress these stories. “He wasn’t even thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign,” Cohen declared.

Text messages and testimony highlighted the campaign’s acute awareness of the potential fallout from the “Access Hollywood” tape, with Cohen describing the need to control the Daniels narrative as it could further “turn women against the candidate.”

Michael Cohen stated that all parties understood the catastrophic impact Daniels’ story could have on Trump’s campaign, especially on the heels of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. He recalled Pecker refusing to purchase the rights to Daniels’ story, prompting Cohen to take matters into his own hands.

Cohen Seeks Trump’s Approval for Hush Money

Cohen described a series of phone calls with Trump just days before the election, during which he sought final approval to proceed with the $130,000 payment to Daniels. “I wanted to ensure that once again he approved what I was doing because I require approval from him on all of this,” Cohen testified, adding, “Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off, on top of that I wanted the money back.”

On October 26, 2016, Cohen wired $130,000 obtained from his home equity line of credit to Davidson’s account after receiving Trump’s go-ahead, effectively securing Daniels’ silence. Cohen subsequently shared the signed non-disclosure agreement with Donald Trump. 

“One, so that he would know the matter—the task he gave to me—was finished, accomplished, done,” Cohen explained, underscoring his desire for credit and Trump’s awareness of the situation.

Monthly Payments Disguised as Legal Fees

But the payment itself was only the beginning of Cohen’s involvement in the cover-up effort. He described a meeting with Trump and Weisselberg in Trump’s 26th-floor office, where they hashed out a plan to reimburse Cohen for the hush money payment through a series of monthly installments disguised as “legal fees.”

Cohen testified that Weisselberg proposed paying him $420,000 over the course of 12 months, with the inflated sum intended to cover taxes. “We’re going to pay you over 12 months,” Cohen recalled Weisselberg saying, adding that the payments would be recorded “as like a legal service rendered since I was then going to be given the title of personal attorney to the president.”

This arrangement, Cohen asserted, was not for future legal services but rather a deliberate effort to reimburse him for the Stormy Daniels payment—a fact that both Trump and Weisselberg were aware of, according to his testimony.

The prosecution’s examination has been nothing short of meticulous, juxtaposing Cohen’s testimony against a mountain of corroborating evidence, including Weisselberg’s handwritten notes outlining the reimbursement scheme. This level of detail not only shields Cohen from credibility attacks but also paints a vivid picture of the chaos unfolding within the Trump campaign, consumed not by traditional campaigning but by efforts to contain potential scandals involving a Playboy Playmate and a porn star.

Michael Cohen’s testimony also raises questions about the extent of involvement from other key figures, such as Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, who was in frequent contact with Cohen during this period. The defense team’s efforts to undermine Cohen’s credibility and portray Trump’s actions as merely aimed at protecting his family may prove challenging in light of the detailed evidence presented.

As the trial progresses, Michael Cohen’s bombshell testimony stands as a pivotal moment, providing a firsthand account that directly contradicts Trump’s long-standing denials of involvement in the hush money payment. Cohen’s testimony will continue on Tuesday, followed by cross-examination by the defense.