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Day 2 Bombshells: Expert Analysis of Michael Cohen’s Intense Cross-Examination

Trump lawyer's stern advice to Cohen to “stay in the fold, don't flip, don't speak” reveals tactics commonly used by organized crime figures.

Donald Trump Michael Cohen hush money trial
Sketch: Christine Cornell

The Manhattan Criminal Courthouse buzzed with activity on Tuesday as Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, took the witness stand once again. The proceedings were marked by relentless questioning from both sides, seeking to either bolster or dismantle Cohen’s credibility regarding the alleged falsification of business records connected to hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

On Monday, Cohen kicked off his testimony by detailing how Trump, as a candidate, directed him to pay $130,000 to Daniels to bury her story of a decade-old sexual encounter with the real estate mogul. After Trump’s election victory, Cohen revealed that the newly minted president signed off on a repayment plan to reimburse Cohen for the hush money payout.

Cohen Details Donald Trump’s Direct Role in Hush Money Repayment

Susan Hoffinger, one of the leading prosecutors, meticulously laid the groundwork for the day’s testimony by revisiting Cohen’s 2017 interactions with Trump. Cohen reaffirmed his prior statements, indicating that Trump directed the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels in 2016, later arranging for Cohen’s reimbursement through falsified business records.

Hoffinger presented an incriminating email from Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization’s controller, detailing invoices designed to mask these repayments. These invoices, Cohen testified, amounted to $35,000 monthly payments over a year, totaling $420,000. This figure included additional bonuses and tax gross-ups, as Cohen needed to be reimbursed for the income taxes owed on his “salary”. 

Perhaps the most damning part of Cohen’s testimony came when he recounted a February 2017 meeting in the Oval Office. Cohen testified that Trump asked him if he needed any extra money and mentioned that he should “deal with Allen,” referring to Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s CFO. Trump confirmed Cohen would receive checks for January and February, providing direct evidence that Trump was aware of the repayment plan.

Michael Cohen at White House in 2017
Michael Cohen at the White House in February 2017.

To bolster Cohen’s statement, prosecutors displayed a photo of Cohen visiting the White House in February, a visual cue that made Cohen’s testimony more credible. This interaction, captured in photos shown to the jury, was crucial, as it was one of the rare instances where Trump himself confirmed knowledge of the repayments, according to Cohen’s testimony.

Shifts in Cohen’s Loyalty: From ‘Cult’ Member to Whistleblower

The testimony soon veered into Cohen’s involvement in the Trump-Russia investigation. Under intense questioning, Cohen admitted to lying to Congress about negotiations for a Trump Tower project in Moscow, a deception he justified as an effort to protect Trump.

Turning somber, Cohen described his emotional state when the FBI raided his hotel room in April 2018, seizing multiple phones and documents. In his recollection, Cohen detailed a phone call from Trump after the raid, where the President assured him, “Don’t worry. I’m the president of the United States. There’s nothing here. Everything’s going to be OK. Stay tough. You’re going to be OK.” This was their last conversation—a reminder of his fall from Trump’s inner circle to facing federal charges.

‘Stay Loyal, Don’t Flip’: Trump Camp’s Mobster-Esque Threats

The prosecutors also used this moment to highlight Cohen’s legal battles and his consequential relationship with Robert Costello, a Trump-affiliated lawyer. Cohen revealed emails from Costello promising beneficial connections through Rudy Giuliani and cloaked offers of support from high places. 

Robert Costello, a legal ally of Donald Trump, aggressively pressured Michael Cohen to remain loyal to the former president, according to Cohen’s recollection. In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Cohen’s premises, he interpreted Costello’s stern advice to “stay in the fold, don’t flip, don’t speak” as an unmistakable instruction not to cooperate with law enforcement investigating Trump. 

The use of mobster-esque language, reminiscent of HBO’s “The Sopranos,” in a case involving a former U.S. president is alarming. Michael Cohen’s account reveals how Trump’s inner circle used tactics akin to those of organized crime to keep potential witnesses from cooperating with authorities. This glimpse into the strong-arm methods allegedly employed by Trump’s allies highlights the pervasive culture of intimidation and silence that has plagued Trumpworld.

Cohen also shared that he was sent back to prison for refusing to sign a letter saying he wouldn’t publish a book, a move that a judge later deemed “retaliatory.” Cohen’s anger was palpable as he recounted being put in solitary confinement for no reason, indicating potential foul play possibly directed by Trump.

Cohen Weathers Todd Blanche’s Blistering Cross-Examination

Todd Blanche and Donald Trump at hush money trial
Todd Blanche and Donald Trump, Sketch: Jane Rosenberg

As expected, the defense wasn’t going to let Cohen off the hook easily. Todd Blanche, Trump’s lead lawyer, approached the cross-examination with a mixture of aggression and calculated calm. Blanche aimed to portray Cohen as a liar, driven by vengeance against Trump.

“Mr. Cohen, my name is Todd Blanche. You went on TikTok and called me a crying little shit, didn’t you?” Blanche began, showcasing Cohen’s unsavory comments. This approach aimed to paint Cohen as vengeful and unreliable, a former insider whose current testimony was steeped in bitterness rather than honesty.

After that combative start, Blanche’s lack of focus caused his line of inquiry to lose steam, with the attorney appearing slightly subdued following two sustained objections and a sidebar with the judge.

Adding to the confusion, Blanche’s tendency to quickly jump between topics made it difficult to track which time periods his questions were referring too. Like many reporters and spectators, Cohen visibly struggled at times to discern which years Blanche was referencing amid the attorney’s scattershot approach.

The defense’s tactic throughout has been to paint Cohen as unreliable. Todd Blanche reminded everyone that Cohen had lied before and coaxed Cohen into admitting that he financially benefited from his fallout with Trump. But despite the holes being poked into his credibility, Cohen’s testimony continually pointed back to Trump’s direct involvement.

Michael Cohen’s Character on Trial

Blanche read aloud Michael Cohen’s previous positive remarks about Trump, like when Cohen said that Trump just wants to “make the country great again.” Cohen admitted that his past support was genuine, but pointed to it as evidence of his former involvement in what he referred to as the “cult of Donald Trump.”

Despite Blanche’s relentless pursuit to dismantle Cohen’s character, Cohen reiterated that he paid the hush money to Daniels to influence the election, complying with Trump’s instructions. This admission underscored the prosecution’s central narrative: that Trump orchestrated the payments and subsequent cover-up.

Trump, Cohen’s Contrasting Courtroom Demeanors

As the courtroom battle between Donald Trump and his former fixer Michael Cohen unfolded, the two men projected starkly contrasting demeanors. While Trump appeared nonchalant, eyes closed and seemingly detached, Cohen displayed a mix of determination and introspection. His testimony outlined a complex web of allegiance, deceit, and his newfound commitment to truthfulness.

When the Court recessed for the day, an air of palpable tension lingered, leaving jurors and observers to mull over the weighty testimonies. The stakes couldn’t be higher—Cohen’s credibility is pivotal, while the implications for Trump extend far beyond the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse walls.

The trial adjourned with Michael Cohen’s cross-examination set to resume on Thursday, foreshadowing more dramatic clashes to come in a case that has gripped the nation. The high-profile legal showdown promises to deliver further twists and turns as the ultimate fate of Donald Trump hangs in the balance.