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Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)
The Associated Press
Published: 13 May 2024

NEW YORK (AP) — The fourth week of witness testimony in Donald Trump's hush money trial could be a doozy: Michael Cohen, the prosecution's star witness, has taken the stand.

The long-anticipated testimony on Monday from Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer follows a breathtaking buildup by prosecutors of a case that ultimately hinges on record-keeping. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records to cover up hush money payments that Cohen made as part of efforts to buy and bury stories that might hurt the former president's 2016 campaign.

Text messages, audio recordings, notes and more have all been introduced or shown to jurors in recent weeks to illustrate what prosecutors say was a scheme to illegally influence the election that year. And sometimes dramatic testimony from witnesses that included former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, ex-Trump staffers and porn actor Stormy Daniels added to the intrigue.

The prosecution could wrap its case this week after telling the judge on Friday that they expected to call just two more witnesses.

The trial is in its 16th day.

In addition to Daniels' recounting of a 2006 sexual encounter she said she had with Trump — which he denies — last week saw two failed bids by the defense to have a mistrial declared, attempts to have the gag order squashed or at least altered and more.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts.

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.

Currently:

— Michael Cohen: A challenging star witness in Trump’s hush money trial

— Trump trial turns to sex, bank accounts and power: Highlights from the third week of testimony

— Key players: Who’s who at Trump’s hush money criminal trial

— The hush money case is just one of Trump’s legal cases. See the others here

The trial so far:

Cohen testifies that publisher pressed him for reimbursement for suppressed stories 

After the National Enquirer shelled out $150,000 to suppress Karen McDougal’s story about Donald Trump, Michael Cohen testified that the tabloid’s publisher was hounding him to get Trump to reimburse him for the cost.

Cohen, the prosecution's star witness in Trump's hush-money trial in Manhattan, recounted meeting the former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, at his favorite Italian restaurant and the publisher being upset about not being repaid to bury the story about Trump's alleged affair with McDougal, a former Playboy model.

Pecker was concerned, Cohen said, that “it was too much money for him to hide from the CEO of the parent company” and he’d already laid out $30,000 to suppress another story.

Cohen said at some point Pecker had also expressed to him that his company, American Media Inc., had a “file drawer or a locked drawer as he described it, where files related to Mr. Trump were located.”

Cohen said he was concerned because Pecker’s relationship with Trump went back years and that Pecker was in the running to head another media company. Cohen feared what would happen to the files if Pecker left.

Cohen describes how he worked to quash story about alleged affair with Playboy model 

Michael Cohen, called to the stand by the prosecution in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan, testified he went to Trump immediately after the National Enquirer alerted him to a story being peddled that alleged Trump had had an affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Cohen recalled going to Trump’s office, asking Trump if he knew McDougal or anything about the story.

Cohen said Trump then told him to make sure that the story doesn't get released.

Cohen said he communicated regularly with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and editor Dylan Howard to stop the story from getting out. He said the tabloid executives updated him regularly on their discussions and that he kept Trump apprised of developments.

Cohen said he thought the story would have a “significant” impact on Trump’s presidential campaign if it became publish.

The McDougal news came on the heels of the National Enquirer paying $30,000 to squash a doorman’s false rumor about Trump having a child out of wedlock.

Cohen testifies about how tabloid offered to help Trump 

Michael Cohen, who is testifying for the prosecution in Donald Trump's hush-money trial in Manhattan, offered his side of an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower where former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified he’d offered to look out for negative stories before they were published.

Cohen testified that Pecker offered to publish positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents. He said the publisher also offered to “keep an eye out for anything negative about Mr. Trump and that he would be able to help us know in advance what was coming out and try and stop it from coming out.”

Cohen said he was seeking to harness the power of the National Enquirer to Trump’s benefit, given its high visibility next to the cash registers at tens of thousands of supermarkets across the U.S.

Cohen also testified about his role in brokering a deal to buy a potentially damaging story — which claimed, falsely, that Trump had a child out of wedlock — from a Trump Tower doorman in order “to take it off the market.”

Cohen, 57, worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017 as Trump’s lawyer and fixer. Cohen broke with Trump after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in 2018. He has been a fierce critic ever since.

Cohen testifies about his 10 years with Trump, says Trump never had an email address 

Michael Cohen, the prosecution's star witness in Donald Trump's hush-money trial testified that he reported directly to Trump during his decade-long tenure as his executive vice president and special counsel.

He recalled being tasked to renegotiate bills on Trump’s behalf, including a law firm invoice that Trump felt wasn’t “fair, reasonable, justified” and outstanding invoices from 50 vendors of Trump’s failed Trump University project.

Cohen testified that he managed to trim most of the Trump University bills by more than 80%, sparing Trump from having to cover costs behind the $2 million left in the project’s bank account.

Cohen also testified he spoke with Trump — either in person or by phone — multiple times a day. But Trump was wary of using email, Cohen said.

“Mr. Trump never had an email address,” Cohen said. Trump knew too many people who had “gone down” as a result of emails that prosecutors were able to use against them in legal cases, Cohen said.

Though now a fierce critic of Trump, Cohen testified that his decade working for him was largely a “fantastic” experience.

Cohen once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. Now he is the star witness in the former president’s hush money trial.

Cohen is expected to testify about his role in arranging hush money payments on Trump’s behalf during his first presidential campaign, including to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who told jurors last week that the $130,000 that she received in 2016 was meant to prevent her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in a hotel suite a decade earlier.

Cohen, 57, worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017 as Trump’s lawyer and fixer. Cohen broke with Trump after the FBI raided his office, apartment and hotel room in 2018. He has been a fierce critic ever since.

Cohen first came to Trump’s attention as a condo board member who took the developer’s side in a dispute between residents and management at a Trump building where he lived in Manhattan.

Trump, flanked by supporters, speaks before trial begins 

As Donald Trump entered the criminal courtroom in Lower Manhattan on a pivotal day of his hush-money trial, he stopped to talk to reporters to proclaim his innocence. He also called the case a “political witch hunt.”

His comments come moments before the expected beginning of testimony of a pivotal witness: his former lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen, now one of his sharpest critics.

Some of Trump’s political allies lined up behind him as he spoke, including Republican Ohio Sen. JD Vance. Vance, who has become a close ally of the former president, is considered one of the top contenders on Trump's shortlist of vice presidential candidates.

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York were also among the crowd. It was by far the biggest showing of support from Trump’s Republican allies after one-off appearances in recent days by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.

Trump has started inviting supporters to join him in court as he is subject to a gag order that prohibits him from criticizing the witnesses and others.

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