Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Michael Cohen was cross-examined today at Trump's hush money trial


Donald Trump's defense team began cross-examining former Trump attorney Michael Cohen today by asking him about his memory and his credibility. It's Cohen's second day on the stand. NPR's Andrea Bernstein joins us from outside the courthouse. And, Andrea, Michael Cohen has stuck to his story that Trump was in on the hush-money payments and the false records every step of the way. How did the defense team handle that?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Right off the bat, the defense tried to hit Cohen in the same way it tried to discredit Stormy Daniels - by saying Cohen had an animus towards Trump. The defense quoted statements like when Cohen called Trump a Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain and showed how he sells T-shirts showing Trump in an orange jumpsuit - and also that Cohen essentially wouldn't shut up. He kept talking about this investigation despite pleas from the DA's office to remain quiet. The implication is that Cohen is helping the DA's case for the money or the fame or both. Cohen said he'd made about $3.4 million from two books he'd written about Donald Trump.

SUMMERS: Right. OK. Did they get to the specifics of Cohen's testimony about how Trump was in on the hush-money payment as well as the reimbursement scheme?

BERNSTEIN: Not so much - the defense did not talk about Cohen's testimony about Trump's role in directing the hush-money payments, did not get to the specifics of what Cohen testified to just this morning - the 11 checks, eight signed by Donald Trump himself, with stubs that said they were for a, quote, "legal retainer." There was no legal retainer, Cohen said over and over today - just an agreement to reimburse him for the hush money.

SUMMERS: Andrea, when we spoke with you yesterday, you told us that Michael Cohen was calm. So what about today? How did he hold up on cross-examination?

BERNSTEIN: So it's certainly true he didn't remember the details of his anti-Trump utterances with clarity. He remembered the events of 2016 to 2018, but he kept a hold of himself on cross. The emotion of the day came earlier, on direct examination, when Cohen described the events of 2017 - when he was iced out of Trump world in many ways but still continued his role as protector, lying to Congress about a Trump Tower Moscow deal, misleading the Federal Elections Commission and lying to reporters by saying he alone authorized the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. But then, in April of 2019, it all caught up with him when the FBI raided his living quarters and his offices.

And then came the emotional moment when Cohen talked about speaking to Trump for what would be the last time. Cohen said Trump called him and said, don't worry. I am president of the United States. There's nothing here. I'm going to be staying in touch with you, and you're going to be OK. Cohen said he felt reassured. Cohen was speaking directly to the jury at this point, and they were looking right back at him.

SUMMERS: OK. But as we know, Cohen did not end up staying loyal to former President Trump. What did he have to say about that?

BERNSTEIN: Cohen said he was approached shortly after the raid by a lawyer who was close to the Trump team who told him he had friends in high places and could sleep well. But Cohen called him sketchy. Four months later, when presented with potential indictment, Cohen said he decided to plead guilty to lying to banks, tax evasion and violating campaign finance laws. This last crime, Cohen said, he did on the benefit of and - he said he did on behalf of and for the benefit of Donald Trump. We also learned today Cohen's the last prosecution witness. The defense case starts next week and will be brief unless Trump testifies, which he still might.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein outside the courthouse. Andrea, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]