With credibility on the line, Cohen tells jurors he secretly recorded his boss

Cohen's long-awaited testimony is seen as central to Manhattan District Attorney Bragg's case.

Published: May 13, 2024 9:44am

Updated: May 13, 2024 2:07pm

With his credibility on the line, Michael Cohen testified today that he secretly recorded his boss as he took the stand Monday to give high-stakes testimony in the so-called hush money case against Donald Trump.

Cohen, as Trump's former lawyer and fixer, is likely the most significant testimony to date in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's case against the former president. 

Cohen was at the center of the alleged scheme to arrange payments to both porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal before the 2016 election in order to prevent their stories from going public. Both Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and McDougal alleged they had brief affairs with Trump more than a decade ago.

Today, Cohen told the jury: 

  • he secretly recorded Trump in a private conversation, which he claimed was for the purpose of ensuring the loyalty of David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer who helped Trump "catch and kill" stories leading up to the 2016 election.
  • that neither he nor Trump ultimately paid the $125,000 to the Enquirer for the McDougal story. 
  • claimed Trump wanted to clamp down on these stories because he was worried about the election and not his family, which prompted a reaction from the former president. 

Bragg’s case centers on the payment scheme, which he claims includes an illegal effort by Trump to falsify business records in order to conceal “unlawful activity,” in this case, to improperly influence the 2016 election. The alleged business records revealed reimbursements to Cohen after the lawyer paid Daniels $130,000 according to a non-disclosure agreement.

Trump's legal team attempted to bar Cohen's testimony because of his perjury conviction and allegations he lied during Trump's civil fraud trial last year. 

So far, the prosecution has attempted to establish Cohen's close relationship with his former boss, asking the witness to describe how Trump assigned tasks. Trump's knowledge of the payments to Daniels is central to Bragg's case.

"Keep me informed," Trump would say, Cohen told the jury. He described his former boss as a micromanager who would expect updates on his work.

Cohen later testified that Trump remained in the loop on efforts to "catch and kill" two unflattering stories as the 2016 election approached, a story from his doorman and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. For example, when the National Enquirer and Cohen succeeded in buying the rights to McDougal's story, Cohen says Trump was pleased. 

"Fantastic. Great job," Cohen claims Trump said in response to the news. 

Cohen also told the jury he recorded a 2016 discussion between he and his former boss about the McDougal story in order to ensure David Pecker, publisher of the National Inquirer, remained loyal. 

"It was so I could show it to David Pecker and that way he would hear the conversation, that he would know that we’re going to be paid, Mr. Trump is going to be paying him back," Cohen said. "I also wanted him to remain loyal to Mr. Trump."

"To your knowledge was Mr. Trump aware that you were recording this conversation?," prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked him

"No ma'am," Cohen replied.

In testimony about the Stormy Daniels payment, Cohen contradicted previous witnesses, claiming his motivation was the presidential campaign and not sparing his wife and family from the allegations becoming public. 

"Women are going to hate me ... Guys may think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign," Trump reportedly said, according to Cohen. 

"He wasn't even thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign," Cohen told the jury. Trump reportedly shook his head at this statement, according to CNN

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