As Michael Cohen prepares to take stand at Trump trial, he faces serious credibility questions

Disbarred attorney Cohen is a key witness in D.A. Bragg’s case against the former president and perhaps the only witness that can tie Trump directly to the payments. The problem for Bragg is whether the jury will believe Cohen.

Published: May 12, 2024 10:50pm

Michael Cohen is expected to deliver his long-awaited testimony Monday in Donald Trump’s so-called “hush money” case, but taking the stand will likely bring up his own credibility issues on cross-examination. Still,  Cohen is likely the most significant witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump.

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.

Daniels, who testified last week, recounted in salacious detail an alleged sexual encounter with Trump on the sidelines of a celebrity golf tournament in 2016. Legal experts have said her prurient testimony may have done little for the actual case.

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 according to a non-disclosure agreement.

Cohen will make his debut in the trial after publicly posting and commenting about Trump's behavior. Observers speculate that Trump’s lawyers will argue Cohen's testimony sets a double standard, considering Trump has been under a gag order. So far, Judge Juan Merchan has refused to similarly gag Cohen, though on Friday, the judge asked prosecutors to inform Cohen that he should not speak about the trial or Trump.

Cohen walks in to a trial that so far has appeared to cut against Bragg. Experts say Bragg’s witnesses not only haven't given him any slam dunks, but actually may be undercutting the district attorney’s case.

For example, Hope Hicks – a former communications aide for Trump – last week delivered testimony that undercut Bragg’s main charge, that Trump orchestrated the “hush money” payments in order to influence the election. Hicks told the court that her former boss was primarily motivated by sparing his wife and family from the salacious accusations made by Daniels.

Both David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer who helped “capture and kill” the affair stories, and Keith Davidson the former lawyer to Stormy Daniels to whom hush money was paid also gave testimony challenging the facts contained in the indictment. Since then, the Enquirer was sold to VVIP Ventures, a joint venture between Vinco Ventures, Inc and a360 Media, for an undisclosed price.

Pecker acknowledged that his arrangement from Trump dated long before the 2016 and was a “mutual, beneficial relationship.”

Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels and McDougal, also gave testimony undercutting a key claim from Bragg’s case – that Trump was paying hush money misrepresented as a legal expense. Davidson instead said it “wasn’t a payoff and it wasn’t hush money” but rather “a civil settlement agreement.”

As Cohen prepares for his testimony, the lawyer faces new questions of his credibility. Memos reviewed by Just the News and reported in early March show Cohen in 2018 repeatedly insisted to his own attorney that he had no incriminating evidence on Trump related to the hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

The contradictions between Cohen’s public statements and claims to his attorney were first reported by Just the News last year, but have fresh relevance as he is set to deliver testimony against his boss in a case alleging the opposite of his statements.

These memos are just a fraction of the baggage Cohen is bringing to Trump’s hush money trial in New York—including previous convictions for lying to Congress, tax evasion, and bank fraud—where he will be a key witness for the prosecution.

Another blow to Cohen's credibility is that Cohen and his lawyer were scolded last year by a federal judge for a court filing that included three fake citations generated by the Google Bard AI tool. They had filed a court brief that cited three cases that do not exist. It turned out that Cohen passed the fake cases along to Schwartz, who didn't do a fact-check before submitting them as part of a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Neither were formally sanctioned by the judge.

Trump’s legal team previously asked Judge Merchan in March to block both Cohen’s testimony because of his previous perjury conviction and allegations he lied in Trump’s civil fraud trial last year. Then, later the same week, another judge, who was reviewing Cohen's request for early release, suggested Cohen may have committed perjury once again in his testimony at that fraud trial.

When Cohen was on trial himself in August 2018, he testified the payments to Daniels were “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to Trump. Yet, these claims stand in contrast to the account he gave his lawyer, Robert Costello, in 2018 before his trial took place, according to the memos reviewed by Just the News.

Last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan referred the Cohen matter to the Department of Justice for allegedly lying to Congress in 2019 in another incident which calls the lawyer’s credibility into question.

“As indicated in the 2019 letter, Cohen, while testifying under oath before the House Oversight Committee, made willfully and intentionally false statements of material fact that were contradicted by the record established by the Justice Department in United States v. Cohen," the Chairmen wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland. "Cohen also made statements to the Oversight Committee that were contradicted by witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the subject matter.”

The pair highlighted six times that Cohen apparently lied to the committee in his testimony, which were previously referenced in an older congressional letter. Among the statements recorded as lies were Cohen’s denial of committing fraudulent acts which he had plead guilty to in court and contradictions between his written and verbal testimony.

Despite Cohen's credibility issues, his testimony represents a last-chance opportunity for Bragg to finally tie the checks written and allegedly misrepresented in business records directly to former President Trump. Bragg has failed so far to make that connection.

Cohen had a front row seat to the payments. After his testimony, the question that will remain is if the jury will believe whatever he has to say.

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