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Trump trial's OJ glove moment: Cohen tape undercuts prosecutors’ main story to jurors

This follows a pattern of weaknesses in Bragg’s case, which has been consistently undercut by other witnesses. But if the tapes don't fit: they must acquit.

Published: May 14, 2024 11:04pm

Updated: May 14, 2024 11:23pm

When Alvin Bragg's prosecutors opened their felony record-keeping trial, they promised to show the jurors that Donald Trump "orchestrated" a conspiracy to hide allegations from a porn star and another woman from voters in 2016 and disguise the source of the cash in his firm’s books.

When their star witness Michael Cohen played a tape he secretly made of his ex-boss and client, the recording appeared to show that Trump was unaware of key details, seemingly aloof to a plan that Cohen himself admitted he had concocted to make the so-called “hush money” payments.

Like the glove too small to fit OJ Simpson, the Cohen tape may prove an explosive boomerang that benefits the defense more than the prosecution. In the recordings, Trump doesn't admit to knowing the full scheme or ever mention trying to impact the elections—central components of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s charges against the former president.

If Trump didn't admit, jurors may certainly be asked to acquit. In criminal cases, the jury is required to find guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt."

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election; then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the jury in his opening statement, succinctly summarizing Bragg’s case.

The prosecutor laid out the case, now the witnesses would have to provide the evidence to back up these claims. However, witness after witness seemed to undercut the central components of the case: that Trump had knowledge of the payments, that he was the orchestrator, and that he was motivated by manipulating the 2016 election to win.

Cohen, widely considered to be the star witness of the district attorney’s case, testified differently, claiming his former boss was a micromanager who would expect updates on his work.

Cohen also testified that Trump remained in the loop on efforts to "catch and kill" at least three unflattering stories as the 2016 election approached, a story from his doorman, Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, and adult film actress Stormy Daniels—the payments for which Trump is alleged to have orchestrated the falsification of business records.

Trump's knowledge of the payments to Daniels and the others is central to Bragg's case because he has charged the former president with falsifying business records to conceal another crime, in this case, alleged campaign finance violations.

The pinnacle of Cohen’s testimony came when he played the recording of his boss which the prosecution hoped would show the jury that Trump was personally involved in efforts to pay Karen McDougal for the rights her story of an alleged affair.

Yet, one part of the recording appears to show Michael Cohen, not Trump, was orchestrating the method of payment. According to the audio, Trump appears unaware of his fixer’s methods of financing the payments.

“So, what are we going to pay for this? 150?,” Trump asked, referencing the payment for McDougal’s story.

“Yes. And it’s all the stuff,” Cohen replied.

While Trump is aware of McDougal’s story and efforts to acquire the rights to it, the audio shows he was not intimately familiar with his lawyer’s plans to set up the payment.

“Correct. So, I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing which will be—“ Cohen said.

“Listen. What financing?” Trump asked.

"We'll have to pay,” Cohen said.

“So I’ll pay with cash,” Trump insisted.

“No, no, no, no, no. I got—no, no, no,” Cohen says and the recording ends.

It is unclear from the audio whether Trump was informed about Cohen’s specific plans to use a shell company to purchase the rights to the story by paying AMI—the company headed by David Pecker, then-publisher of the National Enquirer. This appears to contradict Bragg’s claim that Trump was the orchestrator of the alleged scheme.

Additionally, the tape does not indicate whether Trump was specifically concerned with the impact of the story on the upcoming 2016 presidential election, something that Cohen testified to, but which was contradicted by at least one other witness.

“Women are going to hate me…Guys may think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign,” Cohen claims Trump said in relation to the Stormy Daniels allegations.

“This was all about the campaign,” Cohen told the jury, according to CNN.

Yet, the jurors have still not seen proof that Trump himself uttered these or any other words explaining his motivations. Legal expert Alan Dershowitz, a former Harvard professor, says this is what the prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Well, only the points that [Cohen] made that could conceivably relate to the case, namely that [Trump] was more interested in the politics, and the political implications, the electoral implications, than in protecting his wife, or protecting his brand. That hasn't been mentioned enough, Trump was very concerned about protecting his brand, the Trump brand,” Dershowitz told the Monday edition of “Just the News, No Noise” television show.

“Well, only the points that he made that could conceivably relate to the case, namely that he was more interested in the politics, and the political implications, the electoral implications, then in protecting his wife, or protecting his brand, and hasn't been mentioned enough, Trump was very concerned about protecting his brand, the Trump brand,” he added.

Cohen’s testimony and the details on the secret recording follow testimony from other witnesses who contradicted the building blocks of Bragg’s case, including the former controller of the Trump Organization, Jeffrey McConney, and Trump communications aide Hope Hicks.

Last week, McConney, who served in the Trump Organization for more than 20 years, testified that Trump did not direct him to make any of the legal expenses payments to Cohen that Bragg alleges were falsely represented.

“President Trump did not ask you to do any of the things you just described ... correct?” Trump’s lawyer asked McConney of the reimbursements to Cohen.

“He did not," McConney answered.

Hope Hicks, who worked closely with Trump on communications, also delivered testimony that contradicted a key pillar of Bragg’s case. She told the court that her former boss was primarily motivated by sparing his wife, Melania Trump, and family members from having to deal with the public attention that would come from accusations that her husband had an affair with an adult film actress.

“I don't think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed by anything that happened on the campaign," Hicks said under cross examination from Trump’s lawyers, according to Business Insider. "He wanted them to be proud of him.”

Hicks also testified that Cohen was not “looped in on the day-to-day” operations of the presidential campaign. Despite this, he claimed this week that his ex-boss’ motivation was was the campaign and how the news would impact his support with the voters.

Cohen’s testimony is set to be juxtaposed with testimony from his former lawyer, Bob Costello, who is set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Costello will reiterate what he told Just the News previously about his client, that Cohen repeatedly denied having any incriminating evidence on his former boss. He even refused flip on Trump and provide information on alleged crimes even at the lowest point of his life, while suicidal after federal prosecutors raided his law office, in order to avoid his life being ruined by criminal charges.

This, Costello will say in his opening statement obtained by Just the News, shows that Cohen really had nothing to convince a jury that Trump had a master plan to manipulate the 2020 election through fraudulent means.

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