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‘He cannot be trusted’: Michael Cohen faces an uphill reputational battle with Trump’s jury

‘he-cannot-be-trusted’:-michael-cohen-faces-an-uphill-reputational-battle-with-trump’s-jury

‘He cannot be trusted’: Michael Cohen faces an uphill reputational battle with Trump’s jury

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Monday might be the first time the jury in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial sees Michael Cohen in person, but they have heard plenty about the former president’s one-time “fixer.”

Witness after witness over the last three weeks have offered their opinions on Trump’s former lawyer, whose credibility with the jury could swing the outcome of the trial.

Cohen serves a linchpin role in the state’s case as the only witness present during some of the discussions that prosecutors say tie Trump to a scheme to falsify business records in an effort to influence the 2016 election. Prosecutors argue that Trump disguised payments to Cohen in 2017 to prevent voters from learning allegations of a long-denied sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Daniels’ former lawyer Keith Davidson compared Cohen to the excitable dog from the animated film Up — including by shouting “Squirrel!” in open court — while Trump’s former communications director Hope Hicks took a swing at Cohen’s reputation as a “fixer.”

“I used to say that he liked to call himself a ‘fixer” or ‘Mr. Fix It,’ and it was only because he first broke it that he was able to come and fix it,” Hicks testified.

Prosecutors attempted to inoculate Cohen during their opening statements by arguing that he acted on Trump’s orders and has since come clean with his criminal conduct.

“Michael Cohen, like other witnesses in this trial, has made mistakes in his past,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said in his opening statement. “I suspect the defense will go to great lengths to get you to reject his testimony precisely because it is so damming.”

As expected, defense lawyer Todd Blanche hammered at Cohen’s credibility during his opening statement, and defense lawyers are expected to lean into their cross-examination of Cohen over the coming week.

“He has a goal, an obsession with getting Trump, and you’re going to hear that,” Blanche told jurors. “I submit to you that he cannot be trusted.”

But statements about Cohen from multiple witnesses — about his personal identity, professional work, and honesty — add another dimension to Cohen’s complicated reputation.

Early in the trial, jurors heard from Cohen’s former banker, Gary Farro, who said Cohen’s reputation preceded him.

“I can only tell you what I was told — that I was selected because of my knowledge and my ability to handle, um, individuals that may be a little challenging,” Farro said after being asked why he was assigned to work with Cohen. “Frankly, I didn’t find him that difficult.”

Farro said that whenever he got a call from Cohen, “it was always something that was urgent,” and that Cohen liked to boast about his relationship with Trump.

“Did he talk about that frequently?” prosecutor Becky Mangold asked.

“Yes. He was very excited to be working for him,” Farro said.

Davidson similarly told the jury about how Cohen leaned heavily on his relationship with Trump during their negotiations to purchase Daniel’s story ahead of the 2016 election.

“Every single time I talked to Michael Cohen he leaned on his close affiliation with Donald Trump,” Davidson testified. “I don’t know if it was ever explicitly said, ‘I am negotiating this matter on behalf of Donald Trump.’ It was part of his identity and he let me know it every opportunity he could.”

Cohen never formally held a role on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but Hicks said that Cohen made media appearances on behalf of Trump and was looped into certain campaign matters.

“He would try to insert himself at certain moments, but he wasn’t supposed to be on the campaign in any official capacity,” Hicks told jurors.

According to prosecutors, Cohen’s chief contribution to Trump’s 2016 campaign was coordinating a catch-and-kill scheme with David Pecker of the National Enquirer and Trump. Pecker told jurors that Cohen invited him to an August 2015 meeting where the scheme originated, and would contact Cohen if he spotted a negative story about Trump.

“I received a call from Michael Cohen telling me that the boss wanted to see me,” Pecker told jurors about the August 2015 meeting. “When I spoke to Michael Cohen, that’s how he would refer to Donald Trump, as the boss.”

According to prosecutors, that scheme ultimately resulted in two hush money payments from National Enquirer parent company AMI — to purchase a false story about Trump fathering an illegitimate child for $30,000 and a separate story about Trump’s alleged affair with former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, which he has denied, for $150,000. Pecker also said he notified Cohen about the option to purchase Daniels’ story of an alleged affair with Trump, which Cohen did in the days ahead of the 2016 election for $130,000.

Pecker told jurors about growing frustrated with Cohen after he repeatedly delayed the Stormy Daniels payment, and that Cohen erupted when Pecker backed out of a plan for the Trump Organization to reimburse AMI for the $150,000 McDougal payment due to legal concerns, putting the future of the catch-and-kill arrangement in jeopardy.

“He was very, very, angry, very upset, screaming basically, at me. And I said, ‘I am not going forward with this agreement — rip it up,'” Pecker recounted. “Michael Cohen said, ‘The boss is going to be very angry at you.'”

Keith Davidson told jurors that he grew tired of Cohen delaying his payment to Daniels in 2016, telling the jury that Cohen made excuses including blaming computer issues, missing emails, the observance of a Jewish holiday, and Trump’s busy schedule on the campaign trail.

“You can’t believe what we’re going through. The Secret Service is in here — they have so many goddamn firewalls. I can’t get s—. It’s not my fault. You’re going to have to resend the agreements again. I never got your emails,” Davidson recounted Cohen saying, describing the former lawyer as a “jerk” and “pants-on-fire kind of guy.”

The jury also heard a recording that Cohen surreptitiously made during a phone call with Davidson where Cohen complained about Trump.

“He said something to the effect of: ‘Jesus Christ, can you f—— believe I’m not going to Washington. After everything I’ve done for that f—— guy, I can’t believe I’m not going to Washington. I’ve saved that guy’s a– so many times, you don’t even know,'” Davidson testified.

He added that Cohen was “depressed and despondent” at the time because Cohen was not given a position in the Trump administration. According to Davidson, Cohen had mentioned the idea of being attorney general or chief of staff.

“I thought he was going to kill himself,” Davidson said.

Hope Hicks testified that when she learned about the Daniels hush money payment in 2018, Trump told her Cohen made the payment “out of the kindness of his own heart” to protect his boss — a contention that Hicks discredited by telling the jury what she thought of Cohen.

“I would say that would be out of character for Michael,” Hicks said. “I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person. He’s the kind of person who seeks credit.”

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