Michael Cohen stands to make or break Trump hush money case

In the first four weeks of former President Trump’s hush money trial, his one-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has been called a “jerk,” an “asshole” and challenging to work with — to the point that some sought to actively avoid him.

But when Cohen takes the stand Monday — billed as a star witness for the Manhattan district attorney’s office — he’ll be tasked with convincing the jury hearing the former president’s first criminal case that he’s also something else: a credible witness.

It won’t be an easy task.

Cohen made the $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels to stay silent about her alleged affair in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, funneling his own money through a shell company he opened for that sole purpose.

He also played a role in coordinating two other so-called “catch-and-kill” deals, where people with unflattering stories about Trump were paid by a tabloid friendly to the then-2016 presidential candidate to keep their stories secret.

Cohen is expected to directly connect the former president to the 34 allegedly falsified records he is charged over, taking a step that the former president’s current and former employees who have testified have not done. He is expected to begin his testimony Monday, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

Trump’s team is likely to pull out all the stops to paint Cohen as a liar. While the district attorney’s office has been upfront with jurors that Cohen has “baggage,” it has insisted documents corroborate his account. Lanny Davis, his former legal adviser, maintains the same, though he declined to comment on the trial evidence in an interview with The Hill, noting he is respectful of the judge’s order.

“It’s about the documents; it’s not about Michael,” Davis told The Hill. “The documents corroborate.”

That war over his credibility has been underway from the start of the trial.

Jurors have seen Cohen’s texts, heard recordings of his phone calls and have learned about his criminal record, with the witness’s name coming up repeatedly throughout the completed testimony.

And for some of the 18 New Yorkers serving as jurors and alternates, Cohen’s reputation precedes him. One of the jurors said during the selection process he follows Cohen on the social platform X.

Cohen and Trump were first introduced by the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in 2006, around the time Trump’s alleged affairs with Daniels and another woman, ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, took place.

He quickly became one of Trump’s most loyal aides, earning a nickname as the then-business mogul’s “pit bull.” Asked about the label in a 2011 ABC News interview, Cohen described his duties as doing “everything in my power” to resolve issues to Trump’s benefit.

“If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished,” he said.

Evidence and testimony presented at trial so far has backed up that interpretation of the job.

Text messages between Daniels’s attorney, her manager and a top editor at the National Enquirer — the tabloid that helped quash Trump’s bad press — detailed incessant phone calls from Cohen that often involved derogatory exchanges.

“He was highly excitable, sort of a pants-on-fire kind of guy. He had a lot of things going on,” testified Keith Davidson, Daniels’s lawyer at the time of the hush money agreement. “I’d frequently be on the phone with him, he’d take another call, he’d be talking out of two ears.”

David Pecker, then-publisher of the Enquirer, testified that when he refused to pay off the adult film actress at Cohen’s request — after already fronting the cost of two other hush money deals benefiting Trump — Cohen angrily relayed that “the boss,” or Trump, “would be furious.”

And documents introduced by Cohen’s onetime banker, Gary Farro, showed that the Trump fixer set up a shell company to funnel his own money to Daniels. Trump’s repayment of those funds — and the way he allegedly misclassified them to hide it — are at the center of the district attorney’s case.

In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance and other charges and was sentenced to three years in prison. At his sentencing, he told the judge he repeatedly felt it was his “duty” to conceal Trump’s “dirty deeds.”

A year later in 2019 testimony before Congress, Cohen called himself “ashamed” that he took part in “concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.”

At that hearing — where Republican lawmakers tore into Cohen’s credibility, toting a sign that read “liar, liar pants on fire” — the reimbursement checks that now form the basis for some of Trump’s charges were first shown to the world.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Davis told The Hill.

Since his conviction, Cohen and Trump have been at each other’s throats.

Cohen wrote a book titled “Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the US Department of Justice Against His Critics,” started a podcast dubbed “Mea Culpa,” which means “through my fault” in Latin, and has regularly railed against Trump on cable news appearances.

They’ve both sued each other, with one of those cases nearly going to civil trial last summer before a last-minute settlement. And Cohen testified against Trump in his recent civil fraud trial that led to a nearly half-a-billion-dollar penalty.

And in classic Trump fashion, they’ve hurled plenty of nicknames. Cohen recently called Trump “Von ShitzInPants,” while Trump has called Cohen a “sleazebag” along with insults that run the gamut. Some of the former president’s attacks against Cohen have been ruled gag order violations.

Cohen wouldn’t be the first witness in Trump’s trial to admit that he can’t stand Trump.

When Daniels took the stand last week, she plainly answered “yes” when asked whether she “hates” the former president.

The jury — which has largely maintained a serious demeanor, taking notes and following along with witness testimony — seemed less captivated by Daniels’s testimony than other witnesses. Even as she cracked jokes, most jurors kept straight faces

When Cohen takes the stand, it’s expected he’ll say more of the same. Testifying in Trump’s civil fraud trial last year, he agreed that he harbors “significant animosity” toward the former president.

“In fact, you often go on social media, stating all your animosity?” Trump attorney Alina Habba asked at the time.

“Not all my animosity,” Cohen retorted, as laughter rippled through the gallery. He later conceded he has built his new career off publicly attacking Trump.

If Cohen’s fraud trial testimony was any indication, Trump’s attorneys can be expected to attack his credibility forcefully. The former president and his lawyers have long purported Cohen is a “liar” and an unreliable witness, contending the now-disbarred lawyer went rogue and established the deal on his own volition.

But now, the stakes are higher, as Cohen takes the stand in his former boss’s first time staring down criminal charges.

“The minute he shouts and loses his temper and gets angry — which he has every right to do, goodness knows, after what he’s been through — he knows and I know that he loses and they win, after all these years,” Davis said. “So he knows what he has to do.”

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