Wilkes-Barre, PA
66°
Cloudy
5:42 am8:17 pm EDT
SatSunMon
68°F / 59°F
79°F / 57°F
82°F / 61°F

National News

Star witness in Trump trial tells of plot to conceal porn star hush money payments

(Credit: Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)

Ashley Murray, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 13, 2024

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s former fixer took the stand in a Manhattan courtroom Monday and told jurors that Trump was well aware of a scheme to hide the repayment of money intended to silence porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, told the jury that he used a home equity loan to pay $130,000 to Daniels’ lawyer, trusting a promise from Trump — then a Republican candidate for the presidency — that he’d be repaid.

The criminal trial, the first ever for a former president, centers on Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen and whether Trump illegally covered up the hush money as routine legal expenses, a felony in New York.

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts for each alleged falsified business record related to his repayment to Cohen — 11 invoices, 11 checks and 12 ledger entries.

Cohen has already served time in prison for several federal crimes, including campaign finance violations in relation to the hush money deals with women who alleged sexual affairs with Trump. He was sentenced to three years in August 2019, but did not serve the entire sentence.

Cohen’s intense loyalty to Trump fizzled after the then-president distanced himself. The former fixer is now an outspoken Trump critic and has published books titled “Disloyal” and “Revenge,” and produces a podcast called “Mea Culpa.”

Cohen was called to the stand just days after Daniels, an adult film actress and director, described in lurid detail her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, the affair at the heart of the payments in question.

GOP senators show up as moral support

Journalists at the courthouse reported that Trump, the presumed 2024 Republican presidential candidate, was sleeping at times during the trial Monday and shaking his head in response to some of Cohen’s testimony.

New York does not allow recording in the courtroom but provides public transcripts of the proceedings.

Trump was accompanied by Republican U.S. Sens. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and J.D. Vance of Ohio, considered to be on the short list as Trump’s running mate. Republican U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, of New York, also joined the senators and spoke to media outside the Lower Manhattan courthouse.

Florida’s GOP Sen. Rick Scott made an appearance in the courtroom last week.

Prior to Monday’s proceedings, Trump delivered remarks to the press with Tuberville and Vance, among others, behind him.

Trump defended his payments to Cohen and blamed the charges on the Biden administration, despite the indictment coming down from the state of New York.

“A legal expense is a legal expense. It’s marked down in the book quote ‘legal expense,’” Trump told reporters, making air quotes with his hands.

“This all comes from Biden in the White House by the way,” he added.

Worries about ‘Access Hollywood’ tape

Cohen testified that he wanted to protect Trump from further alienating women voters just weeks before the November election, according to reporters at the courthouse.

A story about Trump’s alleged extramarital affair with Daniels reaching the public shortly after the revelation of the “Access Hollywood” tape would have been “catastrophic,” Cohen said.

The tape, published by the Washington Post just a month before the 2016 presidential election, showed Trump bragging to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush that fame allowed him to grab women’s genitals.

The tape caused upheaval in the Trump camp as Election Day approached, former Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks testified on May 3.

Prosecutors showed phone records, texts and emails of Cohen’s frantic attempts to quash stories of Trump’s alleged trysts with Daniels, and with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, according to journalists witnessing the testimony.

Cohen testified for several hours about communications with David Pecker, former National Enquirer publisher; Keith Davidson, the attorney for both Daniels and McDougal; and Hicks — all of whom took the stand during the trial’s preceding weeks.

Phone records revealed a five-minute call between Cohen and Trump on Oct. 28, 2016, at 11:48 a.m., during which Cohen told the jury that he assured Trump “that this matter is now completely under control and locked down,” according to reporters at the courthouse. The phone call occurred on the same date Cohen signed the agreement with Daniels and Davidson.

The jury also saw records of a wire transfer from Cohen’s shell company Essential Consultants to Davidson, the purpose of which was to “to pay Stormy Daniels to execute the non-disclosure agreement and to obtain the story, her life rights,” Cohen said, according to reporters at the courthouse.

By late afternoon, Cohen began to testify about Trump’s direct knowledge of the plan for reimbursement. The plan was hatched with the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who is currently in prison for crimes related to Trump’s civil fraud trial, which wrapped up in New York in February.

Jurors saw handwritten notes from Weisselberg detailing plans to get the money back to Cohen. This was the second time the jury has seen the notes, as Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization’s longtime controller, testified to them on May 6.

Just before the court broke for the day, Cohen testified that he and Weisselberg went to Trump’s 26th-floor office when Trump was president-elect and received Trump’s approval for the reimbursement plan, according to reporters in the courthouse. Cohen said Weisselberg had instructed him to submit a series of invoices over 12 months and to label them “legal services rendered.”

The prosecution’s direct questioning of Cohen is expected to resume Tuesday.

Weisselberg is serving time at Rikers Island after pleading guilty to committing perjury during Trump’s civil fraud trial. The former financial officer for Trump had already spent three months at Rikers for tax fraud offenses stemming from the same case.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.