Trump transcripts detail the case: Michael Cohen on the stand

3 weeks ago 20

The New York State court website posting the Donald Trump trial transcripts and exhibits never cease to inform. As I reported last week, the transcript revealed that Trump lawyers tried to slip one under the radar through Trump Organization Controller Jeffrey McConney. On cross examination he testified that a lawyer’s client retainer agreement can be verbal as well as in writing. This testimony, totally incorrect, was designed to justify the absence of a written retainer agreement between Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen.

Based on McConney’s testimony, Trump’s lawyers would be able to argue to the jury that there was a verbal retainer agreement justifying the phony invoices Cohen submitted to the Trump Organization for ostensible legal fees. In reality, these invoices were part of the fraudulent documentation forming the basis of the underlying crimes against Trump.

The assistant district attorney refuted McConney’s incorrect testimony with three simple questions of Cohen:

Q. Now, are you aware that when attorneys represent a client and receive compensation for work, that they are required to put together either a Retainer Agreement or a written Engagement Letter?

A. Yes.

Q. And did you ever put together any sort of a Retainer Agreement for any future work that you might do for Mr. Trump as Personal Attorney?

A. No, ma’am.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I knew there was going to be no compensation.

Q. And did the $420,000 that you received have anything to do with being a payment for future work that you might do for Mr. Trump as Personal Attorney to the President?

A. No. (Transcript pp. 3499-500.)

While the press continuously headlines witness testimony, it does not adequately emphasize the importance of the critical documentary evidence against Trump that correlates with the substance of that testimony. As of now, the prosecution has entered into evidence approximately 254 exhibits and the defense approximately 20 exhibits. These include covers of the National Enquirer, agreements, texts, emails, telephone call records, videos and the Trump/Cohen tape recording.

Nearly every one of these exhibits was displayed to the jury in connection with witness testimony. For example, during Cohen’s direct testimony, Cohen was asked about a phone call he had with Trump after the deal had been finalized with Stormy Daniels. The transcript reads as follows:

Q. Can we take a look at the call between Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump at 11:48 a.m. for 5 minutes and 16 seconds. (Whereupon, an exhibit is shown on the screens.)

A. Oct. 28 of 2016, I made a call to Mr. Trump that lasted 5 minutes and 16 seconds at 11:48 in the morning.

Q. Was that the same day that you signed the Non-Disclosure Agreement and the Side Letter Agreement to finalize this deal?

A. Yes.

Q. What did you discuss with Mr. Trump on this call?

A. That this matter is now completely under control and locked down pursuant to the Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Q. Did you indicate to him that the documentation had all been finalized?

A. Yes. (Tr. pp. 3449-50.)

The statement “Whereupon, an exhibit is shown on the screens” appears throughout all the transcripts and reflects that the jurors viewed the exhibits in question on the courtroom screens.

In questioning Cohen about the tape recording between Cohen and Trump, Todd Blanche, Trump’s lawyer, made a major blunder. He zeroed in on Trump’s reference to “cash” in reimbursing the National Enquirer for the $150,000 hush money paid to Karen McDougal. Blanche tried to have Cohen concede the word “cash” meant no “financing,” not “green dollar bills.”

However, Cohen pointed out to Blanche that after Trump suggested “pay with cash,” Cohen responded, “No, no, no, no, no, I got it,” and Trump said “check,” as opposed to cash, reinforcing the obvious that Trump was initially referencing green dollar bills. In the eyes of the jury, this line of cross-examination only served to highlight the significance of the recording and Trump’s use of the word “cash.” (Tr. pp. 3936-38, Exhibit 246.)

As to Cohen, the overriding theme of his direct testimony that leaps from the transcript pages is that from the day Trump hired him in 2007, Cohen “reported directly” and only to Trump on projects Trump considered important with Cohen not making a move without Trump’s express approval. (Tr. pp. 3266-68.)

Thus, Cohen testified Trump approved the final payments to McDougal, (Tr. p. 3360) and Daniels, (Tr. p. 3431,) and expressly approved the method by which Cohen was reimbursed over a 12-month period for having used his home equity account to pay Daniels. (Tr. p. 3493.)

All of this, as we are likely to hear in the closing arguments, is supported by the testimony of National Enquirer Publisher David Pecker who described Trump as “very detailed oriented” and “a micromanager,” (Tr. p. 1004.) Trump himself in an excerpt from his book admitted in evidence, “Think Like a Billionaire,” acknowledges “Here’s something else about God that any billionaire knows: He’s in the details. And you need to be there too. I couldn’t run a business any other way.” (Tr. p. 2548.)

Blanche’s cross-examination of Cohen unsuccessfully tried to undermine Cohen’s testimony that he only acted on Trump’s prior approval. Cohen flatly denied that in 2015 and 2016 he “would comment about stories [to reporters] without speaking to President Trump at all.” (Tr. pp. 3876-77.)

The cross-examination also tried to undermine Cohen’s testimony that he had sought Trump’s approval on Oct. 24, 2016 on the Daniels deal in his call to Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller to reach Trump. Blanche showed Cohen text messages with Schiller at that time relating to Cohen receiving harassing calls from a 14-year-old. Cohen, however, testified that both subjects were discussed in the minute and 36 second call with Trump and Schiller. (Tr. pp. 3879-96.)

Stay tuned as the testimony wraps up this week.

Akerman was formerly an assistant special Watergate prosecutor and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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