Michael Cohen returns to witness stand in Trump hush money trial

Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen is due back on the witness stand Tuesday for testimony that’s expected to delve into payments he said he received from the former president in return for hush money paid to adult film actor Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign.

Prosecutors allege that Trump falsified business records relating to those payments by classifying them as legal services pursuant to a retainer agreement. Cohen testified Monday in New York City that no such retainer agreement existed.

Cohen is a pivotal witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump. He told the jury during his first full day on the stand that Trump directly authorized him to pay Daniels the $130,000 and that Trump was involved in efforts to quash two other salacious stories that he feared could have damaged his candidacy.

“I was following his directions,” Cohen testified.

Cohen is the only witness to directly tie Trump to the falsifying business records scheme, and Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche is expected to try to paint him as a serial liar when he begins cross-examining him as early as Tuesday.

Blanche told jurors in his opening statement that Cohen “cannot be trusted.”

“He’s a convicted felon. And he also is a convicted perjurer. He is an admitted liar,” Blanche said, referring in part to Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea to making false statements to Congress about a proposed project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Prosecutors said he’d lied to minimize Trump’s ties to Russia, which Congress and federal investigators were scrutinizing at the time.

Cohen also pleaded guilty to a number of other criminal charges, including tax fraud, and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

A number of prominent GOP elected officials have traveled to New York to show solidarity with the former president during the trial. On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., will appear in the Manhattan courthouse, a source familiar with Johnson’s schedule confirms to NBC News. Johnson recently survived a threat to his speakership from Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., after the former president provided him cover by publicly opposing her effort, which ultimately failed.

In addition, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who both ran against Trump in the GOP primary, will join the former president in court, Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said. Sens. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., appeared in the courtroom with Trump on Monday. Ramaswamy, Burgum, Vance and Scott are considered potential vice presidential candidates for Trump.

Another potential vice presidential contender, Rep. Byron Donalds, and Rep. Cory Mills, both Republicans from Florida, also will be in court on Tuesday.

Cohen testified Monday that Daniels’ claims of having had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 were extremely problematic because she began shopping her story after Trump’s campaign was already reeling from a scandal — the unearthing of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump is heard saying he can grope women without their consent.

Asked what kind of impact Daniels’ story could have had on Trump’s campaign at that point, Cohen said, “Catastrophic.”

Trump has denied having had a sexual encounter with Daniels, who testified in great detail about her account last week.

Cohen, who started working for Trump in 2007, said that he fronted the money to pay Daniels through a shell company and that Trump had assured him he would pay him back.

Cohen said the particulars of the repayment were arranged by Allen Weisselberg, who was then the chief financial officer of Trump’s company, the Trump Organization. The deal called for Cohen to be repaid the $130,000 and $50,000 more he’d previously laid out for Trump involving a tech company in payments that were “grossed up” — doubled — to cover Cohen’s taxes. The money, which included a $60,000 bonus, was then paid out in monthly $35,000 installments that were listed as being for legal services rendered under a retainer agreement.

Cohen testified that there was no retainer agreement and that Trump approved the deal in a meeting with him and Weisselberg.

It’s unclear whether Trump, the only other person who could directly rebut Cohen’s claims, will testify.

Weisselberg won’t be testifying — he’s in jail after having pleaded guilty to perjury charges related to his testimony in last year’s civil fraud case against Trump and his company.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, had a number of prominent supporters in court Monday, including Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y.

One of Trump’s former rivals in the GOP primaries, Vivek Ramaswamy, is expected to be in court with him Tuesday, a source familiar with the plan said.

Prosecutors said in court Friday they anticipate wrapping up their case this week.

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