On Stormy Daniels payments, Trump told Michael Cohen, ‘Just do it,’ former fixer alleges

NEW YORK — In hotly anticipated testimony Monday, Michael Cohen took the stand at Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial as one of the final witnesses, telling a Manhattan jury of how he painstakingly arranged to pay off a porn star to influence the results of the 2016 election, working directly off the boss’ orders: “Just do it.”

During more than five hours in the witness box, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer described his boss as a micromanager who was intimately familiar with everything that went on beneath him and himself as Trump’s loyal lackey — one who would bully, lie and threaten to sue anyone who stood in the way of accomplishing the task the boss assigned him “to make him happy.”

Trump was involved in every last detail, Cohen said.

“Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off,” he testified in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, sitting feet away from his longtime boss turned arch-nemesis.

No matter the issue, “You would go straight back and tell him, especially if it was a matter that was troubling to him.”

Trump’s micromanagement as a business leader extended to his campaign for president, Cohen told the court, describing him as deeply entangled in efforts to hide a series of alleged sex scandals involving former Playboy model Karen McDougal, a Trump Tower doorman and porn star Stormy Daniels.

Cohen said he was tasked with paying off the adult film star $130,000 on the eve of the 2016 election amid the “catastrophic” release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, describing Trump as being furious it was even an issue — with Cohen having worked to silence her years beforehand.

“He said to me, this — this is a disaster. Total disaster. Women are going to hate me. Guys may think it’s cool,” Cohen quoted Trump as saying. “This is going to be a disaster for the campaign.”

The former fixer said Trump ordered him to “just take care of it,” and to delay paying her off until after the election.

“Because if I win, it will have no relevance,” Cohen quoted Trump. “If I lose, I don’t really care.”

When the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape came out — in which Trump was heard on a hot mic bragging about molesting women — Cohen said it was Trump’s wife’s idea to excuse it as “locker room talk."

“At least he told me, that’s what Melania (Trump) thought it was and (to) use that to get control over the story and to minimize its impact on him and his campaign,” Cohen said.

Trump, 77, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsification of business records, which are each tied to his alleged reimbursement to Cohen for paying off Daniels. Prosecutors say the payments were falsely logged as legal fees. The criminal charges are the first ever filed against a former U.S. president.

Prosecutors allege the payments represented the last stage of a conspiracy to influence the results of the election Trump won, orchestrated in August 2015 at Trump Tower at a meeting attended by Cohen, his boss and David Pecker, the former tabloid publisher and chairman of America Media Inc., or AMI.

“What was discussed is the power of the National Enquirer in terms of being located at the cash register or so many supermarkets and bodegas — that if we could place positive stories about Mr. Trump that would be beneficial, that if we could place negative stories about some of the other candidates — that would also be beneficial,” Cohen told the court of the meeting.

Bolstering testimony jurors heard from Pecker at the beginning of the trial, Cohen said the tabloid publisher told him and Trump that “he could keep an eye out for anything negative about Mr. Trump and that he would be able to help us to know in advance” to “try to stop it from coming out.”

Cohen, 57, went to prison for the payoff to Daniels after pleading guilty to federal offenses in 2018. They barely looked in each other’s direction when Cohen walked into the courtroom around 9:30 a.m. and throughout his day on the stand.

Cohen, who frequently addressed the jury while answering Hoffinger’s questions, said his boss was directly aware he needed to be reimbursed for the money he paid Daniels after wiring it to her lawyer through a shell company, which he said Trump also knew about. He explained how Trump’s convicted former finance chief Allen Weisselberg tallied that he was owed $420,000 after doubling the expense to account for taxes and tacking on a bonus and another $50,000 expense.

Cohen laughed when asked why he had to set up a fake account to deposit the money.

“Oh, I’m not sure they would've opened it if I stated it (was) to pay off an adult film star,” he said.

He explained that Trump promised to pay him back while he was on vacation in December 2016, when he blew up being shorted on his bonus by two-thirds.

“Don’t worry about that other thing,” he quoted Trump as saying. “I’m going to take care of it when you get back.”

The former fixer directly tied Trump to the payments at the heart of the case. His first day of testimony yielded little evidence the jury hadn’t already seen, instead weaving together the paper trail prosecutors have laid out over the past four weeks in bank records, emails, text messages and call logs during testimony from 17 witnesses.

The defense has sought to portray Cohen as untrustworthy and unhinged — claiming he went rogue in paying off Daniels — but the fixer told the jury his fealty to his boss wasn’t so strong that he’d part with $130,000 with no expectation he’d be paid back.

Cohen challenged the defense’s claims that Trump was unaware of what Cohen was up to at any given moment and that any efforts on his part to hide unflattering information from his past were intended to protect his family.

During one line of questioning, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen if he brought up Melania Trump in his conversation with Trump about Daniels, who he said told him, “Don’t worry.”

Cohen said Trump never told him whether Daniels’ claims of a 2006 tryst in a Lake Tahoe hotel room, which Trump has strongly denied, were valid. When the porn star’s story was first published on a blog in 2011, he said Trump didn’t directly address its veracity but bragged about her being attracted to him.

“He told me that he was playing golf with Big Ben Roethlisberger and they had met Stormy Daniels and others there, but she liked Mr. Trump — that women prefer Trump even over someone like Big Ben,” Cohen said.

When McDougal came forward with claims months before Daniels, which AMI would ultimately pay her $150,000 to stay quiet about, Cohen said Trump similarly took a moment to brag.

“His response was, ‘She’s really beautiful,’” Cohen recounted. “I said, ‘OK, but there’s a story that’s right now being shopped.’”

Trump’s directive, Cohen said: “Make sure it doesn’t get released.”

Cohen is expected to continue on the stand Tuesday and is slated to face a cross-examination for the ages when Trump’s legal team gets its time with him in the witness box.