Trump's lawyer accuses Michael Cohen of lying at hush money trial

By Jody Godoy, Jack Queen, Luc Cohen and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Donald Trump's lawyer on Thursday accused star witness Michael Cohen of lying at the former U.S. president's trial about a phone conversation he claimed to have had with Trump about a hush money payment to a porn star shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche said the phone conversation was about harassment from a prank caller and not, as Cohen had asserted in previous testimony, about a $130,000 payment that bought the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels at the center of the month-long trial.

"That is a lie," Blanche said. "You can admit it!"

"No sir I can't, because I am not certain that is accurate," Cohen responded. He said he believed that he spoke with Trump's then-bodyguard Keith Schiller about the harassment and also spoke briefly with Trump about the payment.

"We are not asking for your belief," Blanche said, raising his voice.

The exchange took place during several hours of questioning by Blanche designed to cast Trump's former fixer as a spiteful turncoat eager to see his former boss behind bars.

Blanche played jurors audio clips of Cohen saying that the case "fills me with delight" and that he felt "giddy with hope and laughter" imagining Trump and his family in prison.

He told them that Cohen had previously lied to Congress and to the U.S. Justice Department and had lied in court as well. He pointed out that Cohen had privately sought a pardon from Trump while publicly saying he would not accept one.

Cohen agreed that he had blamed others, including Trump, in the wake of his own criminal convictions on tax and campaign-finance charges.

"Does the outcome of this trial affect you personally?" Blanche asked.

"Yes," Cohen said, maintaining his composure while answering questions, in contrast with his aggressive and often profane public comments.

Cohen was due to return to the witness stand for more questioning when the trial resumes on Monday.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president and denies having sex with Daniels.

The New York case, one of four criminal prosecutions he faces, is likely to be the only one with a jury verdict before his Nov. 5 election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Cohen is central to the case. He testified earlier this week that Trump ordered him to pay Daniels to protect Trump's presidential campaign, and discussed a plan to reimburse Cohen, 57, through a series of bogus invoices for legal fees. Their chats included one in the White House Oval Office when Trump was president in 2017, Cohen said.

Cohen carries baggage as a witness. He has pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the Daniels payment, and has admitted that he lied repeatedly about the Daniels scandal.

But some of Cohen's testimony has been corroborated by other evidence, including records from Trump's company.

He said he could clearly remember some conversations from the hectic 2016 campaign, including one where he spoke with Trump about an effort to buy the silence of another woman who claimed to have sex with him. "These phone calls are things that I've been talking about for the past six years," he said.


Trump, 77, faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in New York to cover up the payment to Daniels.

Under questioning by Blanche, Cohen said the hush-money deal itself was legal.

But prosecutors say the altered records covered up election-law and tax-law violations - since the money was essentially an unreported contribution to Trump's campaign - that elevate the crimes from misdemeanors to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

Trump characterizes the case and three other prosecutions as an attempt to interfere with his campaign to take back the White House.

Members of the far-right U.S. House of Representatives Freedom Caucus attended the trial on Thursday and echoed his complaints.

"We're seeing today what lengths the Democratic Party will go to to try to rig or steal another election," the group's chairman, Republican Representative Bob Good, said outside the courthouse.


Trump has argued that his monthly payments to Cohen throughout 2017 were for his work as his personal lawyer to the president, meaning there was nothing improper about the word "retainer" being written on the checks Trump signed.

Prosecutors say the reimbursement payments were falsely labeled as legal expenses in the Trump Organization's records to conceal the Daniels payoff, which they say violated U.S. election campaign finance law.

Cohen is the 20th and final witness to be called to testify by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office at the trial, which began on April 15.

It was unclear whether Trump would testify next week, when the defense will have an opportunity to present its case. Before the trial Trump said he would testify, but Blanche has since said Trump has yet to decide whether to do so.

The defense is not required to present a case, and Trump does not have to decide ahead of time whether he will testify.

(Reporting by Jody Godoy and Jack Queen in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Luc Cohen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)