With prosecutors expecting to call only two more witnesses before resting their case against former President Donald Trump, the trial this coming week is sure to feature extensive testimony by the Manhattan District Attorney’s star witness, Michael Cohen.

The controversial ex-Trump lawyer originated the claims that led to the 34-count criminal indictment of President Trump, alleging that 11 invoices that Mr. Cohen billed and their corresponding check payments and vouchers were falsified business records created to cover up a scheme to influence the 2016 elections.

Prosecutors allege that the payments to Mr. Cohen were not in fact legal expenses but reimbursement for a “hush money” payment. They spent earlier parts of the trial establishing context with witnesses on the peripheries of these transactions but have not yet presented in court testimony directly alleging President Trump’s involvement.

However, Mr. Cohen is known to have lied multiple times under oath—with one of those instances resulting in a perjury conviction—and is a vocal critic of President Trump, making him a potentially risky witness.

Prosecutors also revealed last week that former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg may not testify, meaning that the jury may have to decide whether or not to take Mr. Cohen’s word for the allegations without corroborating testimony.

Weisselberg Complication

Mr. Weisselberg is a key figure in this case because he is the one who approved the $420,000 to be paid to Mr. Cohen through monthly payments in 2017.

Should he not testify, Mr. Cohen will be the last word on conversations that occurred between him and Mr. Weisselberg with no others present.

In opening statements, prosecutors highlighted that a bank statement of Mr. Cohen’s features Mr. Weisselberg’s handwriting, adding sums to $130,000 until it reached $420,000. Mr. Cohen is expected to testify that $130,000 of this was reimbursement for the alleged hush money he paid on behalf of President Trump and that it was doubled to account for taxes, increased to reimburse a separate tech payment, and increased to include a bonus for his last year of work at The Trump Organization.

Attorneys will likely ask Mr. Cohen to what extent President Trump was aware of the reimbursement and if and how President Trump directed or approved of Mr. Cohen’s making such a payment with the knowledge that it was to influence the 2016 campaign.

Mr. Weisselberg is currently serving a five-month sentence in prison for perjury in a separate case and so is potentially unavailable to share his own recollection of those conversations.

Prosecutors sought to enter Mr. Weisselberg’s severance contract into evidence, arguing that the confidentiality and nondisparagement agreements he signed would prevent him from testifying against President Trump without losing the $750,000 he would be paid under the contract this year.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors were misleading the court, as Mr. Weisselberg’s absence would be due to his perjury plea deal.

It remains unclear how prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office negotiated a plea deal with Mr. Weisselberg that resulted in his pleading guilty to perjury in a civil fraud case against President Trump, as attorneys with the New York attorney general’s office that brought the civil case were unaware of the perjury or deal until it was publicized and are currently seeking information from The Trump Organization. The plea deal does not require Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony, and, in fact, prosecutors suggested on May 10 that they would prefer to not question Mr. Weisselberg and instead present his severance agreement and hope to rest their case by the end of next week.

Defense attorneys noted that the framing could prejudice the jury into believing that Mr. Weisselberg is not on the witness stand because his testimony would be evidence against his former employer.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan told the parties to try every avenue to compel testimony from Mr. Weisselberg, finding their arguments premature.

Who Else Was Involved?

Throughout the trial, Mr. Cohen has been a recurring figure in other witnesses’ testimonies.

David Pecker, who ran American Media Inc., testified that he had met with Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump in 2015 in Trump Tower, where he was asked what he could do for the campaign. He offered to be its “eyes and ears,” looking out for stories that might be negative to the campaign, and he testified that he had communicated with Mr. Cohen, but not Mr. Trump, regarding these stories.

On the witness stand, Mr. Pecker detailed buying up two stories that he thought might hurt the campaign, neither of which resulted in criminal charges.

He also said that near the end of 2016, he had a conversation with Mr. Cohen during which he first learned that Mr. Cohen had entered into the third deal by paying $130,000 out of pocket. He testified that he knew Mr. Cohen did not have the authority to use Trump Organization funds. Mr. Cohen had asked for Mr. Pecker’s help to speak with then-president-elect Trump about “his bonus,” and Mr. Pecker understood that Mr. Cohen was quite worried he had not been reimbursed for the agreement involving Stephanie Clifford, an adult performer better known by her stage name, Stormy Daniels.

Former Trump Organization Comptroller Jeffrey McConney had also testified, affirming that he directed the process of paying Mr. Cohen the $420,000. He affirmed the emails entered into evidence that showed their correspondence; Mr. McConney had requested that Mr. Cohen submit an invoice for each payment, and Mr. McConney had categorized those payments as “legal expenses” through a drop-down menu in their system. Mr. McConney did not work directly with Mr. Trump but with Mr. Weisselberg, who gave him a heads-up that Mr. Cohen was to be paid $420,000, which included reimbursement for something and a bonus.

Ms. Clifford had also testified that Mr. Cohen was the one she entered into the nondisclosure agreement with and that he had initially failed to pay the agreed-upon $130,000. Much of her testimony focused on an alleged encounter that she had with Mr. Trump in 2006 at a celebrity golf tournament, and she did not have personal knowledge of President Trump’s involvement with the contract a decade later.

Keith Davidson, who represented Ms. Clifford in negotiating the nondisclosure agreement, also testified that he had no interaction with Mr. Trump but that he worked with Mr. Cohen, whom he knew to be a personal attorney for Mr. Trump. He testified that, after failing to pay the contract, Mr. Cohen said he would just “do it himself” and finally wired the money.

Other testimony delved into President Trump’s money habits, including an excerpt from one of his books in which he advised “pinching pennies” because saving 10 cents on light bulbs in a development could result in $10,000 in savings down the road and an exchange between assistants about his wanting to spend some $600 on a frame to display a photo of his mother in the White House.

It’s not clear whether President Trump himself will testify. He has said that he is willing to take the witness stand, but defense attorneys may not deem it worthwhile as prosecutors have said that they plan to question President Trump about his recent defamation and fraud verdicts.

Perjury Conviction

Confronted with his prior perjury conviction, Mr. Cohen often points out that the lie that led to the criminal charge was one he presented to protect President Trump.

In 2017, he told Congress that a Trump Organization project for Moscow ended in January 2016 and that he never agreed to travel to Russia for the project. In actuality, the project was discussed through June 2016 and he agreed to travel to Russia, agreed to arrange for President Trump to travel there, and had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary. He had downplayed his client’s connection to Russia during ongoing investigations into allegations of collusion with Russia in the 2016 Trump campaign that were ultimately found to not be true.

Mr. Cohen has been accused of perjury on other occasions and has even admitted to lying under oath multiple times, but he was not charged with perjury in these other instances.

As recently as the fall of 2023, when Mr. Cohen testified against President Trump in the civil fraud case in New York, Mr. Cohen testified about several of these lies. He has also addressed them in media appearances and public statements.

He began his testimony by claiming that he never evaded taxes, even though he had pleaded guilty in federal court that he did so when taking a plea bargain. He also elaborated that he “took the plea” not because he believed that he was guilty, as he told U.S. District Judge William Pauley, but because that was how he understood the system to work.

In the same testimony, Mr. Cohen said President Trump had instructed him to inflate his net worth on financial statements, echoing a 2019 claim that he made before Congress. However, later in his testimony, he backtracked and said President Trump never told him to do that. He said it was true that he lied in 2019 when he made that claim. Then he argued that although President Trump never used so many words, he had implied that his net worth was to be inflated and made his wishes known implicitly, like a “mob boss.”

In March, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman made note of Mr. Cohen’s claim that he never evaded taxes in an order denying early release. He wrote that it gave “rise to two possibilities: one, Cohen committed perjury when he pleaded guilty before Judge Pauley, or, two, Cohen committed perjury in his October 2023 testimony.”

Prosecutors have not pursued charges, but House Republicans have referred Mr. Cohen to the Department of Justice for a perjury probe. According to the lawmakers, the DOJ has not yet taken action.
Michael Washburn contributed to this report.

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