Michael Cohen admits to stealing from Trump Organization while clawing back Stormy Daniels’ hush money

Cohen paid a tech firm to rig opinion polls for Trump, then overbilled his former boss as a form of ‘self help’

Alex Woodward
in Manhattan criminal court
Tuesday 21 May 2024 01:37 BST
Related video: Trump refuses to respond when asked if he’s too afraid to testify in case

Michael Cohen has admitted to “stealing” tens of thousands of dollars from the Trump Organization as part of his reimbursement plan with Donald Trump to recoup $130,000 for paying off Stormy Daniels in 2016.

Under cross-examination from Mr Trump’s defense attorney on Monday, Mr Trump’s former attorney and one-time “fixer” testified that he pocketed $60,000 from his former boss by overstating the amount he paid a tech company that rigged online opinion polls in Mr Trump’s favor.

He said the extra money was “like self help,” an apparent attempt to extract more money from Mr Trump after Cohen was upset that he didn’t receive a larger annual bonus, even after paying Ms Daniels out of his own pocket.

The reimbursements to Cohen for the hush money payment – which Mr Trump paid out in monthly $35,000 installments in 2017 – totaled $420,000.

As part of the reimbursement plan, Cohen had also billed the Trump Organization $50,000, plus taxes, for money that Cohen was supposed to pay to the tech firm Red Finch.

Cohen gave Red Finch a “brown paper bag” filled with $20,000 in cash, but still owed the vendor another $30,000 for the contract, he testified.

The initial payment was only “enough to placate him for the time being,” he said. “I still needed his service and I still needed his availability.”

A court sketch depicts Donald Trump watching his attorney Todd Blanche question Michael Cohen during the former president’s hush money trial on May 20
A court sketch depicts Donald Trump watching his attorney Todd Blanche question Michael Cohen during the former president’s hush money trial on May 20 (REUTERS)

“You stole from the Trump Organization?” defense attorney Todd Blanche asked.

“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied.

Mr Blanche also asked whether he has ever pleaded guilty to larceny, or paid back any of the money to the Trump Organization that he “stole from them.” He did not.

Red Finch had been hired to juice the numbers on a poll involving “the most famous businessmen in, like, the last century,” Cohen said.

“Mr Trump’s name was on that list. At the beginning of this poll, he was polling at the very very bottom, and it upset him,” he added. “He had me come to his office and he provided me a sheet of paper and he showed it.”

Red Finch would then “create an algorithm to ensure that Mr Trump would rise and rise in this poll” and reach “a number he wanted to finish,” according to Cohen.

According to testimony from Cohen and Trump Organization comptroller Jeffrey McConney, they drew up the agreement with Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to reimburse Cohen after he wired Ms Daniels $130,000 to secure her silence ahead of the 2016 election about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump in 2006.

The reimbursement payments ultimately included $130,000 for Ms Daniels, $50,000 for Red Finch, a $60,000 bonus and $180,000 to compensate for taxes.

Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump’s criminal trial on 20 May 2024
Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump’s criminal trial on 20 May 2024 (REUTERS)

Cohen was furious that he received a reduced Christmas bonus at the end of 2016, and wanted Mr Trump to make it right after he had paid Ms Daniels out of his own funds, he said.

“I was angered,” Cohen said under redirected questioning from Manhattan prosecutors.

“It was almost like self help,” he added. “I wasn’t going to correct the conversation I was having with Allen about it. I had not only protected [Mr Trump] to the best that I could but I had also laid out money to Red Finch a year and a half earlier, and again, $130,000 to have my bonus cut by two-thirds was very upsetting to say the least.”

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records for a series of approved invoices and checks to his then-attorney in 2017, based on “legal expenses” for work that prosecutors say was never performed that year, and for a “retainer” that never existed. He has pleaded not guilty.

Cohen has repeatedly testified that the $420,000 he received in checks signed by Mr Trump throughout 2017 had nothing to do with legal work performed that year.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in