‘That’s a lie’: Trump attorney screams at Michael Cohen over critical phone call on Stormy Daniels payment

Todd Blanche repeatedly painted the former ‘fixer’ as a serial liar in dramatic courtroom testimony

Alex Woodward
in Manhattan criminal court
Friday 17 May 2024 00:08
Trump arrrives at hush money trial flanked by 14 surrogates in court

Donald Trump’s defense attorney unleashed a furious line of questions to accuse Michael Cohen of lying about his testimony that he spoke to Mr Trump after finalizing a deal to pay Stormy Daniels hush money in 2016.

Todd Blanche, after spending several hours painting the former “fixer” as a serial liar, raised his voice and screamed from inside the courtroom after grilling him about a pivotal phone call that connected the former president to a conspiracy at the center of the case.

“That’s a lie!” he fumed on Thursday.

Mr Blanche had accused Cohen of calling Mr Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller in October 2016 to complain about harassing phone calls – not to provide his boss with an update on the plan to buy Ms Daniels’ silence.

Cohen appeared unmoved, answering simply that those prank calls were “part” of that conversation.

“Now your memory is that you were testifying truthfully on Tuesday, and you had enough time to update Mr Schiller about all the problems you were having with these harassing calls?” Mr Blanche fired back.

“I always run everything by the boss immediately,” Cohen said. “It could’ve just been me saying, ‘everything’s been taken care of, it’s been resolved.’”

Donald Trump speaks to reporters next to his attorney Todd Blanche inside a Manhattan criminal courthouse on 16 May. (via REUTERS)

In his testimony earlier this week, and phone records confirm, Cohen said he called Mr Schiller on 24 October, 2016 after he transferred $130,000 to Ms Daniels’s attorney as part of a deal to block her from telling her alleged story about having sex with Mr Trump in 2006 – a story that reportedly threatened to derail Mr Trump’s presidential campaign in the critical final days before Election Day.

A few days later, on 28 October, on a phone call that lasted more than five minutes, Cohen told Mr Trump to tell him that “the matter was completely locked down and under control,” according to Cohen’s prior testimony.

Mr Blanche argued that the call on 24 October was about an alleged 14-year-old prankster.

According to text messages shown in court, the prank caller eventually failed to block their number, and Cohen sent them a message telling them that they were being reported to Secret Service.

“You eventually asked them to have your parent contact you?” Mr Blanche asked.

“When they expressed they were 14, I thought it was proper,” Cohen replied.

Roughly 20 minutes later, Cohen called Mr Schiller.

Mr Blanche pushed Cohen to “admit” that he was lying about the true purpose of the call.

“No, sir, I can’t,” Cohen replied.

Defense attorney Todd Blanch sits next to his client Donald Trump before his hush money trial proceedings begin on 16 May. (AP)

It took roughly seven hours for Mr Trump’s defense team to get to the meat of the charges against the former president during Mr Blanche’s antagonistic cross-examination of the prosecution’s star witness.

Roughly 30 minutes before the jury was excused for the day, Mr Blanche reminded Cohen that he once suggested Ms Daniels and her team “were extorting Mr Trump”.

“In your mind there was two choices: pay, or don’t pay and the story comes out,” he said. “And ultimately, though, you did. You paid.”

Mr Blanche also noted that a nondisclosure agreement – signed by Ms Daniels and Mr Trump in October 2016 – is “perfectly legal.”

“A settlement, an NDA, between two parties, happens all the time, right?”

Mr Trump, however, is not facing any charges for his contract to silence Ms Daniels – he faces 34 counts of falsifying business records for allegedly covering up Cohen’s reimbursement payments as “legal expenses” under a “retainer” that Cohen says never existed.

“You testified multiple times that when you were personal attorney you had no retainer agreement,” Mr Blanche said. “But the truthful testimony is that in the whole time you worked for the Trump Organization you never had a retainer agreement, correct?”

A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche questioning Michael Cohen on the witness stand in the former president’s hush money trial on 16 May. (AP)

On Tuesday, Mr Blanche opened his cross examination of the prosecution’s star witness with a burst of barely disguised contempt for his client’s former lawyer.

He asked Cohen if he remembered calling him a “crying little s***.”

Cohen, dryly, replied: “Sounds like something I would say.”

Before Mr Blanche could finish his next question, about another of Cohen’s insults aimed at Mr Trump’s attorneys, Justice Juan Merchan cut him off and called him to the bench out of earshot of the jurors and courtroom.

“Stop making this about yourself,” he told Mr Blanche, according to a court transcript.

The hour that followed meandered from Cohen’s past praise for Mr Trump and his more recent insults, an attempt to paint Cohen as a fickle opportunist and serial liar out to save his own skin.

But Cohen had already told jurors that he was ashamed of his role as Mr Trump’s enabler, paid the price with a federal conviction and prison sentence, and has since told the “truth” about him. As Cohen said in a phrase that hung over the rest of afternoon on Tuesday, he was “deep in the cult of Donald Trump.”

Cohen is the sole witness who can directly link Mr Trump to the payments to Ms Daniels and a reimbursement plan that Cohen repeatedly explained was fraudulent.

National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard, who brokered deals to buy the silence of a Trump Tower doorman and a former Playboy model, warned Cohen several weeks before Election Day that allegations from Ms Daniels had resurfaced, according to Cohen.

The news was “catastrophic” for Mr Trump’s campaign, Cohen said on Monday.

After the story resurfaced on a gossip website, Cohen told Mr Trump that they should “take care of it,” he said.

“And he said, ‘Do it. Take care of it,” according to Cohen.

Time was running out, however. A deal with Ms Daniels’s attorney Keith Davidson was straining, and Mr Davidson was running out of patience with Cohen’s excuses. Ms Daniels was also shopping the story to The Daily Mail, according to messages shown in court.

Cohen met with Mr Trump, whose “friends” and “very smart people” told him to just pay Ms Daniels, according to Cohen.

“It’s $130,000, you’re a billionaire, pay it, there’s no reason to keep this thing out there,” said Cohen, recalling the advice from Mr Trump’s circle.

“He expressed to me, ‘Do it, meet with Allen Weisselberg and figure this out,’” he said on Monday.

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