• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Updated May 13, 2024, 3:16pm EDT
politicsNorth America
icon

Semafor Signals

Supported by

Microsoft logo

Ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen is the prosecution’s risky star witness at hush-money trial

Insights from The New York Times, Politico, and Semafor

Arrow Down
Michael Cohen departs his home in Manhattan to testify in Trump's criminal trial on May 13, 2024.
Mike Segar/REUTERS
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

Michael Cohen, who was once Donald Trump’s lawyer, fixer, and attack dog, took the stand Monday as the prosecution’s star witness in the former president’s hush-money trial.

Cohen’s testimony will be crucial to the outcome of this trial: Prosecutors allege that in the days before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to stop her from publicly sharing her story of an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, which he has resolutely denied occurred. Cohen was later found guilty in a federal court of violating campaign finance laws and spent time in federal prison for the crime of making the payment.

Trump has repeatedly said Cohen acted alone and without his knowledge in paying Daniels. But Cohen’s testimony Monday painted Trump as a key player, and importantly for prosecutors, said that the decision to pay her and other people off was “all about the campaign.” That detail is key to the prosecution’s case that Trump falsified business records to conceal the payments, but also to commit or conceal another alleged crime: A conspiracy to get himself elected.

icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Courts have believed Cohen before — even after he was convicted for lying

Source icon
Sources:  
CNN, The New York Times, MSNBC, Politico

Cohen is a risky witness in that he has been found guilty of lying to Congress and of perjury. But “because Cohen is so strongly corroborated, believing him will not require a leap of faith for the jury — more like a short hop,” attorney and legal analyst Norman Eisen wrote. “Jurors often want to hear someone recount what they already know occurred, but that has not been said directly,” law professor Andrew Weissmann wrote for The New York Times. The judge who ruled against the Trump Organization in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud trial, relied heavily on Cohen’s testimony, saying: “This factfinder does not believe that pleading guilty to perjury means that you can never tell the truth. Michael Cohen told the truth.”

Trial is testing ground for Trump’s vice-presidential hopefuls

Source icon
Sources:  
Semafor, NBC News

On Monday, another close Trump ally, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance joined the growing number of Republican vice-presidential hopefuls who have stopped by the courthouse to show their support for the former president. Florida Sen. Rick Scott showed up last week, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who was Trump’s former rival in the Republican presidential primary, has considered a stop, too. On Tuesday, another former rival, Vivek Ramaswamy, will show up, according to NBC. “Trump likes to treat his veepstakes as a reality show production,” Semafor’s Shelby Talcott reported, and “his Manhattan trial seems like an obvious way to score points in that context.”

High-profile GOP visitors show Trump’s enduring grip on the party

Source icon
Sources:  
The New York Times, NBC News

It’s “remarkable” that Trump has so many senior elected GOP officials in the courtroom to support him, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman wrote, underscoring “how completely Trump has gotten the party in his grip” since 2016. Republicans seeking to curry favor with the potential next president are attending the trial, especially after Trump reportedly complained no one was “defending him” during the initial proceedings. On Monday, other notable attendees included Sen. Tommy Tuberville, New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, and Trump’s son Eric. Many of them sought to discredit Cohen on Trump’s behalf — under his gag order, the former president can’t talk about the prosecutors, jury, witnesses, or the judge, but his allies can.

Semafor Logo
AD