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Updated May 14, 2024, 4:15pm EDT
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Former fixer Michael Cohen testifies he committed crimes ‘on behalf’ of Trump at hush-money trial

Insights from The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC News

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A courtroom sketch shows Michael Cohen being questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger on May 14, 2024.
Jane Rosenberg/REUTERS
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The News

In his second day of testimony at Donald Trump’s criminal trial, former ally Michael Cohen said he committed several federal crimes to protect Trump, including lying to Congress “out of loyalty.” He also lied about the true nature of the hush-money payments at the center of the trial, he told the jury — that is, until he decided he could not lie any more, he said.

Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and right-hand-man, also testified that the former president was directly involved in falsifying business records to reimburse him for a $130,000 payment — made to keep porn star Stormy Daniels quiet about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump and protect him ahead of the 2016 election.

Cohen’s testimony is vital to the prosecution’s allegations that Trump didn’t just falsify business records to conceal the payments, but did so as part of a broader conspiracy to get himself elected president in 2016.

Cohen, who will be the prosecution’s final witness, offers perhaps the most direct evidence to suggest Trump knew about the scheme and falsified the documents with that knowledge — the former president has repeatedly denied the allegations. The defense began a fiery cross-examination of Cohen on Tuesday, which will resume on Thursday.

As crucial as the disbarred attorney is to the prosecution, he is a star witness with a credibility problem. Prosecutors sought to get ahead of Trump’s defense cross-examination by airing Cohen’s dirty laundry themselves, but it’s a risky legal strategy.

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‘Surrogates’ for Trump can say ‘whatever they want’ despite gag order

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Sources:  
Adam Klasfeld, The Washington Post, The Associated Press

Trump’s gag order stipulates he cannot make — or direct others to make — statements about the prosecutors, jury, witnesses, or judge’s family. But a parade of vice-presidential hopefuls and prominent Republicans — including House Speaker Mike Johnson — have beelined to Manhattan to act as his megaphone. Some court-watchers have pointed out that helping Trump seemingly skirt his gag order is “a dicey dance.” Asked Tuesday if he was “directing surrogates to speak on [his] behalf,” Trump told reporters he has “a lot of surrogates” who are “speaking beautifully.” But so long as Trump does not directly tell those ‘surrogates’ to sound off, “they can say whatever they want to say,” one former federal prosecutor said.

Trump’s verbal attacks may inspire threats of violence

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Sources:  
Reuters , MSNBC

Trump’s inflammatory comments about the judges across his various ongoing trials are “inspiring widespread calls for violence,” a Reuters investigation has found. For example, after the former president railed against hush-money trial Judge Juan Merchan, who is not protected under the gag order, some Trump supporters called for Merchan’s execution on social media. Trump has not directly called for violence, but experts told Reuters that his language threatens the legitimacy of the independent judiciary. Anyone who crosses Trump can expect to face a barrage of threats, and two judges overseeing Trump’s other cases have recently been targeted in swatting incidents. That raises concerns that Trump’s verbal attacks are no longer “dog whistles” but “bullhorns” to his supporters, one expert told MSNBC.

Biden tries to contrast himself to Trump — to little avail

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Sources:  
The New York Times, ABC News

Trump is bound to a New York courtroom several days a week, somewhat curtailing his campaign activity, while incumbent President Joe Biden can campaign all over the US as much as he pleases. But battleground-state polling hasn’t shifted much in Biden’s favor since Trump’s trial began, indicating that the former president’s legal woes have done little to boost Biden with undecided voters, many of whom say they’re most concerned with the cost of living, immigration, and Israel’s war in Gaza. It’s still possible that a Trump conviction could tip the scale: Polls suggest a fifth of Trump supporters would reconsider or withdraw support if he is convicted of a crime — enough to make a difference in what is expected to be a nail-biter election.

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