HomePoliticsMichael Cohen will face even more as Trump's hush money trial enters...

Michael Cohen will face even more as Trump’s hush money trial enters its final stages

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s hush-money trial is entering its final stretch, with prosecutors’ last and key witness back on the stand Monday for more grilling before the former president’s lawyers get a chance to make a case to tighten.

The groundbreaking trial will kick off in Manhattan with more cross-examination by the defense of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, whose crucial testimony last week directly linked Trump to the alleged hush money scheme. He is the prosecution’s last witness and it is not yet clear whether Trump’s lawyers will call witnesses, let alone the presumptive Republican presidential nominee himself.

Defense attorneys have been questioning Cohen for hours about his criminal history and past lies to portray him as a serial fabulist engaged in a revenge campaign aimed at bringing down Trump.

After more than four weeks of testimony about sex, money, tabloid machinations and the details of Trump’s business records, jurors could begin deliberating as soon as this week to decide whether Trump is guilty of 34 crimes for falsifying business records in the first criminal trial of a former American president.

The charges stem from internal Trump Organization documents that flagged payments to Cohen as legal fees, when prosecutors say they were actually reimbursements for a $130,000 hush-money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

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Trump has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say there was nothing criminal about the Daniels deal or the way Cohen was paid.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is expected to drop its case once Cohen is out of office, but prosecutors would have the opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Trump’s lawyers presented their own witnesses.

The judge has ordered lawyers to be prepared for closing arguments as early as Tuesday, although the timing will depend on whether the defense calls witnesses, which is not mandatory. Defense attorneys said they have not yet decided whether Trump will testify.

Lawyers are generally reluctant to put their clients on the witness stand and expose them to intense questioning by prosecutors because this often does more harm than good.

Cohen is prosecutors’ most important witness, but he is also vulnerable to attack.

The now-disbarred lawyer has admitted on the witness stand to previous lies under oath and other untruths, many of which he claims were intended to protect Trump. Cohen was in prison after pleading guilty to several federal charges, including lying to Congress and a bank and committing campaign finance violations related to the hush money program.

And he has made millions of dollars from books critical of the former president, whom he regularly criticizes in often profane terms on social media.

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Cohen told jurors that Trump was deeply involved in the scheme to pay off Daniels to prevent her from going public late in his 2016 presidential campaign with claims about a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump says there was nothing sexual happened between them.

Cohen told jurors about meetings and conversations with Trump, including one in 2017 in which Cohen says he, Trump and then-Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg discussed how Cohen would recoup his expenses for the Daniels payment and how the reimbursement would be billed as “legal services.”

Cohen is known for his short temper and has remained mostly calm on the witness stand despite sometimes heated questioning by the defense about his own misdeeds and the allegations in the case.

A key moment came Thursday, when attorney Todd Blanche accused Cohen of lying about the purpose of a phone call to Trump’s bodyguard, days before Cohen wired Daniels’ attorney $130,000.

Cohen told jurors that he spoke to Trump about the hush money payment during that phone call. Blanche confronted Cohen with text messages to claim that Cohen had actually spoken to Trump’s bodyguard about harassing phone calls from a teenage prankster.

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“That was a lie. You didn’t speak to President Trump that night… Can you admit that?” Blanche asked.

“No sir, I can’t,” Cohen responded, saying he believed he had also spoken to Trump about the Daniels deal.

Trump’s lawyers have said they may call Bradley A. Smith, a Republican law professor appointed to the Federal Election Commission by former President Bill Clinton, to refute the prosecutor’s claim that the hush money payments amounted to violations of campaign financing.

However, Judge Juan M. Merchan has limited what Smith can say, and the defense may decide not to call him after all.

There are often guardrails around expert testimony on legal issues, on the grounds that it is up to a judge – not an expert hired by one side or the other – to instruct jurors on the applicable law in a case.

Merchan has ruled that Smith can provide general background on the FEC, the laws it enforces and the definitions of terms such as “campaign contribution.” But he cannot interpret how federal campaign finance laws apply to the facts in Trump’s case, nor can he offer an opinion on whether the former president’s alleged actions violate those laws.

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Richer reported from Washington.

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