Former lawyer Cohen to testify against Trump at hush money trial

ALEX KENT/ AFP (File Picture)

Donald Trump's estranged former fixer Michael Cohen is expected to begin giving testimony on Monday that could determine whether jurors convict the former US president of illegally hiding a payment to silence an adult film star.

For nearly a decade Cohen, 57, worked as an executive and lawyer at Trump's New York-based family real estate company and once said he would take a bullet for Trump.

Trump's personal lawyer from the start of the White House years in 2017, Cohen broke with him when federal prosecutors probing Trump's 2016 presidential campaign honed in on Cohen, now one of Trump's most outspoken critics, frequently disparaging him on social media and on podcasts.

On Friday, Justice Juan Merchan urged prosecutors to tell Cohen to stop making public statements about the case after defence lawyer Todd Blanche said Cohen had spoken on social media while wearing a T-shirt showing Trump behind bars.

Cohen's $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election about a 2006 encounter she says she and Trump had is at the centre of the trial, which began on April 15 in New York state criminal court in Manhattan.

Prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office say Trump falsely labelled his reimbursement payments to Cohen in 2017 as legal expenses in his New York-based real estate company’s books.

They say the altered business records covered up election-law and tax-law violations that elevate the 34 counts Trump faces from misdemeanours to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 34 counts and denies having had an encounter with Daniels. He argues the case is a politically motivated attempt to interfere with his campaign. 

Prosecutors say the payment to Daniels was part of an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 election by buying the silence of people with potentially damaging information. Trump's lawyers say it was to spare him embarrassment with his family.

Cohen in 2018 pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law with the payment to Daniels. He testified that Trump directed him to make the payment. Prosecutors in that federal case never charged Trump with a crime.

Trump's defence lawyers have told the 12 jurors and six alternates that Cohen is a liar and cannot be believed. They say he acted on his own when paying Daniels and seek to distance Trump from the reimbursement checks and invoices at the heart of the case.

Cohen has admitted to lying under oath multiple times, providing substantial fodder for the defence to undermine his credibility.

He admitted to lying to the US Congress in 2017 about a Trump Organization real estate project in Moscow, but has since said he did so to protect Trump.

More from International