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‘That was a lie!’ Trump’s team tries to make jury doubt Cohen

There's one vital witness — a common thread — in Donald Trump's criminal trial whose testimony weaves together all the elements of the intricate case. And Trump's lawyers have spent the week pulling on that thread.

Defence lawyer erupts at witness as hush-money trial nears the finish

A man in a black suit and blue tie sits at the witness stand in a courtroom in this court illustration. In front of him is a framed screenshot of a Donald Trump tweet. Behind him are American flags.

There's one vital witness in Donald Trump's criminal trial whose testimony weaves together all the elements of the intricate case.

And Trump's lawyers are pulling on that thread.

The New York courtroom had already heard Michael Cohen recount this week the myriad lies he's told in his life, including while under oath, to law enforcement and lawmakers.

But today, Trump's team suggested Cohen had done it again — in this hush-money trial.

"That was a lie!" defence lawyer Todd Blanche shouted Thursday, delivering the trial's first Hollywood-style courtroom eruption during his second day of cross-examination.

Blanche was refuting Cohen's testimony about one conversation with Trump about arranging payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels, buying her silence about an alleged fling with Trump to protect his 2016 run for the U.S. presidency.

A man in a suit, looking unhappy, leans forward in his seat in a courtroom.

"You did not talk to President Trump," Blanche said, essentially accusing Trump's former right-hand man of perjury.

The trial is nearly over. Cohen, the last prosecution witness, will be on the witness stand for a fourth day when the trial resumes Monday, as the Trump team attempts to plant seeds of doubt in jurors's minds.

The defence says it expects to be done with him by that morning, and might not call any of its own witnesses. The judge says closing arguments could happen as early as Tuesday.

Then the jury begins deliberations, possibly next week. And Trump's legal team wants them questioning everything they've heard.

One brief phone call

Earlier this week, Cohen testified that he'd had multiple conversations with Trump over several months about hush-money payments to Daniels and their subsequent coverup.

It was one specific phone call, on the evening Oct. 24, 2016, that was the subject of Blanche's outburst on Thursday.

This was not the most important conversation Cohen testified about, but not insignificant either. It was in this call, Cohen testified Monday, that he confirmed to Trump some basic details of how he would structure the $130,000 payout to Daniels.

A woman with long blonde hair walks through a crowd.

Cohen said he drew the money from his home equity line of credit, so that his wife wouldn't see the funds disappear from their joint bank account. Then he would use a newly created limited-liability corporation to pay Daniels, so that nobody could connect the payment to Trump.

He said he discussed that structure with Trump a couple of times and ultimately confirmed the details with him in a call at 8:02 p.m.

It must have been a vanishingly brief chat.

The court learned Thursday that the call lasted one minute, 36 seconds, and that the first part was Cohen talking with someone else — Trump's personal bodyguard Keith Schiller — about something else. A teenager had been bedevilling Trump's office with prank phone calls and Cohen wanted the matter referred to the Secret Service.

Cohen said he spoke with Schiller, who eventually turned the phone over to Trump.

Several cheques, segments of which are blacked out, bearing the names 'Michael D. Cohen' and 'Donald J. Trump.'

He has testified that this was the call when he resolved with Trump how he would make the payments to Daniels.

"That was a lie," Blanche said again on Thursday.

"You were actually talking to Mr. Schiller [about the prank calls]," he said — expressing doubt that one minute and 36 seconds was enough time for both conversations.

Cohen said he believed he also spoke with Trump, which prompted another theatrical eruption from Blanche: "We are not asking about your belief. This jury doesn't want to hear what you think happened."

Cohen insisted that he'd told the truth.

Trump's entourage in court appeared delighted, smiling and glancing at each other. The former president's son Eric Trump tweeted five fireball emojis and one word, "Wow!!!!" as he left the court for lunch.

Cheques, invoices, testimony

The final say belongs to a group of jurors, mostly young, mostly white Manhattanites, men and women mainly seeminglyin their 30s and 40s, with almost none showing grey hair.

What they've heard so far from Cohen has reinforced the prosecution's case; that Trump knew of the payments, participated in the coverup, and that he did this primarily with the aim of circumventing election laws.

They have seen documented evidence — bank records, cheques signed by Trump, invoices and slips that show Cohen was later repaid in 2017 for fictional legal services.

They have heard from the then-publisher of The National Enquirer who said he agreed to tip Trump off to stories that might hurt his campaign; which his team did with Daniels.

But Cohen brings a singular asset to the table — the strongest thread tying these facts together, like conversations involving Trump, with whom he used to speak multiple times a day.

He described Trump fretting about the political implications of the porn star going public, and Trump sitting in his office as his aides discussed how to create a false paper trail for his repayments to Cohen.

WATCH | Cohen faces aggressive cross-examination:

Trump lawyers accuse Michael Cohen of lying on the stand

5 hours ago

Duration 2:01

Donald Trump's defence team at the former president's hush-money trial accused star prosecution witness Michael Cohen of lying on the stand regarding a phone call Cohen says he had with Trump about Stormy Daniels.

A longtime New York criminal lawyer says he thinks the prosecution's case stands, in part because it's buttressed by documented evidence, but also because challenges with a witness like Cohen are baked into their expectations.

Any experienced criminal lawyer is accustomed to handling credibility issues when you bring a co-conspirator or co-operator to the stand, says Mark Cohen, who is unrelated to the witness.

"I would characterize the cross-examination thus far as landing no unexpected blow," Cohen said Thursday.

The prosecution itself had prepared jurors for this, by repeatedly warning that this witness comes with what one prosecutor called "baggage."

Cohen has pleaded guilty, and been convicted, of numerous crimes including tax fraud, lying under oath in Congress, and election finance fraud in the Daniels affair.

The defence reminded jurors that Cohen also lied under oath to Robert Mueller in the Russia probe, which Cohen admitted on Thursday.

The defence also said he lied about his contrition upon pleading guilty to tax fraud because, upon his release, he called prosecutors and the deceased judge in his case corrupt.

Cohen also admitted Thursday to lying to criminal investigators in the past.

Trump's lawyers suggested he lied again during this trial about never seeking a White House job. They showed text messages that suggest he hoped to be chief of staff or attorney general.

"I don't recall that," Cohen replied.

In an exchange with his daughter, Cohen expressed annoyance he couldn't get tickets to a Trump presidential inaugural ball in 2017. Cohen's daughter replied that he was being walked all over by Trump's new political entourage.

The court also heard audio clips of Cohen stating on his podcasts — in the most acidic and profane language — that he longs to see Trump convicted and imprisoned.

And that's the defence argument — that the case rests, to a significant degree, on the memories of a spurned ex-assistant who has a history of lying and who now hates the defendant. So there is no case, they say.

We'll find out in a week or two if the jury agrees. What's certain is that, when they huddle, they'll be talking about Cohen.

WATCH | Daniels takes the stand:

Stormy Daniels details alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump at hush money trial

9 days ago

Duration 2:48

Former porn star Stormy Daniels delivered explosive testimony in the hush money trial of former U.S. president Donald Trump, detailing​ the alleged 2006 sexual encounter that Trump has always denied.


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.

    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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