Michael Cohen faces ex-boss Trump in testimony at New York fraud trial

Former President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen arrives for former attorney Michael Avenatti’s criminal trial at the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Jan. 24, 2022.

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump, began testifying Tuesday in the $250 million fraud trial of the former president and his company.

Trump is in the courtroom staring down his once-close aide, who is now a star witness in civil and criminal cases against the former president.

Trump’s presence “will not affect me either way,” Cohen told CNBC before the trial day began.

Trump may hope otherwise. Before entering the courtroom at Manhattan Supreme Court, he ripped Cohen as a “proven liar” who is “trying to get a better deal for himself.”

Cohen told reporters outside the courtroom that his testimony was not about his rivalry with Trump. “This is about accountability, plain and simple,” he said.

Indeed, Cohen’s court appearance offers more than just the chance of a clash between the two men, whose bitter falling-out took place largely in public view during Trump’s presidency. Cohen’s testimony to Congress in 2019 about his former boss’s business practices is what spurred New York Attorney General Letitia James to open an investigation in the first place.

The lawsuit that emerged from that probe accuses Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organization and top executives of fraudulently inflating the values of real estate properties and other assets over a decade in order to get tax benefits and better loan terms.

James seeks around $250 million in damages, and she wants to bar Trump and his co-defendants from running a business in New York.

Judge Arthur Engoron, who will deliver verdicts in the no-jury trial, has already found Trump liable for fraud and ordered the cancellation of the defendants’ New York business certificates. The trial, which is expected to stretch into late December, will resolve James’ six remaining claims.

Trump was in court for two days last week, when Cohen was first expected to be called to testify. But Cohen’s appearance was delayed due to what Cohen said was a pre-existing medical condition.

Trump, who is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied all wrongdoing in the case. At the courthouse and on social media, he has repeatedly criticized James, the judge and the proceedings in general, claiming he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt.

Engoron imposed a narrow gag order on Trump earlier this month, after Trump attacked the judge’s law clerk. The judge last week accused Trump of violating that gag order, imposing a $5,000 fine on Trump and warning him that repeated violations could lead to his imprisonment.

The gag order prohibits Trump from making public statements about the judge’s staff. But he is currently not barred from attacking others involved in the case — including Cohen.

The disbarred lawyer is also a star witness in the Manhattan district attorney’s active criminal case accusing Trump of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments made shortly before the 2016 election.

Cohen in 2018 pleaded guilty to arranging those secret payments to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who say they had extramarital affairs with Trump years earlier. Trump has denied the alleged trysts and pleaded not guilty in the case brought by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for those payments, which he says were made at Trump’s direction to try to influence the 2016 presidential election, and other crimes including tax evasion.

He was furloughed to home confinement after more than a year behind bars, owing to a coronavirus-related prison policy. But he was taken back into custody for several weeks after refusing to agree not to publish a book for the remainder of his sentence. A federal judge ruled that that condition was retaliatory.

Cohen’s tell-all memoir, “Disloyal,” was published in September 2020.

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

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