Cross-examination throws Michael Cohen off balance, but belabors point that he hates Trump

The much-anticipated cross-examination of Michael Cohen on Tuesday portrayed him as a Trump-hating liar who wants the former president in jail, and the answer was frequently some version of “I don’t recall.”

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche jumped around as a way of keeping Cohen off balance. His first question: Why had Cohen said on TikTok that he, Blanche, was a “lying little s—“? Cohen said, in a frequent refrain, that sounded like something he would say.

But I don’t see what the defense gained by showing that Cohen was constantly slamming Trump on social media and his podcast, such as a “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain.” Or sold mugs saying “Send him to the big house, not the White House.” We already knew that Cohen despises Trump and has built a lucrative career trashing him since pleading guilty more than six years ago. How does that advance the ball?


Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen returned to the witness stand on Tuesday in the NY v. Trump trial. (Getty Images)

Blanche also asked about such seemingly side issues as whether Cohen was involved in leaks to the AP and CNN. He did score a point in asking whether the Manhattan D.A.’s office had repeatedly asked him to stay off TV. After an initially evasive answer, Cohen said yes, but it was “fewer than five times.”

And when Cohen was asked about objecting to the terms of his home confinement after his COVID-related release — he was allowed to spend three hours a day outside his home — it was a not-so-subtle reminder that he had served time in prison.

Cohen also admitted under questioning that he had made $3.4 million on the two anti-Trump books he had written, an extraordinarily high payment. 


Cohen is the prosecution’s last witness, and the question now is whether the defense will call any witnesses after finishing its cross-examination on Thursday — the only other trial day this week — or simply rest and say the state hasn’t met its burden of proof. No one expects Trump (who gets to go to Barron’s high school graduation Friday) will testify, despite once insisting he would.

Earlier, the prosecution spent the bulk of its time trying to inoculate Cohen against the coming cross-examination — letting its star witness put his spin on things before the Trump defense pounded him with the same material.

Among other transgressions, Cohen admitted to lying to Congress about a proposed Moscow project, to stay with the president’s “Russia Russia Russia” hoax message. He admitted to lying to special counsel Robert Mueller after agreeing to “cooperate,” only telling the truth after facing the potential indictment. 


Former Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, departs his home for Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on Tuesday for the trial of former President Donald Trump for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs.  (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

That cooperation, he said, came after FBI agents seized his electronic devices in an early-morning raid. 

He lied to the Wall Street Journal in early 2018, when it was reporting the Stormy Daniels hush money — which he knew to be false because, “I’m the one who paid it.” 

In each case, Cohen justified the falsehoods by saying he uttered them out of “loyalty” to Trump and to the “benefit” of Trump.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow sent Cohen an encrypted Signal message: “Client says thanks for what you do.” The client, says Cohen, was Trump.


Cohen said that, at the insistence of his family, he decided that “I would not lie for President Trump anymore.” Pleading guilty was “the worst day of my life.

The next day, the president tweeted: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” He was no longer on the team.

In an obvious misstep, Cohen said he lied when he pleaded guilty. He later clarified that he meant he was guilty of some charges but not tax evasion. Cohen was fined $100,000 and sentenced to three years in prison, though released early during the pandemic.

Alvin Bragg’s prosecutor did go on offense at the outset, as Cohen described the $420,000 in checks he received in 2017–while doing virtually nothing for the money but setting up the “false expenses” charge. 


Former President Trump returns to the courtroom after a short break during his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday in New York City.  (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

He went through every invoice, every pay stub, describing each as a lie authorized by Trump. The president, he testified, had asked in an Oval Office meeting if he needed any money, telling him to work things out with the company’s since-convicted CFO.

Cohen said he did “very minimal” work for Trump or his wife during 2017 — less than 10 hours.

To prepare Cohen for questions about being motivated by money, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger had him acknowledge that once Trump named him his personal lawyer, he made $4 million advising clients who wanted to influence the new administration.

In the end, Cohen said he had apologized to the country, to Congress and to his family. He closed with “I violated my moral compass.”


Trump has succeeded in turning the trial into part of his campaign. He had House Speaker Mike Johnson show up on Tuesday. In his morning chat with reporters, he criticized President Biden for imposing Trump-like tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles — which he had once opposed — and the remarks were overshadowed anyway by the trial. In his evening comments, Trump read from various pieces, mostly by right-leaning supporters, saying the trial is a sham.


How much of this is swaying the public? In the latest New York Times poll, just 29% of those in six battleground states say they are paying “a lot” of attention to Trump’s legal woes.  

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