Michael Cohen testifies in New York criminal trial against Trump Jurors heard Cohen confirm two key details on the stand: Trump knew about a settlement negotiation to Stormy Daniels and Trump directed Cohen to make that payment because of the election.

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Michael Cohen, Trump's ex-fixer, testifies about hush money payment to Stormy Daniels

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Michael Cohen will take the stand today in New York in the election interference trial of former President Donald Trump.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Once a personal attorney to President Trump, Cohen facilitated the $130,000 hush money payment at the heart of the trial. He's one of the prosecution's final witnesses.

MARTIN: NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the trial, and she is with us once again. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So, Andrea, look, I think people might remember Michael Cohen is a guy who once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. So remind us of how it happened that he's now a main witness against him.

BERNSTEIN: That's right, Michel. When he worked for Trump, Cohen did the dirty work - stiffing vendors, intimidating reporters, making secret deals, and it all might have stayed that way. But after the whole Stormy Daniels story blew up in 2018, Trump stopped paying Cohen's legal bills, and Cohen became what Trump very publicly called a rat. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to banks, lying to Congress, and, quote, "at the direction of Donald Trump," violating campaign finance laws. Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison, but before he was incarcerated, he testified to Congress.

MARTIN: And how closely did that testimony align with the evidence that's come out in this trial?

BERNSTEIN: I think it gives us a pretty good idea of what we should expect to hear from Cohen in the coming days. Some of it has already been corroborated in the trial - for example, former Trump communications aide Hope Hicks, testified about how concerned the campaign was after the Access Hollywood tape. This is what Cohen said in 2019.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: I don't think anybody would dispute this belief that after the wildfire that encompassed the Billy Bush tape, that a second follow-up to it would have been pleasant. And he was concerned with the effect that it had had on the campaign on how women were seeing him and ultimately whether or not he would have a shot in the general election.

MARTIN: So, look, we've already heard a lot in this trial about that tape. Have we learned something about it that's new?

BERNSTEIN: You know, one of the things that I've always wondered is why Stormy Daniels' story in particular was felt to be such a threat to Trump. So many women were coming forward with stories of their own after the Access Hollywood tape. And Daniels herself answered that question last week in her testimony. She said there was a power imbalance when she saw Trump on a hotel bed in his underwear. Not that she was forced, she was clear, but that the encounter was unwanted. Trump has pleaded not guilty and has denied any sexual encounter with Daniels.

MARTIN: Fundamentally, though, this is a story about falsifying records. But Cohen has lied under oath in the past. Is he considered a credible witness to tell us about those records?

BERNSTEIN: Prosecutor said from the outset of the case, basically, that Michael Cohen had a history of lying, but they would corroborate his statements. This is what he said in 2019 about talking to Trump early in his presidency at the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COHEN: And he says to me, something to the effect of, don't worry, Michael. Your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were Fedexed from New York. And it takes a while for that to get through the White House system.

BERNSTEIN: In this case, jurors have corroboration, a photo of Cohen in the White House, a meeting memo, Fedex receipts. Prosecution and defense this week will be locked in a battle over whether Cohen is an unrepentant liar or whether he's lied, but in this case, is telling the truth.

MARTIN: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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