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Cohen on Cross: 5 Takeaways From Trump’s Criminal Trial

LocalCohen on Cross: 5 Takeaways From Trump’s Criminal Trial

Michael Cohen faced a fierce cross-examination on Tuesday afternoon in the criminal trial of Donald Trump, as the defense tried to tear down the prosecution’s key witness.

Mr. Cohen was repeatedly attacked by Mr. Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, who suggested he was being evasive on the stand, had selective amnesia and was a jilted former employee profiting off his hatred of the former president.

Mr. Cohen, once Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, has testified that Mr. Trump directed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels, a porn star, to suppress her account of a sexual rendezvous with him in a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006.

Mr. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of Mr. Cohen. Mr. Trump, 77, has denied the charges and says he did not have sex with Ms. Daniels. If convicted, he could face prison or probation.

Here are five takeaways from Mr. Trump’s 17th day on trial:

Prosecutors indicated Tuesday that Mr. Cohen would be their last witness, and the defense said that it hoped to be done with cross-examination Thursday, the week’s only remaining day of court.

After that, the defense can present its case, though it is not clear how long that might take. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s lawyers told the judge, Juan M. Merchan, that they could begin Monday, and that the defendant might testify.

“No determination yet?” Justice Merchan asked.

“No,” Mr. Blanche said.

From his first question, it was clear that Mr. Blanche was ready for a fight: he immediately suggested that the volatile Mr. Cohen had referred to him online with a vulgarity. The judge stopped that line of questioning, but Mr. Blanche soon was peppering the witness with questions about his penchant for talking to reporters, his defiance of prosecutors’ requests to stop speaking and his feelings about Mr. Trump.

Mr. Blanche grilled Mr. Cohen about social media posts. Those included a suggestion that Mr. Trump belonged in a cage like an “animal” and a reference to him as a “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain.”

Mr. Cohen responded calmly that those sounded like things he would have said, leaving the defense still hunting for a moment that would badly damage his credibility.

The anticipation that Mr. Cohen would melt down seemed high. Late last year, when he testified at Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial, he made legal objections from the witness stand, refused to answer questions and cited court cases in his defense.

But in his first two days of testimony, Mr. Cohen has largely kept his composure. He has given short, basic answers and rarely strayed off topic.

While some of Mr. Cohen’s insults of Mr. Trump were mentioned, he also complimented the president, describing his past admiration for his former boss.

All that, prosecutors probably hope, could reaffirm the idea that Mr. Cohen is simply acting out of virtue rather than a desire for revenge.

A month in, the jury has heard about porn stars, payoffs and campaign panics. But whenever jurors get the case, perhaps before Memorial Day weekend, they will also have a raft of documents to evaluate.

These include a series of checks sent to Mr. Cohen, who reaffirmed repeatedly on Tuesday that the description of the checks as payments for a legal retainer were false.

The jury is also likely to pore over transcripts of Mr. Cohen’s testimony about a meeting in the Oval Office in February 2017 where he says that Mr. Trump confirmed the plan to reimburse him.

It was a striking sight: the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, second in line for the presidency, standing in front of a courthouse in Manhattan, calling a criminal prosecution a “sham.”

Mr. Johnson blasted Mr. Cohen, calling him a man “on a mission for personal revenge,” and saying that “no one should believe a word he says in there.”

The Republican Party has traditionally made support for law enforcement a pillar, but such invective has become the norm in Mr. Trump’s trial as the presumptive presidential nominee’s allies come to court to support him. (On Tuesday, those included North Dakota’s governor, Doug Burgum, and the former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.)

Their defense of Mr. Trump follows a gag order that bars him from attacking jurors and witnesses like Mr. Cohen. Mr. Trump has already been cited for 10 violations so far and threatened with jail if he continues.

Mr. Trump said in a morning statement to reporters, “I do have a lot of surrogates, and they are speaking very beautifully.”

Who shows up next is anybody’s guess when court meets on Thursday and the cross-examination of Mr. Cohen continues.

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