Prosecutors expected to rest their case in Trump hush money trial

Michael Cohen returns to the stand as the prosecution's last major witness.

May 20, 2024, 5:30 AM

Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen will return to the witness stand for the final time before prosecutors rest their case against the former president in Trump's criminal hush money case Monday.

Cohen last week described Trump as being deeply involved in a scheme to hide information from voters ahead of the 2016 election, but a stinging line of cross-examination may have damaged Cohen's overall credibility with the jury.

Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment that Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost Trump's electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election. The former president has denied all wrongdoing.

Prosecutors could rest their case by lunchtime Monday, and defense attorneys have not yet declared who they plan to call to testify -- including whether Trump will testify in his own defense.

Defense lawyers have suggested they might call Bradley Smith -- an expert on federal campaign finance laws -- and have left the door open to call rebuttal witnesses.

Judge Juan Merchan asked both sides to be prepared to deliver closing arguments as early as Tuesday morning.

During his cross-examination of Cohen on Thursday, defense attorney Todd Blanche accused him of lying about an alleged phone call with Trump related to the Stormy Daniels' hush money payment.

Cohen testified that on Oct. 24, 2016, he placed a phone call to Trump's security guard Keith Schiller, who passed the phone to Trump so he and Cohen could "discuss the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it."

PHOTO: Michael Cohen is asked about taking an oath as he is cross-examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 16, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.
Michael Cohen is asked about taking an oath as he is cross-examined by defense lawyer Todd Blanche during former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 16, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg via Reuters

On Thursday, Blanche presented evidence to suggest that Cohen lied about the purpose of the phone call, arguing that Cohen actually called to complain to Schiller about a teenage prank caller.

Jurors saw text messages between Cohen and the prank caller from the same day as the alleged phone call between Cohen and Trump.

"This number has just been sent to secret service for your ongoing and continuous harassment to both my cell as well as to the organizations main line," Cohen texted the teenager.

"It wasn't me," the 14-year-old prank caller replied. "My friend told me to call."

Jurors also saw text messages between Cohen and Schiller ahead of their phone call at 8:02 p.m.

"Who can I speak to regarding harassing calls to my cell and office. The dope forgot to block his call on one of them," Cohen texted Schiller.

"Call me," Schiller texted Cohen at 8:02 p.m..

When confronted with the alleged inconsistency, Cohen stood by his initial testimony, arguing he spoke to Trump about the hush-money payment in addition to talking to Schiller about the prank caller.

"That was a lie, you did not talk to President Trump on that night, you talked to Keith Schiller about what we just went through; you can admit it?" Blanche confronted Cohen while raising his voice.

"No, sir, I can't. I am not certain that is accurate," Cohen responded.

While the cross-examination may have broadly damaged Cohen's credibility, the specific phone call emphasized by Blanche was just one of many conversations between Cohen and Trump related to the Daniels' payoff. Cohen testified that he had multiple other phone calls and in-person meetings with Trump -- in both Trump Tower and the Oval Office -- where Cohen claimed they discussed how to approach Stormy Daniels' allegations, the plan for Cohen to make the payment, and the scheme to reimburse Cohen in 2017.

Trump, for his part, has repeatedly signaled his willingness to testify during the trial.

"I would have no problem testifying," Trump told ABC News on March 25. "I didn't do anything wrong."

"I would testify, absolutely," Trump said on April 12. "It's a scam. It's a scam. That's not a trial. That's not a trial. That's a scam."

However, Trump appeared to back away from the idea earlier this month, falsely telling reporters that the limited gag order in the case -- which prohibits extrajudicial statements about witnesses and jurors -- prevents him from testifying.

The next day in court, Judge Juan Merchan directly addressed Trump to clarify that he has an "absolute right" to testify and that the gag order does not apply to his statements in court.

"I want to stress, Mr. Trump, that you have an absolute right to testify at trial, if that is what you decide to do after consultation with your attorneys," Merchan said.

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