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Trump’s Ex-Lawyer Testifies Former US Prez Worked To Suppress News That Would Hurt 2016 Campaign – News18

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Donald Trump’s estranged former lawyer Michael Cohen told jurors on Monday that he conspired with the Republican presidential candidate and a tabloid publisher to suppress negative stories that could damage his 2016 campaign, as prosecutors aim to prove that Trump illegally hid a hush money payment to a porn star.

Cohen said he learned from the National Enquirer in June 2016 – a month before the Republican National Convention – that former Playboy model Karen McDougal was shopping a story about a year-long affair she said she and Trump had. “Make sure it doesn’t get released,” Cohen recalled Trump saying.

Trump and David Pecker, the tabloid’s publisher, had already agreed that Pecker would use the newspaper to boost Trump’s presidential candidacy while suppressing any negative stories that could hurt his chances, Cohen testified. Cohen described a phone call in which Pecker told Trump that the Enquirer would need to pay $150,000 to lock down McDougal’s story. “To which Mr. Trump replied, ‘No problem, I’ll take care of it,’” Cohen said.

Pecker previously testified at the trial about his role in killing McDougal’s story. Once one of Trump’s most loyal lieutenants, Cohen is the prosecution’s star witness as the trial enters its fifth week in New York state criminal court in Manhattan. Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, intended to keep her from speaking publicly about a 2006 sexual encounter she says she had with Trump, is at the center of the case.

Prosecutors have said the Daniels payment was part of a broader “catch and kill” scheme between Trump, Cohen and Pecker to pay off people, such as McDougal, with potentially negative stories about Trump in violation of campaign finance laws. When Trump was preparing to announce his campaign for president, Cohen said, Trump told him that there would be “a lot of women coming forward.”

Trump is accused of hiding the Daniels payment by reimbursing Cohen with a phony legal retainer fee that was falsely recorded in Trump’s real estate company’s records. Prosecutors say the altered business records covered up election-law and tax-law violations that elevate the 34 counts Trump faces from misdemeanors to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

For nearly a decade, Cohen, 57, worked as an executive and lawyer for Trump’s company and once said he would take a bullet for Trump, a Republican former president trying to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in this year’s Nov. 5 U.S. election, opens new tab. Cohen said it was fair to describe his role as a fixer for Trump, testifying that he took care of “whatever he wanted.” Rather than work as a traditional corporate lawyer, Cohen reported directly to Trump and was never part of the Trump Organization’s general counsel’s office.

Among his duties was renegotiating bills from business partners, threatening to sue people and planting positive stories in the press, he said. Trump, he said, communicated primarily by phone or in person and never set up an email address. “He would comment that emails are like written papers, that he knows too many people who have gone down as a direct result of having emails that prosecutors can use in a case,” Cohen said.

Trump offered him a job in 2007, after Cohen presented Trump with a $100,000 bill from his then-law firm for work done for one of Trump’s companies. “I was honored. I was taken by surprise, and I agreed,” Cohen said, adding that Trump never paid the bill. Trump sat slouched in his chair with his eyes closed and lips pursed throughout Cohen’s testimony, occasionally shifting his head from side to side.

COHEN IS FREQUENT TRUMP TARGET

Cohen, who served as Trump’s personal lawyer after his presidential term began in 2017, broke with him when federal prosecutors probing Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign focused on Cohen. He has become one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, frequently disparaging him on social media and on podcasts. On Friday, Justice Juan Merchan urged prosecutors to tell Cohen to stop making public statements about the case after defense lawyer Todd Blanche said Cohen had posted on social media while wearing a T-shirt showing Trump behind bars.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 34 counts and denies having had a sexual encounter with Daniels. He argues the case is a politically motivated attempt to interfere with his campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance law by paying off Daniels and testified that Trump directed him to make the payment. Federal prosecutors did not charge Trump with any crime.

Trump’s defense lawyers have told the 12 jurors and six alternates that Cohen acted on his own when paying Daniels, seeking to distance Trump from the payments at the heart of the case. Cohen has admitted to lying under oath multiple times, providing substantial fodder for the defense to undermine his credibility.

He has acknowledged lying to the U.S. Congress in 2017 about a Trump Organization real estate project in Moscow, but has since said he did so to protect Trump. He also pleaded guilty to violating tax law in 2018, but now claims he did not commit that crime. Cohen has been on the receiving end of Trump’s vitriolic social media attacks, some of which the judge has said violated a gag order restricting Trump from making statements about witnesses, jurors and families of the judge and prosecutors if meant to interfere with the case.

Trump has called the gag order a violation of his right to free speech and has said it is unfair to bar him from responding to attacks by witnesses such as Cohen and Daniels. Merchan has fined Trump $10,000 for repeated violations and warned the former president he could face time in jail if he keeps up his attacks.

The case is widely seen as less consequential than three other criminal prosecutions Trump faces, but it is the only one certain to go to trial before the election. The other cases charge Trump with trying to overturn his 2020 presidential defeat and mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Trump pleaded not guilty to all three.

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – Reuters)

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