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PBS News Hour | Cohen testifies that Trump is directly involved in hush money | Season 2024

AMNA NAWAZ: Welcome to the “NewsHour.”

On the stand today for the fourth week of testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial was the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Cohen.

Trump’s former lawyer and fixer accused Trump of and testified that Trump directed Cohen to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels to bury her story on the eve of the 2016 election, and then was involved in covering up those payments after he had won.

William Brangham was in court today in New York, and he joins us now.

So William, it’s fair to say that Mr. Cohen may be the most important witness for the Manhattan district attorney in this case.

This is the man allegedly at the center of the hush money payments and refunds.

What did he testify of today?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s exactly right, Amna.

Prosecutors needed Michael Cohen to essentially do two things today: first, as you described, establish that Donald Trump instructed Michael Cohen to pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet so she wouldn’t spread her story and undermine Trump’s chances of win the 2016 elections. and then, second, to clearly implicate Trump in the scheme that prosecutors allege concocted cases to falsify corporate records and then cover up the reimbursement of that money Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels.

And on both fronts, Cohen provided somewhat dry, but quite convincing, testimony on both fronts.

AMNA NAWAZ: So let’s take all of these one by one.

Mr. Cohen has always said that Mr. Trump told him to pay Stormy Daniels to bury that story.

What else did he testify about today that contributed to that story?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right.

Cohen today detailed the extensive efforts Trump and his associates undertook to prevent stories of extramarital affairs from coming out in 2016 and in the run-up to that election.

First, he shared more details about the payments that Trump, Michael Cohen and David Pecker, the head of ‘The National Enquirer’, paid to Karen McDougal, $150,000, to induce her to tell her story about an alleged extramarital affair with the US president not to tell. former president.

Trump was heard on tape again today saying he knew how that payment was supposed to go and that he would pay the money and how they would work out the checks.

We – jurors heard that again from the president’s mouth.

Then came the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape during the campaign.

And Cohen has most clearly explained to the jury yet how terrified the campaign was and the chaos that descended upon them when that tape came out and how they then tried to dismiss it as this – quote – “locker room talk.” “

Then, amid that chaos, Stormy Daniels’ story reemerges.

And Cohen described talking to Donald Trump at the time and asking him about this alleged Stormy Daniels story that was brewing in the background.

What did he know about it?

And Trump said this would be a disaster for his campaign if it became known, and would seriously hurt him with female voters.

He said – Cohen said Trump told him this: “Men will think it’s cool, but women will hate me.”

So we got a lot more details on that front, how Trump ordered Cohen to pay Stormy Daniels to bury that story.

AMNA NAWAZ: And then of course we all know what happens next.

Mr. Trump continues to win the election.

According to this story, Michael Cohen still owes that $130,000 for the payment to Stormy Daniels.

And the crux of the plaintiff’s case, William, is how Michael Cohen was paid back and how the company’s records were falsified to hide their true intentions.

What did Michael Cohen testify about that?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right.

This is the crux of the matter.

The 34 charges Trump faces for falsifying company records relate to how they reimbursed Michael Cohen for that money and how they allegedly falsified that data.

And Cohen was concerned, detailing how he feared he would never get this money back.

Trump had won the election.

Cohen didn’t get a job in Washington, DC, as he says he wanted.

And he was afraid that this would put the bag in his hands.

And he described this one meeting where he blasted Trump’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and said, look, none of you have done anything to pay this money to protect the current president.

I’m the one who did that, and I need to be paid back.

And he and Weisselberg came up with this plan at that meeting.

And jurors saw this quite striking document again today.

I want to bring it up so viewers can check it out.

It’s a little confusing to understand what’s going on here.

But this paper is a copy of the wire transfer that Michael Cohen sent to Daniel’s lawyer.

And then you see all that handwriting at the bottom.

Again, there are a lot of numbers and other terms in there.

The details here are a bit Byzantine.

But this document, in the handwriting of Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg, details exactly how they figured out how Michael Cohen would be repaid during that meeting.

And this document is the clearest piece of evidence yet of the entire alleged scheme that prosecutors say is going on here.

AMNA NAWAZ: So William, if Mr. Cohen and Mr. Weisselberg came up with that plan, is Cohen saying that Donald Trump was aware of that plan or approved of it?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right.

Cohen says that immediately after that meeting with Weisselberg, he and Weisselberg entered Trump’s office with that document.

And Cohen said it seemed to him as if they had already discussed this plan, because Trump seemed familiar with the details.

But they went over all the details of how Trump would do that – how Cohen would be paid back in monthly installments, plus a bonus, plus some money he owed to a tech service provider, and that Cohen clearly knew in that process what was going on here and approved the whole plan.

And so this is the crux of the argument, that the plaintiffs are claiming that they falsified these documents to pretend that these were all legal fees for Michael Cohen because they were trying to cover up the fact that these were hush money payments.

AMNA NAWAZ: A great day of witness today.

And tomorrow, Willem?

What should we expect?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We should hear more from Michael Cohen.

There’s a little more malice, a more direct investigation into him by prosecutors.

And then the cross-examination begins.

And this is, as you and I have discussed, where Michael Cohen will once again really come under attack because, remember, he is a convicted felon.

He has pleaded guilty several times to lying under oath, to lying to Congress.

He is accused of election fraud.

He has changed his story several times about Trump’s role in this alleged scheme.

He has also shown very clear hostility towards Donald Trump and said he harbors the idea that Donald Trump will end up in jail.

All of that will likely come out as the defense team tries to poke holes in this key witness.

We’ll see all that tomorrow, maybe Thursday too.

AMNA NAWAZ: OK, that’s William Brangham reporting live from New York tonight.

Willem, thank you.