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Michael Cohen gave new context for events in Trump's hush money trial

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen says that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump directed him to negotiate an agreement with adult film actor Stormy Daniels. At the New York Criminal courthouse, Cohen gave an extended firsthand account of what happened in the turbulent months at the end of the 2016 campaign. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was there and joins us now. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I take it this was another dramatic day of testimony.

BERNSTEIN: Indeed it was. I followed Michael Cohen closely, and I thought I knew what he had to say. But Cohen said very clearly today, when it came to the hush money negotiations, quote, "what I was doing, I was doing at the direction of and for the benefit of Mr. Trump." Cohen gave new context for many things that have been in the public record and more specifically in the record in this trial.

CHANG: OK, new context - like what?

BERNSTEIN: I think most people understand Trump sweats the details. Today Cohen described how it was his job to keep Trump up to date on everything. Plus, he said he wanted to get credit. And in this case, there's backup for that idea. When former Trump communications aide Hope Hicks testified, she said she didn't think Cohen would pay money to Daniels out of the kindness of his heart. Cohen was the kind of person, Hope Hicks said, who wanted credit.

CHANG: Interesting. OK, so what new things did we learn about the Daniels negotiations?

BERNSTEIN: The details behind the story. According to Cohen, Trump told him after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, quote, "this is a disaster, a total disaster. Women will hate me. Guys may think it's cool, but for women, this is going to be a disaster." Cohen repeatedly says he discussed each step of the negotiations with Trump. For example, Cohen said that Trump told him directly about the $130,000 payment. Quote, "just push it out until after the election because if I win, it won't be relevant. If I lose, I don't care."

CHANG: OK, well, that strategy to not pay until after the election obviously was a failure. So what did Cohen say about that?

BERNSTEIN: He says Daniels threatened to bolt and take her story to the Daily Mail. Cohen says he told Trump and - Trump told him he'd been advised by some very smart people. It's $130,000. You're a billionaire. Just pay it - no need to keep this thing out there. Just do it. Just go meet with Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, and figure this thing out. And Cohen did.

CHANG: So it's still just Cohen and Trump in a lot of these calls and meetings, right?

BERNSTEIN: Yes. But throughout the day, prosecutors put up phone records between Cohen and Trump, Cohen and Stormy Daniels' lawyer. And they lined up these phone records with the times and dates that Cohen was making the agreement and wiring the money.

CHANG: OK. What about the business deal at the heart of this case? Tell us more about that.

BERNSTEIN: There's testimony about that, too. Cohen says right before Trump left for the inauguration, he met with Trump and the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, at Trump Tower. And they promised to pay him $420,000 - which was the Stormy payment - another $50,000 for some tech services, $60,000 for a bonus plus an extra to cover taxes. Cohen says Trump approved it, then said, this is going to be one heck of a ride in D.C.

CHANG: Well, how did Trump's team react to all of this today?

BERNSTEIN: Surprisingly quietly. Trump let his eyes droop. He slouched. His lawyers rarely objected. They've not gotten to cross, and we expect them to lean into Cohen's own felony convictions for lying. One defense they've said over and over - Trump's concern wasn't the election. It was Melania. But Cohen said that Trump allegedly told them he wasn't thinking about Melania. This was about the campaign. That produced a reaction, with Trump vigorously shaking his head. His lawyers will get to cross-examination tomorrow.

CHANG: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you so much, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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