05/18/2024

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Assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger questions Michael Cohen, right, as former President Donald Trump, far left, looks on in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York. A check that Trump had written to Cohen and signed for monthly $35,000 payments is shown on the screens. Donald Trump's fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen returned to the witness stand Tuesday, testifying in detail how former president was linked to all aspects of a hush money scheme that prosecutors say was aimed at stifling stories that threatened his 2016 campaign.

‘A backchannel to the president’: Michael Cohen testifies about how his Trump ties were not all they were cracked up to be and actually ‘worried’ him after FBI raid

Assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger questions Michael Cohen, right, as former President Donald Trump, far left, looks on in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York. A check that Trump had written to Cohen and signed for monthly $35,000 payments is shown on the screens. Donald Trump’s fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen returned to the witness stand Tuesday, testifying in detail how former president was linked to all aspects of a hush money scheme that prosecutors say was aimed at stifling stories that threatened his 2016 campaign. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

In April 2018, the walls of a Park Avenue hotel room closed in on Michael Cohen, 57, Donald Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer.

During an FBI raid of those 4-star trappings, federal agents seized multiple documents and cellphones – leaving him “distraught, nervous, [and] concerned,” Cohen testified late Tuesday morning in an often-drafty courthouse adjacent to New York City’s first but third-largest Chinatown, the Manhattan neighborhood bearing that name.

A lifeline came through a series of lawyers – promising some “high places” protection from the fallout of the FBI’s search and seizure.

It wouldn’t last.

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    Despondent and previously-described as suicidal at this point in his life, Cohen testified he met criminal defense attorney Robert Costello at the Loews Regency New York Hotel on the recommendation of attorney acquaintance Jeffrey Citron, according to a report by Law&Crime Network reporter Terri Austin.

    During that meeting, Cohen testified, Costello let it be known that he was close to Rudy Giuliani, 79, who was, at that point, working closely with Trump during the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller, according to a report by Just Security fellow Adam Klasfeld.

    Channeling some of Costello’s alleged words to him that day, Cohen said the other lawyer impressed upon him the good of being close to Giuliani – and thus remaining close to Trump through the rough patch: “This would be a great way to have a backchannel to the president to make sure that you are still good and that you are secure.”

    More from Law&Crime: ‘Women are going to hate me’: Michael Cohen details frenzy leading to Stormy Daniels hush-money payment and pins down Trump on key issues for state’s theory of the case

    While Cohen’s account of what, exactly, Costello told him during that initial meeting will likely be a point of contention for the defense at least, jurors were later shown an email prosecutors hoped would corroborate the tenor of those alleged bearhug-style promises.

    “You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner,” Costello wrote to Cohen. “Sleep well tonight…you have friends in high places.”

    The witness, for his part, testified that he was not particularly enthused by what he heard from Costello about those connections.

    Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger posed a seemingly general question; she asked Cohen about the upshot of his Costello conversation – pressing the witness to say he understood that any information he gave his would-be counsel about the 45th president or the payoff to adult content creator Stormy Daniels, 45, would end up somewhere else. The witness answered in the affirmative and then some, according to a report by MSNBC personality Katie Phang.

    “I was concerned when he mentioned his close relationship with Rudy that anything I said would be told to Giuliani,” Cohen reportedly volunteered. “And since Giuliani was close with Trump, I was worried anything that I said would get back to him.”

    Cohen would go on to meet with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. During his initial meeting, he testified, he did not tell the whole truth, seeking to maintain his loyalty to Trump.

    In the months that followed, Cohen testified, he became increasingly concerned that Trump and Giuliani were in the process of heaping all the Daniels-related blame on him alone, using the common idiom about being thrown under the turning wheels of public transit. In turn, Costello wrote him emails trying to alleviate those concerns.

    “You are making a very big mistake if you believe the stories these ‘journalists’ are writing about you,” Costello wrote in one email shown to jurors. “They want you to cave. They want you to fail. They do not want you to persevere and succeed.”

    Cohen contextualized that email: “This is part of the pressure campaign.”

    Part of the prosecution’s case is that Trump himself, while president, in furtherance of an election influence conspiracy, exerted pressure on Cohen not to speak about the hush-money scheme.

    Eventually, however, the worm turned.

    “I made a decision again based on a conversation with my family: I would not lie for President Trump any longer,” Cohen testified.

    Cohen pleaded guilty to a first suite of charges on Aug. 21, 2018.

    On Aug. 22, 2018, Trump sent the following tweet: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen.”

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    The post ‘A backchannel to the president’: Michael Cohen testifies about how his Trump ties were not all they were cracked up to be and actually ‘worried’ him after FBI raid first appeared on Law & Crime.