06/13/2024

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Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media, while his lawyer Todd Blanche listens, after the day's court session for his trial at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Mike Segar/Pool Photo via AP)

The Trump Docket: Was Michael Cohen’s testimony a knockout punch for prosecutors and Trump’s best day in court — or just a ‘blow on the chin’?

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media, while his lawyer Todd Blanche listens, after the day’s court session for his trial at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Mike Segar/Pool Photo via AP)

It was a roller coaster of a week in Manhattan as the government’s star witness Michael Cohen testified before the jury and judge in Donald Trump’s hush-money and election interference case for several days, often finding himself tripped up by the former president’s legal team as prosecutors meanwhile hurriedly worked to get their case and witness on track before it all comes to an end.

But with the expected conclusion of the president’s first criminal trial creeping closer — perhaps even early next week — there was a wave of analysis this week that begged the question: Are the worst moments for Trump’s trial over — or is the best yet to come for District Attorney Alvin Bragg?

The major victory for Trump this week came when his attorney Todd Blanche cornered Cohen on the stand about an integral call he made to Trump’s onetime bodyguard Keith Schiller. Seeking to sow reasonable doubt about the credibility of the government’s witness, Blanche noted that though Cohen had told only prosecutors earlier this week that the call was about a “resolution” to the “Stormy Daniels matter”— more on that in-depth below — a text retrieved from his phone told another story: Trump’s bodyguard had asked him for help dealing with a 14-year old prank phone caller before they spoke for less than 5 minutes.

A thundering “That was a lie!” in response to Cohen’s claim that he spoke to Trump that night and not his bodyguard prompted Brookings Institute senior fellow and legal analyst Norm Eisen to tell CNN that the exchange may have been a “blow on the chin” for Bragg but he wasn’t overly concerned.

“My experience of 30 years of doing this is it takes more than one punch to knock out a witness,” Eisen said.

Jim Trusty, however, one of Trump’s former attorneys, told the outlet he thought it was moment well delivered since “the defense set the whole trial up to be a referendum on Cohen’s honesty.”

“That is exactly where you want this fight to be, so it is a good moment [for Trump],” Trusty told CNN.

Early this week, Alan Dershowitz told Fox News Cohen raised “serious ethical problems” for prosecutors.

“In 60 years of doing this, I’ve never put a witness like Michael Cohen on the stand because I have ethics and good lawyers don’t put people on the stand that they know are going to lie, either on direct or cross,” Dershowitz said.

George Conway, Board President for the Society for the Rule of Law Institute, told Law&Crime in an email Friday: “I think the issue about the Schiller call wasn’t helpful for the prosecution, but unless the defense comes up with something else on Monday, or unless there’s an intransigent juror or two, it shouldn’t matter. There’s a mountain of evidence that corroborates the key point — that Trump was neck-deep in the details of the criminal cover-up scheme.”

It is unclear as of Friday afternoon whether there will be rebuttals next week or if Trump will dare to venture to testify. If he does, he runs the risk of blowing the memory of Cohen’s faltering performance out of the water and potentially clear out of the jurors’ minds.

Law&Crime takes a look at this and other developments in Trump’s cases in Florida, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and New York.

Related Coverage:

    NEW YORK

    CRIMINAL

    Trump, arguably, had his best day in court when Michael Cohen came under fierce scrutiny during cross-examination.

    This followed after Trump’s onetime right-hand man and fixer grew tense as Trump’s lawyers worked to undermine his credibility. They seemed to succeed in part.

    Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche elicited testimony from Cohen where he admitted to lying when he was preparing to take a plea in his own earlier Southern District of New York indictment.

    “You know what perjury means?” Blanche asked him.

    That testy exchange came a day after Cohen offered the clearest explanation yet of how the hush-money payment came to be. He also testified that his backchannel ties to Trump weren’t exactly as glamorous as one might think — especially after Cohen was first raided by the FBI.

    Defense attorney Todd Blanche stands making the "swearing in" hand gesture when cross examining Michael Cohen, as Donald Trump, left, looks on with Judge Juan Merchan presiding, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York.

    Defense attorney Todd Blanche stands making the “swearing in” hand gesture when cross examining Michael Cohen, as Donald Trump, left, looks on with Judge Juan Merchan presiding, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

    Earlier in the week, Cohen’s cross-examination went off the rails temporarily as his use of TikTok crept into the conversation; when Blanche asked him if he used the platform to discuss the trial and, specifically, if Cohen had called Blanche a “crying little s—,” Cohen remarked: “That sounds like something I would say.”

    But more importantly for the prosecution, Cohen told jurors this week that Trump knew the story about his affair with Stormy Daniels had the potential to harm his campaign.

    “This is a disaster, a total disaster,” Cohen said, channeling Trump in court. “Women will hate me. Guys may think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.’”

    He also testified that Trump never had an email address because he knew that “prosecutors love paper trails” and that he recorded a call with National Enquirer chief executive David Pecker to keep Pecker “loyal” to Trump.

    Trump keeps pressing his luck with his gag order. On Thursday, he attacked one of the prosecutors, Matthew Colangelo in a rant outside of the courthouse in Manhattan. Trump already lost his appeal of the gag order issued by New York County Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan on Tuesday.

    Law&Crime analysis this week considers Trump’s potential “civil death’ if he is convicted in criminal court.

    OF NOTE: A gaggle of Republican lawmakers were in Trump’s cheering section this week including longtime Trump darlings Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Lauren Boebert.

    Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., second from left, and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., third from left, watch proceedings in Donald Trump's, far right, hush money trial at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

    Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., second from left, and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., third from left, watch proceedings in Donald Trump’s, far right, hush money trial at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

    CIVIL

    Related to the world of E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump this week: Attorneys representing ABC and George Stephanopoulos asked a federal judge to throw out Trump’s defamation lawsuit against the network over a March interview of Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., where the “This Week” host “more than 10 times” said the former president had been found “liable for rape” in the Carroll civil case.

    FLORIDA

    CRIMINAL

    U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon laid out in her order last week a new set of late July deadlines for Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) litigation to be filed where Trump and his lawyers will be able to specify which classified information they have obtained during discovery. Then, in late June, there will be an important three-day hearing to weigh arguments on whether Jack Smith was rightfully appointed to prosecute Trump and whether Trump’s motion to dismiss the case completely is warranted.

    Not only does Cannon’s decision put Smith on the ropes and gives Trump more time; depending on how the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s immunity question, and when, those hearings may never get off the ground anyway.

    OF NOTE: A tale of two judges shows how Hunter Biden speeds toward his gun trial while Trump’s espionage case has languished. And The Guardian reported this week that House Democrats are now investigating whether Trump made a $1 billion quid pro quo offer to oil executives during a meeting at Mar-a-Lago. 

    Aileen Cannon, Jack Smith

    Judge Aileen Cannon, pictured left (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida), (right) special counsel Jack Smith (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    WASHINGTON, D.C. 

    SUPREME COURT

    Another week passes without word on Trump’s immunity bid nor a ruling from the high court in Fischer v. United States that could have a huge impact on Trump’s criminal Jan. 6 charges and hundreds of other Jan. 6 defendants.

    CRIMINAL

    Jack Smith must wait, like the rest of America, to find out whether the prosecution of the former president for allegedly criminally conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election will advance or die on the vine.

    If the high court releases that decision late into June, it is unlikely Trump will face prosecution in earnest anytime before the 2024 election in November.

    CIVIL

    He won’t be able to say they didn’t warn him. The judge overseeing a number of Jan. 6 lawsuits filed by police and lawmakers against the former president released a protective order this week governing discovery in the case; Trump has worried he would expose his immunity defense strategy by letting the civil case proceed. Now, with nowhere left to turn, the terms for sensitive discovery are on the table.

    OF NOTE: Peter Navarro‘s umpteenth attempt to get out of jail as he finishes out his sentence for contempt of Congress has failed. And prosecutors have demanded that Steve Bannon start serving his four-month sentence on similar charges after a more than yearlong delay. Elsewhere: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito this week said it was his wife who was responsible for putting up a “Stop the Steal” solidarity flag on their front yard.

    Left: President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)/Right: In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

    Left: President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)/Right: In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

    GEORGIA

    CRIMINAL

    The trial is in limbo and very likely into 2025 after the Georgia Court of Appeals dealt Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis a loss when it agreed to take up Trump’s challenge to her prosecutorial authority. 

    OF NOTE: Trump’s co-defendant in the racketeering case Rudy Giuliani is hawking coffee while his bankruptcy proceedings continue. A bankruptcy judge this week rejected his “disturbing” appeal of the $148 million defamation judgment he has been ordered to pay following the destruction he wrought on the lives to two former election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.

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    The post The Trump Docket: Was Michael Cohen’s testimony a knockout punch for prosecutors and Trump’s best day in court — or just a ‘blow on the chin’? first appeared on Law & Crime.