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Trump's New York criminal trial could head to jury deliberation as soon as next week

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump, and attorney Danya Perry leave his apartment building on his way to Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on Thursday.
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Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump, and attorney Danya Perry leave his apartment building on his way to Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on Thursday.

Updated May 16, 2024 at 18:47 PM ET

NEW YORK — Michael Cohen has wrapped up a third dayon the stand, testifying against his former boss, Donald Trump, in a New York criminal trial, and was pushed to answer questions about his own criminal history.

Still, prosecutors, who are nearing the end of their case, allege Trump committed 34 felony counts of falsified business records — and Cohen is central to proving it.

Trump's defense team told New York Judge Juan Merchan that they could finish questioning Cohen by mid-morning on Monday. The duration of Trump's defense is not known, though lawyers noted if they call any witnesses it wouldn't take long. Trump may still testify in his defense, as he originally vowed to, though he didn't answer reporters' questions Thursday over whether that was still his plan. Merchan told both teams to prepare for closing arguments as soon as next Tuesday.

The case could quickly then head to the jury for deliberation. The court will not be in session tomorrow so Trump can attend his son Barron's graduation.

On Thursday morning — picking up from Tuesday's cross-examination — Trump lawyer Todd Blanche walked through Cohen's history of perjury, including lying to Congress and federal investigators. On Tuesday, Blanche questioned Cohen's motivations against Trump and about his recent profiting off of merchandise promoting Trump being put in jail.

In 2018, when presented with an 80-page potential indictment that included his wife, Cohen said he decided to plead guilty to lying to banks, tax evasion and violating campaign finance laws. Cohen doubled down on Thursday that although he has taken responsibility, he does not believe he should have been charged for the tax evasion charges.

Blanche questioned Cohen about past testimonies related to that case before Congress in 2019, while under oath at the Southern District Court of New York and during Trump's civil fraud trial in the fall. In those examples, Blanche was highlighting shifting statements from Cohen.

"I accepted responsibility and I suffered the consequences," Cohen said, while also recalling that he testified in October that he falsely plead guilty to the tax evasion charges.

Blanche got into the settlement with Daniels and the prosecution's arguments.

Cohen has testifiedto his longtime relationship and falling outwith the former president. In testimony, he detailed how he negotiated a settlement with adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump in the months leading up to the 2016 election. A $130,000 settlement was paid for by Cohen, which he said was at the direction of Trump, and later reimbursed by Trump. Those reimbursements constitute the 34 falsified documents.

The jury and Cohen have been shown call logs between him and Trump's bodyguard Keith Schiller in October 2016. Cohen has said that during that phone call he spoke with Trump about the "Stormy Daniels situation."

On Thursday, Blanche pointed to new evidence in the form of text messages that also show Cohen was talking to Schiller about a series of harassing phone calls he had been receiving. The 1 minute and 36 second phone call became the focus of questioning over whether or not Cohen recalls talking to Trump at all in that time and also speaking to him about the Daniels deal.

"Based upon what was going on and the other text messages, yes, I believe I was telling the truth," Cohen said when referencing Tuesday's testimony.

Blanche also questioned Cohen over whether or not he has ever had a legal retainer to preform legal work for Trump and his family. Cohen confirmed he did not. Trump has long argued that he was simply paying his lawyer, and prosecutors say that the invoices and checks were not to pay his lawyer for legal work but instead to reimburse him for paying an adult film star to keep quiet so the 2016 campaign wouldn't be disrupted.

The defense also argued in opening statements that there was nothing illegal about the nondisclosure agreements or the settlements paid. Blanche questioned Cohen about those agreements and Cohen confirmed that he believed then and now that they are "perfectly legal contracts."

Prosecutors have spent weeks setting up Cohen's corroboration of Trump's knowledge of the 34 allegedly falsified documents. But they also set him up as someone bullish, unlikeable and self-interested. At the same time, the defense and Trump himself have long attacked Cohen's credibility.

The jury has so far listened to four weeks of testimony, including from Daniels herself last week. Jurors have also heard from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who first testified to the details of the deals made to flag potentially damaging stories to Cohen and Trump. And jurors heard from Keith Davidson, the lawyer who negotiated the nondisclosure agreements and settlement payments for Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. McDougal is not expected to be called to testify.

Trump has pleaded not guilty, and he has denied allegations of extramarital affairs

Several former and current Trump employees, both from his flagship company and his administration, testified to the process in which Trump received personal invoices and paid personal checks — including those used to pay Cohen back.

Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., and Bob Good, R-Va., arrive on Thursday to attend Trump's criminal trial.
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Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., and Bob Good, R-Va., arrive on Thursday to attend Trump's criminal trial.

Trump's defense may begin their case as soon as next week.

More guests come to support Trump

Trump's special guest appearances have ramped up for the week of Cohen's testimony, with groups of congressional members coming in to watch, especially those from his new home state of Florida and from the House Congressional Freedom Caucus.

On Thursday, Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., and Bob Good, R-Va., sat in the row right behind Trump as proceedings began.

Earlier in the week, House Speaker Mike Johnson, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a vice president hopeful, and former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy flanked the former president.

Trump calls them his surrogates, and while his campaign denies inviting them, they all speak to the broader goal of electing Trump in November. He has also received support from Republican officials from Texas, Iowa and New York.

And while Trump has a gag order prohibiting from speaking about several aspects of the trial — including testimony — his supporters don't have that restriction.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.