Michael Cohen testifies about Trump’s reaction to Stormy Daniels story: ‘Women will hate me. Guys will think it’s cool’

Trump feared ‘disaster’ for his 2016 campaign, according to bombshell testimony from his former ‘fixer’

Alex Woodward
in Manhattan criminal court
,Kelly Rissman
Monday 13 May 2024 23:16 BST
Related video: Trump claims hush money trial is ‘rigged’ as he speaks to reporters outside court

Donald Trump was furious with Michael Cohen and feared “disaster” for his 2016 presidential campaign when his then-attorney disclosed that Stormy Daniels was preparing to share her story about having sex with him in 2006.

“I thought you had this under control. I thought you took care of this,” Cohen said from the witness stand in the former president’s hush money trial on Monday, recalling Mr Trump’s enraged reaction to the news that the adult film star’s allegations had resurfaced.

“Just take care of it. ‘There’s a lot going on at the campaign at the time.’ Just take care of it,” Mr Trump said, according to Cohen.

“This is a disaster. This is a total disaster,” he said. “Women are going to hate me. This really is a disaster. Women are going to hate me. Guys will think it’s cool, but this is a disaster for the campaign.”

Mr Trump told him to “push it” past Election Day, Cohen said.

“If I win, it won’t matter,” Mr Trump said, according to Cohen.

Mr Trump “wasn’t thinking” about his wife Melania, Cohen said. “This was all about the campaign.”

A courtroom sketch depicts Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger questions Michael Cohen as Donald Trump watches at his hush money trial in Manhattan on 13 May.
A courtroom sketch depicts Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger questions Michael Cohen as Donald Trump watches at his hush money trial in Manhattan on 13 May. (REUTERS)

Cohen is among the final witnesses in the former president’s historic criminal trial in New York, where he is accused of covering up so-called “hush money” payments to the adult film star as “legal expenses.”

Cohen bought Ms Daniels’ silence for $130,000, and Mr Trump reimbursed him with a series of checks in 2017, part of a months-long effort to suppress politically explosive stories leading up to the 2016 election.

Mr Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged election interference scheme. He has pleaded not guilty

Witness testimony, recordings, emails and text messages shared with jurors have shown Cohen negotiating hush money deals to secure the rights to stories of Mr Trump’s alleged affairs.

In the fourth week of witness testimony, prosecutors have relied on Cohen to connect a narrative threaded throughout the trial: it was Cohen who negotiated a contract for Ms Daniels’ silence, it was Cohen who sent her $130,000, and it was Cohen who sent invoices to Mr Trump – all at his direction.

Mr Trump instructed Cohen to pay Ms Daniels himself, according to Cohen.

“Do it,” he said Mr Trump told him. “Figure this out.”

‘Be prepared there’s gonna be a lot of women coming forward’

Before he launched his campaign, Mr Trump had braced his then-attorney for the likelihood of damaging stories about his relationships with women that could derail his bid for the White House, according to testimony from Mr Trump’s former attorney and one-time “fixer.”

“You know, that when this comes out – meaning, the announcement – just be prepared there’s gonna be a lot of women coming forward,” Cohen said, remembering what his former boss told him in 2015.

Mr Trump wanted to rely on the “power” of tabloid giant National Enquirer and its placement in “supermarkets and bodegas” to place “positive stories” about him and “negative” ones about his rivals, according to Cohen.

A courtroom sketch depicts Michael Cohen testifying during Donald Trump’s hush honey trial in Manhattan on 13 May.
A courtroom sketch depicts Michael Cohen testifying during Donald Trump’s hush honey trial in Manhattan on 13 May. (AP)

During a meeting at Trump Tower in August 2015, two months after the launch of his campaign. Mr Trump met with Cohen and tabloid publisher David Pecker, who previously testified that he vowed to be the “eyes and ears” of the campaign.

“What he said was that he could keep an eye out for anything negative about Mr Trump and that he would be able to help us know in advance about what was coming out for us to stop it from coming out,” according to Cohen.

The resulting “catch and kill” scheme helped bury a bogus story about an alleged love child with a Trump Tower maid as well a story from a former Playboy model who alleged a months-long affair with Mr Trump years earlier.

‘Bully’ and ‘lie’ for Trump

As counsel for the Trump Organization and a “surrogate” for his campaign, Cohen agreed to “lie” and “bully” on Mr Trump’s behalf.

“I did,” he testified on Monday. “If it was needed to accomplish a task.”

Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan courtroom for his hush money trial on 13 May
Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan courtroom for his hush money trial on 13 May (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Asked whether he agrees whether the term “fixer” accurately described his work, Cohen said: “It’s fair.”

Cohen urgently set up an account for a shell company to wire funds to Ms Daniels’ attorney Keith Davidson, but he repeatedly delayed the transaction and made excuses to string him along until after Election Day, according to Cohen.

“Because after the election,” Cohen said, “it wouldn’t matter.”

He also lied on customer forms to establish LLCs intended to make transactions for Karen McDougal and Ms Daniels, he said.

“I’m not sure they would have opened it ... to pay off an adult film star for a non-disclosure agreement,” he said.

In fact, there is no mention of Mr Trump on any of the formation documents for Cohen’s “Essential Consultants LLC” from October 2016, which he used to transfer cash to buy Ms Daniels’ silence.

He left Mr Trump out of the plan “to protect him and to isolate him from the transaction,” Cohen said on Monday.

‘Do it. Figure this out’

National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard, who brokered deals to buy the silence of a Trump Tower doorman and Ms McDougal, warned Cohen several weeks before Election Day that allegations from Ms Daniels had resurfaced, according to Cohen.

The news was “catastrophic” for Mr Trump’s campaign, Cohen said on Monday.

After the story resurfaced on a gossip website, Cohen told Mr Trump that they should “take care of it,” he said.

“And he said, ‘Do it. Take care of it,” according to Cohen.

A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump shaking his head during Michael Cohen’s testimony in his hush money trial on 13 May.
A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump shaking his head during Michael Cohen’s testimony in his hush money trial on 13 May. (AP)

Time was running out, however. A deal with Ms Daniels’ attorney was straining. Mr Davidson was running out of patience with Cohen’s excuses, and Ms Daniels was shopping the story to The Daily Mail.

Cohen met with Mr Trump, whose “friends” and “very smart people” told him to just pay Ms Daniels.

“It’s $130,000, you’re a billionaire, pay it, there’s no reason to keep this thing out there,” Cohen said, recalling the advice from Mr Trump’s circle.

“He expressed to me, ‘Do it, meet with Allen Weisselberg and figure this out.’”

President-elect Trump approved a payment plan from Trump Tower

Cohen was “beyond angry” when he got his Christmas bonus in 2016 – it was cut by two-thirds, and Mr Trump hadn’t paid him back for paying off Ms Daniels.

“I was truly insulted,” he said on Monday. “Made no sense, after all I had gone through … It was insulting that the gratitude paid back to me was to cut my bonus by two-thirds.”

He admitted he was “pissed off” and had some “colorful language” and used “quite a few expletives” when he talked to Weisselberg.

After Weisselbberg and then-Trump Organization accounting executive Jeffrey McConney drew up a handwritten plan to reimburse Cohen, they presented the plan to Mr Trump in January 2017 – weeks before he moved to Washington DC.

President-elect Trump, Cohen and Weisselberg met at Trump Tower – and Mr Trump approved the plan.

He told them they’re in for “one heck of a ride” in Washington, according to Cohen.

Weisselberg told him to “just send an invoice to us, and just mark down for legal services rendered pursuant to the agreement,” according to Cohen, “and we’ll get you a check out.”

Another courthouse reunion that could blow up Trump’s campaign

Cohen had previously reunited with his former boss in a courtroom down the street from the criminal courthouse in downtown Manhattan.

Last year, he served as a key witness in the former president’s civil fraud trial, where Mr Trump glared from the defense table and fumed from the hallway and on social media as Cohen compared him to a “mob boss” who instructed him to falsely inflate his net worth and assets.

It was Cohen’s bombshell testimony to Congress that outlined Mr Trump’s alleged fraud, inspiring several criminal and civil investigations targeting the former president. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations and tax charges that included the “catch and kill” scheme at the center of the Manhattan case.

In the years after their fallout, Cohen went to jail, Mr Trump ran for re-election, lost, and was criminally indicted four times in four separate jurisdictions, with a mountain of litigation threatening his business and 2024 campaign.

Mr Trump’s attorneys are expected to unleash a furious cross-examination when they take on Cohen, a frequent subject of Mr Trump’s witness-menacing gag order violations.

Last week, after threatening Mr Trump with jail for any future gag order violations, New York Justice Juan Merchan also told prosecutors to keep a lid on Cohen, who uses his social media platforms and podcasts to attack his old boss – now desperate to bury the credibility of an old ally who could now get him convicted.

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