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Former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen will be back on the witness stand

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen will be back on the witness stand today in Trump's New York trial. Cohen is expected to undergo cross-examination a day after he testified about speaking to Trump in detail about the hush money payments and the reimbursement scheme. NPR's Andrea Bernstein is with us to talk about yesterday's testimony and what to expect today. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So, already in this trial, we've heard from former top aides to Trump. We've heard from the former National Inquirer publisher. We've heard from the adult film actress Stormy Daniels who testified to a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump that Trump says didn't happen. What did Cohen's testimony yesterday add to the case?

BERNSTEIN: The way the whole testimony in the trial has unfurled has been tantalizing, but it's had missing pieces. And what Cohen did was to sew many of those pieces up. For example, we've seen the hush money agreements, but Trump didn't personally sign it. There was testimony that Cohen said he was paying the money himself because he was so worried the story would come out and be catastrophic. But it took Cohen himself to say, I told Trump every step of the way what I was doing because number one, Trump wanted to know all the details, and number two, he, Cohen, wanted the credit. But also because he wanted to get paid back and so needed Trump's approval up front. And that jibes with what we've heard from witnesses who worked for Trump - some of them still do - about how he approves payments.

MARTIN: So Cohen says Trump was in on the hush money, but what about the payment scheme?

BERNSTEIN: Cohen talked about a meeting right before Trump left for his inauguration. He described his own state of mind. He'd been really upset because his bonus had been cut in 2016 from earlier years despite what he called, all I had done. So Cohen meets with Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, and they cobble together a payment plan on top of the bank statement that shows the $130,000 hush money payment. And then they add on some more bonus, extra for taxes, and it ends up totaling $420,000, which they decide to call a legal retainer. And then, according to Cohen, Weisselberg, and Cohen go to talk to Trump, Cohen says, and that's when they say they're going to pay him over the course of the year, and when Trump signs off on the whole thing, and Cohen says he told them that it would be a heck of a ride in D.C. By the way, Weisselberg himself isn't expected to testify because he is in jail after pleading guilty to lying under oath in a separate Trump trial.

MARTIN: OK. So Cohen says Trump was in on it, but Cohen has acknowledged lying under oath in the past. Was his testimony yesterday corroborated by others?

BERNSTEIN: I paid careful attention to Cohen's testimony before Congress in 2019. And in essential details, yesterday's lined up. Cohen was exceedingly polite, calm, direct, saying, yes, ma'am, to prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, which is not necessarily a thing New Yorkers say. But more than that, it lined up with previous witnesses in all kinds of ways. The thing about wanting credit, former Trump communications aide Hope Hicks said that first. And when you add all the documents and records and texts and phone calls, key moments that prosecutors showed yesterday, there was a lot of backup.

MARTIN: So, given the questions about Cohen's credibility, what might we expect when Trump's lawyers cross-examine him today?

BERNSTEIN: Cohen pleaded guilty twice in 2018 - first time for campaign finance violations, lying to tax authorities and to banks, including to get the loan he used in the - to fund the Stormy Daniels payment. The second time was for lying to Congress in the Russia investigation by concealing a proposal for a Trump Tower Moscow. On top of all of that, Cohen talked about lying yesterday during the campaign. So that's a lot of lying, and I'm sure the defense will make hay of that today.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Andrea Bernstein
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