Star Witness Michael Cohen Admits Stealing Tens of Thousands From Trump Organization

By Jack Phillips

Former Trump associate and lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday admitted to stealing thousands of dollars from the Trump Organization as he testified during the former presidents’ trial in New York City.

Mr. Cohen made the admission while facing cross-examination from defense attorney Todd Blanche.

“You did steal from the Trump Organization based upon the expected reimbursement from Red Finch,” Mr. Blanche asked him, making reference to a repayment plan that was intended to pay adult film performer Stormy Daniels $130,000 and tech firm Red Finch $50,000. “Yes sir,” Mr. Cohen said in response.

The former attorney then said he went to the bank and took out cash over several days, totaling about $20,000 before keeping it in a small brown paper bag. Then he gave it to the tech firm, he testified, adding he never gave the full $50,000 amount.

The Trump Organization ultimately repaid Mr. Cohen $50,000 and then doubled that payment in a practice known as “grossing up” to cover taxes he’d incur by declaring the money as income rather than a tax-free reimbursement.

Mr. Blanche noted that despite Mr. Cohen’s guilty pleas in 2018 to federal charges including a campaign finance violation for the hush money payment and unrelated tax evasion and bank fraud crimes, he’d never been charged with stealing from President Trump’s company.

“Have you paid back the Trump Organization the money you stole from them?” Mr. Blanche asked. “No, sir,” Mr. Cohen responded.

President Trump was seen by courtroom reporters looking directly at the witness stand as Mr. Cohen made the admission about stealing.

Eric Trump, Trump’s son, who is in the courtroom, posted on social media around the same time: “This just got interesting: Michael Cohen is now admitting to stealing money from our company.”

The 34 charges of falsifying business records stem from internal Trump Organization records where payments to Mr. Cohen were marked as legal expenses, when prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for Ms. Daniels’ payment. President has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers say there was nothing criminal about the Daniels deal or the way Mr. Cohen was paid.

Last week, Mr. Cohen told jurors that President Trump was allegedly involved in the scheme to pay Ms. Daniels to prevent her from going public in 2016 about an alleged 2006 affair between her and President Trump. The former president has denied her claims, describing her and Mr. Cohen in April as “sleaze bags” who are making false statements against him.

Judge Issues Ruling

The Cohen admission came minutes after the New York judge overseeing ruled that the former president’s attorneys cannot bring in an expert witness to provide insight into election laws, adding that he believes the trial’s closing arguments would end next week.

Trump lawyers said they may call in Bradley Smith, a former Clinton administration-appointed Federal Election Commission (FEC) member, to provide his opinion on election laws.

The judge echoed his pretrial ruling that, if called, Mr. Smith can give general background on the FEC—including its purpose, background and the laws it enforces—and the definitions of such terms as “campaign contribution.”

However, Judge Manuel Merchan rejected the defense’s renewed efforts to have Mr. Smith define three terms in federal election law, saying it would breach rules preventing expert witnesses from interpreting the law. Mr. Smith, a Republican who is also a law professor, also cannot give his opinion to the court on whether President Trump’s alleged actions at the center of the trial are in violation of those laws, the judge added.

It would result in a “battle of the experts,” the judge told the court, “which would only serve to confuse and not assist the jury.”

Also Monday, Judge Merchan said he believes the trial will end on May 28, or the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

After the scheduling update, the discussion turned to prosecutors’ objections to a planned defense exhibit. This kind of legal wrangling isn’t uncommon before a day’s testimony. The jury was not yet in court.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is expected to rest its case once Mr. Cohen is off the stand, but prosecutors would have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if President Trump’s lawyers put on witnesses of their own. Earlier this month, Mr. Blanche told the court that Mr. Cohen is the last witness that prosecutors will call, and it’s not clear who the Trump team might bring in.

Earlier in the day, President Trump spoke to reporters outside the courtroom and read out quotes from pundits who have criticized the case, and critiqued the judge and the temperature of the courtroom. He did not respond to questions about whether he would testify in the case.

“There’s no crime,” President Trump said Monday. “We paid a legal expense. You know what it’s marked down as? A legal expense.”

The Associated Press and Michael Washburn contributed to this report.

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