Meet Michael Cohen, the liar and felon who might help convict his former boss, Donald Trump

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WASHINGTON – Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer and political fixer for former President Donald Trump, testified for the second and final day Wednesday against his former boss in the porn star hush money case being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney in New York.

Cohen has testified at least 20 times about alleged illegalities by Trump, including whether his former boss told Cohen to provide $130,000 to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels in the last days of the 2016 campaign. The money allegedly was paid for her silence about sex with Trump, according to Cohen and Daniels.

"They went through everything and I think they're done with Michael," Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, told USA TODAY. "And now we'll see."

Davis said prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office didn't say what they intend to do in the case, including whether the grand jury intends to seek an indictment of the former president.

"We don't really don't know what (happens next). They haven't told us anything," Davis said.

Trump has denied wrongdoing, and federal investigators ended their own inquiry into the payments in 2019. But the testimony from Cohen, who already has been convicted and served prison time, could help bring the first charges in history against a former president.

More: Former Trump attorney Cohen to testify before NY grand jury in porn star hush money probe

Why the timing of Cohen’s testimony matters

Trump faces several criminal inquiries:

  • A Justice Department special counsel is investigating his role in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

  • In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating accusations of election fraud.

  • In New York, Bragg's grand jury could be on the verge of deciding whether to indict Trump, according to legal experts.

The New York grand jury invited Trump himself to testify recently. Cohen's testimony combined with Trump's invitation – and refusal – to testify signal that a grand jury decision could be soon, former federal prosecutors Glenn Kirschner and Paul Pelletier told USA TODAY.

More: 'I won't even think about leaving': Trump at CPAC says indictment wouldn't push him out of 2024 race

“It doesn't guarantee that Bragg believes he has enough to indict. But it sure looks like the odds are good that he does," Kirschner said.

Bragg's office has not replied to requests for comment from USA TODAY.

"Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump," by Michael Cohen.
"Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump," by Michael Cohen.

Who is Michael Cohen?

Cohen, who once bragged he would "take a bullet" for Trump, was Trump's personal attorney and problem-solver from 2006 to 2018.

Cohen has publicly acknowledged engineering payments during the 2016 campaign to silence two women, including Daniels. "Everything was done with the knowledge and at the direction of Mr. Trump," Cohen testified under oath at a House hearing.

In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to concealing more than $4 million in personal income from the IRS, making false statements about a home equity loan, and, in 2016, "causing $280,000 in payments to be made to silence two women who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate, thereby intending to influence the 2016 presidential election," according to Justice Department documents.

Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison, claimed Trump threw him under the bus to save his own reputation and political future. He was released early to home detention because of COVID-19.

Can others support his testimony?

In a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in February 2019, Cohen ticked off a list of names of people who could provide additional information about the transactions, including Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization; company attorney Alan Garten; and David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer, who assisted in the hush money scheme.

Cohen also said Trump went through him to make the payments to avoid the recipients copying a check with Trump’s distinctive signature on them. But Cohen produced copies of checks Trump’s company wrote to reimburse him, including one dated Aug. 1, 2017, with Trump’s signature.

How did the hush payments go down?

Here is a summary timeline of the payments from congressional records and from the Justice Department, when it decided in 2019 not to pursue hush money charges against Trump:

  • On Oct. 8, 2016, Cohen spoke with Trump and his campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, after learning that Daniels planned to talk to “Good Morning America” and Slate about her alleged relationship with Trump from 2006, the year Melania Trump gave birth to their son. Cohen then communicated with Pecker about buying the rights to Daniels’ story to prevent it from becoming public under a strategy called “catch and kill.”

  • On Oct. 10, 2016, National Enquirer executive Dylan Howard texted Cohen and Keith Davidson, a lawyer for Daniels.

  • On Oct. 27, 2016, Cohen transferred $130,000 to Davidson through a company called Essential Consultants.

  • On Nov. 1, 2016, Davidson transferred the money to Daniels.

More: From Trump fixer to Mueller informant: Timeline of Michael Cohen's role in Russia probe

Why is Cohen testifying against Trump?

On Tuesday, Cohen declined to discuss the case in an interview with USA TODAY, saying he had no malice toward Trump and just wanted the grand jury to hear the facts of the case.

Asked Monday by reporters outside the courthouse if he wanted to see his former boss arrested, Cohen replied that his goal was to tell the truth and help in the investigation.

“This is not revenge, right?" Cohen said. "This is all about accountability. He needs to be held accountable for his dirty deeds.”

What is Trump’s response?

Trump has offered various explanations for the payments. When the story of Cohen buying Daniels’ silence first broke in 2018, Trump said he was not aware of it. Then, when evidence emerged suggesting that was untrue, Trump said he never directed Cohen to do anything illegal.

Last Thursday night, after news broke that Trump had been invited to testify, he issued a new response in a series of posts on his social media platform, TruthSocial.

“I did absolutely nothing wrong, I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels,” Trump wrote. “I relied on counsel in order to resolve this Extortion of me.”

More: The convictions, lawsuits and investigations a 2024 Trump candidacy faces, explained

Will Cohen’s criminal history damage his testimony?

Trump has called Cohen everything from a turncoat and liar to a disbarred and disgraced lawyer. In his statement last Thursday, Trump also noted that federal investigators looked into the payments.

Pelletier, the former prosecutor, said it’s typical to use witnesses who have already pleaded guilty to the crime you are investigating to testify before a grand jury and even take the witness stand if the case goes to trial.

“That being said, when you're using a witness that has done that plus has pled guilty to lying and making false statements, that's a different order of a problem,” Pelletier said. In such cases, corroborating evidence will be key, including other key witnesses – like Daniels herself – and documents that can help prove the case.

Kirschner said that despite his conviction, Cohen will prove to be “absolutely valuable as a witness.”

“The fact that he lied to cover up his own misconduct and Donald Trump's crimes is not a weakness, it's a strength," Kirschner said. "It tells you about how tight that conspiracy was until it broke apart."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, might now help convict him