Trump Attorney Starts Off Cohen Cross With Limp Exam

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

NEW YORK — It was touted as the biggest fight in the trial of the century.

Michael Cohen, the arch-nemesis of Donald Trump, would finally face withering cross-examination on the stand. He would come face to face with attorneys for the former and potentially future President.

The entire case would hinge on this. Cohen alone, the thinking went, could confirm a central element of the business records falsification case: that Trump approved the fraudulent reimbursement scheme for Cohen making the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. And Cohen did confirm it.

But on Tuesday, in the first hours of cross-examination, something else happened. What was anticipated to be fireworks instead turned to a fizzle in a stuffy Manhattan courtroom on a warm May afternoon.

Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche spent much of his initial day of cross-examination meandering in questioning with Cohen. He landed a few blows on Cohen, assailing his credibility in various ways.

It’s possible Blanche is keeping his powder dry. He started cross-examination after lunch, after Cohen completed a day and a half of testimony. He ended Tuesday potentially poised to question Cohen about the core of the case on Thursday morning with a jury that would, potentially, be refreshed and attentive after a day off. We will have to see what happens.

But on Tuesday, the lead Trump attorney started off with outward aggression, coming off at first more like a disgruntled bar patron confronting an antagonist: had Michael Cohen called him a “crying little shit” several weeks ago on TikTok?

Cohen started to answer, but not before Judge Merchan cut him off with a sustained objection. The question led to laughs in the courtroom, and a sidebar with Merchan. Per a transcript obtained by the New York Times, Merchan asked Blanche, “Why are you making this about yourself?”

From there, Blanche slowly began to lose momentum in his questioning.

He landed a blow with a series of questions about Cohen’s memory. Cohen, Blanche asked, had been told by the Manhattan DA several times and in several forms to stop commenting on the case, correct?

Cohen replied that he did not recall, using the response to try to parry several questions about times that Manhattan state prosecutors had asked him to stop talking.

Blanche then followed up with the obvious and effective hit: how could Cohen claim to remember phone calls with Trump from 2016 in detail when he said he did not recall interactions with prosecutors on the case in which he was testifying from 2023?

That line of questioning had additional impact: it portrayed Cohen as uncontrollable by prosecutors. It came after Cohen and the DA spent more than a day on direct examination establishing that all of his lies and bullying during his time with Trump occurred at Trump’s direction, his behest, to please him. Instead, if further pursued, Cohen ignoring requests from the DA’s office to stop speaking to the press could develop into an argument that he was going rogue from Trump when he paid the hush money to Stormy Daniels in 2016.

But on Tuesday, Blanche did not pursue that.

Instead, he wound up mired in often confusing details about the various Trump investigations in which Cohen had testified. At one point, Blanche asked Cohen about his first interview with prosecutors in the Mueller investigation — an instance in which he has admitted to have lied.

“Yes, the information that I gave was not accurate,” Cohen told Blanche. “You want to call it a lie, I’ll call it a lie. I believe that it’s the same thing. The information I gave to them was inaccurate.”

Other lines of questioning also remained confusing. Blanche spent chunks of cross asking Cohen about his rocky relationship with District Attorney Alvin Bragg, meandering through the cross without landing a clear point before Judge Merchan called on him to end for the day.

At another point, Blanche framed a series of questions in a manner surprisingly considerate to Cohen: “Is it fair to say” that he’s motivated by fame and publicity? No, Cohen replied. In his view, it was not fair to say that.

The relative softballs came as a surprise in part because of Cohen’s performance under cross-examination during New York Attorney General Letitia James (D)’s civil trial of the former president. Then, he erupted with his own objections, telling defense attorneys in that case that some questions had been “asked and answered.”

That set a low bar for Cohen’s testimony in this case. But he managed to parry some of Blanche’s questions in part by embracing the negative implications that the Trump attorney seemed to be trying to elicit by trickery or force.

“Do you want President Trump to be convicted in this case?” Blanche asked at one point.

“Sure,” Cohen replied.