Michael Cohen Casts Himself As An Appendage Of Trump In Marathon Day Of Testimony

Cohen sought "credit" for his ability to "control" people and events on behalf of Trump.
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NEW YORK — Michael Cohen wanted two things during his time working for Donald Trump: “credit” and “control.”

Those two words dominated Cohen’s marathon testimony on Monday, as he portrayed himself as having been virtually in thrall to the former president. Cohen cast himself as a fixer hellbent on receiving affirmation from a boss who rarely doled it out — someone who was willing to lie, cheat, and break the rules to ensure that whatever task Trump set was “accomplished.”

Cohen has spent years since he turned on Trump in 2018 under pressure from federal prosecutors opposing his former boss. But Monday marked the first time that he delivered his story in the context of a criminal trial with charges aimed squarely at the man that he says ultimately directed many of his actions: Donald Trump.

In a sense, Cohen went out of his way to bearhug Trump in testimony on Monday, which was elicited on direct examination by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger. Trump “directed” Cohen to, among other things, delay payment to Stormy Daniels until after the 2016 election and to speak to the Trump Organization’s CFO to obtain reimbursement for that hush money payment. At one point, Hoffinger asked Cohen to affirm if he had reported to Trump during his time working at the Trump Org.

“And only to him,” Cohen emphasized.

Cohen described Trumpworld in almost cultlike terms. Trump served at the head, doling out approval, ire, and payment with no higher authority beyond himself.

But as extreme as it was, Cohen’s story was familiar. Trump values loyalty above all else, he suggested. Cohen’s testimony came after several witnesses who either said the same or showed it through the actions they narrated, most notably Madeleine Westerhout, a former Trump secretary. At one point, Westerhout addressed Trump from the stand, saying “sorry, sir,” after describing how she had personally approved a $650 frame for a photo of his mother in 2017.

That sense of loyalty created a powerful bond between the boss and the various witnesses who have now testified against him. Even after years of acrimony, Cohen said that working for Trump was an “amazing experience in many, many ways,” describing the Trump Org as a “big family.”

“There were great times, there were several less-than-great times,” Cohen recalled.

There was a darker side to the loyalty that Trump demanded.

Cohen told jurors that he would “lie, bully,” do whatever was needed to please Trump. The only consideration, Cohen said several times, was what he thought needed to be done in order to accomplish a given task for Trump.

“The only thing that was on my mind was to accomplish the task to make him happy,” Cohen said. When it worked, he felt like he was “on top of the world.”

It’s a picture of utter devotion, and one that could seriously damage Trump: all of Cohen’s negative traits — the lying, the bullying — were, in Cohen’s telling, a product of Trump.

It was Trump, he said, who doled out the “credit.” After he wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels’ attorney for her silence, Cohen said, he ensured that Trump understood he deserved “credit.”

“This was important,” Cohen said.

The main task for which Cohen received “credit,” he said at various points, was establishing “control.”

When David Pecker, the AMI CEO and National Enquirer publisher, made an offer to buy Karen McDougal’s silence, he framed it to Trump and Cohen as a payment of $150,000 to “control the story.” When Daniels surfaced in October 2016, shopping her story around, Trump’s focus, again, was on achieving “control.”

“I thought you had this under control,” Cohen recalled Trump as saying at one point.

“I have no control over what she goes out and does,” he replied.

The remainder of October 2016, in Cohen’s testimony, saw him seek to reestablish control over Daniels’ story.

Trump, Cohen said, believed that if Cohen held back on paying for Daniels’ silence until after the election, they could avoid having to transfer Daniels the promised $130,000 at all. But Trump apparently failed to fully appreciate that Daniels’ leverage would increase as the election edged closer: after Daniels’ attorney told Cohen that the agreement was off and that he was withdrawing from representing the porn star, Cohen said that he received verbal approval from Trump: “Just do it.”

Cohen then told a familiar story: He took money out of his home equity line of credit, and transferred Daniels $130,000. It was contingent on the understanding that Trump would pay Cohen back.

In spite of his devotion to Trump, Cohen’s constant search for an angle shone through at tje end of 2016.

Apart from his eternal desire for “credit,” Cohen became visibly bitter and angry on the stand as he recalled his bonus for 2016: Trump awarded him two-thirds of what he had received the previous year.

“This is all that I get?” Cohen recalled telling David Pecker. “It was the disrespect that came with it.”

Cohen hadn’t gotten “credit.”

“The best I can get for showing my loyalty, and the best I can get for having extended myself as I did, is to get your bonus cut by two-thirds?” Cohen said.

He pushed the matter with Weisselberg. And at a January 2017 meeting in Trump tower with Weisselberg and Trump himself, Cohen testified, Trump approved a resolution: Cohen would be reimbursed for the hush money payments, and would receive an additional $60,000 as a bonus.

D.C., Trump said at the meeting, according to Cohen, would be “one heck of a ride.”

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