What Michael Cohen said about his testimony and why it matters in the Trump fraud trial

An apparent backtrack by Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen threw the New York civil fraud trial into more chaos Wednesday afternoon.

Cohen gave combative testimony in the face of cross-examination by two Trump attorneys on Wednesday, after he had implicated Trump the day prior for directing him to “reverse-engineer” financial statements to increase his net worth.

On Wednesday morning, Trump attorney Alina Habba pressed Cohen about his 2019 congressional testimony when he said, “Not that I recall, no,” in response to a question about whether Trump had directed him or Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to inflate numbers for Trump’s personal statement.

Cohen said to Habba that he was lying in his testimony.

But after lunch, Cliff Robert, another Trump attorney, pressed Cohen further on his congressional testimony, and Cohen had a different response, saying that the testimony was not false.

“So, Mr. Trump never asked you to inflate the numbers on his financial statement,” Robert asked.

“Correct,” Cohen said.

That response prompted Trump’s attorney to ask the first time for a directed verdict to dismiss the trial because Cohen was a key witness in the case.

Judge Arthur Engoron denied it, which led to Trump abruptly leaving the courtroom and declaring victory.

“The witness just admitted that we won the trial,” Trump told reporters in the hallway. “And the judge should end this trial immediately.”

The New York attorney general’s lawyers asked Cohen in follow up questions to clarify his response. Cohen said that Trump never directly asked to inflate the numbers, but that what he wanted was known, because he spoke like “a mob boss.”

“He tells you what he wants without specifically telling you,” Cohen said. “We understood what he wanted.”

Cohen’s testimony is one element of the New York attorney general’s civil fraud cast against Trump and his business, which is seeking $250 million in fines and to bar Trump from doing business in the state. But the AG has additional evidence and testimony that has already led the judge to rule before the trial began that Trump and his co-defendants were liable for fraud (Trump is appealing the ruling).

At the conclusion of Cohen’s testimony, Robert renewed his request for a verdict to “end this case once and for all.”

“Absolutely denied,” Engoron said in response.

The case has evidence, credible or not, “all over the place,” the judge said.

Engoron also said he didn’t consider Cohen to be a “key witness” in the case, in which the New York attorney general accused Trump and his business of fraud.

“There’s enough evidence in this case to fill this courtroom,” Engoron said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James downplayed Cohen’s significance to her case against Trump in comments to reporters at the conclusion of Cohen’s two-day testimony.

“This has been a four-year investigation, and there is mountains of evidence which basically corroborate the testimony of a number of witnesses,” James said.

“It’s also important to know that Michael Cohen is not the main witness, his evidence has been corroborated by the mountains of evidence, enough evidence to fill the courtroom,” James added. “And so, I look forward, again, to this trial continuing, and of course, I always look forward to justice.”

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