Defense Skewers Michael Cohen For ‘Lies’ About Crucial Phone Call With Trump: Claims He Was Really Calling About a Teenage Crank Caller

Whether Mr. Trump directly ordered Cohen to pay hush-money to Stormy Daniels is key to the prosecution’s case. The defense worked hard to poke holes in Cohen’s story about a crucial phone call.

Photo/Andres Kudacki

Defense attorney Todd Blanche, in a brutal continuation of his cross-examination, punched hole after hole through Michael Cohen’s testimony on Thursday. The key witness in President Trump’s hush-money trial remained calm as the defense exposed contradictions and inconsistencies. But the prosecution will get its chance to question Cohen again on Monday, and attempt to mend the wounds.  

“That was a lie,” Mr. Blanche said loudly. The defense attorney, who is known to be composed and soft spoken, was raising his voice after hours of questioning Cohen, his client’s former personal lawyer and current archnemesis.  

“This is the call that you testified about on Tuesday that you had a conversation with President Trump?” Mr. Blanche pressed the witness. “That was a lie. You did not talk to President Trump that night,” Mr. Blanche was almost shouting. “You can admit it.”

“No sir, I can’t,” Cohen replied. “Because I’m not sure that’s accurate.”

Defense attorney Todd Blanche cross examines Michael Cohen in Manhattan criminal court. Elizabeth Williams via AP

Mr. Blanche was questioning Cohen about a phone call that took place on October 24, 2016 at 8:02 p.m. On Tuesday, Cohen had told prosecutors that he called Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump’s longtime bodyguard who was a constant presence at his side, in order to speak to Mr. Trump and inform him he was taking care of the payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels. 

Whether or not Mr. Trump directly ordered the alleged hush-money payment to Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is key to the criminal case brought against Mr. Trump by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. Mr. Trump is accused of personally instructing Cohen to pay Ms. Clifford $130,000 on the eve of the 2016 election to stop her from publicizing her claim that she had a one night sexual encounter with Mr. Trump at Lake Tahoe in 2006. Mr. Trump denies ever having had sex with Ms. Clifford. After Mr. Trump became president, the district attorney alleges, he reimbursed Cohen but fraudulently disguised the payments as legal fees.

On October 27, 2016, bank records showed, Cohen wired $130,000 to Ms. Clifford’s attorney Keith Davidson. In return for the payment, Ms. Clifford signed a non-disclosure agreement that prohibited her from sharing her account of her alleged encounter with Mr. Trump with the public. 

The prosecution submitted as evidence phone records that showed Cohen called Mr. Trump’s bodyguard on October 24, 2016 at 8:02 pm. But now the defense showed a text message Cohen sent to Mr. Schiller at 8:04 pm – two minutes after he had called. The message was the phone number of a 14-year old prank caller.  

Keith Schiller, President Trump’s longtime bodyguard, walks through the lobby at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 at New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Mr. Blanche also showed the jury messages between the 14-year old boy and Cohen which, he alleges, led to the phone call with Mr. Schiller, not a desire to speak with Mr. Trump.   

“This number has just been sent to the Secret Service for your ongoing and continuing harassment to both my cell as well as to the organization’s main line,” Cohen texted the teenager. 

“It wasn’t me,” the kid replied, adding, “My friend told me to call.” The kid apologized. “I’m sorry for this,” he said. “I won’t do it again.”

“You will need to explain this to the Secret Service as we have been receiving dozens of these harassing calls over the past three days. If you are a minor, I suggest you notify your parent or guardian,” Cohen answered.

President Trump addresses reporters following the day’s proceedings in his trial at Manhattan criminal court at New York, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP, Pool

“I DIDNT [sic] DO IT,” the teenager went on. “I’m 14.” 

“Please have your parent guardian contact me,” Cohen wrote. “Before the Secret Service reaches out to them.”

Mr. Blanche now accused Cohen of lying when he told the jury that the phone call to Mr. Trump was about the payment to Ms. Clifford, when the call lasted a little more than a minute, and came immediately after the phone number of the 14-year old boy had been texted, a clear indication that the phone conversation had been about the harassing teenager and not the hush-money payment. 

“I asked you five minutes ago if you remember harassing phone calls, and you said no. Then I refreshed your recollection,” Mr. Blanche said to Cohen. “But now your memory is that you were testifying truthfully on Tuesday about a one minute, 30 second phone call, and you had enough time to update Mr. Schiller about all the problems you were having… and also update President Trump about the status of the Stormy situation because you always ran everything by the boss? Is that your testimony?”

Adult film actress/director Stormy Daniels (L) and her fourth husband, the adult film actor/director Barrett Blade, attend the 2023 Adult Video News Awards at Resorts World Las Vegas on January 07, 2023 at Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Part of it was the 14-year-old, but I knew that Keith was with Trump at the time,” Cohen told the defense attorney. 

“I believe I told him everything was being resolved,” he said.

“We are not asking for your belief,” Mr. Blanche said. “This jury does not want to know what you think happened.”

Then Mr. Blanche showed the jury another text message from the same day from Cohen to Mr. Schiller which read, “Who can I speak to regarding harassing calls to my home and office.” The message was sent at 7:48 p.m.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks alongside House Republicans during a press conference at Collect Pond Park outside of Manhattan Criminal Court during President Trump’s hush money trial on May 16, 2024 at New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Phone records showed a missed call from Mr. Schiller to Cohen. Then was the call at 8:02 p.m after which Cohen texted the teenager’s number. And then another message by Mr. Schiller to Cohen, which simply read, “OK.” Cohen wrote Schiller again, the next day, asking if he had reached the family. 

Cohen insisted that the conversation with Mr. Schiller about the teenage boy didn’t exclude the possibility of also telling Mr. Trump in one quick sentence that the hush-money payment was being taken care of. But the defense hopes that the simple fact that the jury had never heard about this harassing teenager was enough to raise doubts. 

Mr. Blanche also exposed lies and inconsistencies related to Cohen’s testimonies and guilty pleas in 2018, when he was charged with election campaign violations, tax evasion and other charges. Mr. Blanche also did not miss the opportunity to show the jury that Cohen had a habit of secretly recording people, even journalists. Cohen admitted that he has 95 recordings on his cell phone, and one of them was a conversation with then-CNN President Jeff Zucker, who said flattering things about Mr. Trump and proposed a show after he lost the election.

Mr. Trump was sitting at the defense table, wide awake, enjoying the triumph in front of his supporters. The two pews behind him were stacked with conservative Republicans from the House of Representatives who had come to show their support. Among the visiting lawmakers were: Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Mike Waltz, Bob Good, Diana Harshbarger, Andy Biggs, Eli Crane, Ralph Norman, Michael Cloud, Andy Ogles, and Anna Paulina Luna. Mr. Trump’s son Eric also came with his wife, Lara Trump, now co-chair of the Republican National Committee, along with Eric’s college friend from Georgetown, Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House aide who has been coming every day. 

President Trump appears in court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 16, 2024 at New York City. Jeenah Moon-Pool/Getty Images

After the proceeding Mr. Trump spoke for around eleven minutes to court reporters in the hallway. “That was my crime,” he said, “I won an election I wasn’t supposed to win against Hilary Clinton.”  

“I’ve been sitting here for almost four weeks,” he added, “and we still have a long way to go. And I just want to thank all the lawyers involved because they’ve been really working hard. And I’m spending a lot of time and I’m spending a lot of money which is what they want. They want me to spend my time and my money.”

But the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, indicated on Thursday that the attorneys should be ready to hold closing arguments as soon as next Tuesday. Mr. Blanche said he would finish the cross-examination by around 11 am on Monday. Then the prosecution is expected to question Cohen again. After Cohen finishes his testimony, the district attorney’s office will rest its case, the attorneys have said. It is unclear whether the defense will call any witnesses. Mr. Blanche has suggested he will call at least one expert, a campaign finance specialist. Mr. Trump has not yet decided if he will testify. 

The judge canceled court for Friday, so Mr. Trump can attend the high school graduation in Florida of his youngest son, Barron. The trial will resume on Monday. 

The New York Sun

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