Former President Trump’s ex-fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen — whose past revelations about Trump’s wealth prompted the New York probe of his finances — is expected to take to the stand this week in an ongoing civil trial that could see the two men come face-to-face for the first time since they became sworn enemies.
Previously the Trump Organization’s longtime executive vice president and general counsel, Cohen is a star witness in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s (D) case. Trump is expected to attend Cohen’s testimony in person — extending visits he made the first few weeks of the trial he has deemed politically motivated.
Cohen first flipped on his former boss amid investigations into a hush money deal made ahead of the 2016 election. He paid a combined $280,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal on Trump’s behalf to cover up allegations of an affair.
That payment is central to Trump’s criminal indictment in New York, which is separate from the civil fraud trial. Cohen pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the deal, though he earned early release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” Cohen said of Trump at his 2018 sentencing hearing.
Since then, the Manhattan attorney has become one of Trump’s most fervent critics, hurling insults online or in the news media while also testifying against his former client in numerous venues.
James has said Cohen’s 2019 testimony before Congress, where he claimed the former president significantly overstated his wealth before taking office, spurred her sprawling investigation into Trump and his business empire.
James’s office sued Trump, the Trump Organization and his two adult sons — Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — last year, claiming the former president’s company falsely inflated and deflated the value of its assets to receive lower taxes and better insurance coverage.
The trial began earlier this month in the New York Supreme Court, where Trump appeared in person for the first several days of trial with his second son, Eric Trump. The former president has denied any wrongdoing, but Cohen has maintained otherwise.
“I can assure you that — as I had stated once again before the House Oversight Committee — everything that happened at the Trump Organization happened with the direct knowledge and at the direction of, and ultimately signed off by, Donald J. Trump,” Cohen said in a CNN interview earlier this month. “There’s no way for him to escape this.”
Before Cohen took the stand, defense attorneys sought to undermine his credibility as a witness to Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the trial. Because the case is a bench trial, meaning there is no jury, its outcome is at Engoron’s sole discretion.
During their opening remarks, prosecutors showed a clip from Cohen’s deposition where he suggested Trump wanted to inflate his net worth in order to be “higher up on the Forbes list.” Cohen said in the clip that he and Allen Weisselberg, former Trump Organization CFO, were tasked with inflating Trump’s assets to “obtain the number that Mr. Trump wanted.”
Clifford Robert, an attorney for Trump’s sons, during his opening remarks described Cohen as “a guy who lies to everyone” and a convicted felon. The fact the ex-fixer is the “linchpin” of the government’s case should show Engoron a “picture of what their case is about,” Robert argued.
The case is already an uphill battle for Trump, whom Engoron found liable for fraud before the trial even began after ruling James had proved the crux of her case. The decision stripped some of Trump’s business licenses and raised the potential for him to lose control of some of his famed properties.
Trump’s legal team appealed the decision earlier this month and asked a New York appeals court to pause the decision — and trial — until their case was heard by the upper court. The appellate division declined to stay the trial and the majority of Engoron’s decision, but it halted the cancellation of Trump’s business licenses.
The former president is not required to attend the civil fraud trial in person, which is expected to last several months, but his presence during Cohen’s testimony will inevitably cause waves.
During the three days of court Trump attended at the start of the trial, his fury was on full display in fiery stump speeches, targeted social media posts and dagger-like glares. The former president took sharp aim at Engoron, James and a court clerk, and he raged to reporters he was there because he wanted to “watch this witch hunt myself.”
Last week, Trump returned to court and was again chided by Engoron for his behavior — this time, told to pipe down after growing animated during real estate appraiser Doug Larson’s second day of testimony.
Cohen was expected to appear in court last week, but his testimony was delayed due to a “pre-existing medical condition.”
“I’m not bowing out. I’m not nervous to testify. I’m not being paid off. I have a medical issue that I need to attend to. It’s as simple as that,” Cohen wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Trump’s first appearance at the trial was in part due to efforts to evade Cohen. The former president was scheduled to be deposed by Cohen’s attorneys in a separate civil lawsuit Oct. 3, the day after the trial began, but told a judge it was “imperative” he attended his fraud trial in person.
The deposition was rescheduled for Oct. 9, but in a sudden twist, Trump dismissed the whole case before then.
“Trump didn’t want no smoke,” Cohen’s attorney Benjamin Brodsky told The Hill at the time.
A Trump spokesperson said in a statement at the time that the pause was temporary and a result of the former president’s busy schedule.
“Once President Trump has prevailed in dealing with the witch hunts against him, he will continue to pursue his claims against Michael Cohen, who rightfully deserves to, and will be held accountable for his unlawful words and actions just as the Southern District of New York held him accountable for numerous non-Trump related acts and crimes, making Cohen a very ‘proud’ felon,” the spokesperson said.
In addition to his fraud case, Trump faces a combined 91 charges across four criminal indictments, plus several other civil cases. Those cases are set to go to trial next year as Trump continues his bid for the White House as the front-runner in the GOP presidential primary field.
Zach Schonfeld contributed.