Michael Cohen says he stole $60,000 from Trump company

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York, on May 20, 2024. [AP Photo]

Michael Cohen, the one-time political fixer for Donald Trump, admitted Monday to stealing $60,000 from the future president’s real estate conglomerate because he felt Trump had cheated him on the amount of his year-end bonus in 2016.

Cohen’s admission came as he again testified for hours at Trump’s New York criminal trial. Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche challenged Cohen with pointed questions. Later, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger  sought to repair Cohen’s image with the 12-member jury with questioning aimed at clarifying Cohen’s answers under Blanche’s cross-examination that lasted three days.

Blanche hammered at the credibility and honesty of Cohen, who for years worked to care for Trump’s every demand before turning against him in 2018. Cohen, the prosecution’s most consequential witness, last week conceded he had for years been a serial liar on Trump’s behalf and the theme played out again in his Monday testimony.

The theft of the money from the Trump Organization, Cohen acknowledged, played a role in a key element of the case against Trump, who has denied the 34-count indictment he is facing. Trump is the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate against President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020.

The case centers on a $130,000 hush money payment Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels just ahead of Trump’s successful 2016 run for the presidency to hide her claim that she had a one-night tryst with Trump a decade earlier, to keep the information from voters as they were headed to the polls eight years ago.

Evidence in the trial shows that Trump repaid the money to Cohen in 2017 after he became president, personally signing nine of the checks. Trump is accused of falsifying his business records to claim that the repayment to Cohen was for his legal work.

Cohen testified for the prosecution that repayment was for the hush money he paid Daniels, not legal work, and that Trump twice approved the scheme, including once at his Trump Tower in New York and a second time in the Oval Office at the White House after he became president.

Blanche never questioned Cohen about the two crucial conversations he claimed to have had with Trump about the reimbursement scheme.

In all, Cohen said the reimbursement deal with Trump came to $420,000 — $130,000 for the money he paid Daniels, another $50,000 he was supposed to pay to Red Finch, a technology firm hired to rig a poll to show Trump was a highly rated businessman, with the amount doubled to $360,000 to cover his tax obligations, and a $60,000 year-end bonus for 2016.

But Cohen acknowledged to Blanche he paid only $20,000 to Red Finch — in cash in a brown paper bag — while claiming to a Trump company official he had paid $50,000. That amounted, he conceded, to a $30,000 theft, doubled to $60,000 by the time the company accounted for the taxes he would likely owe.

"So, you stole from the Trump Organization?" Blanche asked.

"Yes, sir,” Cohen said.

Cohen later explained to Hoffinger, "I was angered because of the reduction in the (size of his normal) bonus, and so I just felt it was almost like self-help” to stake his claim to the extra money as he worked out the terms of the overall $420,000 reimbursement with Allen Weisselberg, then the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.

Weisselberg is now serving a five-month perjury sentence for lying in a previous Trump-related civil trial and is not expected to testify at the current criminal trial.

But Cohen also again testified that the $420,000 he was paid had nothing to do with legal services for Trump, the crux of the criminal charges he is facing.

Even as news of the hush money payment became public in early 2018, Cohen said he continued to lie about it to media outlets, saying that none of it came from the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign and that Trump did not know about it, misleading statements to shield Trump personally.

The 57-year-old Cohen, however, is a flawed witness for the prosecution. He pleaded guilty to a campaign finance law violation in connection with the hush money payment to Daniels, perjury for lying to a congressional panel and tax offenses. He served 13½ months in a federal prison and another year and a half in home confinement.

Since then, he has often assailed Trump and testified last week he wants Trump convicted. If Trump is found guilty, he could be placed on probation or sentenced to up to four years in prison.

Trump has denied Daniels’ claim he had a liaison with her and the entirety of the criminal charges.

The case against the 77-year-old Trump could be nearing the end. Cohen is the last of 19 prosecution witnesses against Trump, who served a single term as the U.S. chief executive from 2017 to 2021.

As the prosecution’s case ends, Trump’s defense team will almost certainly ask New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan to dismiss the 34-count indictment against Trump, a request that is rarely granted in U.S. criminal trials.

If, indeed, Merchan refuses to throw out the case against Trump, his defense could call its own witnesses on his behalf but has given no certain indication that it will.

Trump has said he wants to testify in his own defense, but defendants are not required to, and U.S. legal analysts say it is unlikely because defendants often hurt themselves with their testimony rather than help.

If Trump were to testify, Merchan has already ruled that prosecutors will be allowed to ask him about two civil cases he lost in the last few months and was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. One involved business fraud at his Trump Organization real estate conglomerate and the other his defamation of a New York writer who had won a sexual assault decision against him.

Assuming Trump does not take the witness stand and his defense lawyers present only a witness or two or none, Merchan has told lawyers in the case that closing arguments could start May 28, after next Monday’s Memorial Day holiday in the U.S.