Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and consigliore, is expected to take the witness stand today to testify against the former president in the New York state civil fraud case that threatens to break up Trump’s business empire.
Cohen was once a close ally who said he would take a bullet for Trump, until their relationship dramatically soured during Trump’s presidency during which Cohen was sent to prison.
Trump is expected to be in court on Tuesday.
That could set up a tense face-to-face encounter with Cohen, who has become one of Trump’s fiercest critics since cutting ties with him five years ago and going to prison for services provided to Trump, in particular his involvement in the blackmail case involving former pornographic actress Stormy Daniels.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is arriving fresh off a Monday campaign stop in New Hampshire and just days after being fined $5,000 by the judge overseeing the case for violating a gag order.
The lawsuit by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges Trump inflated the value of his properties by billions of dollars in statements to banks to secure better loan terms.
Cohen served as Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer for years before cutting ties amid his own legal troubles. His testimony during a 2019 Congressional probe of Trump’s finances was the impetus for James’ lawsuit.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and defended the valuations of his properties, saying the case is a “fraud” and a political witch hunt.
He has occasionally appeared in court over the past month, complaining in inflammatory remarks to reporters that it is a distraction from his campaign.
During opening statements, Trump’s lawyers called Cohen a “serial liar,” citing his two guilty pleas in 2018 on felony charges including tax evasion and lying to Congress during a probe of Trump’s Russia ties.
Cohen began a three-year prison sentence in 2019 but was released to home confinement the following year.
Cohen told Reuters on Monday that Trump calling him a liar was the “perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black.”
“Interesting that they would question my veracity when my lying to Congress was done at the direction of, in connection with and for the benefit of Donald,” he said.
In September before the trial began, Justice Arthur Engoron found that Trump fraudulently inflated his net worth and ordered the dissolution of companies that control crown jewels of his real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower in Manhattan. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.
The trial largely concerns damages. James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.
Early in the trial, Engoron barred the parties from speaking publicly about court staff after Trump shared a social media post attacking Engoron’s clerk and identifying her by name.
Trump deleted the post, but last week Engoron revealed that a screenshot had remained live on his campaign site for weeks.
Engoron, who said the lapse appeared to be “inadvertent,” fined Trump $5,000 and warned that future violations would bring “far more severe” sanctions including imprisonment.
Sources: VOA. BBC.