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Takeaways from day two of Michael Cohen's testimony


It was another heated day in the Manhattan courtroom where former President Trump's hush-money trial is being held. This afternoon, Trump's defense team began questioning Trump's once-close ally and former fixer, Michael Cohen. The defense attempted to paint Cohen as an unreliable witness who would personally gain from Trump being convicted. To break down today's testimony, we've called up University of Baltimore law professor Kim Whele. Welcome.

KIM WHELE: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So Kim, before the defense got their chance to question Cohen, the prosecution finished their direct questioning, and they addressed Cohen's criminal history. In your view, was his testimony for the prosecution able to overcome his less-than-flattering resume?

WHELE: Well, this is the fourth week of trial, and there's been a lot of evidence sort of laying the groundwork for Michael Cohen's testimony through other witnesses that don't have his credibility issues, as well as documents and even an audio recording of Donald Trump talking about the payment to a different person, Karen McDougal, not Stormy Daniels. So the government really was putting him on to talk about direct conversations with Donald Trump...


WHELE: ...As directing this hush-money scheme, but I don't think his testimony standing alone was necessarily a problem, given his credibility, because of the prior evidence that's already been submitted.

SUMMERS: OK. Do you think that Michael Cohen's testimony sufficiently tied Trump to the alleged falsified business records?

WHELE: Well, that will be, of course, for the jury to decide. But, you know, beyond a reasonable doubt, of course, it's the government's burden. But what that means is doubt for which the jury could give a reason. And I think, in this moment, the problem with the defense is there really isn't an alternative narrative other than that this was part and parcel of a bigger scheme, and Donald Trump was probably behind it, given, again, that they heard his voice talking about Karen McDougal, and the Stormy Daniels payment was on the heels of the "Access Hollywood" tape.

And even Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, testified the campaign was on fire - worried about the impact of loading on of that particular issue. And so I think the rationale here is that adding on an extramarital affair could have tanked the entire campaign.

SUMMERS: Mmm. The defense began their cross-examination of Michael Cohen today, and their job was to undermine his credibility. Do you think that they achieved that?

WHELE: Well, we're not done. I think, given - you know, Michael Cohen has not been shy about his view of Donald Trump. I mean, his books are called "Disloyal" and "Revenge"...


WHELE: ...And that's what - they tried to paint him as having an ulterior motive. But I think the government's position is, you know, when he lied before, he was under the thumb of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump sort of threw him under the bus, didn't bring him into the White House, didn't pay him his bonus and sort of left him out in the cold. And he's done time - criminal time - for a similar crime. That is - you know, he was - he pled guilty to federal crimes relating to this same hush-money payment. So the jury has to ask themselves - why would he come forward in this moment and lie and not have lied - and somehow told the truth before?

So - but we'll have to see. I just - it sounds like, from people inside the courtroom, he was credible, and the cross-examination was a bit meandering. But, again, they'll have a day off, and then they'll be able to come in on Thursday - wrap it up.

SUMMERS: Right. As you mentioned, they've got a day off. They come back on Thursday. What do you think we can expect there - in about 30 seconds?

WHELE: What do I think that the...

SUMMERS: That we'll expect to see on Thursday.

WHELE: Oh, what we will see - this is the last witness, right? So the government will finish its case-in-chief. And then, after we hear the additional cross-examination of Michael Cohen, whether they can really poke holes in those conversations he had - that's really a linchpin of the government's theory - then we'll see what the defense team brings on, including whether Donald Trump will testify, which I think is unlikely.

SUMMERS: That was University of Baltimore law professor Kim Whele. Kim, thank you.

WHELE: Thanks for having me again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
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