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What to know about Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen’s pivotal testimony in the hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s hush money trial reached a pivotal moment Monday when Trump’s onetime loyal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, took the witness stand to testify against his former boss.

As the prosecution’s case enters its final stretch, Cohen is providing jurors with an insider’s account of hush money payments at the center of the trial — payments he says were directed by Trump to fend off damage to his 2016 White House bid.

Cohen is the most important witness for prosecutors, who are trying to prove that Trump engaged in a scheme to buy up and bury unflattering stories about himself to illegally influence the 2016 election.

Cohen is expected be on the stand for several days and face intense grilling by Trump’s attorneys, who have painted him as a liar who’s trying to take down the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Here are some takeaways from Cohen’s testimony so far:

HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH TRUMP

Cohen spoke in glowing terms about his early days working for Trump, telling jurors he was surprised and honored when the former president first offered him a job. Cohen said he and Trump were so close in the decade Cohen worked for him that the two spoke in person or by phone multiple times every single day.

Cohen did everything from talking with the media to renegotiating bills on Trump’s behalf, including outstanding invoices from 50 vendors of Trump’s failed Trump University project. The praise he got from Trump afterward made him feel like he was “on top of the world,” he told jurors.

“The only thing that was on my mind was to accomplish the task and make him happy,” Cohen said, referring to Trump.

Cohen kept Trump’s contact list merged with his on his phone so he could call someone for him quickly. One of Cohen’s phones had more than 30,000 contacts.

He also lied and bullied on Trump’s behalf, he said. Part of his job included reaching out to reporters whose stories upset Trump, asking them to make changes or take them down — and sometimes threatening legal action. Asked if he had done so in a “strong and threatening manner,” Cohen said he did.

But overall, Cohen told jurors, the job was “fantastic.”

“It was an amazing experience in many, many ways,” he added. “There were great times. There were several less than great times.”

‘KEEP ME INFORMED’

Cohen portrayed Trump as a hands-on boss, who was deeply involved in the details and decisions of his company, the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors throughout the trial have been trying to elicit such testimony to support the idea that Trump would have known about the $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels and the subsequent reimbursement to Cohen. Trump denies Daniels’ claims that they had a sexual encounter in 2006.

Cohen testified that Trump wanted to be updated immediately about any developments regarding the tasks he assigned. Cohen said Trump had an “open-door policy” so executives could meet him in his office, without appointment, and keep him apprised of developments.

“When he would task you with something, he would then say, ‘Keep me informed,’ ‘Let me know what’s going on,’” Cohen testified. That was especially true “if there was a matter that was troubling to him.”

If Trump “learned of it in another manner, that wouldn’t go over well for you,” Cohen testified.

THE MCDOUGAL DEAL

Cohen described for jurors negotiations that led to former Playboy model Karen McDougal being paid $150,000 to squash a story about an alleged affair with Trump. Trump denies having sex with McDougal.

Cohen testified that he personally had no interest in acquiring the rights to McDougal’s story, telling jurors: “What I was doing was at the direction of and benefit of Mr. Trump.”

Cohen recounted immediately going to Trump after the National Enquirer alerted him about about McDougal’s story. Cohen said Trump told him to “make sure it doesn’t get released.”

Cohen also told jurors about a conversation he says he heard between Trump and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker in which the two discussed how much it would cost to suppress McDougal’s story.

“David stated it would cost $150,000 to control the story,” he said. Cohen said Trump then told the publisher: “No problem, I’ll take care of it.”

After the National Enquirer shelled out $150,000 to suppress McDougal’s story about Trump, Cohen testified that the tabloid’s publisher was hounding him to get Trump to reimburse him for the cost. He recounted meeting Pecker at his favorite Italian restaurant and the publisher being upset about not being repaid.

THE SECRET RECORDING

With Cohen on the stand, jurors again heard the audio recording he secretly made of a meeting with Trump in September 2016 in which they discussed the plan to purchase McDougal’s silence. In the recording, Trump can be heard saying: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Cohen testified that it was the only time that he had ever recorded a conversation with Trump. He said made the recording so Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher, could hear the conversation and be assured that Trump was going to pay him back.

Cohen testified that the recording abruptly cut off because he was receiving an incoming call to his phone, a claim substantiated by cell phone carrier records shown in court. Cohen said the number listed in the carrier records belonged to a bank official who was trying to get ahold of him.

Cohen said that the recording was not altered and sounded exactly the same as the day it was recorded. Prosecutors’ questions eliciting that testimony were meant to rebut a suggestion previously raised by the defense that Cohen may have altered the tape.

Earlier in the trial, Trump’s attorneys pressed a witness about the “gaps” in the handling of the phone after Cohen made the recording, along with the abrupt cut-off at the end of the tape.

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Associated Press reporter Jake Offenhartz in New York contributed. Whitehurst and Richer reported from Washington.

Michael R. Sisak, Jill Colvin, Lindsay Whitehurst And Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press


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