'Heck of a reunion': Donald Trump silent as Michael Cohen dishes dirt

'Heck of a reunion': Donald Trump silent as Michael Cohen dishes dirt
'Heck of a reunion': Donald Trump silent as Michael Cohen dishes dirt

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - NEW YORK — Five years after they last met in person, the former president and his self-described fixer were reunited in court on the most anticipated day yet in Donald Trump's fraud trial. The New York County Courthouse's Roman façade and frescoed interiors have played backdrop to many iconic movies and television shows — perhaps, most famously, Goodfellas. The scene inside the building today was very much real life, but the dramatic stakes were something straight out of cinema: the consigliere turning on his boss, the underling exacting revenge on the master. Michael Cohen, the onetime personal lawyer for Trump, took the stand on Tuesday to testify against his former boss in a high-stakes civil fraud case that could see the former president lose a portion of his famous real estate business. The anticipation for this hearing was high. Though Cohen has provided damaging testimony to prosecutors several times by now, this was the first time he had sat before Trump while he did it. "Heck of a reunion," Cohen quipped to reporters before walking in to face his boss. Dressed in a blue blazer, Cohen had ditched the tie but kept his signature hangdog expression and thick Long Island accent. This being an actual court proceeding, not a cinematic one, there were no bombshell revelations or accompanying gasps from the audience. There was no spontaneous outburst from the defendants. But over several hours, Cohen provided damaging testimony that repeatedly tied his own actions, and the actions of all the employees at the Trump Organization, directly to Trump. Cohen testified that he answered to Trump, and Trump alone. "Whatever issues he had, whatever created ire for him, he would bring it to me in order to resolve it," he told the court. Later, he said Trump personally asked him and Allen Weisselberg, the convicted ex-chief financial officer of the company, to inflate his assets "arbitrarily" by a number he had chosen. They did "whatever Trump told us to," Cohen said. In this setting, there was not much Trump could offer in response aside from folded arms and a stony expression. But in the court of public opinion, Trump has sought to paint his former personal counsel as a traitor and a "rat". Walking into court on Tuesday, he told reporters that Cohen was a "proven liar" and a "felon". "You see what his record is, he is not a credible witness," Trump said. His lawyers picked up that thread during their cross examination. Alina Habba began by making Cohen read out his guilty pleas from 2018 one by one. She later read federal government statements that Cohen engaged in a "pattern of deception." If Cohen could not be trusted then, she argued, how could they trust what he said under oath today? At one point, Cohen clearly grew irritated with her questioning and began to interject. When she said he was out of order, Cohen began dictating Supreme Court precedents to justify his statements. Chris Kise, Trump's lead attorney, declared that Cohen was "out of control". The pugnacious lawyer was at his side as he built his real estate empire — an empire that prosecutors now allege was built on a foundation of fraud. During the 2016 election, Cohen had arranged hush money payments to an adult film star whom Trump denies he had an affair with (the former president faces a criminal trial related to those payments in New York next year). But in 2018, during Trump's presidency, Cohen turned on him in the face of serious legal jeopardy. He eventually went to prison after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion, lying to Congress, and campaign finance violations. Since his release, Cohen has undergone a very public reversal, becoming one of Trump's harshest critics and a star witness in not one but two criminal investigations into the former president. He has handed over financial documents to Congress, bashed Trump in the press and said Trump inflated his personal wealth. Trump responded with a $500 million lawsuit against Cohen. His lawyers now say that suit is on pause as he juggles four other criminal cases with a presidential campaign. New York Attorney General Letitia James has brought a civil fraud case against the Trump Organization, Trump, and his two sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump. She alleges that the company massively inflated its properties' value for personal gain and to secure favourable loans. Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He has accused Ms James, a Democrat, of leading a politically motivated prosecution. Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled the Trump Organization perpetrated fraud. The current trial focuses on other charges of falsification of business records, business fraud, and conspiracy. Should Trump lose, he could face a fine of up to $250 million, lose his ability to conduct real estate business in New York, and find the future of some of his most famous properties at stake. Meanwhile, barred from practicing law, Cohen, like so many who have been ejected from Trump's orbit, has written a book. He titled it, "Revenge". — BBC

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