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Cohen Faces Grilling in Trump Trial    05/20 06:21

   Donald Trump's hush money trial is heading into the final stretch, with 
prosecutors' last and star witness back on the stand Monday for more grilling 
before the former president's lawyers get their chance to put on a case.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump's hush money trial is heading into the final 
stretch, with prosecutors' last and star witness back on the stand Monday for 
more grilling before the former president's lawyers get their chance to put on 
a case.

   The landmark trial will kick back off in Manhattan with more defense 
cross-examination of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, whose pivotal 
testimony last week directly tied Trump to the alleged hush money scheme. He's 
the last prosecution witness and it's not yet clear whether Trump's attorneys 
will call any witnesses, let alone the presumptive Republican presidential 
nominee himself.

   Defense lawyers already have questioned Cohen for hours about his criminal 
history and past lies to paint him as a serial fabulist who is on a revenge 
campaign aimed at taking down Trump.

   After more than four weeks of testimony about sex, money, tabloid 
machinations and the details of Trump's company recordkeeping, jurors could 
begin deliberating as soon as this week to decide whether Trump is guilty of 34 
felony counts of falsifying business records in the first criminal trial of a 
former U.S. president.

   The charges stem from internal Trump Organization records where payments to 
Cohen were marked as legal expenses, when prosecutors say they were really 
reimbursements for a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

   Trump has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say there was nothing criminal 
about the Daniels deal or the way Cohen was paid.

   Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office is expected to rest its 
case once Cohen is off the stand, but prosecutors would have have an 
opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Trump's lawyers put on witnesses of 
their own.

   The judge has told lawyers to be prepared for closing arguments as early as 
Tuesday, though the timing will depend on whether the defense calls any 
witnesses, which it is not obligated to do. Defense lawyers said they have not 
decided whether Trump will testify.

   Defense attorneys generally are reluctant to put their clients on the 
witness stand and open them up to intense questioning by prosecutors, as it 
often does more harm than good.

   Cohen is prosecutors' most important witness, but he is also vulnerable to 

   The now-disbarred attorney has admitted on the witness stand to previously 
lying under oath and other falsehoods, many of which he claims were meant to 
protect Trump. Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty to various 
federal charges, including lying to Congress and a bank and engaging in 
campaign finance violations related to the hush money scheme.

   And he has made millions of dollars off critical books about the former 
president, whom he regularly slams on social media in often profane terms.

   Cohen told jurors that Trump was intimately involved in the scheme to pay 
off Daniels to prevent her from going public late in his 2016 presidential 
campaign with claims of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. Trump says nothing 
sexual happened between them.

   Cohen told jurors about meetings and conversations with Trump, including one 
in 2017 in which Cohen says he, Trump and then-Trump Organization finance chief 
Allen Weisselberg discussed how Cohen would recoup his outlay for the Daniels 
payment and how the reimbursement would be billed as "legal services."

   Known for his hot temper, Cohen has remained mostly calm on the witness 
stand despite sometimes heated interrogation by the defense about his own 
misdeeds and the allegations in the case.

   A key moment came Thursday, when defense attorney Todd Blanche accused Cohen 
of lying about the purpose of a phone call to Trump's bodyguard days before 
Cohen wired Daniels' lawyer $130,000.

   Cohen told jurors he talked to Trump on that call about the hush money 
payment. Blanche confronted Cohen with text messages to argue that Cohen had 
actually been talking to Trump's bodyguard about harassing calls from a teenage 

   "That was a lie. You did not talk to President Trump on that night... You 
can admit it?" Blanche asked.

   "No, sir, I can't," Cohen replied, saying he believed he also spoke to Trump 
about the Daniels deal.

   Trump's lawyers have said they may call Bradley A. Smith, a Republican law 
professor who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the Federal 
Election Commission, to refute the prosecution's contention that the hush money 
payments amounted to campaign-finance violations.

   Judge Juan M. Merchan has limited what Smith can address, however, and the 
defense could decide not to call him, after all.

   There are often guardrails around expert testimony on legal matters, on the 
basis that it's up to a judge -- not an expert hired by one side or the other 
-- to instruct jurors on applicable laws in a case.

   Merchan has ruled that Smith can give general background on the FEC, the 
laws it enforces and the definitions of such terms as "campaign contribution." 
But he can't interpret how federal campaign finance laws apply to the facts of 
Trump's case or opine on whether the former president's alleged actions violate 
those laws.

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