Updated May 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

"Just do it": Michael Cohen says Trump told him, on Stormy Daniels payment

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump, arrives at federal court in New York, US, on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.

Michael Cohen arrives at federal court in New York on Dec. 14, 2023. Photo: Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Michael Cohen, former President Trump's onetime fixer, testified Monday that the former president signed off on a payment plan to reimburse him for the $130,000 payment he paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Why it matters: Cohen's claim that Trump approved the plan — and was aware that the payments would be marked as legal costs — is at the heart of prosecutors' charges against Trump.

  • Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payment.

Driving the news: During his pivotal testimony, Cohen outlined how Trump directed him to "just take care of" the payment to Daniels — and he recalled how he feared that Daniels' allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump would be "catastrophic" to the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Speaking about the payment to Daniels, Cohen testified that Trump told him: "There's no reason to keep this thing out there so do it."
  • "He expressed to me, just do it," Cohen testified that Trump said.

Zoom in: Cohen described Trump's concerns over the possible impact of Daniels' story on his 2016 presidential campaign, particularly with women voters.

  • "He wasn't even thinking about Melania, this was all about the campaign," Cohen said Monday, referring to Trump's wife, Melania Trump.

Prosecutors have zeroed in on the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump is heard bragging about groping women, which became public weeks before the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • They say that the tape fueled Trump's efforts to bury other negative stories about him, such as Daniels', ahead of the presidential election.
  • Cohen testified that Trump had described the language in the tape as "locker room talk," which was a suggestion from Melania.

Between the lines: Cohen also detailed his collaboration with ex-National Enquirer publisher David Pecker in a catch-and-kill scheme to quash negative stories about Trump.

  • He testified that he would "immediately show" Trump covers of issues he was sent before they came out.

State of play: Cohen is a star witness for New York prosecutors in Trump's criminal hush money trial.

  • His testimony could help determine whether the presumed GOP presidential nominee is ultimately convicted of a crime.
  • The testimony also marks a crescendo in the frosty relationship between Cohen and Trump, which started to devolve after the 2016 election.

The big picture: Cohen, who was sentenced to prison for lying to Congress and tax evasion, among other charges, says that he orchestrated the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels at Trump's direction.

  • The payment was over an alleged sexual encounter between Trump and Daniels, who testified last week.
  • Trump has denied any wrongdoing, including having sex with Daniels.

What to watch: The defense is likely to try to discredit Cohen as a witness in the case, highlighting his 2018 guilty plea to tax fraud, campaign finance violations and making false statements to Congress.

  • Cohen said that he lied out of loyalty to the former president and to align with his political messaging.
  • "He has a goal, an obsession with getting Trump, and you're going to hear that," defense lawyer Todd Blanche said in his opening remarks, per ABC News.

Go deeper: What to know about Michael Cohen, who is testifying at Trump's hush money trial

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details from Cohen's testimony.

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