• In short: Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen has admitted stealing money from the Trump Organization.
  • Prosecutors have rested their hush money case and turned proceedings over to the former US president’s lawyers.
  • What next: The defence plans to call to the stand a campaign finance expert, a lawyer and a paralegal.

Donald Trump’s hush money trial has entered its final stretch, with prosecutors resting their case and turning proceedings over to the former US president’s lawyers.

The conclusion of New York prosecutors’ case came after star witness Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former fixer, returned to the stand on Monday.

Cohen testified he had stolen tens of thousands of dollars from his ex-boss’s company, an admission defence lawyers hope to use to undermine his credibility as a key prosecution witness.

The defence has said it planned to call a campaign finance expert, a lawyer who offered to represent Cohen after the FBI raided his property in 2018, and a paralegal.

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.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty in the New York Supreme Court to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records over hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The charges stem from internal Trump Organization records where payments to Cohen were marked as legal expenses. Prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for the payment to Ms Daniels to keep her from going public before the 2016 election with claims of a sexual encounter with Mr Trump.

It is the first criminal trial of a former US president.

Cohen accused of revenge campaign

With the prosecution’s case nearing its end, Mr Trump’s attorneys tried to sow doubt in jurors’ minds about Cohen’s crucial testimony implicating the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in the hush money scheme.

The defence over several hours of cross-examination painted Cohen as a serial fabulist who is on a revenge campaign aimed at taking down Mr Trump.

Back on the witness stand for a fourth day, Cohen told jurors that he stole from the Trump Organization after his 2016 holiday bonus was slashed to $US50,000 ($75,000) from the $US150,000 ($225,000) he usually received.

Cohen claimed to have paid $US50,000 to a technology firm for its work artificially boosting Mr Trump’s standing in a CNBC online poll about famous businessmen.

Cohen said he gave the firm only $US20,000 in cash in a brown paper bag, but he sought reimbursement from Mr Trump for the full amount, pocketing the difference.

“So you stole from the Trump Organization?” defence attorney Todd Blanche asked.

“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied.

Cohen said he never paid the Trump Organization back. Cohen has never been charged with stealing from Mr Trump’s company.

Cohen’s testimony underscores the risk of prosecutors’ reliance on the now-disbarred attorney, who admitted on the witness stand to a number of past lies, many of which he claims were meant to protect Mr Trump.

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

But when pushed by Mr Blanche, Cohen stood by his recollection of conversations with Trump about the $US130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels that is at the centre of the case.

“No doubt in your mind?” Mr Blanche asked about whether Cohen specifically recalled having conversations with Mr Trump about the Daniels matter.

“No doubt,” Cohen said.

Prosecutors got another shot to question their star witness after the defence wrapped up their cross-examination.

‘Are you actually on trial here?’

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger took a dig at the defence strategy to go after Cohen, asking him: “I know you might feel like you’re on trial here after cross-examination, but are you actually on trial here?”

“No, ma’am,” Cohen replied.

Whether the defence succeeds at undermining Cohen’s credibility could determine Mr Trump’s fate in the case.

Cohen tied Mr Trump directly to the hush money scheme, recounting meetings and conversations with his then-boss about stifling negative stories in the waning weeks of the 2016 campaign.

Cohen is the last prosecution witness before Mr Trump’s lawyers get a chance to present a defence.

The defence told the judge it planned to call as a witness Robert Costello, a lawyer who advised Cohen several years ago before the two had a falling-out.

Mr Costello testified last year before the grand jury that indicted Mr Trump after asserting that he had information that undermined Cohen’s credibility.

Mr Trump’s lawyers said they may also 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.

But the judge has limited what Smith can address.

Source: ABC News, abc.net.au/news/2024-05-21/michael-cohen-admits-stealing-money-from-trump-organization/103859326