Star witness Michael Cohen implicates Donald Trump in hush money case

Michael Cohen has directly implicated former president Donald Trump in a hush money scheme, telling jurors that his celebrity client approved hefty payouts to stifle stories about sex that he feared could be harmful to his 2016 White House campaign.

“You handle it,” Mr Cohen quoted Trump as telling him after learning that a doorman had come forward with a claim that Trump had fathered a child out-of-wedlock.

The Trump Tower doorman was paid 30,000 dollars to keep the story “off the market” even though the claim was ultimately deemed unfounded.

A similar episode occurred after Mr Cohen alerted Trump that a Playboy model alleged that she and Trump had an extramarital affair.

Again, the order was clear: “Make sure it doesn’t get released,” Mr Cohen said Trump told him. The woman was paid 150,000 dollars to stay quiet.

Trump Hush Money
Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings (Seth Wenig/AP)

Prosecutors say they may wrap up their presentation of evidence by the end of the week.

The evidence of a witness with such intimate knowledge of Trump’s activities could heighten the legal exposure of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee if jurors deem him sufficiently credible.

Politically, Trump is likely to seize on prosecutors’ reliance on a witness with such a chequered past — Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the payments and to lying to Congress — as he raises money off his legal woes and paints the case as the product of a tainted criminal justice system.

Though jurors have heard from others about the tabloid industry practice of “catch-and-kill,” in which rights to a story are purchased so it can be quashed, Mr Cohen’s testimony is especially important to prosecutors because of his proximity to Trump and because he says he was directly co-ordinating with the then-candidate about the payments.

Another sum went to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who told jurors last week that the 130,000 dollars she received was meant to prevent her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in a hotel suite a decade earlier.

The reimbursements Mr Cohen received from that payment form the basis of the charges against Trump — 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Prosecutors say the reimbursements were logged as legal expenses to conceal the payments’ true purpose, violating the law.

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