Trump lawyers, Alvin Bragg square off on hush money witness Michael Cohen


As former President Donald Trump’s trial on felony charges that he violated New York State tax and campaign finance laws by paying off two women to keep them from sharing their accounts of extramarital affairs with him, his lawyers move to keep Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen from testifying. In response, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team call that request “totally meritless.” Here are the latest legal developments for the Republican presidential frontrunner seeking to be reelected to the White House.

New York hush money

Prosecutors call Trump’s attempt to keep Cohen from testifying ‘totally meritless’

Key players: Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles, Judge Juan Merchan

  • On Tuesday, prosecutors on Bragg’s team responded to a legal filing by Trump’s lawyers seeking to disqualify Cohen from testifying in the hush money case, saying the defense arguments were “intentionally inflammatory and totally meritless,” the New York Post reported.

  • In their filing, Blanche and Necheles described Cohen as a serial liar and asked the judge to block him from taking the witness stand “in order to protect the integrity of this court and the process of justice.”

  • In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress while under oath. He was sentenced to serve three years behind bars, but was released early due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cohen, a former vice president with the Trump Organization, also testified against Trump in the New York civil financial fraud trial.

  • Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts stemming from payments made to keep Daniels and McDougal from publicly sharing their accounts of extramarital affairs they had with Trump during the 2016 presidential election.

  • In their response to Trump’s filing, prosecutors said that Cohen’s testimony about the hush-money payments would be backed up by corroborating evidence, and that Trump’s lawyers were welcome to cross-examine his assertions.

  • “To the extent that defendant nonetheless believes the jury should disbelieve Cohen’s testimony at trial, he may challenge Cohen’s credibility by cross-examining him about a variety of topics, including his previous guilty pleas,” prosecutors said, CNN reported.

  • The first of the four criminal trials in which Trump is charged is scheduled to begin on March 25.

Why it matters: It is unlikely that Merchan will rule that Cohen is not allowed to testify in the hush-money case. If he does, Trump’s lawyers will do their best to portray him as an unreliable witness, even though his conviction for lying to Congress came when he was trying to protect the former president.

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Wednesday, March 6

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The United States Supreme Court announces it will hear arguments on April 25 about whether presidential immunity protects former President Donald Trump from being prosecuted for attempting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden. After two stinging court losses, attorneys for Trump ask for a new trial and for a much lower judgment than the combined $88.3 million two juries awarded to E. Jean Carroll. Trump’s lawyers also ask the judge in the New York hush money criminal trial to deny Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s request to impose a gag order intended to keep Trump from attacking witnesses and courtroom staff. Here are the latest developments in the legal cases facing the Republican looking to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Supreme Court to hear presidential immunity arguments on April 25

Key players: United States Supreme Court, Special counsel Jack Smith, Judge Tanya Chutkan, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

  • On Wednesday, the high court announced that it would hear arguments on April 25, the last day of hearings for the current term, on whether the concept of presidential immunity protects Trump from being prosecuted for his efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in 2020.

  • Chutkan ruled in December that although Trump was president when he set about trying to block the transfer of power to Biden, he was not protected from being prosecuted by Smith.

  • A three-judge federal court of appeals panel concurred with Chutkan.

  • In late December, Smith asked the high court for an expedited ruling on the immunity question, but the court declined.

Why it matters: Though the Supreme Court is widely expected to uphold the lower court rulings that immunity does not shield Trump in this case, the court’s delay on hearing arguments has cast doubt on whether Smith’s case will go to trial before the 2024 presidential election.

E. Jean Carroll defamation

Trump asks for a new E. Jean Carroll trial

Key players: columnist E. Jean Carroll, Trump lawyer Alina Habba, Judge Lewis Kaplan

  • Trump’s lawyers filed papers Tuesday with federal court requesting that he be granted a new trial following two losses in sexual assault and defamation cases brought by Carroll that resulted in a combined judgment of $88.3 million, the Guardian reported.

  • The motion filed by Habba and Trump’s other attorneys contends that Kaplan “erroneously instructed” the jury and that his ruling striking some of Trump’s testimony about his state of mind when denying Carroll’s claims of sexual assault was prejudicial.

  • “This Court’s erroneous decision to dramatically limit the scope of President Trump’s testimony almost certainly influenced the jury’s verdict, and thus a new trial is warranted,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

  • Last May, a jury found that Trump had sexually assaulted Carroll in 1996 in a changing room at Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan, and it awarded her $5 million for his denying the encounter took place and having said he had never met her.

  • In a second trial, earlier this year, a second jury awarded Carroll $83.3 million for Trump’s denials made when president and his persistent pattern of defamation since then.

  • In Tuesday’s filing, Trump’s lawyers also said the damages awarded to Carroll should be significantly reduced.

Why it matters: Carroll’s lawyers are pressing Kaplan to force Trump to pay the $88.3 million judgment against him. While Trump’s lawyers said in their filing that it is likely the award will not be upheld on appeal, the federal court could simply deny him a new trial.

New York hush money

Trump lawyers: Gag order would inflict ‘injury’ on ‘tens of millions of Americans’

Key players: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Judge Juan Merchan, adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen

  • In a Monday filing to Merchan, Trump’s lawyers said that a gag order proposed by Bragg intended to keep Trump from attacking witnesses and court staff in the hush money case would inflict “injury” on the former president’s supporters, Business Insider reported.

  • “A restriction on President Trump’s speech therefore inflicts a ‘reciprocal’ injury on the tens of millions of Americans who listen to him,” Trump’s lawyers wrote, adding, “American voters have the First Amendment right to hear President Trump’s uncensored voice on all issues that relate to this case.”

  • Trump is charged with 34 felony counts in the case that stems from his payments made to Daniels and McDougal that prosecutors say were designed to keep them quiet about extramarital affairs with Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Cohen paid Daniels $130,000, bank records show, and plans to testify during the criminal trial that begins on March 25.

  • Bragg contends Trump violated New York tax and campaign finance laws by making what he described as hush money payments.

Why it matters: If Merchan imposes a gag order in the first of Trump’s criminal cases to go to trial, it will come as Trump is poised to win his party’s presidential nomination. That offers the first clear test of how courts will handle the unprecedented conflict of how to enforce limits on speech for a person who is also once again seeking the highest office in the land.

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Monday, March 4

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Former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg surrenders to prosecutors Monday and pleads guilty later to lying in a deposition with New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office in former President Donald Trump’s financial fraud trial. Weisselberg was fined $1 million by Judge Arthur Engoron as part of the massive judgment against Trump, his adult sons and members of the family business. As expected, the Supreme Court rules that Congress, not individual states, is the only authority that can bar candidates who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again. Here are the latest legal developments involving the former president hoping to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

New York financial fraud

Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty to committing perjury

Key players: Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, Judge Arthur Engoron, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

  • On Monday, Weisselberg pleaded guilty to two counts of perjury relating to a deposition he gave to James’s office in the financial fraud trial of Trump, his adult sons and their family business, CNN reported.

  • Weisselberg surrendered to prosecutors Monday morning. Under the terms of the deal, he will be sentenced to five months in prison.

  • For weeks, Weisselberg had been negotiating the deal with Manhattan prosecutors, but in exchange for pleading guilty, he will not have to testify against Trump at his upcoming trial on campaign finance and tax violations.

  • In 2022, Weisselberg, 76, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud. He was sentenced to five months in jail but served only 100 days at Rikers Island prison.

  • After learning that Weisselberg may be negotiating a plea deal with Bragg, Engoron asked lawyers in the fraud case to supply him with any knowledge they may have had regarding Weisselberg lying on the witness stand.

  • As part of his judgment against the defendants, Engoron fined Weisselberg $1 million plus interest and barred him from ever working for the Trump Organization in any financial capacity.

  • In a statement, the Trump Organization said Weisselberg “is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former President.”

Why it matters: On the witness stand, Weisselberg tried to convince the judge that he had not overinflated Trump’s personal and business assets to obtain favorable loan and insurance rates. The plea deal is just one more bit of evidence that will be used to counter Trump’s appeal of Engoron’s massive $464 million judgment against the former president and his company.

Jan. 6 election interference

Supreme Court halts Colorado, Illinois, Maine and other states from kicking Trump off ballot

Key players: U.S. Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court, Cook County Circuit Judge Tracie Porter, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows

  • As expected, the United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Colorado Supreme Court had overstepped its authority when it ordered that Trump be removed from state ballots, Yahoo News reported.

  • Colorado’s Supreme Court, Porter and Bellows had all cited Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits those who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution but later “engaged in insurrection” from holding office, and concluded that Trump was not eligible to be on their state’s respective primary ballot.

  • In its decision, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “the Constitution makes Congress, rather than the States, responsible for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates.”

  • Because the court found that Congress and not the states is the arbiter of Section 3, that effectively puts an end to all state attempts to ban Trump from ballots.

  • Trump celebrated the ruling with a post on his social media network that read, “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!”

Why it matters: While legal scholars and some conservative former judges filed amicus briefs with the court arguing that Section 3 could be applied to prevent Trump from holding office again, the case was mostly viewed as a long shot. The same can be said of a sharply divided Congress finding that Trump violated the Constitution when he attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.





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