Trump trial updates: Michael Cohen testifies that Trump directed him to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels and approved scheme to conceal reimbursement

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court Monday.
Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court Monday. (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

“What I was doing,” former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified Monday, “I was doing at the direction and for the benefit of Mr. Trump.” This is Yahoo News’ succinct update on the criminal and civil cases against Trump. Here are the latest developments.

Former Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen — the prosecution’s key witness — took the stand Monday to testify about his role in the alleged hush money scheme.

Ahead of the 2016 election, Cohen paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to keep porn star Stormy Daniels from going public with her story of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump; he says he was later reimbursed by the president.

Prosecutors have charged Trump — who categorized his payments to Cohen as legal fees — with 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal criminal activity.

At the end of 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison for various crimes, including campaign-finance violations related to the Daniels payment.

In court, Cohen portrayed Trump as highly attuned to negative press, extremely wary about leaving a paper trail and intimately aware of the missions his employees were carrying out on his behalf (such as the payments to Daniels), according to the New York Times.

“It was whatever he wanted,” Cohen said when asked to describe his role at the Trump Organization. “The only thing that was on my mind was to accomplish the task, to make him happy.”

Throughout the trial, Trump’s lawyers have tried to cast Cohen as an unreliable witness — a disgruntled ex-employee who is lying to get revenge. Ultimately, jurors will have to decide whether they can trust the central claim of Cohen’s testimony — that Trump directed him to pay Daniels to avoid a political scandal, then signed off on a criminal scheme to hide Cohen’s reimbursements.

Asked if it would have been fair to describe him as Trump's “fixer,” Cohen replied, “Yes, some have described me as that” — adding that he would sometimes “bully” people for Trump and occasionally lie for him.

Cohen confirmed previous testimony from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker that he, Trump and Pecker entered into an agreement to suppress negative stories about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Just be prepared — there’s going to be a lot of women coming forward,” Cohen quoted Trump telling him.

Before Daniels entered the picture, Cohen testified that he successfully buried two unflattering stories about Trump: one from a doorman at Trump Tower claiming (falsely, it turned out) that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock and one from former Playboy model Karen McDougal claiming that she’d had a 10-month affair with Trump.

“Make sure it doesn’t get released,” Cohen quoted Trump telling him after Cohen mentioned that McDougal was shopping her story.

On the stand, Cohen claimed he did just that, staying in constant contact — some of it corroborated by phone records and text messages — with Trump, Pecker and National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard to hammer out a $150,000 catch-and-kill deal with McDougal and her lawyer, Keith Davidson. Pecker paid McDougal, Cohen testified, but Trump repeatedly agreed to “take care of it” and pay Pecker back.

But Trump never repaid Pecker, as Pecker previously testified. Aware that Pecker would not front any more money for Trump, Cohen agreed to put up his own money when Daniels surfaced with her story one month before the 2016 election, according to his testimony.

Trump encouraged this arrangement, Cohen testified Monday. Coming on the heels of Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, Daniels’s story looked like it could be “catastrophic,” Cohen said — “especially with women voters.” Cohen testified that Trump agreed, calling Daniels a potential “disaster for the campaign.”

“I thought you had this under control,” Cohen quoted Trump telling him. “Just take care of it.”

In the process, Cohen claimed Monday, he kept Trump closely apprised of his efforts so that he would “get credit” for doing the boss’s bidding.

Cohen testified that on Oct. 26, 2016, the day of the wire transfer, he spoke to Trump twice, ultimately informing his boss “that this matter is now completely under control and locked down.”

“Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off,” Cohen told the court, per CNN. “On top of that, I wanted the money back.”

As court wrapped up for the day, Cohen testified that he met in early 2017 with Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer who is currently serving a five-month sentence at Rikers Island in New York City for perjury, to discuss reimbursement for the hush money to Daniels. Cohen said that Weisselberg told him the reimbursement would be spread “over 12 months” and recorded “like a legal service rendered” — a scheme Trump personally approved when Cohen and Weisselberg went together to Trump’s 26th-floor office, according to Cohen.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger told Judge Juan Merchan that she would continue questioning Cohen after court resumes Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. ET.

When the time comes for Trump’s lawyers to cross-examine Cohen — which could happen Tuesday — they are expected to question his credibility, cast doubt on his motives and argue that he was operating without Trump’s knowledge.