NEW YORK — It has been five years since Michael Cohen stood in a courtroom and first implicated Donald Trump in federal crimes, marking Cohen’s dramatic split from his former boss.
On Tuesday, Cohen is scheduled to once again come to court, where this time he will sit face to face with Trump to testify against him in a $250 million civil fraud trial. The moment will mark a new chapter in Cohen’s crusade to hold Trump accountable for what Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, has described as years of unlawful conduct by the former president.
Asked how he felt about testifying against Trump, whom Cohen fiercely defended for decades before turning on him, Cohen replied in a text message that he was “confident,” adding: “I’m not the one sitting in the defendant’s seat this time.”
It is likely to be a tense, emotional moment for both. In the period since Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance crimes that he and federal prosecutors said Trump directed him to commit, he has called Trump a coward and a “con man.” Trump, in turn, has hardly held his venom when it comes to Cohen, calling him a liar and a “rat.”
Trump also sued Cohen, seeking $500 million, but abruptly dropped the lawsuit just after the start of the civil fraud trial after twice delaying a deposition. Trump claimed he was merely pausing the litigation, while Cohen said Trump feared answering questions under oath.
On Tuesday, Cohen is expected to testify as one of the central witnesses in New York Attorney General Tish James’ case against Trump, which accuses him, his adult sons and his business associates of inflating his net worth in order to obtain favorable terms from banks and insurers.
In a videotaped deposition, Cohen said Trump would pick a number for his net worth that would boost his spot on the Forbes “richest people” list. Then, Cohen said, he and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, another one of the defendants, would value Trump’s properties in a way that would add up to Trump’s desired total.
Cohen’s testimony is likely to be some of the most contentious of the trial, not only because his account is critical to the case but also because he is a convicted felon who served a prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal tax evasion and campaign finance violations tied to his role in paying hush money during the 2016 presidential election to a porn star who claimed she had an affair with Trump. Cohen told a federal judge that it was Trump who ordered him to pay the porn star, Stormy Daniels. Cohen also subsequently pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his efforts to help build a Trump Tower in Russia.
As a result, Trump and his lawyers have rarely passed up an opportunity to brand Cohen as a fabulist.
“He’s lied to courts, he’s lied to Congress, he’s lied to everyone and anyone he’s come into contact with,” Trump attorney Chris Kise said of Cohen in his opening statement.
Trump’s lawyers are likely to drive that point home in their cross-examination of Cohen, in part because Cohen’s testimony Tuesday marks merely the start of his time on the witness stand against Trump.
In addition to the civil fraud trial, Cohen is expected to serve as a witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s criminal case against the former president over his alleged role in hush money payments to Daniels.
That trial is scheduled to begin in March 2024.