Trump hush-money trial: Michael Cohen admits to stealing from Trump Org.

Witness behavior on stand leads to judge clearing court at 1 point

Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday in New York City.Pool Photo by Michael M. Santiago/UPI
1 of 4 | Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday in New York City.Pool Photo by Michael M. Santiago/UPI | License Photo

May 20 (UPI) -- Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen admitted to stealing about $30,000 from the Trump Organization during his testimony in Manhattan on Monday.

Cohen testified that he hired a tech firm RedFinch in 2014 and 2015 for $50,000. The firm was hired to rig online polls in favor of the former president. Cohen paid them about $20,000 cash, saying he could not remember the exact amount exchanged in a brown paper bag.


Despite invoicing the Trump Organization for $50,000, Cohen never paid back the remainder of the balance to RedFinch.

"So you stole from the Trump Organization, right?" Trump's attorney Todd Blanche asked Cohen.

Cohen replied "yes, sir," adding that he shared the story with multiple prosecutors.

He added that he never had to plead guilty to larceny related to the funds and never had to pay back the Trump Organization.


He later said that the Trump Organization was not paying "significant invoices" from him in 2018. He then told his attorney Bob Costello about his concerns over not being paid.

Cohen explained to the prosecution how the tech company RedFinch, rigged online polls for Trump and how the deal for its services came about. It started with a 2014 poll by MSNBC that showed Trump polling near the bottom in a poll on the "top businessmen" in the United States.

Cohen said the poll angered Trump. Cohen then contacted John Gauger, owner of RedFinch. Gauger said he could create a program to vote for Trump repeatedly while hiding its tracks.

"He, of course, wanted to be No. 1, but we didn't think that was a good idea because it would raise red flags," Cohen testified.

Trump finished ranked ninth in the poll, allowing him to move onto another round of polling. But the poll did not continue as expected, according to Cohen, and Trump refused to pay RedFinch for its services. After several months, Cohen said he paid RedFinch himself, then invoiced Trump.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen to explain why he invoiced Trump for the full $50,000 despite only paying $20,000 toward the outstanding bill. He said he did it because he was angry that Trump shorted him on his bonus.


"I had protected [Trump] the best that I could. And I also laid out money to RedFinch and year and a half earlier, and again $130,000 [payment to Daniels], and to have my bonus cut by two-thirds was upsetting to say the least."

Cohen's testimony ended after more than nine hours combined between Tuesday, Thursday and Monday.

The defense called Cohen's former attorney Robert Costello to the stand. Merchan directed the defense to limit its questioning to inconsistent statements made by Cohen.

Costello detailed his first meeting with Cohen, saying he did not know him at all before. He testified that Cohen repeatedly told him Trump did not have knowledge of any hush-money payments.

The court was briefly cleared after several incidents by Costello on the witness stand. He became noticeably testy with Merchan, letting out audible sighs at multiple points as the judge sustained objections by the prosecution. During one objection, he exclaimed "Jesus," and at another point said "ridiculous" when Merchan asked the attorneys to approach the bench for a sidebar conversation.

Merchan scolded Costello after ordering the jury to leave the courtroom.

"I want to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom," Merchan said. "You don't give me a side eye and you don't roll your eyes. When there's a witness on the stand, if you don't like my ruling, you don't say, 'Jeez.' You don't say strike it."


Merchan also admonished Costello for "staring him down" after discussing decorum. He then cleared the courtroom for several minutes.

During Monday's testimony, Cohen said that he took on consulting duties for other clients while he was working for Trump and did not "specifically tell" him about it. One of the clients was AT&T.

Cohen added that Trump introduced him to the CEO of AT&T. This was while AT&T was working on a deal to acquire WarnerMedia.

Cohen agreed with Blanche that he does not believe there was anything wrong with him working with AT&T.

Blanche asked Cohen about his conflicting statements over Trump's knowledge of the hush-money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. In 2018 when the story of Trump's affair with Daniels was published, Cohen said Trump did not know about the payment. Cohen confirmed that he recorded his conversations with reporters.

Blanche added that Cohen also told a friend in a New York jail that Trump was unaware of the payment.

"I don't recall specifically saying that, but it would have been what I would have said at that time," Cohen said.

Cohen had been the only person to testify that Trump did know about a $130,000 payment being made to Daniels, saying that they had a phone conversation about it.


Blanche also questioned Cohen about his more recent streams of income. Cohen said he has earned about $3.4 million from book deals and $1 million from podcasting.

Judge Juan Merchan is considering entering a photo of Trump and his bodyguard Keith Schiller into evidence at the request of prosecutor Joshua Steinglass. Blanche objected to the photo, arguing that it is inadmissible because the prosecution did not follow the rules of submitting evidence.

The photo was pulled from a C-SPAN archive of a Trump rally in Oct. 24, 2016. The date is significant as it is the date when Cohen said he discussed authorizing payment to Daniels with Trump on Schiller's phone. The prosecution argues that it is necessary because it shows that Trump and Schiller were together that day.

Merchan agreed that the photo has relevance to the case but said he must also consider hearsay before making a decision.

Trump faces 34 counts related to falsifying business records in an alleged attempt to hide hush-money payments to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal while he was running for president in 2016. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and denied the affairs.

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