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The cross examination of Michael Cohen at Trump's N.Y. criminal trial will continue

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In the New York trial of former President Trump, Michael Cohen has spent two days on the witness stand now. Cohen is Trump's one-time fixer. The guy who ranted profanely at reporters, made problems go away, and he says, arranged a payoff to the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels. Yesterday, Cohen faced cross examination, which means that one of Trump's current lawyers questioned Trump's former lawyer and former loyalist. Adam Pollock has been following Cohen's testimony and the rest of the trial. He's a former assistant attorney general in New York. Welcome to the program, sir.

ADAM POLLOCK: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

INSKEEP: OK. Going into this trial, we had an idea of the outlines of this case, the prosecution's allegation. What do you feel you have learned as Cohen has gone through his central role in it all?

POLLOCK: I think that Cohen has directly corroborated a key issue. We've had evidence around the fact that Trump knew that - he knew what he was paying for. But now we have direct confirmation corroboration that Trump was concerned about the impact on the election, there's motive there, and that Trump directed Cohen to make the hush money payments. This is really dramatic and key evidence that came out on the direct examination of Michael Cohen.

INSKEEP: You talk about - or people in sensitive positions talk about deniability - that you're just distant enough from events you can claim you didn't really know what was going on. You had nothing to do with it. Cohen takes away the deniability in that sense, I think is what you're saying.

POLLOCK: I think that's exactly right. The defense, when they opened, they made, I think, a real mistake, which is that they told the jury that these were just payments for legal services. That story is out the window. Everyone knew what Trump was paying for. Trump was paying for hush money payments.

INSKEEP: OK. So you feel that that has been nailed down. Is there something that you feel, particularly as Cohen has been cross examined, that is not nailed down in the prosecution's case?

POLLOCK: I think there is. The cross examination did not go tremendously well for the defense. It left open a key - while they may have successfully impeached him as a witness, it left open, really, a key open issue, which is, why the - Trump directed the payment, yes, but who directed the falsification of the records? Ultimately, this is a documents case. The charge - the criminal charge here is that the documents were falsified. The checks were falsified in that they were allegedly paid for legal services as the defense promised in their opening statement.

And in fact, they were not payments for legal services. They were payments for the hush money scheme that the invoices were invoices actually for a hush money scheme and not for legal services. This is a case that alleges falsification of records. And the key open issue that we still have is, who directed the falsification of the records?

INSKEEP: But wait a minute.

POLLOCK: This is still open.

INSKEEP: We were just talking about deniability. And you say the deniability went away as far as Trump approving the payments. But you're saying there still is some deniability when it comes to the actual underlying criminal charge - the thing that would make this payoff a criminal act, you're saying that the prosecution has yet to show that Trump directed that.

POLLOCK: I think that's right. There's ample circumstantial evidence that Trump directed the falsification of records. Had Trump just said, hey, let's pay hush money here, that would not have been illegal. Nothing illegal in New York state about paying hush money. But as the business capital of the United States, we have laws here in New York that require businesses to keep good books and records, and here we have ample circumstantial evidence that Trump directed a scheme to phony up those books and records. There was a White House meeting that Cohen testified to. There's lots of witnesses who testified that Trump micromanaged the books - the book - the business and the books of the business. Trump was the one in the White House signing the checks, and you have Michael Cohen testifying he approved it - he, meaning Trump, approved the scheme. And yet, nobody has really testified that Trump knew that the records were falsified. And that's the crime that's charged here.

INSKEEP: I want to find out if that means there's a serious chance that this guy could be acquitted, because you do hear of people convicted on circumstantial evidence, as you say. Is it essential that the prosecution come up with something that directly shows Trump knew what he was doing?

POLLOCK: It's not essential. They do have heaps of circumstantial evidence here that Trump knew what the scheme was. He even told Michael Cohen, you will be getting checks shortly - when they met in the Oval Office in the White House, you'll be getting checks soon. Trump - there's lots of evidence that Trump knew, but yet they only need one juror to instill doubt in one juror to miss a unanimous jury that would convict Trump. Only one juror would be enough to lead to a not guilty verdict.

INSKEEP: OK.

POLLOCK: And I think that the defense will stand up in closing and say, you have heard abundant evidence that sure, maybe a payment went to...

INSKEEP: But no...

POLLOCK: ...Michael Cohen...

INSKEEP: But - yeah, but no proof actually that Trump knew what he was doing. Adam Pollock former assistant attorney general...

POLLOCK: But no proof that Trump...

INSKEEP: ...Of New York. Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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