Trump fixer-turned-foe blames Melania in court bombshell

Bombshell testimony has brought Melania Trump into husband Donald's hush money trial.

Bombshell testimony has brought Melania Trump into husband Donald's hush money trial.

Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen has told jurors it was Melania Trump’s idea to dismiss her husband’s comments on an infamous Access Hollywood tape as “locker room talk”.

In bombshell testimony to Trump’s hush money trial, Cohen also said the US Republican presidential candidate was furious that porn star Stormy Daniels was shopping a story in 2016 about an alleged sexual encounter with him, telling Cohen it would be catastrophic for his campaign.

“He said to me, ‘This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women are going to hate me,’ Cohen testified at Trump’s trial in New York state criminal court in Manhattan on Monday (US time).

” ‘Guys, they think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign’.”

Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, said he learned that Daniels was selling her story at a critical moment for Trump’s White House bid, after the release of an audio recording from TV show Access Hollywood, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals.

The tape left the Trump campaign scrambling to contain the damage only weeks before the 2016 election day.

On Monday, Cohen – the former president’s ex-fixer – told the court he emailed then-campaign manager Steve Bannon “in order to protect Mr Trump.”

After several calls with Trump and other campaign staff, Cohen expressed a need to “put a spin on this”.

“The spin he wanted put on it was that this is locker room talk, something that Melania had recommended, or at least he told me that’s what Melania had thought it was, and use that in order to get control over the story and to minimise its impact on him and his campaign,” Cohen said.

Witnesses in the courtroom said Trump shook his head in disagreement at Cohen’s testimony.

The former fixer’s $US130,000 ($196,752) payment to Daniels to buy her silence about the alleged 2006 encounter is at the centre of the case.

Prosecutors say Trump paid Cohen back after the election and hid the reimbursement by recording it falsely as a legal retainer fee in Trump’s real estate company’s records.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records tied to the reimbursement. Prosecutors say the altered records covered up election-law and tax-law violations – since the money was essentially an unreported contribution to Trump’s campaign – that elevate the crimes from misdemeanours to felonies punishable by up to four years in prison.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies any sexual encounter with Daniels, who testified last week. He argues the case is a politically motivated attempt to interfere with his campaign to take back the White House at this year’s presidential election.

Trump’s defence has suggested the payment to Daniels could have been made to spare Trump and his family embarrassment, not to boost his campaign. But Cohen testified that Trump appeared solely concerned with the effect on his White House bid.

“He wasn’t thinking about Melania. This was all about the campaign,” Cohen said, referring to Trump’s wife.

Cohen added that he recalled Trump saying, “Just get past the election, because if I win it will have no relevance because I’m the president, and if I lose, I won’t really care.”

Jurors reviewed emails showing that Cohen repeatedly delayed paying Daniels. Cohen said he was trying to put off the deal until after the election at Trump’s behest.

Cohen had earlier testified that Trump signed off on other payments to bury alleged sex-scandal stories that could have damaged his 2016 campaign.

Cohen said he, Trump and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker agreed to use the supermarket tabloid to boost Trump’s presidential candidacy while blocking negative stories.

That arrangement included a $US150,000 ($227,022) payment from Pecker’s company to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to acquire the exclusive rights to her story about a year-long affair she said she and Trump had, Cohen said.

For nearly a decade, Cohen, 57, was an executive and lawyer for Trump’s company and once said he would take a bullet for Trump, 77.

Cohen said it was fair to describe his role as a fixer for Trump, testifying that he took care of “whatever he wanted”. He reported directly to Trump and was never part of the Trump Organisation’s general counsel’s office.

Among his duties was threatening to sue people and planting positive stories in the press, he said.

When Trump was preparing to announce his campaign for president, Cohen said, Trump told him that there would be “a lot of women coming forward.”

Trump’s lawyers have told the 12 jurors and six alternates that Cohen is a liar whose testimony cannot be trusted. Cohen has admitted to lying under oath multiple times, providing substantial fodder for the defence to undermine his credibility.

-with AAP

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