Alvin Bragg's entire case against Trump hinges on a disbarred serial perjurer

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A disbarred, serial perjurer walks into a courtroom and asks to take an oath . . . No, seriously, this is not a joke. Michael Cohen will soon appear in a Manhattan courtroom in what is sure to be one of the most bizarre moments in legal history.

Cohen nearly comprises the prosecution’s entire case against former President Donald Trump under a criminal theory that still has many of us baffled. It is not clear what crime Trump was supposedly trying to conceal by making “hush-money” payments to former porn actress Stormy Daniels.

What is clear is that none of the witnesses called in recent weeks has had any direct involvement with Trump on the payments.

The witnesses had a lot to say about Cohen, and most of it was not good. They described an unprofessional, self-proclaimed “fix-it man” who created a shell corporation to buy out Daniels with his own money. The money was later paid back by Trump after the election, with other legal expenses.

So Cohen will now make the pitch to the jury that they should put his former client in jail for following his own legal advice.

This would be difficult even for a competent and ethical lawyer. For Cohen, it is utter insanity. But Bragg is betting on a New York jury looking no further than the identity of the defendant to convict. 

Cohen has an impressive history of lies and exaggerations that may be unparalleled. Just weeks ago, another judge denounced him as a serial perjurer who was still gaming the system.

This is not the defendant, mind you, but Alvin Bragg’s star witness.

I have been an outspoken critic of Cohen going back to when he was still representing Trump. His unethical acts were matched only by his unprofessional demeanor.

In 2015, after students on the Harvard Lampoon played a harmless prank on Trump, Cohen was quoted by a student on the Lampoon staff as threatening them with expulsion.

When a journalist pursued a story Cohen did not like, he told the reporter that he should “tread very f—ing lightly because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

It is not hard to “understand” Cohen. He has long marketed his curious skill of voluntarily saying whatever the highest bidder wants him to say. 

He is a convicted perjurer who seems to lie even when the truth would do. Each time he is caught lying, he claims to be the sinner who has finally seen the light, seeking redemption.

When he was called before the House to testify against Trump soon after his plea agreement with the Justice Department (for lying), Cohen was again accused of perjury. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), warned Cohen repeatedly that he had better tell the truth this time. Cohen then testified that Trump wanted him to work in his administration and offered him multiple jobs, which he turned down. He also claimed, “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump.”

Multiple sources have said that Cohen’s lawyer pressed the White House for a pardon, and that Cohen unsuccessfully sought a presidential pardon after FBI raids on his office and residences last year. 

Even after being stripped of his law license and sentenced to three years in prison, Cohen continued the pattern. In 2019, Cohen failed to appear to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, citing an inability to travel due to surgery. He was then seen partying before the hearing date with five friends.

Even while in jail, Cohen was accused of lying to a court, in violation of an order for early release due to medical problems. He was ordered back into custody after being spotted at a high-end restaurant.

But the most impressive moment came when Cohen was put back on the stand under oath and matter-of-factly claimed that he had lied in his prior hearing, when he pleaded guilty to lying. 

In his 2018 guilty plea before U.S. District Judge William Henry Pauley III, Cohen admitted to this conduct under oath.

Then, when Cohen was asked by Trump’s counsel, “Did you lie to Judge Pauley when you said that you were guilty of the counts that you said under oath that you were guilty of? Did you lie to Judge Pauley?”

Cohen responded, “Yes.”  He was then again asked “So you lied when you said that you evaded taxes to a judge under oath; is that correct?” He again responded, “Yes.”

Most of us expected the Justice Department to bring new perjury charges at that point. It is rare that a defendant will actually take the stand and confess to perjury. However, Cohen was now useful again. This time, he was willing to deliver Trump. The Justice Department and Manhattan prosecutors were clearly willing to tolerate a little perjury for that prize.

Cohen’s conduct has already loomed large in the Manhattan proceedings. When Keith Davidson took the stand — the attorney who represented both Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — he recounted how Cohen was furious about not being offered a job in the White House. That directly contradicts Cohen’s congressional testimony. Davidson said that Cohen believed he might be named attorney general.

The account, if true, shows that Cohen is not only unethical, but also delusional. Cohen was found incapable of being an attorney, let alone an attorney general.

As prosecutors set the table for the grand arrival of their star witness, the testimony only got worse. David Pecker, the former owner of the National Enquirer, said charitably that Cohen was “prone to exaggeration.” 

Davidson described Cohen’s profane and unprofessional conduct, stating that “the moral of the story is nobody wanted to talk to Cohen.” That may be the first time the word “moral” was used in the same line with Cohen.

Former Trump associate Hope Hicks mocked Cohen on the stand. She said that he constantly tried to insinuate himself into the campaign, without success, and that he “used to like to call himself Mister Fix It, but it was only because he first broke it.”

Mind you, these were his fellow prosecution witnesses, not the defense.

These witnesses also contradicted the basis for the prosecution. Pecker said that he killed stories for various celebrities for years, and that he did so for Trump for over a decade before he ran for office. Davidson testified that he did not consider the deal to be “hush money” but simply “consideration” to kill bad press. 

Hicks testified that she believed Trump wanted to kill the stories in significant part to protect his family from embarrassment.

Cohen could not even maintain a consistent position during the trial. Many of us have denounced the gag order on Trump that prevents him from responding to Cohen’s unrelenting attacks in the media. Cohen then promised to stop any further comments. That promise may have set a record for Cohen. He kept it for roughly three days before being accused of trolling for dollars on social media by attacking Trump.

District Attorney Bragg will now call this disbarred, serial perjurer to make the case against a former president.

Under New York law, the oath administered by the court is supposed “to awaken the conscience and impress the mind of the witness in accordance with that witness’s religious or ethical beliefs.” 

Before the bailiff administers the oath to Cohen, Judge Juan Merchan may have to warn spectators in the courtroom not to laugh. For anyone familiar with Cohen, it will sound like the ultimate punchline to a bad joke.

Jonathan Turley is the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at the George Washington University Law School.

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