Former Trump Accountant Testifies About Cohen Payment

In the third week of trial testimony, former Trump Organization controller and accounts payable supervisor testify about the business records that are at the heart of the prosecution's case.

Former President Donald Trump’s “hush money” trial continues in New York on May 6.

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Trump on Jail Warning: ‘I’ll Do That Sacrifice Any Day’

President Trump also criticized the judge over his gag order. Reporters have been asking President Trump about testimonies in the trial all day, and he has not engaged.

“I tell you people, you ask me a question, a simple question, I’d like to give it but I can’t talk about it, because this judge has given me a gag order and said you’ll go to jail if you violate it,” he said.

“And frankly, you know what, our Constitution is much more important than jail, it’s not even close, I’ll do that sacrifice any day,” he said.

Trial May Last 2 to 3 More Weeks

President Trump told the press prosecutors estimate another two or three weeks of trial.

“So we just found out, the government said they want two to three more weeks,” he said. “They want to keep me off the trail for two to three more weeks. Now, anybody in there would realize there’s no case, they don’t have a case.”

“This is just a political witch hunt, it’s election interference, and this is really, truly election interference,” he said, claiming that the case was only brought after he announced his campaign, for political reasons.

“I thought they were finished today! And they are finished today if you look at what’s happening,” he said. “The judge is so happy about two to three more weeks because they all want to keep me off the campaign trail.”

He criticized the prosecutors for not having “enough to fill up the time,” pointing out that they adjourned early today.

“The government didn’t have another witness,” he said.

Sidebar With Judge

Defense attorneys argued that they are not getting enough time to review exhibits. Prosecutors argued this complaint is unfounded as they are disclosing the witness lists one day in advance, saying it is because President Trump continued to violate the gag order and they are worried about juror intimidation.

Prosecutors want to call Georgia Longstreet, who reviewed social media posts for the district attorney’s office, back to the witness stand.

“I don’t think there’s any remote prejudice that the defense will suffer,” Justice Merchan said.

Mr. Blanche argued that the defense prepared cross-examination based on who they thought the witnesses would be, and did not have an accurate list of the exhibits in question. He argued the defense would have adjusted the cross-examination had they known which exhibits would be admitted through Ms. Longstreet’s testimonies.

Justice Merchan said prosecutors will need to give the defense 24 hours’ notice if they want to call Ms. Longstreet back on the witness stand.

Tarasoff Seldom Crossed Paths With Trump

Mr. Blanche cross-examined Ms. Tarasoff, asking about the 2016 to 2017 period she testified about. She affirmed that she had little contact with President Trump.

“I believe you testified about President Trump himself. You did not interact with him a lot over the years, correct? Your bosses, it sounds like they varied a bit, but Mr. McConney, Mr. Weisselberg?” Mr. Blanche asked.

“Yes,” Ms. Tarasoff said.

She affirmed she didn’t have the ability to approve a check herself.

“So when Mr. Weisselberg on some of the emails that we saw, or Mr. McConney told you to generate a check, you didn’t get permission from President Trump himself,” Mr. Blanche said. “And you understood that when you got approval from Mr. Weisselberg or Mr. McConney it was approved, correct?”

“Yes,” she said.

Court adjourned for the day.

Tarasoff Testifies About Checks for Cohen

Prosecutors walked Ms. Tarasoff through each of the checks signed for Mr. Cohen, establishing that the money came from President Trump’s own account.

Tarasoff Testifies About Invoice Approval

Prosecuting attorney Christopher Conroy asked Ms. Tarasoff who could approve invoices.

“Allen Weisselberg, Jeffrey McConney, obviously Mr. Trump, anybody in the legal department,” Ms. Tarasoff said.

Mr. Conroy asked if the dollar amount had to do with who could approve an invoice.

“If it was under a certain amount, Allen Weisselberg could approve it,” she said. If it was over, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., or Mr. Trump would approve it, she said, and before 2015, that limit was $2,500.

“Could the person signing the check decide not to sign the check?” Mr. Conroy asked.

“Yes,” Ms. Tarasoff said. “If Allen approved it, I would put it in, cut it, and get it signed. If President Trump didn’t want to sign a check, he didn’t sign it, he would write ‘void’ on it and send it back. Signed in Sharpie. It was black, that’s what he uses.”

Dispute Over Cancelled Checks

After a lunch break, defense attorney Todd Blanche objected to the admission of some checks into evidence.

“The invoices that causes [Trump Organization] to pay is being offered for the truth of the assertion. That’s our objection. Our understanding is that the People are going to offer #42 through this witness, who we believe is a Trump Organization employee. These are, unless we’re wrong, Capitol One bank records, and we very much object to that,” Mr. Blanche said.

Prosecutors are planning to call Deb Tarasoff, an accounts payable supervisor.

Prosecutors said Ms. Tarasoff will testify about a series of canceled checks.

“The check’s coming into evidence,” Justice Merchan said. “If it’s a canceled check, it’s the same check that Ms. Tarasoff generated herself. I think she’s perfectly capable of testifying that these were canceled checks that came in as a business record.”

“Your honor, we believe that this is a business record of a bank, and that’s our objection,” Mr. Blanche argued.

Justice Merchan noted the objection and overruled it.

McConney Unaware of Purpose of Payments

Mr. McConney confirmed that Mr. Weisselberg had told him Mr. Cohen was seeking some sort of reimbursement, but Mr. Weisselberg did not tell Mr. McConney what the reimbursement was for.

Testifying about the specific figure Mr. Weisselberg had agreed to pay Mr. Cohen, Mr. McConney admitted he did not know what Mr. Weisselberg meant by “gross up to” a certain figure.

He confirmed that when Mr. Cohen was an employee his payments would come out of the payroll, but in 2017 that was no longer the case.

Defense Questions McConney

Mr. McConney affirmed that he had no reason to believe that President Trump was aware of how the general ledger was categorizing Mr. Cohen’s invoices.

“You did not talk to President Trump about the events you just described?” defense attorney Emil Bove asked.

“I did not,” Mr. McConney said.

“President Trump never asked you to do any of those things? And President Trump never directed anyone to do any of those things, as far as you know?” Mr. Bove asked. Mr. McConney answered “correct” to both questions.

“I never talked to Michael Cohen” about the payments, Mr. McConney clarified.

Mr. Bove asked about the checks, which President Trump signed.

“It doesn’t say ‘fixer,’ does it?” he asked.

“No,” Mr. McConney said.

Mr. McConney affirmed that for accounting purposes, Mr. Cohen was akin to a vendor for President Trump in 2017. He had no knowledge of whether Mr. Cohen did legal work for President Trump in 2017.

He affirmed that the organization had thousands of employees and partners all around the world, including marketing people.

“You understood that the organization was paying the marketing people and if there was news that was negative about Trump or the organization, it was bad for business?” Mr. Bove asked.

“Yes,” Mr. McConney answered.

McConney Testifies About Trump Financial Disclosure

Mr. McConney is going through the financial disclosure forms President Trump filed when he declared his candidacy in 2015, including a conflict of interest form. The disclosure form requires listing the value of assets, retirement payments, liabilities, gifts, among other things.

“I took care of a few forms, or pieces of the form, and somebody else took care of the rest of the form,” Mr. McConney said. He helped file the form in January 2017.

Cohen Invoiced for ‘Retainer Agreement’

Mr. McConney confirmed that in order to pay Mr. Cohen, Mr. Cohen would need to send an invoice. He sent such an email reminder to Mr. Cohen on Feb. 6, 2017, and another reminder a week later.

Mr. Cohen wrote back, “Jeff, please remind me of the monthly amount.” Mr. McConney wrote back, “$35,000.”

In a Feb. 14, 2017, email, Mr. Cohen wrote, “Dead Allen, Pursuant to the retainer agreement, kindly remit payment for services rendered for the months of January and February 2017.”

Mr. McConney replied on that email to Mr. Weisselberg, asking him to approve the invoice.

“Ok to pay as per agreement with Don and Eric,” Mr. Weisselberg wrote back.

Mr. McConney testified, “at that point in time, we were paying the president’s personal expenses from the DJT trust account.”

Mr. McConney confirmed that President Trump would have to sign the checks, and he would need to go down to Washington to get his signature.

Prosecutors showed the monthly emails exchanged for Mr. Cohen’s invoices. Defense attorneys have objected to each one, and the judge has overruled them deeming them business records.

McConney Explains Cohen Bonus

Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Cohen was paid $420,000 as reimbursement for a $130,000 “hush money” payment he allegedly made at the behest of President Trump.

The figures in Mr. Weisselberg’s handwriting were shown as evidence in the courtroom. Notes from a meeting between Mr. Weisselberg and Mr. McConney resulted in notes being attached to Mr. Cohen’s $130,000 wire statement that included “add additional bonus $60,000.”

“Did you have an understanding that the payment was to include an additional bonus?” prosecuting attorney Joshua Steinglass asked.

“Yes. Michael was complaining that his bonus wasn’t large enough,” Mr. McConney said. “At that point in time we were going to send a wire transfer to Michael.”

“This is the notes I was taking when Allen was talking to me, explaining to me what we owed Michael and how we were going to pay him. It was a notepad,” Mr. McConney said.

He explained he wrote some things Mr. Weisselberg said down directly, but not everything.

“This was during the first week, when I found out that we owed Michael money,” Mr. McConney said. “It was a fast conversation.”

The note lists a bonus of $50,000 added to the $130,000 owed, and Mr. Weisselberg had wanted to double it to $180,000 to account for taxes.

“When I told Allen what I came up with, he said no, use $420[,000],” Mr. McConney said.

“Who is DJT a reference to?” Mr. Steinglass asked.

“That is the president’s personal bank account,” Mr. McConney said.

McConney Testifies on Cohen Payment

Mr. McConney confirmed he knew Michael Cohen was a lawyer who worked at Trump Organization “for a number of years.”

“We had conversations by the coffee machine,” he said.

Mr. McConney said that sometime in January 2017, he had a conversation with Mr. Weisselberg about money owed to mr. Cohen.

“Allen said we had to get some money to Michael; he tossed a pad to me and I started taking notes on what Allen said, that’s how I found out about it,” he said.

“There were two parts of the conversation: I used to do payroll, Michael’s last day was supposed to be January 20, there was a complaint about his bonus, he wanted to get paid for that,” Mr. McConney said. “There was also some other money he was owed, so we added that up.”

“Allen gave me a bank statement, said keep it in the files,” Mr. McConney said. “I took my notes, and at a later date, he gave me this bank statement.”

Mr. McConney confirmed one of the two sets of handwriting on the bank statement was Mr. Weisselberg’s.

The bank statement was for a domestic wire of $130,000 from Mr. Cohen to Mr. Davidson.

McConney Discusses Invoice Approval

Mr. McConney said President Trump had the ability to approve invoices before he took office, and other than him Ivanka Trump and Allen Weisselberg were the general approvers of invoices. The trust was run by Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Mr. Weisselberg.

Checks less than $10,000 could be signed by any of the three trustees, and checks over $10,000 had to be signed by two, Mr. McConney said.

Jeffrey McConney Testifies

Prosecutors called former Trump Organization comptroller Jeffrey McConney to the witness stand. Defense attorneys sought to object to several exhibits being admitted before testimony, but the judge decided to let the defense object individually as jurors had already arrived.

Mr. McConney was named a codefendant in a civil fraud case against President Trump, brought by the New York Attorney General, and had testified last fall in that trial, breaking down in tears on the witness stand at one point. He retired from his position in February 2023.

He described his role at Trump Organization, where he was hired in 1987.

“President Trump ran the organization, he was the brain behind it,” he said.

He described Trump Organization as President Trump’s global holding of various assets, licensing deals, intellectual property, and other things, and said there were about 500 entities at his time of retirement, now all owned by the Donald J. Trump revocable trust.

He explained that some entities had general ledgers while some did not. Some, like golf courses and hotels, had their own accounting staff, he said.

“That was one of my first jobs back in the 1980s, to set up the accounting systems,” Mr. McConney said.

Judge Finds Trump in Contempt Again, ‘Will Have to Consider a Jail Sanction’

Justice Merchan began by addressing the gag order violation allegations.

“Mr. Trump, as you know the prosecution has filed three separate motions asking this court to fine you in contempt,” Justice Merchan said.

He said he has found President Trump violated his gag order a tenth time.

“It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent. Therefore, going forward this court will have to consider a jail sanction,” he said. “Mr. Trump, it is important you understand the last thing I want to do is put you in jail.”

“You are the former president of the United States and a current candidate for president. I also worry about the people who would have to carry out such a sentence, the court officers, the secret service. At the end of the day, I have a job to do, and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the judicial system,” the judge said.

Justice Merchan said President Trump’s continued violations of the gag order “constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.”

“I cannot allow that to continue,” he said. “As much as I do not want to impose a jail sanction, and I have done everything that I can to avoid doing so, I want you to understand that I will if necessary.”

Trump Says Gag Order ‘Unconstitutional’ Before Heading in For Ruling on Violation Allegations

President Trump told reporters the gag order was “unconstitutional” and that the judge should have recused himself for a conflict of interest before heading into the courtroom to face Justice Merchan, who is set to rule on additional gag order violation allegations.

A reporter asked about Michael Cohen, a key witness, and President Trump did not address it.

President Trump said the prosecution was calling witnesses and showing evidence “that have nothing to do with the case.”

What to Know

Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York for 34 counts of falsifying business records in what prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office allege was a scheme to cover up negative press during the 2016 election cycle.

The trial last week featured several key testimonies and pieces of evidence.

Keith Davidson, the attorney who represented Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels) and brokered the $130,000 deal paid by Michael Cohen, pushed back on prosecutors’ claim that the payment was “hush money,” arguing it was consideration in a legal settlement paid by Mr. Cohen alone.

Hope Hicks, former communications director for the 2016 Trump Campaign and in the White House, told jurors how President Trump had reacted to news of the payment, and how she found his explanation that Mr. Cohen had done it out of the “goodness of his heart” out of character for the ex-lawyer.

Ms. Hicks broke down in tears on the witness stand as cross-examination by the defense began, and described for the court how Mr. Cohen would go “rogue” and she would joke that he only called himself a fixer because he fixed what he broke himself in the first place.

Several recordings of revealing conversations between Mr. Cohen and others—Mr. Davidson, President Trump—were also played in court. Defense attorneys then questioned an employee of the district attorney’s office in charge of processing digital evidence, who affirmed there were gaps in handling the devices from which evidence was pulled, making it possible for the evidence to be incomplete. For instance, audio recordings pulled from Mr. Cohen’s phone were shorter than the actual phone calls.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is also set to rule on four gag order violation allegations after having fined President Trump $9,000 for nine other violations.

From The Epoch Times

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