Donald Trump finally got his long-awaited courtroom showdown with his one-time lawyer Michael Cohen on Tuesday, as the former president made a big show of gawking at his former top aide as Trump’s new favorite attack dog, Alina Habba, went after Cohen for his checkered past.
He took the fall for his boss years ago—and Trump wasn’t going to let him forget it.
The former president isn’t legally required to attend his own bank fraud trial against the New York Attorney General, given that it’s a civil case. And not attending would make sense, given that he’s running for president and was campaigning in New Hampshire just the day before.
But Trump wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
“You get to answer my questions. The more we do that, the better,” Habba lectured Cohen while pacing back and forth. “Answer the questions or we'll be here ‘til January.”
She then proceeded to go line-by-line through his previous guilty plea in federal court for tax evasion and lying on paperwork—the fall that ruined his life—quoting prosecutors who said “he was motivated to do so by personal greed.”
“You pled guilty, didn't you?” she asked.
“I did,” he responded.
Trump, who spent much of the day leaning forward and grumbling to his lawyers, then began to lean back in his chair as Habba tore into Cohen for trying to walk back his criminal past in court.
“Did you lie to Judge Pauley when you said, under oath, that you were guilty of it?”“Yes,” he said, as people in the courtroom gasped.Habba, a MAGA firebrand who has since replaced Cohen as Trump’s closest legal adviser, had been looking forward to this moment for months—something she discussed openly as the case made its way to trial. While every other lawyer in the room wore standard blue or gray suits, Habba showed up in a royal purple.
Things quickly got heated when Habba asked whether Cohen told his own wife that he had cheated on his taxes. Cohen himself tried to object—with the disbarred attorney citing case law that would purportedly allow him to do so. When assistant attorney general Colleen K. Faherty complained that this line of inquiry was “below the belt,” defense lawyer Christopher Kise chimed in.
“He is a serial liar, and if he lied to his wife, it’s relevant for impeachment,” Kise said.
Now three weeks in, the AG sees this as an opportunity for the judge to finally hear from a former Trump Organization insider who claims to know how the company books were cooked at Trump Tower’s 26th floor. It’s something he’s already described for years in a book, podcasts, and calls with reporters. But now he’s under oath.
Meanwhile, it was top-notch entertainment for Trump, who apparently hasn’t seen Cohen face-to-face in years.
Cohen is a key witness in the former president’s bank fraud trial. As Trump’s personal counsel, Cohen paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about her one-night stand with the business tycoon—only to have the feds come after him for violating campaign finance laws to save his 2016 presidential run. He took the fall for Trump and served time in an upstate New York federal prison, then spent the subsequent years suing his former boss and assisting the Manhattan District Attorney and New York AG Letitia James build their own cases against him.
James has cited Cohen’s 2019 congressional testimony, in which he laid out how the Trump Organization fakes its financial numbers to pad Trump’s wealth, as the event that triggered her investigation. Since then, her legal team has uncovered the way Trump routinely inflated the prices of his properties—in one instance, tripling the size of his Trump Tower penthouse by simply making up an additional 20,000 feet of non-existent space.
On Tuesday, Trump walked into court wearing a bright blue tie and licking his lips the way men do when they're itching for a fight. Habba didn’t disappoint.
When the judge noted that Habba only had five minutes left on the clock for the day, Habba cracked a joke—and obliquely referenced what everyone knew was going on: a show for the business tycoon.
“If it's entertaining I'm happy to go all night,” she chuckled. “You're no ‘Mea Culpa’—you're not on your podcast—and you're not on CNN.”
So far, this is Trump’s best chance for something akin to revenge against his former right-hand man. The former president sued Cohen in Florida federal court, alleging that Cohen violated his sacred duty as a lawyer by stabbing his former client in the back—only to call the whole thing off just as Trump was supposed to show up for a deposition to answer questions under oath.
Earlier in the afternoon, Cohen was questioned by Faherty. He started his testimony by reviewing his checkered past, noting that he’d spent years at a federal prison in upstate New York after pleading guilty to tax evasion and violating campaign finance laws—the latter as part of a scheme to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels in the closing days of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to keep her quiet about their one-night stand.Trump and his team remained quiet during most of Cohen’s most damning testimony, in which he described his role at the Trump Organization: a job that involved high-level meetings with then-CFO Allen Weisselberg during which the business tycoon would direct them to reconfigure the numbers so that he’d be worth whatever he dreamed of at that moment.
“It was reverse engineering,” Cohen said, recalling how Trump would say, “I’m not worth four-and-a-half billion. I’m worth more like… six.”Cohen said they'd swap out values “based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected… and my responsibility, along with Allen Weisselberg, predominantly, was to reverse engineer the various different asset classes, increase those assets in order to achieve the number that Mr. Trump had tasked us to.”