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Trump eyes witness stand as trial draws to a close

AFP – Donald Trump’s trial on charges of covering up hush money payments to a film star entered its closing stages yesterday with the door still open to the former United States (US) president taking the stand.

Most experts said it is highly unlikely he will testify in his watershed criminal trial, the first ever of a former US president, as it would expose him to unnecessary legal jeopardy and forensic cross-examination by prosecutors.

But last Thursday, Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche raised the prospect his client could step up as a witness, telling the judge “that’s another decision we need to consider”.

Before any testimony by Trump, defence lawyers will first conclude their grilling of the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Cohen. Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer turned tormentor, recounted how he kept Trump informed about USD130,000 paid to film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about an alleged affair ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Over several days of questioning, Trump’s lawyers have set out to paint Cohen as a convicted criminal and a habitual liar, recalling his time in prison for tax fraud and lying to Congress.

Those arguments, among other grievances, have also been echoed outside the courthouse by an expanded entourage of Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, who have shown up to publicly back their party’s leader. Cohen has said repeatedly he takes “responsibility” for his actions and has faced the consequences. Prior to the trial, including in his books, he had done little to hide his contempt for his former boss.

Blanche has striven to ruffle Cohen, who has a reputation for a temper that could hurt him on the stand, but the witness has stayed largely composed and on topic.

His story has generally lined up with Daniels and David Pecker, the tabloid boss who said he worked with Trump and Cohen to suppress negative coverage during the Republican’s 2016 White House run. Trump meanwhile has complained his election campaign for another White House term is being stymied by the weeks-long court proceedings, which he has to attend every day. Branding the case as politicised, he has been supported by a coterie of leading Republicans who stand behind him as he gives remarks to reporters outside the courtroom.

The growing list includes several lawmakers in the running to be Trump’s vice presidential pick, such as Ohio Senator JD Vance and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

Trump last Thursday again raged against “what a scam this whole thing is”.

“I’ve been sitting here for almost four weeks. And we still have a long way to go,” he said.

ABOVE & BELOW: Michael Cohen; and Donald Trump. PHOTO: AP