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Column: Michael Cohen is boring, and that’s trouble for Trump

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court on Monday.
(Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)
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Happy Tuesday. There are 174 days left until the election, and in honor of Mother’s Day, we’ll start with Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, who seems intent on freaking people out, even in her own party.

Britt, you may recall, gained fame for her GOP rebuttal speech to President Biden’s State of the Union speech, in which she tried to go all caring-mom but came across so uncanny valley, even her own party trolled her for her weirdly timed smiles and creepy-earnest vibe.

She’s baaaack!

Last week Britt made another video to introduce her More Opportunities for Moms to Succeed (MOMS) act, which will never go anywhere. Not because of its anti-abortion hard line, or even its data collection on pregnant women. But because it would allow women to collect child support for their “unborn” children.

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Fetus support payments.

To which her male congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle mentally screamed, “Oh, hell no!”

Congratulations, Katie! You’ve created bipartisan agreement in a contentious reproductive rights issue.

But now back to the Donald Trump trial, which has me screaming, “Oh, hell no!” Will this never end?

The Don apparently kept his eyes closed for most of Michael Cohen’s testimony on Monday. I hate to break it to you, Donald, but he’s still there even if you can’t see him.

The Wayback Machine

A sketch of Michael Cohen as he testifies on the witness stand.
A sketch of Michael Cohen as he testifies on the witness stand Monday in New York.
(Elizabeth Williams / Associated Press)

Everyone knows this trial is about whether the $130,000 payment made by Cohen to Stormy Daniels was election interference. But eight years after the fact, with so many Trump traumas rattling our brains, it’s hard to remember why we would have cared about one more terrible thing he did or said.

So let’s jump back: October 2016.

It’s one month before the election, Barack Obama is still president, and no one on the left really thinks Trump is going to win. Not that they shouldn’t believe it, just that they can’t.

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Polls say Hillary Clinton is leading, ahead by double-digits among women. That’s a problem for Trump.

Then, on Oct. 7, the Washington Post publishes a bombshell audio recording of Trump and Billy Bush from a 2005 taping of the TV show “Access Hollywood.”

The tape is old but the mic is hot.

This is the now-infamous “Grab them by the pussy” recording in which Trump seemed to imply he could and did sexually assault any woman he wanted because he was famous and could get away with it, then pops a couple Tic Tacs.

It dropped two days before a debate with Clinton, where she went after him on stage for it. And according to Cohen’s testimony, it was a big deal in Trump world — he and his advisors, including Cohen, feared it would turn off more female voters.

Cohen testified that Trump thought, guys may “think it’s cool,” but feared, “women are going to hate me.”

“This is going to be a disaster for the campaign,” Cohen recalled Trump saying.

Trump was so worried about it that he did the unthinkable: apologize.

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So when Stormy Daniels at the same time threatened to go public with her account of having sex with him just after Melania Trump gave birth to Barron, Trump really wanted to quash that story. At least until after the election.

In hindsight, we know that Trump voters literally do not care what the guy does. But back then, their cult-like loyalty was only forming and Daniels’ threat felt real.

Boring is good

This is the world Cohen took the jurors back to in somewhat uneventful testimony on Monday, staying calm and collected — a level of boring-ness that seemed effective and compelling.

Without a doubt, Cohen is both the most important and most troubled witness in the trial, because only he can provide the information necessary for a guilty verdict, but also, he’s a self-confirmed liar who went to prison and super-duper hates Trump, the way you can only hate someone you’ve loved.

But the entire conviction rests on whether Trump:

A) Told Cohen to make the payment (and paid him back) and;
B) Wanted it made to keep those female voters from being grossed out by endless tales of his womanizing

That would be election interference.

Cohen walked the jury through both of those points. He testified that he did not, in fact, leverage $130,000 on his home equity line of credit to pay Daniels just because he felt like it. Instead, he told the court that he’d tried to get others in Trump’s orbit to foot the bill in a way that couldn’t be traced back to the big man, but everyone else slunk out of it.

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So he was stuck paying himself.

The HELOC, Cohen said, was the fastest way he could get the money without his wife knowing. Because, presumably, Mrs. Cohen was not in the business of using a loan against their home to keep Trump out of trouble. Go figure.

Cohen also detailed conversations with Trump’s inner circle, including Hope Hicks, about how to spin the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Cohen said it was Melania Trump’s idea to label it “locker room talk.”

Trump has long claimed that he didn’t have sex with Daniels and didn’t tell Cohen to pay the bill to keep her quiet. But also, he says if it’s true he didn’t want the story out, it’s because he didn’t want to upset Melania — nothing to do with the election.

But here’s the takeaway: Cohen delivered.

Cohen sounded truthful. He had the receipts, literally. With every witness, it becomes harder for the jury not to take this walk with prosecutors.

The cross-exam will likely start Tuesday — we’ll see if he holds up.

Audience matters

But while the star witness was on the stand, the audience at the Trump trial is worth noting as well. Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance showed up, then spent some time bashing the proceedings to press and on social media. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) was with him.

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A few days ago, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) did his time in the gallery, then attacked the judge’s family out front.

With Trump under a gag order, he’s been using his closest allies — and vice presidential contenders — as surrogates.

Which sycophants are willing to trek to a Manhattan courtroom to score some points with their dear leader is worth keeping an eye on — like Cohen once was, these are the people who might do anything for him.

What else you should be reading

The must-read: Democrats hold leads in 4 crucial races that could decide Senate control
The justice matters: Exclusion of Jewish jurors prompts review of California death row cases
The L.A. Times Special: Supreme Court denies California’s plea for immunity for COVID-19 deaths at San Quentin

Stay Golden,
Anita Chabria

P.S. The Northern Lights made it to California

Northern Lights as seen from San Rafael, Calif.
(Anadolu/Anadolu via Getty Images)


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