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What it means for Trump if Cohen testifies and Weisselberg does not

At the former president’s upcoming hush money trial, the two witnesses most knowledgeable about his alleged involvement and intent could not be more differently situated.

By

Just as Donald Trump’s 30-day window to appeal the ruling in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud trial is about to begin — and with it, his time to post an appeal bond of 100% to 120% of the $450 million-plus judgment (including interest) — the opening of his?next?trial looms just over 30 days from now.

That case — brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and revolving around Trump’s alleged fake business records to conceal interference with the 2016 presidential election — is set to open with jury selection on March 25. But by the time testimony is underway, you might feel an eerie sense of déjà vu.

Why? Because as with much of Trump’s pre-presidential activities and his early White House behavior, the two people best equipped to say what Trump knew and intended with his allegedly criminal conduct are once again his former lawyer turned sworn enemy, Michael Cohen, and the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer turned favorite fall guy, Allen Weisselberg.

Team Trump repeatedly crowed that Cohen was the AG’s star witness in the civil fraud trial — and a disappointing, lying one at that. But as my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin wrote this week, Judge Arthur Engoron concluded that Cohen, despite his own criminal history, was a comfortable, credible witness who told the truth.

Meanwhile, the judge characterized Weisselberg, who was both witness and defendant, as evasive and strangely forgetful — and his testimony as “highly unreliable,” due to a $2 million severance agreement with the Trump Organization signed on the eve of his sentencing in?yet another?Trump fraud case. Under that agreement, as Engoron noted, “he was not permitted to cooperate voluntarily with any law enforcement agency adverse to the Trump Organization, including the Attorney General’s Office.”

And both assessments bode well for the Manhattan DA. Because as much as Trump’s lawyers tried to inflate Cohen’s role in the civil fraud trial, his testimony will be far more central in Bragg’s upcoming criminal prosecution. After all, the statement of facts that accompanied Bragg’s indictment not only details how Trump allegedly directed Cohen’s payoff of adult film star Stormy Daniels, but it also describes alleged conversations involving Cohen, Trump and Weisselberg in which they devised — and Trump agreed to — the repayment arrangement and the false classification of those payments as “legal expenses” in Trump Organization records.

Now, with Judge Engoron’s endorsement of his credibility, Cohen is poised to provide significant testimony for the DA in the trial starting next month. Weisselberg, on the other hand, seems increasingly unlikely to get anywhere near the witness stand. Not only was he found liable on all seven claims in the AG’s civil fraud case, but The New York Times has reported that Weisselberg has been in plea negotiations with the DA’s office over his alleged perjury during that trial. That could mean we’d see Weisselberg plead guilty for the second time in two years to a felony prosecuted by the Manhattan DA — and earn a perjury conviction — near the beginning of Trump’s trial.

More importantly, however, all of those developments are likely weighing on Trump’s defense team. Could they really call Weisselberg as a witness after two convictions and a massive liability finding, all of which stem from his association with the former president? But if they don’t call him, would Cohen’s testimony about his conversations with Trump and/or Weisselberg stand unrebutted, even if subject to a withering cross-examination? Or could it potentially be countered only by America’s most undisciplined, unpredictable witness, Trump himself?

The one-two punch of Cohen’s successful testimony in the civil fraud trial and Weisselberg’s mounting misfortunes present some tough choices for Team Trump. What will they do? Watch this space.

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