Michael Cohen hasn't taken the stand in Trump's hush money trial. But jurors are hearing his words

NEW YORK (AP) — The prosecution’s star witness has yet to take the stand in Donald Trump’s hush money trial. But jurors are already hearing Michael Cohen’s words as prosecutors work to directly tie Trump to payments to silence women with damaging claims about him before the 2016 election.

The second week of testimony in the case will wrap up Friday after jurors heard a potentially crucial piece of evidence: a recording of Trump and Cohen, then his attorney, discussing a plan to pay off an ex−Playboy model who claimed to have an affair with Trump. The former president denies the affair.

Prosecutors have spent the week using detailed testimony about meetings, email exchanges, business transactions and bank accounts to build on the foundation of their case accusing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election. They are setting the stage for pivotal testimony from Cohen, who paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence before he went to prison for the hush money scheme.

Trump’s defense has worked to poke holes in the credibility of prosecutors’ witnesses, and show that Trump was trying to protect his reputation and family — not his campaign — by keeping the women quiet. The defense also suggested while questioning an attorney who represented two women in hush money negotiations that Trump was, in fact, the victim of extortion.

The recording played Thursday was secretly made by Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen is heard telling Trump about a plan to purchase the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so that it would never come out. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

At one point in the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken to then−Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up with funding.”

Trump can be heard responding: “What do we got to pay for this? One−fifty?”

Trump suggested the payment be made with cash, prompting Cohen to object by repeatedly saying “no." Trump then says “check” before the recording cuts off.

Prosecutors played the recording after calling to the stand Douglas Daus, a forensic analyst from the Manhattan district attorney’s office who performed analyses on iPhones Cohen turned over to authorities during the investigation. Daus will return to the stand Friday morning, and it’s not clear who will follow him.

Jurors also heard more than six hours of crucial testimony this week from Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented McDougal and Daniels in their negotiations with Cohen and the National Enquirer — the tabloid that bought and buried negative stories in an industry practice known as “catch−and−kill.” Davidson on Thursday described being shocked that his hidden−hand efforts might have contributed to Trump winning the 2016 election.

“What have we done?” Davidson texted the then−editor of the National Enquirer on election night when it became clear that Trump was going to win. “Oh my god,” the tabloid editor responded.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way — strike that — our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson told jurors.

Trump’s lawyers sought earlier in the day to blunt the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, he had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

“I had no personal interactions with Donald Trump. It either came from my clients, Mr. Cohen or some other source, but certainly not him,” Davidson said.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records. The charges stem from things like invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in Trump Organization records when prosecutors say they were really reimbursements to Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels.

Michael R. Sisak, Jake Offenhartz, Philip Marcelo And Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press

Photo: AP