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Michael Cohen's former lawyer Lanny Davis discusses Trump verdict

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

A lot of the prosecution's case in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial hung on the testimony of Trump's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen. The jury believed that evidence and convicted the former president on all 34 felony charges. This is despite the fact that Trump's defense tried to paint Cohen as, quote, "a convicted liar." Lanny Davis represented Michael Cohen in his testimony before Congress and when he pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges and violations of campaign finance laws and joins us now. Lanny Davis, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LANNY DAVIS: Thank you. I hope we can talk about the evidence, and I simply tip my hat to Michael Cohen for his bravery and what he went through to make all this possible. But I'd like to talk about the evidence and not about my client.

DETROW: How do you differentiate those two? Because the evidence was about Michael Cohen's personal character, so - or the arguments in court were so much so.

DAVIS: So I differentiate, as I've been saying for a while now, that this whole case is about documents and testimony. Michael Cohen has been a faithful and credible narrator of documents that speak for themselves and cannot be disputed. And that's why the verdict was so quick, because the documents don't lie.

DETROW: What was the most important document to you?

DAVIS: Oh, by far the one that Mr. Weisselberg, who's the closest person to Donald Trump - in fact, he's in jail and refused to testify because he's so close to Mr. Trump - he wrote out the numbers in his own handwriting, admitted into evidence in a smoking-gun document. The $130,000 that was paid to Stormy Daniels was on that sheet of paper multiplied by two. There's no way that that $130,000 can be legal fees. And the division ended up with $35,000 a month of reimbursements.

So the fact that Mr. Trump lied about them being legal fees when it's impossible to explain the $130,000 to Stormy Daniels as legal fees was a decisive document that couldn't be disputed. You didn't need Michael Cohen. You couldn't possibly dispute the fact that that $130,000 that Weisselberg wrote down as part of the reimbursement of $35,000 a month times 12. It's all about math. It's not about Michael Cohen.

DETROW: And yet both sides seem to paint him as central to the entire case, both the prosecution and the defense. He took up an entire week of testimony on the witness stand. I mean, clearly, he played a big role in this.

DAVIS: So again, I'm not going to comment on Michael other than to tout his bravery and the fact that he's been vindicated. But I do want to mention one other very important fact here - the fact that the defense and Mr. Trump actually challenged the completely indisputable fact that the money was given for campaign purposes and not because of a concern about his wife. David Pecker said that, a close friend of Mr. Trump. Hope Hicks said that, a loyal White House aid and campaign aid. So the jury is being told by Mr. Trump that it was not about campaign when the witnesses closest to him said it was. That is what I mean, that this is about documents and this is about evidence. It's not about one individual.

DETROW: One other point as people try to understand and make sense of this. Again, I'm going back to the defense's closing argument that the key connection was taking Michael Cohen's word to tie those payments to Donald Trump being aware of them and approving them. Walk through just one more time for people - many people are just tuning into this now and trying to make sense of it - what key evidence you saw making that final connection. Because a lot of time was spent on how he recalled that phone call, and you know how that phone call was really critical in the end of the case in closing arguments and in the final days of testimony.

DAVIS: Well, to make it very simple, if you fall asleep at night and there's no snow on the ground, and you wake up in the morning and it's snow on the ground, you're going to convict beyond a reasonable doubt that it snowed overnight. When Donald Trump lied and called something legal fees that his own closest counselor wrote down $130,000 times two, and then the total divided by 12 equals $35,000, guess what? It's snowed overnight. Of course Donald Trump is lying about legal fees. The minute that the jury reaches that conclusion, the fact that it was booked as legal fees they know was fraudulent, and that is what I think led them to a unanimous verdict on all 34 counts.

DETROW: You've been a close observer of this case. Any thoughts on the possible success of an appeal? Trump's team is talking about an immediate appeal.

DAVIS: Yes. And I appreciate a chance to make one other comment. His use of the federal court system, the New York State court system, to appeal is a very, very good sign that despite his repudiation of the rule of law, his mockery of the rule of law, he's going to take advantage of the rule of law and appeal. And I tip my hat to him for at least finally acknowledging that he is accountable under the rule of law and he should appeal. And if it's reversed, I will honor that reversal just as I honor a jury verdict that might have acquitted him. At least Donald Trump, for once, has to acknowledge that no person is above the law. He is subject to the rule of law. And that's very important to all of us who are Americans.

DETROW: Lanny Davis, I don't know if many people have tipped their hat to both Michael Cohen and Donald Trump in the same conversation, but you just did.

DAVIS: I have to say I don't celebrate the conviction of a former president of a crime of this magnitude. None of us should celebrate, but we should celebrate that we live in a country that believes in the rule of law.

DETROW: That is Lanny Davis. He's Michael Cohen's former attorney. Thank you so much for joining us.

DAVIS: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.