Todd Blanche, Trump’s Lawyer in Hush-Money Trial, Cross-Examines Cohen

Donald J. Trump’s defense lawyer had waited a day and a half for this moment, to rise and begin the cross-examination of the prosecution’s star witness. Right out of the gate, he tried to set the tone for how the proceedings would unfold.

Did you, Todd Blanche asked Michael D. Cohen, go on TikTok and call me a “crying little shit?”

Soon afterward, there was a sidebar, out of earshot of jurors. According to a transcript, Justice Juan M. Merchan asked Mr. Blanche, “Why are you making this about yourself?” The lawyer protested, but the judge stood firm. “Just don’t make it about yourself,” he said.

That matter dispensed with, Mr. Blanche went on to ask Mr. Cohen about the T-shirts he sells online that show Mr. Trump in a jumpsuit behind bars, and about whether he lied in past interactions with federal prosecutors about, say, the Trump Tower Moscow project. As if trying to keep his cool, Mr. Cohen answered metronomically slowly at times.

Mr. Blanche seem to struggle in his first day of cross-examination to land a “gotcha” moment on Tuesday afternoon, grilling Mr. Cohen about a dizzying variety of past interactions spanning years. This case is only Mr. Blanche’s second criminal trial as a defense lawyer, and one of his few state court engagements.

He sought to portray Mr. Cohen as a stalker bent on revenge against Mr. Trump for turning his back on him — no real surprise, considering that Mr. Cohen’s two books are titled “Disloyal” and “Revenge.”

Watching the proceedings, it could be easily forgotten that just over a year ago, Mr. Blanche was a registered Democrat in New York and a partner at Wall Street’s oldest law firm. But in the months since, he has fallen in behind his new client professionally and, it would seem, personally. He bought a home in Florida near Mar-a-Lago, where he can meet Mr. Trump with little notice, and brought his family to a Trump event on Super Tuesday.

The swift transformation in service of a defendant whom many prominent lawyers have refused to represent surprised those who have worked alongside Mr. Blanche over the years. The former president is known for cycling through lawyers as much as he is for ignoring their bills. And yet Mr. Blanche, 49, hopped off the comfortable career track of a federal prosecutor and white-collar defense lawyer to take his case.

“I have heard from a good number of people in the S.D.N.Y. who have said, ‘Why the heck would Todd do this — why would he ever take this case?’” Elie Honig, a CNN senior legal analyst who worked with Mr. Blanche at the Southern District of New York, said in a recent profile. “My response is, generally, when did we become pearl-clutchers about defense lawyers defending defendants?”

“That’s what the job is and what our system requires,” he added.

Mr. Blanche’s friends call him deeply loyal and committed to the notion that Mr. Trump should not be on trial in the Manhattan case. He is both competitive and, unlike his famous client, soft-spoken.

So he may have been reaching outside of his comfort zone on Tuesday when, in exchange after exchange, he sought to show jurors a glimpse of Mr. Cohen’s unfiltered side, only to be met with the witness’s persistent calm.

“Do you want President Trump to get convicted in this case?” Mr. Blanche asked.

“Sure,” Mr. Cohen responded.

A short while later, Mr. Blanche asked: Had Mr. Cohen called Mr. Trump a “boorish cartoon misogynist” and “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain?”

Sounds like something I would say, Mr. Cohen responded.

Maggie Haberman, Ben Protess, Jonah E. Bromwich and Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

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