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Michael Cohen is cashing in on the Trump trial with TikTok livestreams — and it could be a problem

TikTok

(NEW YORK) — After former President Donald Trump spent the day in a courtroom in downtown Manhattan last Tuesday, one of the star witnesses in the criminal hush money case against him went live on social media to talk about the trial as thousands listened.


“Trump 2024?” said Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and “fixer” who is now a central figure in the criminal case. “More like Trump 20-24 years.”

As he awaits his turn to take the witness stand, Cohen has discussed Trump, the ongoing trial, and the testimony already underway during nightly livestreams on TikTok which appear to be earning him financial benefit through viewers’ donations, according to hours of his streams viewed by ABC News.

And while the undertaking doesn’t appear to run afoul of any court order, experts say it hurts the already-blemished credibility of an essential witness in the case.

“I’d be furious,” said ABC News contributor and former Georgia prosecutor Chris Timmons. “As a prosecutor, the last thing you want your witness to do is to be talking about the case in a forum other than the courtroom.”

Jeremy Saland, a defense attorney who formerly worked in the Manhattan district attorney’s office that is now bringing the case, told ABC News that Cohen’s actions are only likely to benefit Trump’s defense.

“I have no doubt that Team Trump is scrutinizing and listening and watching whatever they can, and they are rightfully going to weaponize it in a court of law to tear down his credibility,” Saland said.

“If I’m the prosecution, I’m on the phone right now saying, ‘Stop what you are doing — right now,'” Saland added. “I can’t make you, but you need to stop for your own sake because it’s going to get worse for you in that courtroom. And you are compromising the case.”

Asked about the livestreams, Cohen on Monday told ABC News, “I am not the defendant in this criminal matter and am not the subject of Judge Merchan’s gag order. Donald is.”

“Nevertheless,” he said, “I elected, out of respect to the court and the prosecutors, to cease commenting on Trump and this matter; which I have done.”

‘See you in a month’

Trump is on trial after pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment that Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement to ABC News on Monday, Cohen said he would cease commenting on Trump and “this matter.”

“I am not the defendant in this criminal matter and am not the subject of Judge Merchan’s gag order. Donald is,” Cohen told ABC News. “Nevertheless, I elected, out of respect to the court and the prosecutors, to cease commenting on Trump and this matter; which I have done.”

The statement echoed what Cohen — who has been criticizing Trump for years — publicly announced last Wednesday on social media, when he said that he would “cease posting anything” about the former president on X until after he takes the stand in the ongoing trial.

“See you in a month (or more),” Cohen wrote on X, formally known as Twitter.

It was a move that prosecutors were pleased with, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

But just a few hours later, Cohen fired up his TikTok account, went live with thousands of viewers, and briefly talked about Trump and the trial with Rosie O’Donnell.

“I’m washing my hands of him until I end up seeing him face to face, and I am a witness on the stand to provide truthful testimony,” Cohen said at one point after O’Donnell said she hoped “we will as a nation stand up to [Trump] and the indictments will follow through and he will be held accountable for all of the horrors that he has done.”

The district attorney’s office declined to comment.

While his livestream on Thursday night was considerably less focused on Trump or the trial, Cohen has frequently hosted hours-long TikTok livestreams where he discusses the trial and the former president, and engages with thousands of viewers who ask him questions and sometimes make monetary donations.

Early on, the prosecutors bringing the case against Trump acknowledged that their witnesses have, as they put it, “some baggage,” and they attempted during jury selection to weed out those who may have a problem with that.

“Will you keep an open mind?” Steinglass asked the prospective jurors, warning them they would hear from individuals who may previously have lied or been convicted of a crime. Many said they would.

Donald Trump’s attorneys have sought to eviscerate Cohen’s credibility as a central aspect of their defense, describing him to the jury as a criminal who is “obsessed” with “getting” Trump — and is financially motivated by Trump’s downfall. Trump attorney Todd Blanche specifically told the jury about Cohen’s out-of-court statements, saying that on the eve of Trump’s trial Cohen said he had a “mental excitement” about it.

“His entire financial livelihood depends on President Trump’s destruction,” Blanche said in his opening statement. “You cannot make a serious decision about President Trump by relying on the words of Michael Cohen.”

‘I’ll just tell the truth’

Cohen’s streams often seem like a fever dream — with Trump’s one-time fixer fluctuating between personal attacks on his former boss and making heart shapes with his hands after a user sends him a gift.

This week he also detailed how he saw the trial playing out in light of testimony from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who testified that, in the runup to the 2016 election, he caught and killed negative stories about Trump as part of an agreement between him, Trump and Cohen.

“From everything that I heard from people today, well, David Pecker is basically is corroborating what I have been saying for six years,” said Cohen, who said that he’s been following the coverage by watching CNN and MSNBC. “And if I give my testimony and it corroborates his, well there you go, the circle starts closing. Then you got Hope Hicks, you got Keith Davidson, you have Stormy, you have Karen McDougal … all the way across the board, right? And that’s what will happen.”

At one point on Tuesday night, in the middle of Cohen discussing his upcoming possible testimony, a TikTok user gifted Cohen a “Knight Helmet,” which cost 199 TikTok coins. The gift placed a cartoon helmet on Cohen’s head, prompting him to stop briefly mid-sentence before continuing,

“Ultimately what will happen is it will be my day … I’ll go there with my helmet, my spear, and I’ll sit my ass in that witness stand and I’ll just tell the truth,” Cohen said.

A core feature of TikTok’s platform allows users like Cohen to monetize their livestreams by allowing viewers to donate “gifts” as they watch. After the stream ends, the gifts donated by viewers can be turned into “diamonds” to “obtain a reward payment from us, such as money or virtual items,” according to the platform’s website.

Information about revenue is only available to the TikTok account holder, so it’s unclear how much money Cohen is making on his streams. A representative for TikTok told ABC News that “the amount a creator can earn by going LIVE can vary greatly, and viewers have a range of virtual gifts to choose from.”

According to the social media company’s website, “The more often you go LIVE and engage with your audience, the more opportunities to collect diamonds and make money. By collecting diamonds, you may be able to obtain a reward payment in money or in virtual items from TikTok.”

Cohen did not specify how much he has made on the streams when asked by ABC News.

Timmons, the former prosecutor, said the financial benefit of Cohen’s social media presence is particularly problematic.

“It’s one thing to be providing out-of-court statements — that’s bad,” Timmons said. “Getting paid for them can be disastrous.”

“Anytime there’s money involved with a witness it’s a bad thing, because the jury is going to think this person is saying these things in court because they have a financial motive, not a motive of the truth,” said Timmons.

On Tuesday night’s stream, Cohen also discussed the pending gag-order ruling against the former president, just hours after the judge held a hearing on the issue.

“With the gag order — the other day Donald once again, he comes out, comes out of the courtroom and goes right into that little cage, which is where he belongs, in a f—— cage like an animal,” said Cohen.

On Tuesday morning, lawyers for the Manhattan district attorney argued for the judge overseeing the hush money case to hold the former president in contempt for repeatedly violating the limited gag order in the case, based in part on attacks he’s made against Cohen.

Prosecutors highlighted seven instances this month in which Trump made a social media post mentioning likely witnesses Cohen or Daniels; two instances when his campaign website reposted information about Cohen; and one instance where Trump suggested that “undercover liberal activists” are trying to infiltrate the case’s jury.

‘There will be no boredom’

It’s unclear what prompted Cohen to publicly announce on Wednesday that he would no longer talk about Trump on social media, but Trump’s former fixer appeared to notice that his viewership dropped as a result.

On Tuesday night, as Cohen railed against Trump and discussed the latest developments in the trial, his viewership hovered between 2,000 and 3,000. But on Wednesday, after he said he would no longer discuss the trial, his livestream count dropped below 800.

“Wow, it’s a low one — I wonder why?” Cohen said Wednesday night. “Is Wednesday, like, a big TV night or something?”

By the weekend, he was back to discussing the trial, going live on TikTok again on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night.

On Friday’s stream, Cohen reiterated what he called his “pledge to myself” not to discuss Trump or the ongoing trial — but moments later, he slammed Trump for bringing Boris Epshteyn, one of Trump’s advisers, to the trial. Epshteyn is not officially involved in the hush money case.

“For example, [Trump] brought Boris Epshteyn,” Cohen said. “Why? Who the f— knows. Boris has never tried a case in his life. So, now all the sudden what is he, a legal adviser? Yeah that’s definitely what you want.”

Cohen then praised Trump’s trial attorneys Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche for having “excellent reparations” as lawyers before questioning why Blanche decide to take on the case.

He then sparred with a viewer who commented that the “jury looked bored” during the trial, before hyping up his own potential upcoming testimony.

“Why would you say that the jury is bored? Were you there?” Cohen said. “One thing I can assure you, when I hit that stand, there will be no boredom. That I can promise you.”

“So, don’t worry so much about this jury. They are going to do the right thing based off the evidence, based off the judge gives the jury instructions, plain and simple,” Cohen said, before adding after a brief pause, “No different than any other case.”

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