For Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, a ‘vindicating’ moment at last

The jury that found former president Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges delivered not only a historic verdict, but an unusual form of validation for two historically offbeat and divisive witnesses: Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

Fixer and adult-film actress, the pair made up the unlikely axis of the first-ever criminal case against an American president, bearing the uneasy hopes of Trump’s critics and the tireless mockery of his supporters. As they parlayed their roles in the hush money saga into popular books and repeated news media appearances, they were ridiculed, threatened, doubted, dragged in and out of courtrooms and, in Cohen’s case, locked up in prison.

On Thursday, the criminal justice system appeared to affirm that the most important parts of their stories had been true all along.

“Both of them have been living with this since 2016, and have had their credibility, their character, every aspect of their lives under a microscope and picked apart and obviously derided,” said E. Danya Perry, Cohen’s attorney. “It was all the more gratifying and vindicating when the jury came back with such a swift and unanimous verdict.”

Daniels’s husband, Barrett Blade, said in an interview Thursday night on CNN that she, too, was savoring the moment.

“She’s relieved,” Blade said. “It’s a big weight off her shoulders at this point.”

Washington scandals often involve large casts of lawyers and political aides. By contrast, what is the most legally consequential scandal to date of the Trump era revolved around Cohen, a taxi medallion magnate whose legal work wasn’t always legal, and Daniels, an actress who had given meteorology-themed names to her breasts. The tale they told about one of the world’s most powerful men wasn’t just ripped from the tabloids; it actually involved a tabloid publisher who became a key prosecution witness.

Based in large part on their testimony, Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to conceal $130,000 that was paid to Daniels so that she wouldn’t reveal what she alleged was a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Jurors found that the scheme was carried out to conceal Daniels’s account from voters during the 2016 presidential election.

For their critics, they lent themselves to easy caricature: Daniels as a gold-digging opportunist, and Cohen as a vengeful exile from Trumpworld. But in New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan’s Lower Manhattan courtroom, their presence seemed to rebut such simple pictures.

On the stand last month, Daniels spoke in excruciating detail, and often nervously, about a fraught encounter in a Lake Tahoe hotel room that led to sex she neither desired nor refused, and that she afterward regretted. Cohen, while speaking warmly about much of his “amazing experience” working for Trump, also delivered a calm recitation of Trump’s role in directing the illegal scheme to hide Daniels’s payoff.

Both came under intense attack on cross-examination from Trump’s lawyers.

“You have a lot of experience in making phony stories about sex appear to be real?” Trump lawyer Susan Necheles asked Daniels at one point, referring to her career acting in and directing pornographic films.

“Wow,” Daniels replied, laughing. “That’s not how I would put it. The sex in the films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room.”

At one point, another defense attorney, Todd Blanche, yelled, “That was a lie!” at Cohen as he highlighted what he asserted was a false claim about a phone call with Trump regarding the hush money payment.

Robert Bies, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business who studies leadership and the rehabilitation of disgraced public figures, said that Daniels was “reclaiming her status as a human being” and that “the jury believed her, because she was authentic.” Cohen, he said, had reached a peak of redemption after years of disgrace and distrust.

“You cannot underestimate the power of 34 guilty verdicts validating what Michael Cohen did,” Bies said, acknowledging that for many of Trump’s supporters, Cohen will never be capable of redeeming himself. “He’s not validated and rehabilitated in the eyes of a lot of people in this country. But for a lot of people, he is.”

Sam Nunberg, a former Trump adviser who has been critical of the former president, counts himself among those unmoved by Cohen’s purported redemption arc. If any of the jurors based their decisions on Cohen’s testimony, Nunberg said, “Michael used and played them” for his own purposes — principally to get back at Trump for not bringing him to Washington in 2017 and for later abandoning him when he came under federal investigation, in part because of the Daniels payment.

“He got what he wanted. He got revenge,” Nunberg said. “And he’ll eventually get his other mission goal, which is, I’m sure, he’ll profit off this handsomely.”

Cohen has denied that he craved a White House job and asserts that he turned state’s evidence against Trump for the good of the country.

Any elation experienced after Thursday’s verdict by Cohen and Daniels may soon be tempered. Trump vowed to appeal on Friday during a news conference at Trump Tower in which he seemed to again deny that he ever had sex with Daniels and attacked Cohen at length without mentioning his name.

“He’s a sleazebag,” Trump said. “Everybody knows that.”

Though his time in prison is over, Cohen is still under court supervision following his own guilty pleas to campaign finance violations, tax evasion, making false statements to a bank and lying to Congress. He is also under the watchful eye of a federal judge who has expressed skepticism about his truthfulness.

Daniels still owes Trump more than $400,000 in legal fees for failed defamation lawsuits filed by her former lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who is now in prison for embezzling from her and other clients. She is also embroiled in a potentially costly lawsuit filed by a Texas horse trainer who says Daniels defamed her, an allegation Daniels denies.

While Daniels laid low Thursday night, allowing her husband and her attorney to speak on her behalf, Cohen made no secret of his feelings of vindication about the verdict — first in an appearance with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and then in a TikTok live stream. During his TikTok appearance, as viewers superimposed sunglasses and cowboy hats on his image, Cohen engaged in conversation with Rosie O’Donnell, a longtime Trump antagonist with whom he has become friendly.

“I’m just so proud of what you’ve done, Michael,” O’Donnell said. “I hope that you can take in the enormity of it, maybe not today, but in the future. Just know that your strength and your actions were paramount in getting this man, who has avoided accountability his whole life, finally to be held accountable.”

“Yeah,” Cohen replied. “I’m working on that.”

Blair Guild contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post