Michael Cohen is Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer who was for more than a decade his Mr Fix-It, but is now the prosecution’s star witness as it builds its case that the former US president sought to conceal hush-money payments to an adult film star.

It is a classic story of two men who once worked hand-in-glove together, when Trump was a world-famous billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star, but now face each other across a Manhattan courtroom with the world’s attention fixed on them.

Cohen served as Trump’s trusted adviser, personal attorney and self-described “attack dog with a law license”. But the relationship soured after Trump won the US presidential election in 2016 and did not offer Cohen a role in his administration.

Cohen’s testimony could place Trump at the center of a scheme to meet Daniels’ demand for $130,000 in exchange for her silence. The payment, made from an account Cohen had set up, were allegedly repaid while Trump was president but disguised as “legal services”.

Cohen, a native of Long Island, began practicing law as a personal injury lawyer in 1992 and joined the Trump Organization in 2006. He’d told Trump he’d read his book The Art of the Deal twice and soon became a close confidant.

In a 2018 profile, it was noted that Cohen performed a role much like that of Roy Cohn, the notorious New York political and legal fixer who had worked for Trump and his father. Cohen’s duties led him into fixing situations of a sensitive nature, including setting up “catch-and-kill” arrangements with David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer, which has circuitously led to today’s court confrontation.

But Cohen, who once said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump, may present a conflicted witness to jurors.

Cohen has served time in prison in relation to those payments, lying to Congress, as well as a series to tax frauds to which he pleaded guilty. But he also is on a personal mission for redemption, a sinner turned proselyte, who now disavows the years he spent serving Trump.

Cohen, who is disbarred from practicing law, will be grilled over the reimbursements he received from Trump – payments that form the basis of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records against Trump.

The case against Trump is likely to succeed or fail on whether jurors believe his account, or lean toward the defense claims presented in opening arguments that he is an “admitted liar” with an “obsession to get President Trump”.

The former president’s lawyers have argued that Cohen perjured himself again when he testified at Trump’s civil fraud trial last year. They claim that Cohen has made a living from antagonizing his former (and only) client. He appeared last week in a live TikTok wearing a shirt featuring a figure resembling Trump with his hands cuffed, behind bars.

“He has a goal, an obsession with getting Trump, and you’re going to hear that,” defense lawyer Todd Blanche told jurors in his opening statement.

The bitter enmity between Trump, who once praised Cohen as a “fine person with a wonderful family” and predicted he would never “flip”, and his former lawyer is obvious. Both men have been warned by Judge Juan Merchan to stop making public comments about the other.

“Oh by the way for Donald, since we’re talking about convicted felons, see you on Tuesday, pal,” Cohen has said, alluding to how that label of “felon” might soon apply to Trump. “See you on Tuesday” is coded for a more direct insult.

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