former President Donald Trump

Trump defense lawyer, prosecutor clash sharply near end of former president’s hush money trial

May 29, 2024
6 mins read

The final scenes of Donald Trump’s New York hush money criminal trial unfolded Tuesday with Trump’s defense lawyer and a prosecutor clashing sharply on whether the former U.S. president illegally sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

“President Trump is innocent,” Todd Blanche declared in his three-hour closing argument. “He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof — period.”

Blanche called on the 12-member jury hearing the case to render “a very quick and easy not guilty verdict.”

But prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told the seven men and five women on the jury that Trump, the first president ever charged with criminal offenses, engaged in a conspiracy “to corrupt the 2016 election.”

“We asked you to remember to tune out the noise and to ignore the sideshows,” Steinglass told the jury. “And if you’ve done that … you will see the people have presented powerful evidence of the defendant’s guilt.”

As he ended a nearly five-hour argument against Trump, Steinglass said, “The law is the law, and it applies to everyone equally. There is no special standard for this defendant.”

Trump did not stop to comment on his nearly 11-hour day in court, but during one break in the midst of Steinglass’ arguments, he posted a one-word assessment on his Truth Social platform, “Boring!”

On Wednesday morning, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is set to read legal instructions to the jurors before handing them the case for closed-door deliberations.

Blanche repeatedly attacked the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness, onetime Trump political fixer Michael Cohen, calling the convicted perjurer “literally the greatest liar of all time.”

“He lied to you repeatedly. He lied many, many times before you even met him,” Blanche told the jurors. “He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true.”

Cohen testified during the six-week trial that Trump told him to “just do it” — pay $130,000 in hush money days ahead of the election to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to silence her claim she had a one-night sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Blanche, however, suggested Cohen made the hush money payment on his own and that Trump had no knowledge of it.

“It made perfect sense for Mr. Cohen in 2016 to make a payment without telling President Trump about it,” so he could get a high-level White House job if Trump won and a better job internally at the Trump Organization if Trump lost, Blanche said.

“What President Trump knew in 2016 you only know from one source, and I said that a few times, but it matters, and that’s Michael Cohen,” Blanche said.

Steinglass said, “You may say who cares if Mr. Trump slept with a porn star 10 years before the 2016 election. Many people feel that way. It’s harder to say the American people don’t have the right to decide for themselves whether they care or not.”

Trump has denied the liaison with Daniels and the entirety of the 34-count indictment he is facing, that he falsified business records at his Trump Organization real estate conglomerate to hide repayment of the hush money to Cohen in 2017 after he became the country’s 45th president by claiming it was for legal work Cohen did for him.

Blanche acknowledged, as the prosecution has contended, that Cohen did not have a written retainer to do legal work for Trump but said they had a verbal agreement, and that Cohen was Trump’s personal attorney after he became president in 2017.

In his closing arguments, Steinglass expressed a different view of the case and the 57-year-old Cohen, who pleaded guilty to perjury for lying to a congressional panel about a Trump Tower construction project in Moscow that never materialized — a campaign finance violation linked to the hush money payment and tax fraud. He served 13½ months in a federal prison.

“This case is not about Michael Cohen,” Steinglass told the jurors. “It’s about Mr. Trump and whether he should be held accountable for making false business entries in his own business records. Whether he and his staff did that to cover up election interference.”

The prosecutor said Cohen’s “significance in this case is that he provides context and color to the documents, the phone records. He’s like a tour guide through the physical evidence, but those documents don’t lie, and they don’t forget.”

With Blanche describing Cohen as incapable of telling the truth, Steinglass said, “We didn’t choose Michael Cohen to be our witness. We didn’t pick him up at the witness store.

“The defendant chose Michael Cohen as his fixer because he was willing to lie and cheat on his behalf,” the prosecutor told the jury. Steinglass added that Trump chose Cohen “for the same qualities” that Trump’s attorneys “now urge you to reject his testimony because of it.”

On Wednesday morning, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is set to read legal instructions to the jurors before handing them the case for closed-door deliberations.

Under the U.S. legal system, the jurors will have to unanimously decide whether to acquit the 77-year-old Trump or find him guilty. If they cannot agree, resulting in a hung jury, prosecutors then would decide whether to retry the case.

While Blanche called for Trump’s acquittal, the defense lawyer needs only to convince one of the 12 jurors that there was reasonable doubt about Trump’s guilt to achieve a mistrial with a hung jury. For a guilty verdict, U.S. jurors have to decide evidence presented by prosecutors proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty.

“We have no burden to prove anything,” Blanche told the jury. “The burden is always on the government.”

For Trump, the outcome is consequential, not only for his personal freedom but his political fate. He is the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate, set to run again in the November election against President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020.

National polls show Biden and Trump locked in a tight contest, but some opinion polls indicate Trump supporters could switch their vote to Biden or not vote at all if the former president is convicted.

If convicted, Trump could be placed on probation or be sentenced to up to four years in prison, although he is certain to appeal and could continue to run for the presidency.

Trump is facing three other indictments, including two accusing him of illegally trying to upend his 2020 election loss. But all three cases are tied up in legal wrangling between his lawyers and prosecutors. As a result, the New York case nearing completion may be the only one decided before the November election.

Trump had often said he wanted to testify in his own defense at the trial, but in the end, did not, which was his right.

Cohen testified that Trump twice approved the 2017 reimbursement plan to pay him back the hush money he sent to Daniels’ lawyer a few days before the 2016 election, including once at the White House less than three weeks after his inauguration.

Trump signed nine of the 11 payment checks to Cohen in 2017, but Blanche suggested that by then Trump was so busy as president he may not have been aware of what the checks were for.

“He was running the country,” Blanche said.

Steinglass scoffed at the suggestion that Trump was too preoccupied to not know what the checks to Cohen were for, saying that Trump headed his company for 40 years and his “entire business philosophy” was to be involved in everything, down to “negotiating the cost of the light bulbs.”

Trump urged several Republican lawmakers to show up during the trial in the seats behind the defense table as a show of support. The legislators, including House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, often stayed for an hour or two of testimony and then, because they were not subject to the gag order barring Trump from attacking witnesses and jurors, walked outside the courthouse and held news conferences to criticize witnesses against Trump, especially Cohen and Daniels.

Some of Trump’s adult children occasionally showed up at the trial, but not his wife, former first lady Melania Trump. His two oldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, were there Tuesday, as was his second daughter, Tiffany Trump.

The question for the jurors centers on Cohen’s credibility, and whether the documents in the case outweigh any doubts they may have about his checkered history.

Cohen acknowledged during hours of testimony that he has over the years been a serial liar on Trump’s behalf and to protect his own wife from tax-evasion charges. He said that as part of the hush money reimbursement plan, he stole $60,000 from the Trump company because he felt Trump had shorted him on his year-end 2016 bonus.

Cohen testified that with Trump’s consent, Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s then-chief financial officer, “grossed up” the overall reimbursement to $420,000, in part to cover Cohen’s tax liability, and that the reimbursement was paid out in $35,000 monthly increments in 2017.

Despite his pivotal role in the reimbursement, Weisselberg, now serving a five-month prison sentence for lying under oath in a previous Trump-related business fraud civil case, was not called as a witness by the prosecution, which Blanche immediately noted at the start of his closing argument.

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