Defense, Prosecution Wrap Up Arguments In Trump Trial

The criminal hush-money trial of former President Donald Trump wound down after a long day of proceedings Tuesday as attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense presented closing arguments before jurors who are expected to begin deliberations this week.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. Period,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the jury.

The former president is charged with 34 felony counts that stem from a $130,000 payment made in October 2016 by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, to porn actor Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Trump has repeatedly denied Daniels’ claim and has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The defense presented its side of the case first. Blanche argued that Trump knew nothing about the payment to Daniels at the time it was made and that the checks at the center of the case were legitimate payments for Cohen’s legal services in 2017 as personal attorney to the president of the United States.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office opted to prosecute Trump for falsifying New York business records, structuring the charges so each corresponds to a different document — checks, invoices and other records. Trump personally signed the checks that the prosecution says reimbursed Cohen for the hush money payment, spreading them out monthly over his first year in the Oval Office, although the repayments were logged as legal expenses. Prosecutors say it was the mislabeling that makes them fraudulent records.

As he wrapped up his presentation, Blanche listed 10 aspects of the case that he thought should leave jurors with a reasonable doubt. He said there was no intent to improperly influence the 2016 presidential election, and he pushed back against the idea that allegations about extramarital affairs from ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and a former Trump Tower doorman were examples of “catch and kill” — when someone pays for rights to a story and then sits on it so it never becomes public knowledge. Blanche claimed that Daniels’ claim was already widely known because it had been referenced in a short-lived 2011 post on the celebrity blog “The Dirty.”

But Trump’s attorney spent the most time attacking Cohen’s credibility, dubbing him the “human embodiment of reasonable doubt.”

“He lied to you repeatedly. He lied many, many times before you even met him. His financial and personal well-being will depend on this case. He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true,” Blanche said.

Cohen, Blanche said, was the “MVP of lying” — the “GLOAT,” or the “Greatest Liar Of All Time.”

Former President Donald Trump returns from a break as closing arguments continue Tuesday in his criminal hush money trial in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump returns from a break as closing arguments continue Tuesday in his criminal hush money trial in New York City.

Andrew Kelly/Pool Photo via Associated Press

Prosecuting attorney Joshua Steinglass jumped at the chance to counter many of Blanche’s points.

Trump’s attorney characterized as normal the deal with American Media CEO David Pecker to use the National Enquirer tabloid to boost Trump’s campaign and also shield it from negative stories. Steinglass argued it was anything but normal, calling it a “subversion of democracy.”

He said voters had the right to evaluate the stories about Trump’s alleged affairs for themselves, including the alleged incident with Daniels. Nothing about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Pecker and American Media Inc. (AMI) represented a “normal, legitimate press function,” Steinglass said.

“We’ll never know if this effort to hoodwink the American voter made a difference in the election, but that’s not something we have to prove,” Steinglass told the jury.

He hit back at Blanche’s suggestion that only Cohen claimed the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump boasted of sexual assault, had threatened his 2016 candidacy, reminding the jury that others also testified about the massive harm caused by the audio tape, including former Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks and former Republican National Committee staffer Madeleine Westerhout.

Steinglass told the jury that they did not need to rely solely on Cohen to connect some of the dots in the case. He gave as an example the existence of the alleged conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and AMI, because Pecker had also testified about it.

Later, the prosecutor listed the “mountain” of evidence that the jury would need to disregard in order to agree with Trump’s claim that the checks totaling $420,000 represented payment for Cohen’s work as personal attorney to the president throughout 2017.

According to Steinglass, jurors would have to find that both Pecker and Keith Davidson, Daniels’ attorney, lied in their testimony that Cohen had expected to be paid back for the hush money; that Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney also lied when he said that Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg told him they were reimbursing Cohen; that they could disregard the handwritten notes detailing how Cohen would be repaid and how the amount of $420,000 was reached; and the fact that all the checks “just so happen” to equal $420,000.

“It’s easy to throw a bunch of mud on the wall and see what sticks,” Steinglass said at one point in an apparent characterization of Trump’s defense strategy.

He spent a relatively small amount of time on Daniels’ testimony, arguing that, although he thought some of the details she shared were “cringeworthy,” the level of detail she provided helped ward off attacks from the defense that she was making things up.

“Those are the kind of details … you expect someone to remember,” Steinglass told the jury.

Continuing his presentation some three-plus hours after jurors are normally dismissed for the day, Steinglass directly addressed Blanche’s assertion that Cohen went rogue. He said it defied logic that Cohen, if he were acting on his own, would delay the hush money payment to Daniels by two weeks in October 2016 and risk her going public with a damaging story.

At that time, Cohen testified, he was delaying payment because Trump did not actually want to put up the money and hoped that if he could delay it past Election Day, it would cease to matter.

“Michael Cohen is not some rogue actor here. He’s acting at the direction of the defendant,” Steinglass said.

As he finally wrapped up, the prosecutor gave three reasons why jurors should find Trump guilty.

“One,” he said, “Trump is a micromanager.”

“Second, Cohen was and is a self-promoter,” Steinglass went on, saying “it simply defies common sense” that Cohen would undertake such a “herculean” effort to silence Daniels and then keep it to himself for leverage at some unspecified later date, as the defense suggested.

“And the third reason is because the defendant was the beneficiary of this entire scheme,” Steinglass said. “The false business record benefited one person and one person only, and that is the defendant.”

“You’ve got to look at the evidence as a whole, and when you do, you’ll see that the people have proven this case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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