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The Latest | Defense Targets Michael Cohen's Testimony in Closing Arguments in Trump Hush Money Case
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By Associated Press
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 28, 2024

Closing arguments in Trump's hush money trial began in a Manhattan courtroom. The case is the first of Trump's four indictments to go to trial. (AP/Andrew Kelly)

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NEW YORK — Closing arguments in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial began Tuesday morning in a Manhattan courtroom, giving prosecutors and defense attorneys one final opportunity to convince the jury of their respective cases before deliberations begin.

Defense and Prosecution’s Closing Arguments

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche said he expected to speak for about 2 1/2 hours while prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said he might go as long as 4½ hours.

Jurors will undertake the unprecedented task of deciding whether to convict the former U.S. president of felony criminal charges stemming from hush money payments tied to an alleged scheme to buy and bury stories that might wreck Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The Heart of the Charges

At the heart of the charges are reimbursements paid to Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment that was given to porn actor Stormy Daniels in exchange for not going public with her claim about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen, Trump’s then-lawyer, were falsely logged as “legal expenses” to hide the true nature of the transactions.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing.

He pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records, charges which are punishable by up to four years in prison.

Timeline of the Trial

Closing arguments are expected to last all day Tuesday, with jury deliberations beginning as soon as Wednesday.

The case is the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial as he seeks to reclaim the White House from Democrat Joe Biden.

The other cases center on charges of illegally hoarding classified documents at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It’s unclear whether any of them will reach trial before the November election.

Blanche Argues ‘People Already Knew’ About Daniels’ Claims

Turning to Stormy Daniels’ story, defense lawyer Todd Blanche noted in his summation that her allegations of a 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump were aired on a gossip site in 2011 — four years before Trump announced his presidential candidacy. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels.

“So how could this issue have influenced the election?” Blanche argued. “People already knew about the allegations.”

At the behest of Daniels and Michael Cohen, the story was taken off the site.

Blanche asserted that the real impetus behind Daniels’ interest in making a deal in 2016 was that some people wanted to use the election as pressure to “extort” Trump.

Following a brief morning break, Blanche singled out that Daniels issued two statements in 2018 denying that she’d ever had a sexual encounter with Trump. She testified earlier in the hush money trial that she signed off on them at her lawyer’s urging.

Defense Denies Recorded Conversation Was About Payoff of Former Model

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche spotlighted a key piece of prosecution evidence during his summation: the secret recording Michael Cohen says he made of himself briefing Donald Trump on a plan to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer.

Blanche said the September 2016 recording, which cuts off before the conversation finishes, is unreliable and was actually about a plan to buy a collection of material on Trump that the National Enquirer had been hoarding — not McDougal. Cohen has said the audio cut off because the iPhone he was using to make the recording was receiving a phone call.

“There is no doubt that this recording discussed AMI and discussed Mr. Pecker,” Blanche said, referring to the National Enquirer’s parent company and then-publisher. “There is a lot of doubt that it discussed Karen McDougal.”

After playing parts of the recording, Blanche urged jurors to trust their ears when deciphering a specific part — whether Trump mentioned a dollar figure that he might have to spend, as Cohen and prosecutors contend, or whether he said something else.

“What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump said, according to Cohen and prosecutors, as in $150,000.

“Listen to the recording. See if you hear one-fifty,” Blanche told jurors.

Trump Campaign Holds Its Own News Conference

Donald Trump’s campaign staffers held their own news conference outside the courthouse Tuesday morning in the exact same spot where actor Robert De Niro and Jan. 6 officers had just spoken on behalf of Joe Biden’s campaign.

Jason Miller, Trump’s senior campaign advisor, called De Niro “a washed-up actor,” and said the news conference showed that the hush money trial was political.

“After months of saying politics had nothing to do with this trial, they showed up and made a campaign event out of a lower Manhattan trial day for President Trump,” Miller said.

Karoline Leavitt, the campaign press secretary, called the Biden campaign “desperate and failing” and “pathetic” and said their event outside the trial was “a full-blown concession that this trial is a witch hunt that comes from the top.”

Blanche: ‘This Wasn’t a Catch and Kill’

The defense in Donald Trump’s hush money trial took issue on Tuesday with the notion that there was a conspiracy to suppress negative stories to help Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche pointed to American Media Inc.’s $30,000 payment to Dino Sajudin, a former Trump Tower doorman who falsely alleged the former president had fathered a child out of wedlock. It was one of three potentially damaging stories about Trump the tabloid did not run.

Blanche then pointed to former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker’s testimony that he saw the doorman story as a potential blockbuster and would gladly have published it if it had been true.

“This isn’t a catch and kill. This is an opportunity,” Blanche said. “It was worth too much to catch and kill, full stop.”

He also noted Pecker had testified that the tabloid only published about half the stories they purchased.

“That’s meaningful. That matters,” Blanche told the jury.

He later targeted prosecutors’ portrayal of Karen McDougal’s deal with AMI as part of the purported hush money conspiracy, emphasizing testimony from her lawyer and others that she didn’t want her claim published.

Rather, Blanche said, the former Playboy model wanted to reenergize her career by getting into magazines, according to the testimony — though McDougal herself didn’t testify.

“This was not a catch-and-kill,” Blanche said.

De Niro: Trump Is a Threat to Democracy

Robert De Niro said Tuesday morning that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump does not belong in the White House. The actor was campaigning for President Joe Biden in lower Manhattan, joined by former law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Robert De Niro, center, argues with a Donald Trump supporter after speaking to reporters in support of President Joe Biden across the street from Trump’s criminal trial in New York, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP/Seth Wenig)

They stood not far from where closing arguments were happening in Trump’s criminal hush money trial. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

De Niro said if Trump returns to the White House, Americans can “kiss these freedoms goodbye that we all take for granted.”

Blanche Urges Jurors to Disregard ‘Conspiracy’ Concerns

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche implored the jury in Donald Trump’s criminal trial to reject the prosecution’s contention that he engaged in a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election by involving himself in efforts to bury negative stories about him — and to reject the allegation that, after the fact, he falsified records of Michael Cohen’s payments to hide that conspiracy.

“The government wants you to believe that President Trump did these things with his records to conceal efforts to promote his successful candidacy in 2016, the year before,” Blanche said.

“Even that, even if you find that is true, that is not enough … it doesn’t matter if there’s a conspiracy to win an election. Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate, a group of people who are working together to help somebody win.”

Defense Says Trump Watches His Finance Carefully

After arguing earlier Tuesday that Donald Trump may not have been fully aware of all his invoices, defense lawyer Todd Blanche stressed to jurors that the former president was a stickler about watching his finances.

Michael Cohen received $420,000 in all from Trump in 2017, a sum that the ex-lawyer and prosecutors in the former president’s hush money case have said included the $130,000 reimbursement related to Stormy Daniels, a $50,000 repayment for an unrelated expense and a $60,000 bonus. On top of that, prosecutors have said, there was extra money to cover taxes that would be due on the $130,000 as income — taxes that wouldn’t apply if it had simply been paid as a business expense reimbursement.

“That is absurd,” Blanche told jurors, pointing to “all the other evidence you heard about how carefully President Trump watches his finances.”

Actor Robert De Niro and Jan. 6 First Responders Speak Near Trump’s Trial

Biden campaign deploys actor Robert De Niro, Jan. 6 first responders near Trump’s trial

Joe Biden’s campaign sent actor Robert De Niro and two law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to an area in lower Manhattan not far from the criminal court where Donald Trump’s hush money trial is happening.

Speaking while the former president was stuck in court, De Niro said Trump wants to “destroy not only the city but the country and eventually he could destroy the world.”

As he spoke, Trump protesters screamed anti-Biden chants.

Trump Was Extremely Busy When Signing Checks, Blanche Says

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche stressed during his summation on Tuesday that Donald Trump was busy during the time when he signed the checks at the heart of the hush money case.

“It matters where President Trump was,” Blanche said.

He noted Trump assistant Madeleine Westerhout had testified that the then-president would sometimes sign checks while meeting with people or while on the phone, not knowing what they were.

Blanche argued it was unreasonable to suggest Trump was aware of the details of every invoice just because he knew of some. “That is a stretch and that is reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen,” he said.

Blanche Criticizes Prosecutions Use of Trump’s Books and More

About an hour into the defense’s closing arguments in Donald Trump’s hush money case, defense lawyer Todd Blanche took aim at the prosecution’s use of excerpts from Trump’s books to attempt to portray him as a detail-oriented micromanager who would be fully aware of any money his company was spending.

The books were from a decade ago, if not older, and were written with the help of ghostwriters, Blanche told the jury.

“You should be suspicious. That’s a red flag,” Blanche said in an effort to pre-empt the prosecution’s closing.

Blanche then started digging into the details of how payments to Michael Cohen were made, first through a trust set up to hold Trump’s assets while he was in the White House, then through Trump’s personal bank account with checks signed by the then-president.

“This was a very confusing time for the Trump Organization,” Blanche said. There were a lot of adjustments being made as Trump’s assets were put under the trust’s control and it was the first time in decades that Trump wasn’t in charge, he added.

At one point, early in the repayment process in 2017, the then-Trump Organization finance chief emailed a subordinate that it was OK to pay Cohen out of the trust per an agreement with Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who were running the Trump Organization’s day-to-day operations at the time. Both were in court on Tuesday.

Blanche questioned why, if prosecutors allege Trump was involved in a conspiracy to conceal the nature of the payments, the sons he put in charge of his company weren’t called to the witness stand.

Cohen Was Trump’s Personal Attorney, Blanche Reiterates

A key part of prosecutors’ claims in Donald Trump’s hush money case is that his former lawyer Michael Cohen wasn’t being paid for legal work in 2017, but rather was being reimbursed in a veiled way for the Stormy Daniels payment.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche pointed to emails and testimony Tuesday showing that Cohen did indeed work on some legal matters for Trump that year.

While Cohen characterized that work as “very minimal,” Blanche argued otherwise.

“Cohen lied to you. Cohen lied to you,” Blanche said, his voice getting more emphatic.

Blanche noted that Cohen went on TV to discuss his role as Trump’s personal lawyer and put the title in the signature block of every email he sent.

“This was not a secret. Michael Cohen was President Trump’s personal attorney. Period,” he said.

Biden and Trump Campaigns Hold Dueling News Conferences Outside Courthouse

Joe Biden’s campaign announced on Tuesday that it would hold an event with “special guests” as closing arguments in Donald Trump’s hush money trial are underway.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the former president’s allies will respond with their own event immediately following Biden’s.

He posted on the social platform X that Biden’s allies “aren’t in PA, MI, WI, NV, AZ or GA — they’re outside the Biden Trial against President Trump,” adding: “It’s always been about politics.”

PowerPoint Closing

The defense in Donald Trump’s criminal trial is using a PowerPoint presentation as it begins its summation and tries to convince the jury that the former president is not guilty, instead shifting blame to former lawyer Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization.

Todd Blanche showed jurors copies of the invoices, vouchers and checks that are at the heart of the hush money case — vouchers and checks he says were entered and prepared by the Trump Organization’s accounting department.

The PowerPoint also notes Cohen sent the invoices for his services. None of the invoices were sent directly to Trump, Blanche said.

Blanche Takes Aim at Cohen’s Testimony

Insisting that prosecutors haven’t proven their case, defense lawyer Todd Blanche told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday morning that they “should want and expect more” than key prosecution witness Michael Cohen’s testimony, or that of a Trump Organization employee accounts payable staffer talking about how she processed invoices, or the testimony given by Stormy Daniels’ former lawyer Keith Davidson.

Blanche argued that Davidson “was really just trying to extort money from President Trump” in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

“The consequences of the lack of proof that you all heard over the past five weeks is simple: is a not guilty verdict, period,” Blanche said.

Blanche further laid into Cohen and his testimony, telling jurors he’ll come up repeatedly throughout the defense’s summation.

“You’re going to hear me talk a lot about Michael Cohen, and for good reason. You can not convict President Trump, you can not convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said. Cohen “told you a number of things that were lies, pure and simple,” the lawyer added.

Defense Begins Closing Arguments

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche began his closing argument Tuesday morning by telling jurors that Donald Trump “is innocent” of the charges against him.

“He did not commit any crimes and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. Period,” Blanche said before adding that evidence in the case “should leave you wanting.”

“This case is about documents. It’s a paper case. This case is not about an encounter with Stormy Daniels 18 years ago, an encounter that President Trump has unequivocally and repeatedly denied ever occurred,” Blanche said. “Nor is it about the confidential settlement and non-disclosure agreement that Daniels entered into eight years ago.”

Merchan Explains Closing Arguments Process

Jurors in Donald Trump’s criminal trial were attentive Tuesday morning as Judge Juan M. Merchan explained the closing arguments process — that by law the defense must go first and prosecutors must go last.

Merchan says he’ll leave it up to the jury if they want to work past 4:30 p.m., the normal end of the court day, to accommodate both summations in their entirety, rather than spilling into Wednesday.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche said he expects to speak for about 2½ hours during the defense’s part of closing arguments while prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said he may go as long as 4½ hours.

Trump: It’s ‘A Dark Day in America’

Donald Trump stood and looked back for a moment after he arrived at the defense table for the start of closing arguments in his hush money trial. Sitting between two of his attorneys — Todd Blanche and Emil Bove — the former president appeared animated before the proceedings began, gesturing and chatting with his lawyers.

Seated behind Trump are members of his family, including his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and his daughter Tiffany.

Trump Arrives at Courthouse

Donald Trump spoke to reporters before heading into the courtroom on Tuesday morning, calling it “a dark day in America” and “a very sad day.”

The former president carried a sheet of paper and read quotes off of it from political and legal commentators who have attacked the hush money case, a feature Trump has made a regular part of his trial routine. He called Judge Juan M. Merchan “corrupt” and “conflicted” but said he couldn’t speak about it because of the gag order.

From left, Donald Trump Jr., Tiffany Trump, Eric Trump and Lara Trump stand near former President Donald Trump outside of Manhattan Criminal Court, Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in New York. (AP/Justin Lane)

“We’ll see how it goes. This is a very dangerous day for America. It’s a very sad day,” Trump said.

He was accompanied by three of his children, Don Jr., Eric and Tiffany, along with one of his de facto campaign managers Susie Wiles.

Trump Family Members Will Be in Court

A small of supporters yelled “We love Trump” outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan Tuesday morning as Donald Trump’s motorcade arrived. The supporters waved American flags and were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats.

Inside, the prosecution team made its way into the courtroom, led by Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, who is expected to make the prosecution’s closing argument.

As has been his routine, Steinglass walked in carrying a file box full of papers.

What Happens During Closing Arguments?

Several of Donald Trump’s family members plan to be at court Tuesday for his hush money trial.

They include his sons, Don Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, daughter-in-law Lara Trump, daughter Tiffany Trump and her husband Michael Boulos.

Other family members have not yet joined him in court, including his wife, former first lady Melania Trump, and his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump.

What Must Be Proved for a Conviction?

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will have their final opportunity to address the jury in closing arguments.

The arguments don’t count as evidence in the case charging Donald Trump with falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments during the 2016 presidential election. They’ll instead function as hourslong recaps of the key points the lawyers want to leave jurors with before the panel disappears behind closed doors for deliberations.

Jurors over the course of a month have heard testimony about sex and bookkeeping, tabloid journalism and presidential politics. Their task ahead will be to decide whether prosecutors who have charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records have proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

What to Expect This Week

With closing arguments in Donald Trump’s hush money trial expected to get underway Tuesday morning, jurors have a weighty task ahead of them — deciding whether to convict the former U.S. president of some, all or none of the 34 felony counts he’s charged with.

To convict Trump of felony falsifying business records, prosecutors must convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he not only falsified or caused business records to be entered falsely but also did so with intent to commit or conceal another crime. Any verdict must be unanimous.

To prevent a conviction, the defense simply needs to convince at least one juror that prosecutors haven’t proved Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for criminal cases.

New York also has a misdemeanor falsifying business records charge, which requires proving only that a defendant made or caused the false entries, but it is not part of Trump’s case and will not be considered by jurors.

 

 

 

 

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