Takeaways from closing arguments in the Donald Trump hush money trial

Prosecutors told jurors on Tuesday they’ve seen a “mountain of evidence” to prove that Donald Trump falsified business records in order to cover up a damaging story about an alleged affair at the end of the 2016 election.

Trump’s attorneys told the jury that the prosecution’s criminal case against the former president is wholly reliant on the testimony of Michael Cohen – the “MVP of liars” who is out to get Trump.

Which narrative the jury believes could ultimately decide Trump’s legal fate.

The defense and prosecution gave their closing arguments in Trump’s New York hush money trial, spending many hours late into the evening Tuesday offering the jury diametrically opposed stories about the payment made to Stormy Daniels in October 2016 and the subsequent reimbursement to Cohen the following year.

On Wednesday, Judge Juan Merchan will give the jury his instructions in the morning, and then jurors will begin deliberations, with the historic and unprecedented trial – and a pivotal moment in the 2024 presidential election – hanging in the balance.

Here are takeaways from Day 21 of the Trump hush money trial:

Defense attorney Todd Blanche was up first, and he spent much of his two-hour closing argument attacking the credibility of Cohen, Trump’s former fixer.

He accused Cohen of lying directly to the jury, on top of the lies he was convicted of telling. Cohen lied so much, Blanche alleged, that he should be considered the Tom Brady of lying – the “GLOAT,” or the “Greatest Liar of All Time.”

Blanche focused on Cohen’s claims about his phone call with Trump on October 24, 2016. Cohen testified that Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller put Trump on the phone so Cohen could tell him he was going forward with the Daniels payment.

During cross-examination, Blanche confronted Cohen with text messages he sent to Schiller around the same time as the call asking for help about a teenager prankster.

“We all know that he called Keith Schiller to talk about the fact that a 14-year-old had been harassing him for several days and forgot to block his number, and Mr. Cohen wanted to fix that,” Blanche said Tuesday.

Blanche told the jury it’s clear they were talking about the teen prankster because Cohen hung up and texted Schiller about the situation then followed up the next morning.

“That is perjury,” Blanche said, raising his voice as he slowly emphasized each syllable of the final word.

Blanche also said that prosecutors offered no evidence connecting Trump to the payment to Daniels outside of Cohen’s testimony.

“There’s no way that you can find that President Trump knew about this payment at the time it was made without believing the words of Michael Cohen, period. And you cannot – you cannot – believe his words,” Blanche told the jury.

At the end of his closing argument, Blanche again returned to Cohen.

“His words cannot the trusted,” Blanche said. “He came in here, he raised his right hand and he lied to each of you repeatedly. You cannot send someone to prison – you cannot convict somebody based upon the words of Michael Cohen.”

Prosecutors objected to Blanche’s commentary about prison – and Merchan admonished him for saying it, because jurors are not allowed to consider penalties, that’s up to the judge – but Blanche had made his point regardless.

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Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass pushed back against Blanche’s attack when it was his turn to present to the jury in the afternoon, arguing there was plenty of corroboration of Cohen’s testimony, both from documents and the testimony of others, particularly former AMI chief David Pecker.

“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,” Steinglass said of Cohen.

Steinglass tried to rebut Blanche’s allegation about the October 24, 2016, call with a bit of role-playing. The prosecutor put his thumb and forefinger to the side of his head and acted out a theoretical call Cohen could have made where he talked to both Schiller and Trump.

“Hey, Keith, how’s it going? It seems like this prankster might be a 14-year-old kid,” Steinglass began the fake conversation, pretending to move into asking Schiller to pass the phone to Trump and then acting out a quick update on Daniels and the payment.

When he finished the fake conversation, Steinglass said, “49 seconds.” The call between Schiller and Cohen lasted 1 minute 36 seconds, according to call logs.

“These guys know each other well. They speak in coded language, and they speak fast,” Steinglass said of Cohen and Trump.

Steinglass also focused on testimony from Pecker to help bolster Cohen’s credibility, such as showing that Cohen’s story was corroborated by Pecker’s description of a phone call with Trump about the Karen McDougal story in June 2016.

“Trump is deputizing Cohen right in front of Pecker so that Pecker knows that any go ahead from Cohen is a go head from Trump. This call makes it impossible for the defense to claim that Cohen was acting on his own here,” Steinglass said, calling it “powerful evidence of the defendant’s involvement wholly apart from Cohen.”

Steinglass spent 4 hours and 41 minutes walking jurors back through all of the documents and testimony they had heard over the six-week trial, beginning with the 2015 Trump Tower meeting all the way through Trump’s pressure of Cohen in 2018 before Cohen began cooperating with federal investigators and pleaded guilty.

“The name of the game was concealment, and all roads lead inescapably to the man that benefited the most, the defendant, former President Donald J. Trump,” he said.

Steinglass argued that Pecker, Trump and Cohen entered into a conspiracy in 2015 when Pecker agreed to be the “eyes and ears” of the campaign – alleging that the agreement went well beyond the normal bounds of a press relationship.

When the “Access Hollywood” story came out in October 2016, Steinglass said that Trump and the campaign went into panic mode. Around the time Trump’s campaign was dealing with the fall out of the “Access Hollywood” tape, he said, Trump was “negotiating to muzzle a porn star who was prepared to go public with allegations of extramarital sex.”

“Stormy Daniels was a walking, talking reminder that the defendant was not only words. She would have totally undermined his strategy for spinning away the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape,” Steinglass said.

Steinglass noted that when Cohen paid Daniels’ attorney the $130,000 wire transfer through an LLC, it shouldn’t be surprising to jurors that Trump wasn’t connected to the documents.

“Now it’s true that Mr. Trump didn’t sign these documents himself. That’s kind of the whole point,” Steinglass said.

Steinglass walked jurors back through the hand-written calculations from former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg to repay Cohen, in which Weisselberg wrote on Cohen’s bank statement that the reimbursement would be “grossed up” to account for taxes.

“We don’t have to prove that the defendant made and created the false entries himself,” Steinglass said. Trump is guilty of false business records when he makes or causes a false entry in his business records, Steinglass argued.

Steinglass called the handwritten notes from Weisselberg and former Trump Org. controller Jeff McConney “the smoking guns.”

“They completely blow out of the water the defense claim that the payments” were for “legal services rendered,” he said. “I’m almost speechless that they’re trying to make this argument.”

Throughout his presentation, Blanche continued to raise the concept of reasonable doubt with the jury – even punctuating the conclusion of his closing argument with “10 reasons” why jurors should have reasonable doubt about the case

“Each one of these reasons makes a not guilty verdict a very easy path and a very quick path,” Blanche said.

Among his arguments: that the invoices and vouchers created to pay Cohen were accurate because Cohen was working as Trump’s attorney, that Trump had no intent to defraud and that there’s no evidence Trump knew the invoices were sent.

Blanche also argued there was no attempt to conceal or commit another crime – one of the conditions needed for a felony conviction – and there was “absolutely” no agreement to influence the 2016 election.

Blanche argued that AMI would have run former Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin’s story about an alleged love child had it been true, that McDougal did not want her story published and that Daniels’ story was already made public in 2011, well before the election.

Blanche concluded where he started, arguing that Cohen was the “human embodiment of reasonable doubt.”

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

Former President Donald Trump arrives for his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 28, in New York City.

Hear how jurors reacted to defense’s closing statement in Trump hush money hearing

Next up: The case will be in the jury’s hands

Now that closing arguments are done, the panel of seven men and five women are expected to begin deliberations Wednesday.

Merchan is set to charge the jury Wednesday morning when they return at 10 a.m., giving them instructions on the law.

The alternate jurors are expected to be held in the courthouse separate from the main panel that will consider the 34 counts against Trump.

Trump and the attorneys for both sides must stay close to the courtroom in case the jury sends a note during deliberations.

Reporters, too, will stay in the main and overflow courtrooms on verdict watch.

Six weeks into the trial, this will be the first Wednesday that the jury will work as the usual trial schedule left Wednesdays dark for Merchan’s other docket matters.

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