Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors make final pleas to jury in hush money trial

The end of summation paves the way for the jury to begin deliberating Wednesday over whether or not to find Trump guilty in the first criminal trial of a former president. He’s charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records.

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche spent much of his closing argument lambasting the credibility of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and a central witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case.

“Michael Cohen is the GLOAT. He’s literally the greatest liar of all time,” Blanche told jurors toward the close of his summations.

Steinglass noted it’s not Cohen who is on trial but Trump, the man for whom Cohen worked for a decade. “We didn’t choose Michael Cohen. We didn’t pick him up at the witness store. Mr. Trump chose Mr. Cohen for the same qualities his attorneys now urge you to reject,” he told the jury.

And, he told the panel, “it’s difficult to conceive of a case with more corroboration.” He said the evidence shows that Trump, Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker engaged in a “scheme” to corruptly hide damaging information about Trump and that it “could very well be what got President Trump elected.”

Blanche, who spoke before Steinglass, contended prosecutors from Bragg’s office hadn’t met their burden of proving Trump guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of falsifying business records related to the hush money payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential election.

Steinglass acknowledged that Cohen, once an unfailing Trump loyalist, now hates his former boss but said that’s because Trump cut him loose and let him take the fall for the Daniels’ payment with federal prosecutors, “while the defendant, up until now, has escaped justice.”

Blanche maintained: “President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. Period.” The trial, he said, was “not a referendum on your views of President Trump,” and “if you focus just on the evidence you heard in this courtroom, this is a very, very quick and easy not guilty verdict.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears at a court hearing in New York
From left, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo speaks as former President Donald Trump, second right, sits with his attorneys Todd Blanche, Emil Bove and Susan Necheles at a hearing in state court in New York City on March 15.Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

Blanche said the money Trump paid Cohen was indeed for his legal work, as Trump’s company records show, and not for the Daniels payment, as prosecutors and Cohen have maintained. He noted that Trump was president when he signed the monthly checks for Cohen in 2017, and he said the idea he was in on a “scheme” to conceal payments at the time was “absurd.”

Blanche said that Cohen testified he had done “very minimal” legal work for Trump in 2017 but that “Cohen lied to you.”

Blanche told the jury that Cohen had worked as a co-lead attorney defending a defamation lawsuit brought by Summer Zervos, a contestant on Trump’s old reality TV show “The Apprentice.”

“The payments were compensation to him. Nothing more,” Blanche said, adding there’s no evidence — apart from Cohen’s testimony — that Trump was aware of his $130,000 payment to Daniels before it was made. “You cannot believe his words,” Blanche said, adding later that he has “repeatedly, repeatedly lied under oath.”

“He’s literally like the MVP of liars,” Blanche said. “You cannot send someone to prison based on the words of Michael Cohen,” he told the jury later — a remark Judge Juan Merchan told Blanche outside the presence of the jury was “highly inappropriate.” Juries aren’t allowed to consider the penalties for crimes in their deliberations.

“It’s simply not allowed. Period. It’s hard for me to imagine how that was accidental in any way,” Merchan said. When the jurors returned, Merchan told them to disregard Blanche’s comment. He noted that he’d be the one to impose a sentence and that a prison term isn’t necessarily required if there’s a conviction. Trump faces penalties from a fine to up to four years behind bars.

In his closing, Steinglass noted that Cohen testified he did less than 10 hours of legal work for Trump in 2017. “Cohen spent more time being cross-examined in this trial than he did doing legal work for Donald Trump in 2017,” he said.

He also noted that despite Blanche’s current contention, Trump had previously acknowledged the money was a reimbursement, including on social media. “Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Trump tweeted in 2018.

Steinglass said, “Because the defendant repeatedly admitted that he knew the payments were reimbursement, that means by definition he knew that the payment records, which disguised the payment as income, were false.”

He also noted that Trump personally signed the bulk of the $35,000-a-month checks to Cohen himself. “The defendant didn’t ask any questions, because he already knew the answers,” Steinglass said. Blanche had argued that Trump was most likely too busy with his presidential duties at the time to focus on the checks.

Cohen had testified that Trump signed off on the payment because his campaign was reeling from the release in October 2016 of the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he had been caught on a hot mic in 2005 saying he could grope women without their consent. Blanche insisted Trump wasn’t that concerned about the release of the tape, which resulted in top Republicans’ condemning his remarks and distancing themselves from Trump, then the Republican nominee.

Blanche said that it “was an extremely personal event for President Trump,” because “nobody wants their family to be subjected to that sort of thing,” but that “it was not a doomsday event.”

Steinglass painted a different portrait, showing the jury video of Trump lashing out at women who had accused him of sexual misconduct during the same period. If Daniels went public with her claim at the time, it “was capable of costing him the whole election, and he knew it,” he said.

“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,” he said.

Blanche said the deal eventually worked out well for Daniels, whom he accused of trying to extort Trump. “She wrote a book, and she has a podcast. And a documentary. This started out as an extortion — there’s no doubt about that — and ended very well for Ms. Daniels, financially speaking,” he said.

He also claimed there was no reason for the DA to have called her as a witness, other than to “try to embarrass President Trump” and “inflame your emotions.”

Steinglass said the prosecution called her as a witness because, “in the simplest terms, Stormy Daniels is the motive.”

Trump has denied her claim that they had a sexual encounter in 2006, making it important for her to tell her story under oath, and her detailed accounts of that night “ring true,” Steinglass said. He also questioned why Trump’s attorneys spent so much time trying to knock her claims down if her story was irrelevant.

“Her story is messy,” Steinglass said, “but that’s kind of the point. That’s the display the defendant didn’t want the American voter to see.”

“It’s no coincidence that the sex happened in 2006 but the payoff happened less than two weeks before the 2016 election,” he said.

Blanche also addressed an August 2015 meeting at which Pecker told Trump and Cohen he would help them suppress negative stories about Trump and publish articles to tear down his rivals. Prosecutors described it as the beginning of a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, but “every campaign is a conspiracy to promote a candidate,” Blanche said. “There is zero criminal intent in that 2015 meeting.”

Steinglass noted that the Enquirer paid to kill two scandalous stories as a result of the meeting, in addition to alerting Cohen to Daniels’ plans to come forward. The paper’s publisher, AMI, spent $180,000 to suppress the two stories — one involving a doorman who falsely claimed to have information about a Trump love child and the other involving a former Playboy model who claimed to have had a monthslong affair with Trump. He has denied the allegation.

Steinglass called the payments “an illegal corporate campaign contribution made by AMI, and it was done in collusion with the candidate.”

Steinglass’ closings were over four hours long and went into Tuesday evening. He not surprisingly drew a bad review from Trump. “Boring!” he posted on Truth Social during a post-5 p.m. break.

The jurors will return at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, when Merchan will give them his instructions on the law. Then, the 12 ordinary New Yorkers will begin deliberations over whether or not Trump is guilty. “You and you alone are the judges of the facts in this case,” Merchan told them ahead of the arguments.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records, a low-level felony. He has pleaded not guilty.

The trial — which featured testimony from Cohen, Daniels, Pecker and former White House and Trump Organization staffers — began with jury selection on April 15. Witness testimony, which started April 22, wrapped up last week. In all, the prosecution called 20 witnesses, while the defense called two. Even though he said before the proceedings began that he would “absolutely” testify, Trump didn’t take the stand in his own defense.

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