Trump’s Lawyer Claims Innocence in Closing Arguments of Hush Money Trial

Associated Press - May 29, 2024 6:32 am

Former President Donald Trump speakes followig the day's proceedings in his trial Tuesday May 21, 2024, in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York.(Michael M. Santiago-Pool Photo-AP)

Donald Trump is “innocent” and did not break the law, a lawyer for the former president told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday as the landmark hush money trial moved closer to its conclusion.

The arguments, expected to last the entire day, will give attorneys one last chance to address the Manhattan jury and to score final points with the panel before it starts deliberating the fate of the first former American president to be charged with felony crimes.

President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period,” said defense attorney Todd Blanche, who said the evidence in the case should “leave you wanting” and that the prosecution’s star witness told “lies” on the stand and cannot be trusted.

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

After more than four weeks of testimony, the summations tee up a momentous and historically unprecedented task for the jury as it decides whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in connection with payments during the 2016 election to prevent a porn actor from going public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump.

FILE - Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, May 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

FILE – Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court, May 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

Because prosecutors have the burden of proof in the case, they will deliver their arguments last.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that they have heard enough testimony to convict Trump of all charges while defense attorneys are aiming to create doubts about the strength of the evidence by targeting the credibility of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer who pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the hush money payments and who served as the star prosecution witness in the trial.

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, adding that Cohen “told you a number of things that were lies, pure and simple.

After closing arguments are given, the judge will instruct the jury, likely Wednesday, on the law governing the case and the factors the panel can take into account during deliberations. The deliberations will then proceed in secret, though some clues as to the jury’s thinking may arrive through any notes it sends to the judge with questions.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. It’s unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if the judge would impose that punishment if asked.

The case centers on a $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn actor Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 election to prevent her from going public with her story of a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump 10 years earlier in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Trump has denied Daniels’ account, and his attorney, during hours of questioning in the trial, accused her of making it up.

Jurors take notes as Stormy Daniels testifies in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Jurors take notes as Stormy Daniels testifies in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

 

When Trump reimbursed Cohen, the payments were logged as being for legal services, which prosecutors say was designed to conceal the true purpose of the transaction with Daniels and to illegally interfere in the 2016 election, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s lawyers contend they were legitimate payments for actual legal services, and they say that his celebrity status, particularly during the campaign, made him a target for extortion.

Blanche, delivering a PowerPoint presentation to jurors, pointed to emails and testimony 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

The nearly two dozen witnesses included Daniels, who described in sometimes vivid detail the encounter she says she had with Trump; David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, who testified that he used his media enterprise to protect Trump by squelching stories that could harm his campaign, including by paying $150,000 to a former Playboy model to keep her from going public with a claim that she had had a yearlong affair with Trump; and Cohen, who testified that Trump was intimately involved in the hush money discussions — “Just pay it,” the now-disbarred lawyer quoted Trump as saying.

Prosecutors are expected to remind jurors of the bank statements, emails and other documentary evidence they have viewed, as well as an audio recording in which Cohen and Trump can be heard discussing the deal involving the Playboy model, Karen McDougal. Trump has denied a relationship with McDougal too.

This combination photo shows, top row from left, Michael Cohen on May 14, 2024, in New York, Stormy Daniels on May 23, 2018, in West Hollywood, Calif., Hope Hick on Feb. 27, 2018, in Washington, and bottom row from left, Jeffrey McConney on Nov. 15, 2022, in New York, David Pecker on Jan. 31, 2014, in New York and Madeleine Westerhout on April 2, 2018, in Washington. After 22 witnesses, testimony is over at former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York. Prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers are scheduled to make their closing arguments Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo)

 

Defense lawyers called two witnesses — neither of them Trump. They focused much of their energy on discrediting Cohen, pressing him on his own criminal history, his past lies and his recollection of key details.

On cross-examination, for instance, Cohen admitted stealing tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company by asking to be reimbursed for money he had not spent. Cohen acknowledged once telling a prosecutor he felt that Daniels and her lawyer were extorting Trump.

Though jurors witnessed numerous memorable moments, they won’t be told during closing arguments about exchanges and rulings that occurred outside their presence — and there were many. Judge Juan M. Merchan, for instance, fined Trump $10,000 for violating a gag order barring incendiary out-of-court comments and threatened to jail him if it continued.

The New York prosecution is one of four criminal cases pending against Trump as he seeks to reclaim the White House from Democrat Joe Biden.

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

 

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