Key witness lied, Donald Trump’s lawyer tells jurors during closing arguments

28 May 2024, 19:44

Former US president Donald Trump speaks to members of the media upon arriving at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York
Trump Hush Money. Picture: PA

The former US president denies 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison.

Donald Trump’s defence team attacked the hush money case against him by calling the star witness a liar, seeking to discredit weeks of evidence that prosecutors say prove the former US president interfered in the 2016 election through a scheme to suppress stories seen as harmful to his campaign.

The closing arguments, which were expected to last the entire day, gave lawyers 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 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 defence lawyer Todd Blanche, who said the evidence in the case should “leave you wanting”.

Donald Trump appears at Manhattan Criminal Court before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial in New York
Donald Trump appears at Manhattan Criminal Court before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial in New York (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP)

In an hours-long address to the jury, Mr Blanche attacked the foundation of the case, which charges Trump with conspiring to conceal hush money payments prosecutors say were made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential campaign to stifle an adult film actress’s claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

With sweeping denials mirroring his client’s “deny everything” approach, Mr Blanche countered the prosecution’s portrayal of Trump as a detail-oriented manager who paid dutiful attention to the cheques he signed; disputed the contention that Trump and the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, had sex; and rejected the idea that the alleged hush money scheme amounted to illegal interference in the 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,” Mr Blanche said.

After more than four weeks of evidence, 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 the payments.

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

Prosecutors will tell jurors that they have heard enough evidence to convict Trump of all charges while defence lawyerss aimed to create doubts about the strength of the evidence by targeting the credibility of Michael Cohen.

Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the hush money payments and served as the star prosecution witness in the trial.

“He’s literally like an MVP of liars. He lies constantly,” Mr Blanche said of Mr Cohen.

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen (Seth Wenig/AP)

“He lied to Congress. He lied to prosecutors. He lied to his family and business associates.”

After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the law governing the case and the factors the panel can take into account during deliberations.

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 is unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if the judge would impose that punishment if asked.

Before prosecutors began closing arguments, Judge Juan M Merchan urged jurors to disregard what he said was an “improper” comment by Mr Blanche that the panel should not send Trump to prison. Judge Merchan said that decision would be his alone.

The case centres on a 130,000 dollar (£101,000) payment Mr Cohen made to Ms 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 Ms Daniels’ account, and his lawyer, during hours of questioning in the trial, accused her of making it up.

When Trump reimbursed Mr Cohen, the payments were logged as being for legal services, which prosecutors say was designed to conceal the true purpose of the transaction with Ms Daniels.

Former US president Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial in New York
Former US president Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP)

Trump’s lawyers contended throughout the trial that they were legitimate payments for actual legal services.

Mr Blanche, delivering a PowerPoint presentation to jurors, pointed to emails and evidence showing that Mr Cohen did indeed work on some legal matters for Trump that year.

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

The lawyer’s voice became even more impassioned as he revisited one of the more memorable moments of the trial: when Mr Blanche sought to unravel Mr Cohen’s claim that he had spoken to Trump by phone about the Daniels arrangement on October 24 2016.

Mr Cohen said he had contacted Trump’s bodyguard as a way of getting hold of Trump, but Mr Blanche asserted that at the time Mr Cohen was actually dealing with a spate of harassing phone calls and was preoccupied by that problem.

“It was a lie,” Mr Blanche said.

“That was a lie, and he got caught red-handed.”

Mr Blanche also sought to distance Trump from the mechanics of the reimbursements, saying cheques to Mr Cohen were signed as Trump was preoccupied with the presidency in 2017.

Former president Donald Trump appears at Manhattan Criminal Court before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial in New York
Former US president Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP)

He pointed to the evidence of a former Trump Organisation controller, who told jurors that he never talked to Trump about how to characterise the payments sent to an accounts payable staffer.

Mr Blanche also noted that another Trump aide said Trump would sign cheques while meeting with people or while on the phone, not knowing what they were.

The nearly two dozen witnesses included Ms 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 said that he used his media enterprise to protect Trump by squelching stories that could harm his campaign; and Mr Cohen, who said 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 Mr Cohen and Trump can be heard discussing paying 150,000 dollars (£117,000) to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep her from going public with a claim that she had had a year-long affair with Trump.

Trump has denied a relationship with Ms McDougal too.

Defence lawyers called two witnesses – neither of them Trump.

They focused much of their energy on discrediting Mr Cohen, pressing him on his own criminal history, his past lies and his recollection of key details.

Donald Trump speaks to members of the media upon arriving at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York
Donald Trump speaks to members of the media upon arriving at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (Julia Nikhinson, Pool/AP)

On cross-examination, for instance, Mr Cohen admitted stealing tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company by asking to be reimbursed for money he had not spent.

Mr Cohen acknowledged once telling a prosecutor he felt that Ms Daniels and her lawyer were extorting Trump.

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.

It is unclear if any of the others will reach trial before November’s election.

By Press Association

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