June 12th, 2024

Key witness lied on stand, Trump lawyer tells jurors during closing arguments in hush money trial

By Michael R. Sisak, Jennifer Peltz, Eric Tucker And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press on May 28, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Donald Trump’s landmark hush money trial turns on the testimony of a prosecution witness who told lies on the stand and cannot be trusted, a defense lawyer said Tuesday during closing arguments as he pressed jurors for an acquittal in the first criminal case against a former American president.

The arguments, expected to last the entire day, give attorneys one last chance to address the Manhattan jury and to score final points with the panel before it starts deliberating Trump’s fate.

“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.”

“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 a month 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.

Because prosecutors have the burden of proof, 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 aim 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.

“You cannot 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, 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’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.

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 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.

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

He pointed to the testimony of a former Trump Organization controller, who told jurors that he never talked to Trump about how to characterize the payments sent to an accounts payable staffer. Blanche also noted that another Trump aide said Trump would sign checks while meeting with people or while on the phone, not knowing what they were.

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.

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.

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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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of former President Donald Trump at https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump.

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