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From ‘MVP of liars’ to ‘subversion of democracy,’ Trump’s hush money case wraps with dramatic closings

todayMay 29, 2024

Background

Former U.S. President Donald Trump during a break at Manhattan criminal court in New York, US, on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Justin Lane/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche called witness Michael Cohen “an MVP of liars,” while prosecutors said the former president committed a “subversion of democracy” as each side delivered its closing argument in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial Tuesday.

After it gets instructions on Wednesday, a jury of 12 New Yorkers will decide if Trump is guilty of falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment his then-attorney, Cohen, made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost Trump’s electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election. The former president has denied all wrongdoing.

Calling Cohen “the human embodiment of reasonable doubt,” Blanche, over the course of his nearly three-hour presentation, repeatedly framed perceived gaps in the state’s case as “reasonable doubt,” and said prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proof.

And after each claim, Blanche returned to Michael Cohen.

“He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true,” Blanche said. “You cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the words of Michael Cohen.”

Among Blanche’s key arguments:

Michael Cohen is a proven liar

According to Blanche, Cohen lied about a key meeting with Donald Trump at the White House, a phone call he allegedly had with Trump, the so-called catch-and-kill schemes, a lunch meeting, a recording — in effect, the most crucial elements of the state’s case.

“I don’t know how many lies are enough lies just to reject Mr. Cohen’s testimony,” Blanche said. “Big or small, meaningful or not meaningful, but that was a lie.”

In just one of many instances, Blanche accused Cohen of lying about speaking with Donald Trump about the Stormy Daniels agreement in a 90-second phone call just two weeks before the 2016 election.

“It was a lie!” Blanche yelled, pausing between each word. “That was a lie, and he got caught red-handed.”

“That is perjury,” Blanche continued, sounding out each syllable of the word.

“He is literally like an MVP of liars,” Blanche said. “He lies constantly.”

Trump had no knowledge of the alleged conspiracy

Blanche repeatedly sought to distance his client from any element of the state’s case, including the alleged agreement to “catch-and-kill” negative stories about him, the allegedly falsified records, and the payments doled out to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.

“There’s no evidence at all that Donald Trump had anything to do with that,” Blanche said.

Recalling the phone call where Cohen and Trump allegedly hashed out the reimbursement payments to Enquirer parent AMI — and the confusion over whether to pay in cash or checks — Blanche claimed that the two men were “talking past each other.”

“President Trump has no idea what [Cohen] is talking about” in the recording, Blanche said.

Again, Blanche said this element of the state’s case rested on Cohen’s word.

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

Trump was ‘too busy’ to micromanage a conspiracy

Blanche told jurors that Donald Trump was simply “too busy” as president of the United States to engage in a “tight conspiracy” with Michael Cohen

“President Trump was very busy. He was running the country,” Blanche said.

Prosecutors have attempted to frame Trump as a tight-fisted businessman who never signed any document or paid any check without first scrutinizing it.

Blanche attempted to counter that narrative, citing testimony of then-Trump aide Madeleine Westerhout who testified that Trump only “sometimes” looked at what he was signing.

“You can’t convict President Trump because ‘sometimes,’ without being specific at all … President Trump looked at invoices … that is a stretch,” Blanch said. “And that is reasonable doubt.”

Cohen was paid for legal work

Blanche told jurors they will have to find two things to convict his client: “First, that the documents contained false entries, and second, that President Trump acted with an intent to defraud.”

To undermine the first point, Blanche stressed that Michael Cohen did legal work for Trump in 2017, which made his invoices for legal services — which Cohen claimed he submitted for reimbursement of the Stormy Daniels payment — legitimate requests for payment.

“Cohen was rendering services to President Trump in 2017 as his personal attorney,” Blanche argued, highlighting parts of Cohen’s testimony about his role and work for Trump.

Cohen testified that he served as Trump’s personal attorney for free, but Blanche suggested that the invoices at the center of the case were Cohen’s way of getting payment in 2017.

The government “asked you to believe [Cohen] was just going to work for free,” Blanche said. “Do you believe that for a second? That after getting stiffed on his bonus in 2016 … do you think that Mr. Cohen thought, ‘I want to work for free.’ Is that the man who testified, or is that a lie?”

“The idea that President Trump would agree to pay Michael Cohen $420,000 even though he only owed him $130,000 is absurd,” Blanche said.

Prosecutors, in their closing, argued that Trump choreographed “a conspiracy and a coverup” in a brazen attempt to “pull the wool” over voters’ eyes ahead the 2016 presidential election

Here are some of the key arguments advanced by prosecutor Josh Steinglass in his lengthy five-hour summation:

There’s a ‘mountain of evidence’ beyond Cohen

“This case is not about Michael Cohen,” Steinglass said. “This case is about Donald Trump and whether he should be held accountable for making false entries in his own business records, whether he and his staff did that to cover up for his own election violations.”

Steinglass asked jurors to view Cohen as the “ultimate insider” to provide “context and color” for the paper trial. Steinglass described Cohen as a “tour guide through the physical evidence.”

And while Cohen might have lied or forgotten details in the past, “those documents don’t lie, and they don’t forget,” Steinglass said.

“We didn’t choose Michael Cohen to be a witness. We didn’t pick him up at witness store. The defendant chose him as a fixer because he was willing to lie and cheat,” he said, drawing a few laughs from the jury.

Trump was motivated by the election

Donald Trump hatched a plan to “muzzle” Stormy Daniels and other women because their stories “were capable of costing him the whole election — and he knew it,” Steinglass argued.

When Trump met with Michael Cohen and David Pecker in August 2015 and arranged for Pecker to serve as the campaign’s “eyes and ears,” Steinglass said “it turned out to be one of the most valuable contributions anyone ever made to the Trump campaign.”

“This scheme cooked up by these men at this time could very well be what got President Trump elected,” Steinglass suggested.

Referring to Stormy Daniels’ allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump, which Trump has long denied, Steinglass said, “It’s no coincidence that the sex happened in 2006 but the payoff didn’t happen until October 2016, two weeks before the election. That’s because the defendant’s primary concern was not his family, but the election.”

Steinglass also cited former Trump aide Hope Hicks’ testimony that Trump said after the fact that he preferred that the Stormy Daniels story came out after the election.

“That was the last thing she said on direct,” Steinglass said. “And she basically burst into tears” at that point, “because she realized how much this testimony puts the nail into the defendant’s coffin.”

“That is devastating,” Steinglass said.

Documents provided a ‘smoking gun’

Steinglass stressed to jurors that the core of the government’s case is what he called the “smoking gun documents” that Trump allegedly falsified.

“These documents are so damning that you almost have to laugh at how Mr. Blanche explained it to you,” Steinglass joked at one point. “They completely blow out of the water the defense claim.”

Steinglass reviewed for jurors an extensive timeline of the case, reiterating every step in the context of the 2016 presidential campaign.

“It’s just inconceivable that [Trump] would be so involved in buying these women’s silence and then stick his head in the sand when it comes to Cohen’s reimbursement,” he said.

Trump is a micromanager

Steinglass reiterated a point the state emphasized at trial by depicting Donald Trump as a “micromanager” who was always “immersed in the details.”

“That has been his philosophy from the beginning,” Steinglass said. “The cardinal sin for Mr. Trump is overpaying for anything.”

For this, Steinglass recited passages from Donald Trump’s books. Referring to one such quote, Steinglass said, “If Donald Trump is checking invoices from his decorator, you can bet he’s checking his invoices from Michael Cohen.”

Steinglass argued that Trump’s overall business sense led him to tightly monitor his checks.

“It’s the combination of frugality and attention to detail that led Donald Trump to keep tight reins on his checks in particular,” Steinglass said. “He doesn’t like spending money, and he’s proud of it.”

Steinglass also repeatedly claimed that Cohen lacked the authority to orchestrate these catch-and-kill arrangements without Donald Trump’s say-so.

“Michael Cohen is not some rogue actor here. He is acting at the direction of the defendant,” Steinglass said. “Mr. Trump is being kept abreast of every development.”

In the end, Steinglass argued, jurors need not rely on Cohen alone, because “it’s difficult to conceive of a case with more corroboration.”

“In the interest of justice and in the name of the People of New York, I ask you to find the defendant guilty,” Steinglass said at the end of his marathon closing.

Judge Juan Merchan will instruct jurors on the law Wednesday morning. After that, deliberations will begin.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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