After Closing Arguments, Trump’s Fate is Over to the Jury - The World News

After Closing Arguments, Trump’s Fate is Over to the Jury

It could take a day, a week, a month. But the criminal trial of Donald Trump is in the endgame.

Both sides made closing arguments today, capping a six-week odyssey. It was rife with accusations of adultery and illicit sex and tales of covert payments and frantic cover-ups, populated by bombastic lawyers, flawed witnesses and a defiant defendant at its center, often listening to the action with his eyes closed.

The jury will receive instructions tomorrow morning from the judge, Juan Merchan, who pushed today’s proceedings well past its usual 4:30 p.m. quitting time to make sure that prosecutors finished their closing arguments. Deliberations will then begin. The outcome could be acquittal or conviction on all charges; conviction on some and acquittal on others; or a hung jury, if jurors are unable to reach unanimous agreement on a verdict.

Mounting the first criminal trial of an American president, the lawyers for the Manhattan district attorney’s office presented a vivid narrative of an unglamorous financial crime: Trump is charged with falsifying 34 business records, each one a low-level felony.

Those charges are related to a $130,000 hush-money payment made by Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who says she and Trump had sex at a celebrity golf tourney in 2006, a decade before his election as the 45th president.

Trump has denied the charges; he faces prison or probation if convicted. But that declaration of innocence was only part of the larger argument that Todd Blanche, his lead attorney, made in his closing. Its central point could well be summed up by one little word: “Lies.”

During a nearly three-hour-long summation, Blanche savaged Cohen with that word, dubbing him a “G.L.O.A.T.,” or the greatest liar of all time. Blanche wrapped up his arguments with his Top 10 list of issues that he felt raised reasonable doubt. The last one?

You guessed it: that Michael Cohen was a liar.

“You cannot convict President Trump on any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said.

In particular, Blanche zeroed in on an Oct. 24, 2016, phone call — lasting one minute, 36 seconds — in which Cohen had said he discussed the payoff to Daniels. Under cross-examination, Blanche had gotten Cohen to concede that he had discussed a prank phone call with Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, on that same call, though he said he believed he and Trump had also talked about the Daniels deal.

But Blanche suggested there was no way Cohen could have talked to Trump and Schiller in that short of time, saying Cohen was lying on the stand.

“Per-jur-y!,” he shouted, emphasizing each of the word’s syllables.

But during his closing, the prosecutor Joshua Steinglass countered that moment of showmanship with an even more dramatic one. Putting on a timer, Steinglass pretended to have the same conversation, his hand miming a phone. Steinglass, playing Cohen, told an imaginary Schiller about the prank phone call and then told an imaginary Trump that the deal with Daniels was being handled.

There were asides and well-wishes and then a hang-up, all in less than 96 seconds.

Blanche also argued that the conspiracy that Manhattan prosecutors describe — a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election — was actually just the way things work in American politics.

“It doesn’t matter if there was a conspiracy to try to win an election,” Blanche said. “Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy,” concocted by “people who are working together to help somebody win.”

Needless to say, Steinglass saw things differently, calling the Daniels payment a “subversion of democracy,” and suggesting that the hush money was part of a scheme that “could very well be what got President Trump elected.”

Steinglass also worked to take the dents out of Cohen’s reputation, saying that the glee at Trump’s travails which was expressed by Cohen — who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges related to the hush-money payment and served prison time — was understandable.

“Anyone in Cohen’s shoes would want the defendant to be held accountable,” Steinglass said, adding that Trump was a defendant who, “up until now, has escaped justice.”

Blanche argued that Trump’s concerns after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape — where Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals — were primarily about his wife and family, saying that it “doesn’t matter whether you are running for office.”

“Nobody wants their family exposed to that type of story,” Blanche said.

But Steinglass used Trump’s own words to counter that, showing a clip of a video in which Trump acknowledged that the “Access Hollywood” tape could swing a close election. “If five percent of the people think it’s true, and maybe 10 percent,” Trump said in one clip, “we don’t win.”

All told, Steinglass spent some five hours methodically laying out the state’s case, tracing a narrative that spanned nearly two decades, from a brief sexual encounter at Lake Tahoe to a Manhattan courtroom.

Blanche denied that Trump had a sexual encounter with Daniels, despite her detailed account on the stand, under oath, as well as in interviews, a book and a recent documentary.

But Steinglass seemed to mock the concept that Trump would have paid Daniels the hush money had they simply taken a photo together in Lake Tahoe and not slept together.

“If her testimony was so irrelevant, why did they work so hard to try to discredit her?” Steinglass asked, adding, “Stormy Daniels is the motive.”

Steinglass was seemingly often amused by the defense’s arguments as he went through his own, chuckling sometimes. But he grew more serious as he finished as dusk fell.

“The name of the game was concealment,” he said, adding, “You, the jury, have the ability to hold the defendant accountable.”

He said that Cohen was an “ultimate insider” in Trump World, who helped “connect the dots” in the scheme to sway the election. He also discounted defense arguments that Cohen was being paid for legitimate legal work.

“The defendant didn’t actually pay a lawyer; he paid a porn star by funneling money through a lawyer,” Steinglass said.

Still, for all that, the prosecutor suggested that focusing on the former fixer was not the point.

“This case is not about Michael Cohen,” Steinglass said, adding, “It’s about Donald Trump.”

And now, it’s about the jury.

We’re asking readers what they’d like to know about the Trump cases: the charges, the procedure, the important players or anything else. You can send us your question by filling out this form.

Are the six alternate jurors also in the courtroom to observe the total picture that the 12 regulars do? — Gerry Gartland, Haddon Heights, N.J.

Jesse: Yes, all 18 jurors have been sitting in the jury box for the entirety of testimony, which began on April 22. And while two jurors were dismissed early on — before testimony began — the entire panel has remained intact through today.

  • We’re waiting to see if federal prosecutors try again to get a court order barring Trump from making remarks that could endanger F.B.I. agents working on his classified documents case in Florida. Today, the judge overseeing that proceeding, Aileen Cannon, denied their first attempt on procedural grounds.

  • After hearing arguments on April 25 about Trump’s claim of immunity in the Jan. 6 case, the Supreme Court could issue a ruling in late June or early July.

Trump is at the center of at least four separate criminal investigations, at both the state and federal levels, into matters related to his business and political careers. Here is where each case stands.

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