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Trump walks back into the courtroom after a break during closing arguments in his hush money trial in New York today Alamy Stock Photo
Trump Trial

Trump's lawyer says hush money case is based on 'lies' as prosecutor urges guilty verdict

If Trump is found guilty on any of the counts, it will be the first criminal conviction of a former US president.

LAST UPDATE | 28 May

DONALD TRUMP ENGAGED in a “conspiracy and a cover-up” to hide hush money payments to a porn star, prosecutors told the jury today in closing arguments at the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Less than six months before American voters choose whether to return Trump to the White House, the stakes riding on the verdict are hard to overstate – for the 77-year-old personally, but also for the country.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 (€119,720) payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, when her account of an alleged sexual encounter could have doomed his 2016 presidential campaign.

Assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass delivered the summation for the prosecution after Trump’s defence lawyer, Todd Blanche, called for his acquittal, insisting that the historic case against the former president was based on lies.

Steinglass asked the jury to “tune out the noise and ignore the sideshows.”

“If you’ve done that, you’ll see that the people have presented powerful evidence of the defendant’s guilt,” he said.

Steinglass said Daniels’s story about her 2006 tryst with the married Trump was the “motive” for his alleged crime but the “case at its core is about a conspiracy and a cover up.”

“Her story is messy, it makes people uncomfortable to hear,” he said. “That’s the display to the American people the defendant wanted to avoid.”

Steinglass addressed the jury after Blanche told them the trial “isn’t a referendum on your views of president Trump” or “who you plan on voting for in 2024.”

Prosecutors failed to prove their case, Blanche said, and the only outcome should be a “very quick and easy not guilty verdict.”

“President Trump is innocent,” he said.

Blanche spent much of his remarks attacking Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, who has spent time in prison for tax evasion and other crimes, calling him the “MVP of liars” consumed by “outright hatred for Trump.”

“He told you a number of things on that witness stand that were lies, pure and simple,” he said.

“You cannot convict president Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of Michael Cohen.”

file-michael-cohen-leaves-his-apartment-building-on-his-way-to-manhattan-criminal-court-may-13-2024-in-new-york-the-testimony-in-donald-trumps-hush-money-trial-is-all-wrapped-up-after-more-than Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York on 13 May Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Blanche said Trump was “busy running the country” when the reimbursements were made to Cohen and he did not closely inspect all the invoices that came across his desk.

“There was no intent to defraud and beyond that there was no conspiracy to influence the 2016 election by president Trump,” Blanche said.

Steinglass countered that Cohen’s testimony was not the entire case and there is “a mountain of corroborating evidence.”

“This case is not about Michael Cohen. This case is about Donald Trump and whether he should be held accountable,” he added.

Graphic testimony

Speaking to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom, Trump said “this is a very dangerous day for America.”

“We have a rigged court case that should have never been brought,” he said as three of his five children – Don Jr, Eric and Tiffany – stood behind him.

The 12 anonymous jurors will start deliberations as early as Wednesday.

Polls show Trump neck and neck against President Joe Biden and the verdict will inject new tension into the White House race.

Speaking on behalf of the Biden campaign outside court, actor Robert De Niro berated Trump as a “clown” and “grubby real estate developer” intent on destroying the country.

The first former or sitting president under criminal indictment, Trump faces charges ranging from the relatively minor hush money case to accusations he took top secret documents and tried to overthrow the 2020 election.

The New York case, which featured more than 20 witnesses over five weeks and days of gripping testimony by Daniels and Cohen, is the only one likely to come to trial by election day.

Unanimity required

If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.

A conviction would not bar him from appearing on the ballot in November.

Trump chose not to testify in his defence.

Instead, he used his trips to court to stage tirades against “corrupt” Judge Juan Merchan, and to claim the trial is a Democratic ploy to keep him off the campaign trail.

A number of Republican Trump loyalists, including several vying to be his vice president, have made the trek to the courtroom to sit behind him.

To return a guilty or not guilty verdict requires the jury to be unanimous.

Just one holdout means a hung jury and a mistrial, although prosecutors could seek a new trial.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of hoarding huge quantities of classified documents after leaving the White House.

© AFP 2024