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Donald Trump's lawyer casts him as a victim of blackmail in hush money trial, says key witness lied on stand

Donald Trump's lawyer cast the former US president as a victim of a porn star's blackmail and argued that prosecutors had failed to prove he covered up a hush money payment to her as Trump's historic criminal trial neared a conclusion on Tuesday.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 New York Updated on: May 28, 2024 23:12 IST
Donald Trump
Image Source : AP Former US President Donald Trump in courtroom

New York: Donald Trump's defence team attacked the hush money case against him Tuesday by calling the star witness a liar, seeking to discredit weeks of testimony that prosecutors say prove the former 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 attorneys one last chance to address the Manhattan jury and to score final points with the panel before it started 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 attorney Todd Blanche, who said the evidence in the case should “leave you wanting."

VIDEO: Trump returns to court 

In an hourslong address to the jury, 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 a porn actor's claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

With sweeping denials mirroring his client's “deny everything" approach, Blanche countered the prosecution's portrayal of Trump as a detail-oriented manager who paid dutiful attention to the checks he signed; disputed the contention that Trump and the porn actor, 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,” Blanche said.

After more than four weeks 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 the payments. 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 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,” Blanche said of Cohen. “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

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 centres on a $130,000 payment Cohen made to 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. Trump's lawyers contended throughout the trial that they were legitimate payments for actual legal services. 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.

The attorney's voice became even more impassioned as he revisited one of the more memorable moments of the trial: when Blanche sought to unravel Cohen's claim that he had spoken to Trump by phone about the Daniels arrangement on Oct. 24, 2016. Cohen said he had contacted Trump's bodyguard as a way of getting a hold of Trump, but Blanche asserted that at the time Cohen was actually dealing with a spate of harassing phone calls and was preoccupied with that problem. “It was a lie,” Blanche said. “That was a lie, and he got caught red-handed.”

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; 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 paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep her from going public with a claim that she had had a yearlong affair with Trump. Trump has denied a relationship with McDougal too.

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

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Doomsday for Donald Trump's career? Jury in hush money trial to hear closing arguments before deliberations

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