EventsEventsPodcasts
Loader

Find Us

ADVERTISEMENT

Sparks fly in tense closing arguments as Trump's hush money trial wraps up

Former President Donald Trump appears in court in Manhattan before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial.
Former President Donald Trump appears in court in Manhattan before closing arguments in his criminal hush money trial. Copyright AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, Pool
Copyright AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, Pool
By Euronews with AP
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

The jury will soon begin deliberating to decide whether the former US president is guilty of falsifying business records to cover up payments to an adult actress with whom he had an affair.

ADVERTISEMENT

Closing arguments in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial concluded on Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom, marking the final opportunity for prosecutors and defence lawyers to convince the jury of their respective cases before deliberations began.

Jurors will undertake the unprecedented task of deciding whether to convict the former US president of felony criminal charges stemming from hush money payments tied to an alleged scheme to buy and bury stories that might have threatened Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

At the heart of the charges are reimbursements paid to Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen to cover a $130,000 (about €120,000) payment that was given to adult actress Stormy Daniels in exchange for not going public with her claim about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen, Trump's then-lawyer, were falsely logged as “legal expenses” to hide the true nature of the transactions.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing. He pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records — charges which are punishable by up to four years in prison.

Closing arguments lasted all day on Tuesday, with jury deliberations set to begin as soon as Wednesday.

All about Cohen

Trump attorney Todd Blanche had a clear message for jurors: the prosecution's case rests on the testimony of Cohen, and he can’t be believed.

Cohen is a crucial witness because he was the one who made the hush money payment to Daniels. It is the reimbursements to Cohen that prosecutors say were falsely and unlawfully logged as legal expenses.

As the defence has done throughout the case, Blanche attacked Cohen as a liar with a personal vendetta against his former boss. While Blanche tried to chip away at Cohen's credibility, the defence showed jurors a PowerPoint slide that read: “Case Turns on Cohen”.

Blanche repeatedly reminded jurors of Cohen's past lies, including his 2018 guilty plea for lying to the US Congress. Trump's defence also played the jury clips of Cohen’s podcast in which the now-disbarred attorney said seeing the former president booked on criminal charges “fills me with delight”.

The case against Trump is built around testimony from “a witness that outright hates the defendant, wants him in jail, is actively making money off that hatred,” Blanche said.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass acknowledged that Cohen is a challenging witness. But prosecutors did not choose him, Steinglass argued; Trump did.

“It’s not about whether you like Michael Cohen," he told the jury. "It’s not about whether you want to go into business with Michael Cohen. It’s whether he has useful, reliable information to give you about what went down in this case, and the truth is that he was in the best position to know."

'Conspiracy and cover-up'

The prosecutor used his closing argument to bring jurors back to what District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office alleges is the crux of the case: a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election by keeping Daniels' story from surfacing. The case, “at its core, is about a conspiracy and a cover-up," Steinglass said.

The purpose of the effort, Steinglass argued, was “to manipulate and defraud the voters, to pull the wool over their eyes in a coordinated fashion.”

It’s impossible to know whether Trump’s effort to “hoodwink voters” made a difference in the 2016 election, Steinglass said, but that’s not something prosecutors have to prove.

Donald Trump, far left, takes notes as Michael Cohen, right, testifies against him.
Donald Trump, far left, takes notes as Michael Cohen, right, testifies against him.Elizabeth Williams/AP

Steinglass pushed back against the defence's contention that the former president was trying to protect his reputation and family – not his campaign – by shielding them from embarrassing stories about his personal life. 

The prosecutor said it's “no coincidence” that while Daniels' alleged sexual encounter with Trump happened in 2006, she wasn't paid for her silence until right before the 2016 election.

ADVERTISEMENT

The defence, meanwhile, told jurors that “every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate, a group of people who are working together to help somebody win." Trump’s alleged efforts to suppress negative stories were no different, Blanche said.

“The government wants you to believe that President Trump did these things with his records to conceal efforts to promote his successful candidacy in 2016, the year before,” Blanche said. “Even if you find that is true, that is not enough...it doesn’t matter if there’s a conspiracy to win an election."

Campaigning at the courthouse

Outside the courthouse, there were duelling press conferences from the Trump and Biden campaigns, which sought to capitalise on the gathering of reporters and cameras to attack their respective opponents and score political points.

While the defence was delivering its closing argument, the Biden campaign deployed outside the courthouse actor Robert De Niro and a pair of police officers who defended the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. It was a sharp about-face for Biden’s team, which had largely ignored the trial since it began six weeks ago.

De Niro and the officers didn’t reference Trump's criminal case directly but slammed the former president as a threat to the country. De Niro told reporters that if Trump returns to the White House, Americans can “kiss these freedoms goodbye that we all take for granted."

ADVERTISEMENT
Robert De Niro speaks to reporters in support of President Joe Biden across the street from former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York.
Robert De Niro speaks to reporters in support of President Joe Biden across the street from former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York.Seth Wenig/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Trump’s campaign staffers followed with their own news conference at the same spot. Trump’s senior campaign adviser Jason Miller told reporters that the Biden campaign's press event showed that the trial was political.

“After months of saying politics had nothing to do with this trial, they showed up and made a campaign event out of a lower Manhattan trial day for President Trump,” Miller said. Karoline Leavitt, the campaign press secretary, said the event was “a full blown concession that this trial is a witch hunt that comes from the top.”

Politicised language

The defence repeatedly referred to the prosecution as “the government”. The prosecution invoked the phrase “big lie”. Closing arguments on both sides were peppered with words and phrases that have become politicised.

Blanche called the prosecution “the government” — a term typically used for federal prosecutors, not the state-level team trying Trump’s case. 

While Trump’s two main attorneys are former federal prosecutors who are used to arguing in federal courtrooms, in New York, state prosecutors are typically referred to in court as “the people,” short for “the people of the State of New York”.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Trump has also been trying to cast the case — and the separate federal cases brought by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith — as a politically motivated effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to tank his re-election campaign.

However, the hush money case was filed by local prosecutors in Manhattan who do not work for the Justice Department, and the Justice Department has said the White House has had no involvement in the two Trump cases brought by Smith.

But by referring to the prosecution as the “government,” the defence is evoking images of a “deep state” conspiracy. Trump and many of his supporters have long claimed that a nefarious cabal is hellbent on illegitimately putting him behind bars and preventing him from retaking the White House.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Why is Trump’s son-in-law allowed to build in Europe’s first wild river national park delta?

Man dies after setting himself on fire outside Trump trial court

Market loser? Harsh truth for Trump as media stock slides