Trump lawyer asks jurors to set personal views aside as hush money trial nears end

Former US president charged with falsifying business records arising from $130,000 payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels

Donald Trump’s lawyer urged jurors at his hush money trial on Tuesday to set aside their personal views while considering whether he should be the first US president to be convicted of a crime.

“This isn’t a referendum on your views of president Trump,” Mr Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said in his closing argument in the trial of the businessman-turned-politician who is the 2024 Republican candidate for president.

“If you focus just on that evidence you heard in this courtroom, this is a very, very quick and easy not-guilty verdict,” he said.

Mr Blanche drew a reprimand from the judge overseeing the trial for telling jurors the evidence was insufficient to send Mr Trump to prison. Jurors are tasked with assessing guilt or innocence while judges determine punishment of those found guilty.


Justice Juan Merchan told jurors after they returned from lunch to ignore that statement. “That comment was improper and you must disregard it,” he said before prosecutors began their closing argument.

The jury could begin deliberations as soon as Wednesday.

In his closing argument, Mr Blanche cast Trump (77), as a victim of blackmail by adult film star Stormy Daniels and argued that prosecutors had failed to prove he covered up a $130,000 payment to buy her silence in the final days of the 2016 election about an alleged sexual encounter a decade earlier.

Mr Blanche said Ms Daniels had been trying to extort Mr Trump by threatening to go public with her story as he battled a string of unflattering stories of sexual misconduct.

“She was trying to use the 2016 election as leverage to try and get paid,” Mr Blanche told the 12 jurors who will decide whether to convict Mr Trump, the US president from 2017-2021, of falsifying documents to cover up the Daniels payment.

Mr Trump denies wrongdoing and says he never had sex with Ms Daniels.

Mr Blanche urged jurors to look past the salacious details and focus on the paperwork at the heart of the case.

He said Mr Trump did not know that his fixer Michael Cohen paid the hush money to Ms Daniels, and said prosecutors had failed to prove that Mr Trump falsified documents when he reimbursed Mr Cohen after the election.

Prosecutors in Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s office say the Daniels payment amounted to an improper campaign contribution because it kept voters from learning about an alleged affair that could have swayed their decision-making.

Later on Tuesday, prosecutors will sum up the witnesses and evidence they have presented during the six-week trial. They must prove Mr Trump is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the level of certainty required by US law.

A conviction will not prevent Mr Trump from trying to take back the White House from president Joe Biden in the November 5th election. Nor will it prevent him from taking office if he wins. Opinion polls show the two men locked in a tight race.

Outside the courtroom, prominent Biden supporters warned that Mr Trump would erode democracy and encourage political violence if re-elected. “If he gets in, I can tell you right now he will never leave,” actor Robert De Niro said, while pro-Trump demonstrators chanted in the background.

Mr Blanche told jurors they could not trust Mr Cohen, who testified that as Mr Trump’s fixer he paid Ms Daniels out of his own pocket and worked out a plan with Mr Trump to be reimbursed through payments disguised as legal fees.

Mr Blanche reminded them that Mr Cohen had previously admitted to lying under oath, and said Mr Cohen had lied again during the trial when he testified that he had spoken with Mr Trump about paying off Ms Daniels before the election.

“He is literally the greatest liar of all time,” Mr Blanche said.

He said there was no evidence that Mr Trump knew anything about how those payments were characterised in his company’s ledger. Prosecutors must prove that Mr Trump knowingly broke the law.

The charges brought against Mr Trump are misdemeanours on their own but prosecutors elevated them to felonies on the grounds that Mr Trump was trying to cover up another crime – that of promoting a candidacy for political office by unlawful means.

Those “unlawful means,” prosecutors will argue, include excessive campaign contributions, tax violations and other business records-related crimes.

If found guilty, Mr Trump faces up to four years in prison, although imprisonment is unlikely for a first-time felon convicted of such a crime.

Mr Blanche said prosecutors had not proven that there had been any underlying crime to cover up.

Mr Trump faces three other criminal prosecutions as well, but none is likely to go to trial before the election.

Separate cases in Washington and Georgia accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat, while another case in Florida charges him with mishandling classified information after he left office in 2021.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of the cases and says they are an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hobble his presidential bid.

– Reuters