Trump hush-money case: What we learned from last night’s closing arguments

Jury in criminal trial of former US president will receive its instructions from the judge today

As the criminal trial of Donald Trump began its seventh week, the prosecution and the defence made their final pitches to jurors, sending the landmark case into deliberations Wednesday.

A defence lawyer, Todd Blanche, spent three hours on Tuesday hammering Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, including accusing him of perjury. He attacked Stormy Daniels, the adult film actor whose account of a tryst with Trump in 2006 set in motion the charges the former president faces.

The prosecution countered with an even longer, more detailed summation, pushing into the evening. A prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, guided jurors through reams of evidence they had introduced and elicited, including testimony, emails, text messages and recordings.

Trump (77), is charged with falsifying 34 business records to hide Cohen’s reimbursement for a $130,000 hush-money payment he made to Daniels. Prosecutors say that in making the payments, Trump intended to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied the charges and the sexual encounter.

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Once deliberations begin on Wednesday, no one knows how long they will take. If convicted, Trump – the presumptive Republican presidential nominee – could face prison or probation.

Here are five takeaways from closing arguments and Trump’s 21st day on trial.

‘Michael Cohen is a liar’ was a refrain. It may be the defence’s best bet

“The human embodiment of reasonable doubt.”

“An MVP of liars.”

“The greatest liar of all time.”

Those were words Blanche used to describe Cohen, saying Trump’s former fixer and lawyer had “an axe to grind” after being passed over for a White House job and pleading guilty to federal charges related to the hush-money payment.

Blanche’s calculation was simple: Cohen had linked Trump to the payment of Daniels, saying the former president directed him to “just do it”.

“What Mr Trump knew in 2016, you only know from one source,” he said. “And that’s Michael Cohen.”

If jurors don’t believe Cohen, they may have a hard time finding Trump guilty.

The defence portrayed the payment as a workaday transaction

Blanche sought to portray the conduct in the case as largely business as usual and not a crime, including the use of a nondisclosure agreement to silence Daniels.

Blanche also suggested there was no hard evidence of any untoward effort to influence the election.

“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,” he added, to get a candidate elected.

Indeed, he suggested that Trump was a victim of behaviour equivalent to extortion, including by Daniels. He said the pay-off “ended very well for Ms Daniels, financially speaking.”

Stagecraft made an impact

Blanche homed in on an October 24th, 2016, phone call that lasted about a minute and a half. In it, Cohen said, he had discussed the pay-off with Trump. Blanche suggested Cohen had perjured himself, suggesting the call was actually to Trump’s bodyguard about pranks a teenager had played on him.

Steinglass, the prosecutor, had a dramatic response: Pretending to be Cohen, Steinglass feigned a conversation in which he was able both to tell the bodyguard about the prank and update Trump. It took less time than the actual phone call.

It was a sharp rebuttal to what had been a high point for the defence.

Steinglass directly addressed the defence’s focus on Cohen’s flaws, calling him an “ultimate insider” who had “useful reliable information”.

“They want to make this case about Michael Cohen: It isn’t,” Steinglass said. “It’s about Donald Trump.”

Prosecutors presented a unified tale

In Steinglass’s closing argument, he focused on telling a sweeping story about fraud on American voters.

He argued that an agreement Trump struck with The National Enquirer to buy and bury unflattering stories was a “subversion of democracy” perpetuated by a “covert arm” of the 2016 Trump campaign. He added that the fraud deceived voters “in a co-ordinated fashion,” preventing the American people from deciding for themselves whether they cared that Trump slept with an adult film actor or not.

His arguments, intended to rebut Blanche’s minimisation of the election fraud claims, could be crucial. Prosecutors need to show that the business records were falsified to hide a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.

Now, we wait

The jury will receive its instructions from the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, on Wednesday.

Trump will stay at the courtroom, or thereabouts, as will the massive press corps that has descended on Manhattan’s Criminal Courts Building. The jury will retreat to discuss the case, perhaps sending out notes for help from the judge or to ask to review evidence.

Then – barring a hung jury – a verdict will come, bringing a celebration for Trump or for Manhattan prosecutors. Either way, however, the first criminal trial of a US president will be complete.

- This article originally appeared in The New York Times.