HomePoliticsDefense attorneys begin closing arguments in Trump's criminal trial

Defense attorneys begin closing arguments in Trump’s criminal trial

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan enters its final stages Tuesday as defense attorneys and prosecutors deliver closing arguments in a final attempt to influence the 12 New Yorkers who will decide his fate.

First the defense and then the prosecution will spend hours weaving disparate pieces of evidence into a coherent story that they hope will resonate with jurors. To shape their dueling accounts, each side can draw on a deep well of evidence: testimony from 22 witnesses, reams of emails and a surreptitious recording of Trump coordinating a secret payout.

To convince the jury, the prosecution and defense will start with different versions of the same basic facts: Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer, struck a hush-money deal with a porn actor in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The undisputed facts concern that $130,000 transaction; Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels to silence her story about a sexual encounter with Trump.

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Almost everything else is up for debate.

Prosecutors have argued that Trump ordered Cohen to pay Daniels and approved a criminal scheme to repay Cohen, disguising the repayments by saying they were made for legal services that did not, in fact, exist. Their case is supported by the testimony of Cohen himself, as well as Daniels, several other witnesses and phone records, text messages and emails.

But the defense has branded Cohen a liar, suggested he acted alone in paying Daniels and argued he was never even compensated for the payment. Instead, they said, Trump reimbursed him for actual legal services. Trump also says he never had sex with Daniels.

Todd Blanche, the lead attorney, is expected to deliver the closing argument, arguing that the case centers on Cohen, whose testimony provided the only evidence that Trump had direct knowledge of a plot to falsify reimbursement records. He will portray Cohen as a jilted ex-employee who is obsessed with Trump and would benefit from his conviction.

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He may also be trying to draw the jury’s attention to two key figures who did not testify: Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime money man, who prosecutors say devised the payback structure, and Keith Schiller, the longtime bodyguard from Trump. At the end of 2016, both men had crucial contacts with Cohen about the hush money payment.

But Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor who will have the final say, could object to any reference to Weisselberg, who is currently behind bars for perjury in a separate case. He is also expected to highlight every last piece of evidence – including testimony from other witnesses – that supports Cohen’s story about the hush money deal and the payback.

And Steinglass may remind jurors of Daniels’ deeply disturbing testimony about what she said was an uninvited sexual encounter as he tries to convince jurors that Trump was desperate to silence her story in the days before the 2016 election.

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Here’s what you need to know as the trial enters its seventh – and possibly final – week.

– The closing statements are expected to last throughout Tuesday and could spill over into Wednesday. On Wednesday, the judge presiding over the case, Juan Merchan, will brief jurors on the relevant law before beginning deliberations.

— It can take anywhere from a few hours to weeks for the jury to reach a verdict. The courtroom will be open to journalists during closed deliberations, but little is expected to happen. Jurors may ask the judge for specific explanations of confusing points of law, or read testimony in court.

– Trump is charged with 34 felonies for falsifying company records related to the refund. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison. The 22 witnesses did not include Trump, who chose not to take a stand in his defense.

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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