HomePoliticsJurors receive dueling portraits of Michael Cohen

Jurors receive dueling portraits of Michael Cohen

It was sometimes difficult to tell on Tuesday whether former President Donald Trump or his former ally Michael Cohen were on trial.

A largely stoic Trump all but faded into the background as attorneys for the prosecution and defense delivered their “summaries” — closing arguments — in his hush-money case in a threadbare New York courtroom.

Jurors were treated to dueling portraits of Cohen, the key witness at the trial, and the relative significance of both his history of lies and the testimony he gave in the case. Judge Juan Merchan held the hearing into the evening to get closer to the point where Trump’s fate will be handed over to the jury.

Here are four lessons from Day 21 of the first trial of a former US president:

Ten things the defense hates about Michael Cohen

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche Much of his three-hour closing argument focused on Cohen, the former fixer for Trump whose colorful testimony and past often overshadowed other elements of the trial.

“He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true,” Blanche said. “Michael Cohen is the GLOAT – he is literally the biggest liar of all time.”

Cohen is at the center of a list called “10 Reasons Why You Have Reasonable Doubt,” which Blanche used to make the case that jurors should find Trump not guilty on all counts.

Cohen’s credibility is so important to the defense because his testimony tended to corroborate the state’s story. Trump is accused of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels to support his successful 2016 campaign for president.

Blanche argued that there is no evidence that Trump knew of — or had fraudulent intent regarding — invoices for payments that Cohen said were intended to reimburse him for his own costs of buying Daniels’ silence on a sexual encounter that Trump has been having for a long time. refused.

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Trump’s lawyer theorized that Cohen, acting alone to curry favor with Trump, broke the deal with Daniels. He said payments of more than $400,000 from Trump to Cohen were for general legal services and not for a hush-money reward.

And he accused Cohen of having a problem because he didn’t get a job in the Trump administration and that he had made up his story. “You cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt based on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said.

Most tellingly, Blanche showed on one slide that the jury simply said, “The case turns against Cohen.”

Prosecutors know Cohen matters, too

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass alleged that Cohen acted more as a “guide” to the criminal case than as a make-or-break witness.

“They want to make this case about Michael Cohen,” Steinglass said. ‘That’s not it. That’s a deflection.’

Yet Cohen also played a central role in Steinglass’ closing remarks to the jury. Forced to address the defense’s portrayal of Cohen as both a liar and a lone wolf who acted outside Trump’s authority, Steinglass responded with a different take on the relationship between the two men.

“He answered directly to the defendant. He got the jobs that no one else wanted, the jobs that the defendant wanted to keep secret,” the prosecutor said., He describes Cohen as “more of a fixer than a lawyer” for Trump. “He was a way for the defendant to maintain plausible deniability — or, in this case given the evidence, implausible deniability.”

Ultimately, Steinglass said, the case rests on a mountain of documents and testimony from other witnesses. He went through much of it painstakingly and in a time-consuming manner and addressed the jury for more than four hours.

Among the highlights: David Pecker, the former magazine publisher, testified that he, along with Trump and Cohen, devised a plan in 2015 to use the National Enquirer to help Trump’s presidential campaign. Hope Hicks, a former Trump aide, testified that Trump wanted Daniels’ accusation killed because he thought “it would have been bad if that story had gotten out before the election.”

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Steinglass, who noted that Hicks broke down in tears during her time on the stand, described her testimony as “devastating.”

Company records show Trump paid Cohen $35,000 a month for what attorneys said was a retainer to provide legal services. Prosecutors and Cohen say the “legal services” category was used to conceal the true nature of the payments that restored Cohen to post-tax health.

What is the case actually about, according to the Public Prosecution Service

The prosecution’s case rests on establishing three facts, Steinglass said: that false corporate documents were created; that the forgery was intended to cover up a conspiracy in support of Trump’s 2016 campaign; and that Trump was involved in the conspiracy and intended to defraud the voting public.

The middle one – that a cover-up was intended to influence the election – is perhaps the hardest to prove.

In an attempt to show the jury that the prosecutor had already done just that, Steinglass returned to October 7, 2016, when a video surfaced of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. The video was an old version of the television show “Access Hollywood.”

Its public announcement caused “pandemonium in the Trump campaign,” Steinglass said, and resulted in Trump telling the public it was just “locker room talk” as he tried to save his chances.

“During the exact same month, the defendant tried to sell the difference between words and actions, paying to muzzle a porn star” who claimed she had sex with him, Steinglass said, adding that Daniels was “a walking, talking memory was that the suspect did not consist only of words.”

According to Hicks’ testimony, Trump understood the vulnerability of his campaign at the time.

Steinglass showed the jury a flow of communication between the key players in the catch-and-kill scheme in the hours and days following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. When AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, withdrew from discussions to buy Daniels’ story, Cohen was put in direct contact with Daniels’ attorney, Keith Davidson.

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Cohen opened a bank account on October 26, 2016 for a new company formed for the purpose of making a payment to Daniels. The next day, he completed the hush money deal by making a $130,000 wire transfer to Davidson.

Blanche, the defense attorney, portrayed Trump as largely unconcerned about the “Access Hollywood” tape and therefore unconcerned that Daniels would cost him the election.

“He never thought he would lose the campaign because of this,” Blanche said, “and indeed it didn’t.” Instead, Blanche said, Trump was concerned about the video’s effect on his family.

Steinglass said there’s a simple reason the Daniels case was settled within a few weeks after voters went to the polls on Nov. 8, 2016, rather than closer to the alleged 2006 affair.

“The defendant’s primary concern was not his family, but the election,” Steinglass said.

Soundbite city

Blanche sprinkled made-for-TV sound bites into his summation, mostly via barbs intended to remind the court that Cohen has lied a lot in his life.

Because the trial is not televised, the theater seemed to be for the benefit of the jury and for the audience of one – Trump – at the defense table.

“It was a lie!” Blanche said, raising his voice and accenting each syllable as he cast doubt on Cohen’s claim to keep Trump informed of negotiations to buy Stormy Daniels’ silence in October 2016. “That’s—perjury!”

Later, Blanche made two attempts to get Cohen awarded an award for mendacity.

“He is literally the MVP of liars,” Blanche said at one point. Then, just before he finished, he tried again with the “GLOAT” wording.

Not to be outdone, Steinglass fired off a few zingers at lawyers. For example, he noted their tendency to point out that Cohen has lied to Congress in the past. The specific lies, Steinglass reminded the court, were intended to protect Trump from investigations into his ties to Russia.

“That’s what some people might call chutzpah,” Steinglass said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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