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Former President Donald Trump at Manhattan criminal court in New York, U.S.A.  / Photo via Voice of America.

Former U.S. President's hush money case about to end



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International News
P
ublished on Tuesday, May 28, 2024

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services


The final scenes of Donald Trump’s New York hush money criminal trial unfolded Tuesday.


According to a report published by Voice of America Journal, Trump's defense lawyer told a 12-member jury that it should decide on “a very quick and easy not guilty verdict” to clear the former U.S. president of allegations that he illegally sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

“President Trump is innocent,” defense lawyer Todd Blanche declared. “He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof — period.”

Blanche, through a three-hour closing argument, repeatedly attacked the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness, one-time Trump political fixer Michael Cohen, calling the convicted perjurer “literally the greatest liar of all time.”

"He lied to you repeatedly. He lied many, many times before you even met him," Blanche told the seven men and five women on the jury. "He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true."

Cohen testified during the six-week trial that at Trump told him to “just do it,” to pay $130,000 in hush money days ahead of the election to porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her claim she had a one-night tryst with Trump in 2006. Blanche, however, suggested that Cohen made the hush money payment on his own and that Trump had no knowledge of it.

“It made perfect sense for Mr. Cohen in 2016 to make payment without telling President Trump about it," so he could get a high-level White House job if Trump won, and a better job internally at the Trump Organization if Trump lost, Blanche said.

"What President Trump knew in 2016 you only know from one source, and I said that a few times, but it matters, and that's Michael Cohen," Blanche said.

Trump has denied the liaison with Daniels and the entirety of the 34-count indictment he is facing, that he falsified business records at his Trump Organization real estate conglomerate to hide repayment of the hush money to Cohen in 2017 after he became the country’s 45th president by claiming it was for legal work Cohen did for him.

Blanche acknowledged, as the prosecution has contended, that Cohen did not have a written retainer to do legal work for Trump but said they had a verbal agreement, and that Cohen was Trump’s personal attorney after he became president in 2017.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass was set to make the government’s closing argument against Trump after a lunch break, a statement to the jury that he said could last as long as 4½ hours. Then, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is set to read legal instructions to the jurors on Wednesday morning before handing them the case for closed-door deliberations.

Under the U.S. legal system, the jurors will have to unanimously decide whether to acquit the 77-year-old Trump or find him guilty. If they cannot agree, resulting in a hung jury, prosecutors then would decide whether to retry the case.

While Blanche called for Trump’s acquittal, in reality the defense lawyer needed only to convince one of the 12 jurors that there was reasonable doubt about Trump’s guilt in order to achieve a mistrial with a hung jury. For a guilty verdict, U.S. jurors have to decide the evidence presented by prosecutors proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty.

“We have no burden to prove anything,” Blanche told the jury. “The burden is always on the government.”

For Trump, the outcome is consequential, not only for his personal freedom but his political fate. He is the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate, set to run again in the November election against President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020.

National polls show Biden and Trump locked in a tight contest, but some opinion polls indicate Trump supporters could switch their vote to Biden or not vote at all if the former president is convicted.

If convicted, Trump could be placed on probation or be sentenced to up to four years in prison, although he is certain to appeal and could continue to run for the presidency.

Trump is facing three other indictments, including two accusing him of illegally trying to upend his 2020 election loss. But all three cases are tied up in legal wrangling between his lawyers and prosecutors. As a result, the New York case nearing completion may be the only one decided before the November election.




Trump had often said he wanted to testify in his own defense at the trial, but in the end, did not, which was his right.

Cohen testified that Trump twice approved the 2017 reimbursement plan to pay him back the hush money he sent to Daniels’ lawyer a few days before the 2016 election, including once at the White House less than three weeks after his inauguration.

Trump signed nine of the 11 payment checks to Cohen in 2017, but Blanche suggested that by then Trump was so busy as president he may not have been aware of what the checks were for.

“He was running the country,” Blanche said.

Trump urged several Republican lawmakers to show up in the courtroom during the trial in the seats behind the defense table as a show of support. The legislators, including House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, often stayed for an hour or two of testimony and then, because they were not subject to the gag order barring Trump from attacking witnesses and jurors, walked outside the courthouse and held news conferences to criticize witnesses against Trump, especially Cohen and Daniels.

Some of Trump’s adult children occasionally showed up at the trial, but not his wife, former first lady Melania Trump. His two oldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, were there Tuesday, as was his second daughter, Tiffany Trump.

The question for the jurors centers on Cohen’s credibility, and whether the paperwork documents in the case outweigh any doubts they may have about his checkered history.

Cohen acknowledged during hours of testimony that he has over the years been a serial liar on Trump’s behalf and to protect his own wife from tax-evasion charges. He said that as part of the hush money reimbursement plan, he stole $60,000 from the Trump company because he felt Trump had shorted him on his year-end 2016 bonus.

Cohen testified that with Trump’s consent, Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s then-chief financial officer, “grossed up” the overall reimbursement to $420,000, in part to cover Cohen’s tax liability, and that the reimbursement was paid out in $35,000 monthly increments in 2017.

Despite his pivotal role in the reimbursement, Weisselberg, now serving a five-month prison sentence for lying under oath in a previous Trump-related business fraud civil case, was not called as a witness by the prosecution, which Blanche immediately noted at the start of his closing argument.

Early witnesses in the trial portrayed Cohen as brash, profane and volatile. However, on the witness stand, the 57-year-old disbarred lawyer was reserved and did not erupt under hours of a withering cross-examination by Blanche.

For years, Cohen was a Trump loyalist, his lawyer and political fixer who tended to Trump’s every whim during his years as a New York real estate magnate and during his 2016 run for the presidency. As news of Daniels’ claim of a liaison with Trump and the hush money reimbursement to Cohen became public in 2018, the relationship between the then-president and Cohen ruptured after federal agents raided his then-New York home, a hotel room.

In the end, Cohen pleaded guilty to perjury in connection with his lying to a congressional panel about a Trump Tower construction project in Moscow that never materialized, tax fraud and a campaign finance law violation linked to the hush money payment to Daniels. He served 13½ months in a federal prison and another year-and-a-half in home confinement.

Since then, he has turned into a persistent Trump critic. He testified pointedly that he hopes Trump is convicted.

A month before the 2016 November election, The Washington Post unearthed a 2005 outtake from the celebrity-driven “Access Hollywood” show in which Trump boasted that he could grope women at will because he was a star.

The emergence of the tape led directly to the hush money payment to Daniels, prosecutors say. The Trump campaign was worried that the Access Hollywood footage might offend female voters and that one more sex-related Trump story would be worse. Daniels, at the same time, was hawking her Trump story or wanted money to stay quiet.

Cohen said he created a shell company, transferred money into it from his home equity line of credit and wired Daniels’ lawyer the hush money. Cohen said he would not have made the payment on his own without Trump’s assent.

Within a week, Trump narrowly defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and U.S. secretary of state, to win a four-year term in the White House.

Voice of America Journal is the state-owned news network and international radio broadcaster of the United States of America.

 

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What have you heard about a former president convicted in your country? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to news@amcostarica.com


 






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