Donald Trump tried to “deceive voters,” prosecutor says

Donald Trump tried to “deceive voters,” prosecutor says
Donald Trump tried to “deceive voters,” prosecutor says

The lawyers’ conflicting accounts, sharply divergent in their assessments of the witnesses’ credibility, Mr. Trump’s guilt and the strength of the evidence, offered both sides one last chance to score points with the jury before it here begins deliberations on the first criminal case against a former American president.

The landmark case, the only one of four criminal prosecutions against Mr. Trump to go to trial, centered on allegations that Mr. Trump and his allies conspired to cover up potentially embarrassing stories during the 2016 presidential campaign in secretly paying money — including to Stromy Daniels, a pornographic actress who claimed she and Trump had sex a decade earlier.

“This case, at its core, is about a conspiracy and a cover-up,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told jurors, who are expected to begin deliberations Wednesday. He later added: “We will never know if these efforts to deceive voters made a difference in the 2016 election, but that is not something we need to prove.”

Donald Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, told jurors that neither Stormy Daniels nor the Trump lawyer who paid her, Michael Cohen, could be trusted.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crime and the prosecutor did not meet the burden of proof, period,” Mr. Blanche said.

Key testimonies

After more than four weeks of testimony, the deliberations represent a momentous and historically unprecedented task for the jury as it decides whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee before the November election.

Political undertones were present during the proceedings, as President Joe Biden’s campaign hosted an event outside the courthouse with actor Robert De Niro, while Mr. Blanche reminded jurors that the affair was not a referendum on their views of Donald Trump.

During a marathon five-hour discussion that stretched late into the evening, Mr. Steinglass emphasized to jurors the wealth of evidence they had seen, but also sought to allay potential concerns about credibility witnesses. Donald Trump and his legal team, for example, have repeatedly denounced Michael Cohen, whom they accuse of being a liar.

The prosecutor acknowledged that Stormy Daniels’ account of the alleged 2006 encounter in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite, which Mr. Trump denied, was at times “embarrassing.” But he said the details she provided – including about the decor and what she said she saw when she rummaged through Mr Trump’s toiletry bag – were full of items “that sound TRUE”.

He said the story was important because it “reinforces (Mr. Trump’s) incentive to buy his silence.”

The hidden payment allegedly took place against the backdrop of the disclosure of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump could be heard bragging about sexually touching women without their permission. If Ms. Daniels’ story had come to light after this recording, it would have undermined her strategy of playing down her words, Mr. Steinglass said.

“It’s critical to understand that,” he said. At the same time as he dismissed his recorded remarks as “locker room talk,” Mr. Trump was “negotiating to muzzle a porn star.”

Todd Blanche, who spoke first, sought to downplay the fallout by saying the “Access Hollywood” tape was not an “apocalyptic event.”

Mr. Steinglass also argued that the prosecution’s case did not rest solely on Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and personal arranger who paid Ms. Daniels US$130,000 to keep quiet. Mr. Cohen later pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the secret payments, as well as lying to Congress. He went to prison and was disbarred, but his direct involvement in the dealings made him a key witness in the trial.

“It’s not about whether you like Michael Cohen. It’s not a question of whether you want to do business with Michael Cohen,” the prosecutor said. “It’s a question of whether he has useful and reliable information to give you about what happened in this case, and the truth is he was in the best position to make it known.”

Mr. Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

In his own speech to the jury, Todd Blanche blasted the entire basis of the case.

The defense lawyer said Mr. Cohen, not Mr. Trump, created the invoices submitted to the Trump Organization for reimbursement and he rejected the prosecution’s caricature of a detail-oriented manager, suggesting place that Donald Trump was concerned about the presidency and not the checks he was signing. He also scoffed at the idea that the alleged hush money exchange amounted to election interference.

He reserved his sharpest attack for Mr. Cohen, with whom he exchanged during a lengthy cross-examination.

Picking up on the term “GOAT,” used primarily in sports as an acronym for “greatest of all time,” Mr. Blanche called Mr. Cohen “GLOAT” — the greatest liar of all time — and called him called “the human embodiment of reasonable doubt.”

In his testimony, Michael Cohen admitted to a litany of past lies, many of which he said were aimed at protecting Donald Trump. But he said he then told the truth, at great cost: “My whole life was turned upside down as a direct result,” he said.

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