The Latest | Closing arguments in Trump's hush money trial have concluded

Closing arguments in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial have conclude

NEW YORK (AP) — Closing arguments in Donald Trump 's historic hush money trial concluded Tuesday evening in a Manhattan courtroom. It was the final opportunity for prosecutors and defense attorneys to convince the jury of their respective cases before deliberations begin.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche spoke for about three hours in the morning while prosecutor Joshua Steinglass went for over five hours. Court continued much longer than usual — stretching until 8 p.m.

Jurors will undertake the unprecedented task of deciding whether to convict the former U.S. president of felony criminal charges stemming from hush money payments tied to an alleged scheme to buy and bury stories that might have threatened Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

At the heart of the charges are reimbursements paid to Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment that was given to porn actor Stormy Daniels in exchange for not going public with her claim about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen, Trump's then-lawyer, were falsely logged as “legal expenses” to hide the true nature of the transactions.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing.

He pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records, charges which are punishable by up to four years in prison.

Closing arguments lasted all day Tuesday, with jury deliberations beginning as soon as Wednesday.

The case is the first of Trump's four indictments to go to trial as he seeks to reclaim the White House from Democrat Joe Biden.

The other cases center on charges of illegally hoarding classified documents at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It's unclear whether any of them will reach trial before the November election.

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Here's the latest:

CLOSING ARGUMENTS COME TO AN END

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass finished his summation by imploring jurors to find Donald Trump guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records.

“Donald Trump can’t shoot someone on Fifth Avenue at rush hour and get away with it,” Steinglass said, parroting Trump’s own long ago remark, prompting an objection from Trump’s lawyer. The objection was sustained.

During his closing remarks, Steinglass had sprinted — and, at times, staggered — through the timeline of events covered during Donald Trump’s hush money trial, repeating many of the points he’s already made, albeit with more emphatic takeaways.

As the judge's 8 p.m. deadline was minutes away, Steinglass acknowledged his summation had been “really long.”

“I apologize for trading brevity for thoroughness,” he told jurors, “but we only get one shot at this."

Steinglass spoke for over five hours. Todd Blanche, Trump’s defense attorney, went for about three.

Judge Juan Merchan told jurors he’ll give them instructions Wednesday before they start deliberating. Court will start at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the judge said, noting the long day on Tuesday. He said court will go until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and that they’ll revisit scheduling and the length of days as the week goes on.

Jurors appeared resilient but relieved to be going home as they marched out of the courtroom after the marathon day of summations.

Following the longer-than-usual day in the courtroom, the former president didn’t give his usual post-court remarks to the press in the hallway.

PROSECUTOR CITES EXAMPLES OF INTIMIDATION BY TRUMP BEFORE COURT TAKES ITS FINAL RECESS

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass showed jurors a series of Donald Trump’s social media posts lashing out at his former lawyer Michael Cohen after Cohen defected, which the prosecutor argued were not only designed to punish the former fixer, but to signal to other potential witnesses: “cooperate and you will face the wrath of Donald Trump.”

He also cited lawsuits Trump had filed against Cohen and Daniels as other examples of intimidation.

“The defendant wanted everyone to see the cost of taking him on,” Steinglass said.

A related argument, regarding threats Daniels said she faced after going public, prompted Trump’s lawyers to object. Defense lawyer Todd Blanche called it “extraordinarily prejudicial.” Steinglass stressed that he wasn’t suggesting Trump was behind the threats, but Judge Juan Merchan told him to move along anyway.

The sides argued briefly over that issue while the jury was out of the courtroom for the final recess.

But the day wasn't over. The prosecution’s summation, which began around 2 p.m., was still going as of 7 p.m.

Merchan told Steinglass he’s facing a hard out at 8 p.m. All day, jurors have said they can work until that time, but not later, the judge said. Merchan suggested the lawyer have his colleagues give him a note to indicate when it reaches that time so he can then wrap up his statement.

“Thanks for sticking with me,” Steinglass tells jurors as he settled back in at the podium after the break.

PROSECUTION DISCUSSES ASSERTION THAT PAYMENTS TO COHEN WERE FOR HIS LEGAL WORK

During closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money trial Tuesday, Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said Michael Cohen did little work for Trump in 2017, despite the checks he was receiving.

Trump’s lawyers contend the payments were for legal services Cohen provided that year. Steinglass pointed to Cohen testifying he did only about 10 hours of legal work that year.

“Mr. Cohen spent more time being cross-examined at this trial than he did doing legal work for Donald Trump in 2017,” Steinglass quipped. “Do you think there’s any chance Donald Trump would pay $42,000 an hour for legal work by Michael Cohen?”

Steinglass seized on a 2018 Trump tweet in which the then-president described the arrangement with Cohen as "reimbursement" while insisting it was unrelated to Trump's candidacy.

“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Trump wrote at the time.

Steinglass said that while the payments didn’t come out of campaign funds, “the payment has everything to do with the campaign.”

“And yet they still try to argue that the payments to Cohen in 2017 were for legal services rendered — because to say anything else is to admit that the business records were false, and they can’t do that,” the prosecutor said of his counterparts at the defense table.

Steinglass said the defense’s characterization of the payments to Cohen is also undermined by the fact that Trump didn’t pay Cohen anything in 2018, despite Cohen performing legal work for Trump that year.

The prosecutor also argued it would be “crazy” to think former Trump company finance chief Allen Weisselberg and Cohen devised the payment plan on their own. Trump surely would have asked questions about the $35,000 checks to Cohen that came to him to sign, the prosecutor asserted.

“Don’t buy this bogus narrative that the defense is selling — that the defendant was too busy to know what he was signing,” Steinglass urged jurors. “The defendant’s entire business philosophy was and is to be involved in everything, down to negotiating the price of the light bulbs.”

PROSECUTION TURNS TO THE DANIELS PAYOUT AS CLOSING ARGUMENTS RESUME

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass turned from the hush money arrangements before the 2016 election to the alleged effort to mask reimbursement to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer, for the Stormy Daniels payout as closing arguments resumed Tuesday in Trump's trial in New York.

Steinglass argued the case has “smoking guns” — in the form of handwritten jottings by former Trump company finance chief Allen Weisselberg and ex-controller Jeffrey McConney.

The two documents show calculations related to the payments Cohen got in 2017. They included his reimbursement for the $130,000 he’d paid Daniels, as well as an unrelated reimbursement, a bonus, and money to cover taxes, according to testimony.

While the defense suggested that Cohen was the driving force in the decision to style the payments as fees for legal services, the Weisselberg and McConney notes are “overt manifestations” that that’s not so, the prosecutor argued.

“They are the smoking guns. They completely blow out of the water” the defense’s claims that the payments were for legal work, Steinglass said.

COURT TAKES A BREAK, BUT IS NOT DONE YET

Court in Donald Trump's hush money trial recessed for a 20-minute break just before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Before sending jurors out of the courtroom, Judge Juan M. Merchan thanked them for making arrangements to stay later than usual. He said some jurors made child care and other arrangements allowing them to stay until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.

“I think right now we’re going to try to finish this out tonight,” he said.

The judge also noted that all of the jurors still looked alert. “I don’t think we’re losing anyone,” he observed.

While Manhattan famously has a night court that handles arraignments — first court appearances of those recently arrested — it’s unusual for state court trials there to run as late as 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. Merchan has been consulting with high-level court security officers, among others, about the plan.

PROSECUTION'S CLOSING ARGUMENT STRETCHES INTO THIRD HOUR

The prosecution's closing argument in Donald Trump's hush money case stretched into its third hour Tuesday afternoon as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass recapped the details of the back-and-forth between Stormy Daniels’ representatives and Michael Cohen over the payoff deal.

Steinglass supplemented his detailed recitation with phone records, text messages, encrypted communications and excerpts of testimony, seemingly trying to reinforce his theme that there’s a “mountain” of corroboration for the allegations at hand.

Meanwhile, Trump is taking in this leg of the summation with his head back and his eyes closed — a strategy he's employed throughout the trial.

STEINGLASS CONNECTS ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD’ TAPE AND DANIELS PAYMENT

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass stressed late Tuesday afternoon that to understand the hush money case against Donald Trump, jurors needed to understand the climate in which the deal to pay off Stormy Daniels was made — just after the “Access Hollywood” tape leak had “caused pandemonium in the Trump campaign.”

“It’s critical to appreciate this,” Steinglass said.

At the same time he was dismissing his words on the tape as “locker room talk,” Trump “was negotiating to muzzle a porn star,” the prosecutor said.

“Stormy Daniels was a walking, talking reminder that the defendant wasn’t only words. She would have totally undermined his strategy of spinning away the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape,” Steinglass said.

PROSECUTION DUBS ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD’ TAPE A ‘CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE’

Following a brief afternoon break in closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money trial, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass turned his attention to the publication of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016 and the resulting fallout for the then-candidate's campaign.

Steinglass reminded jurors how Hope Hicks, then the campaign’s communications director, testified that news coverage of the tape knocked a Category 4 hurricane out of the headlines.

Steinglass dubbed the tape a “Category 5” hurricane.

COHEN RECORDING SHOWS TRUMP WAS WILLING TO ‘HIDE THIS PAYOFF,’ PROSECUTOR ARGUES

Before an afternoon break on Tuesday, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass stressed that Michael Cohen’s secret recording, in which he was allegedly briefing Trump on a plan to buy the rights to McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer, “shows the defendant’s cavalier willingness to hide this payoff.”

“This shows the defendant suggesting paying in cash,” the prosecutor said as he showed jurors a transcript of the September 2016 recording. “It doesn’t matter if that means a bag of cash or no financing, no lump sum. He’s trying to do it in a way that leaves no paper trail, that’s the whole point.”

“This tape unequivocally shows a presidential candidate actively engaging in a scheme to influence the election by reimbursing AMI for the McDougal story,” Steinglass added.

He argued that’s why the defense tried so hard to discredit it.

PROSECUTION PUSHES BACK ON DEFENSE EFFORTS TO CAST DOUBT ON COHEN'S RECORDING OF CALL WITH TRUMP

The prosecution on Tuesday targeted the defense’s efforts to cast doubt on a September 2016 recording that Michael Cohen made of a conversation with Donald Trump in which the two are allegedly heard discussing a plan to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer.

Steinglass said the defense had gone to “laughable lengths” to try to undermine the recording, which he cast as “nothing short of jaw-dropping.”

Cohen had testified during the hush money trial that the recording, which cuts off before the conversation finishes, was interrupted when he received an incoming call.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche had tried to cast the recording as unreliable and suggested it was actually about a plan to buy a collection of material on Trump that the National Enquirer had been hoarding — not McDougal.

Blanche also questioned whether Trump mentioned a dollar figure that he might have to spend, as Cohen and prosecutors contend, or whether he said something else.

TRUMP WAS ‘LOOMING BEHIND EVERYTHING THEY’RE DOING,' PROSECUTOR SAYS

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said on Tuesday during closing arguments that joking texts between Karen McDougal’s lawyer Keith Davidson and then-National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard about hypothetical ambassadorships were clear evidence that they knew the deal would benefit Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Throw in an ambassadorship for me. I’m thinking Isle of Mann,” Davidson wrote on July 28, 2016, referring to the British territory Isle of Man.

“I’m going to Make Australia Great Again,” replied Howard, who hails from Australia.

All joking aside, Steinglass said: “It’s a palpable recognition of what they’re doing. They’re helping Trump get elected.” The prosecutor said the text messages underscore that “Trump is looming behind everything that they’re doing.”

PROSECUTOR ZEROES IN FURTHER ON ‘CATCH-AND-KILL' ALLEGATIONS

Digging further into the two sides’ dispute over the “catch-and-kill” allegations, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said during closing arguments Tuesday that it doesn’t matter that Karen McDougal preferred a deal that would help her career while not airing her claims of an affair with Donald Trump, as her former lawyer and others testified.

“Her motivations are totally irrelevant. The question is: What is the defendant’s motivation?” the prosecutor said, adding that that motivation “was to serve the campaign.”

Trump denies any sexual involvement with McDougal.

PROSECUTOR SAYS CASE IS ABOUT TRUMP AND NOT MICHAEL COHEN

After Donald Trump’s lawyer had insisted to jurors that the hush money case rested on Michael Cohen and that they couldn’t trust him, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass sought to persuade the group that there is “a mountain of evidence, of corroborating testimony, that tends to connect the defendant to this crime.”

He pointed to testimony from David Pecker and others, to the recorded conversation in which Trump and Cohen appear to discuss the Karen McDougal deal, and to Trump’s own tweets.

“It’s not about whether you like Michael Cohen. It’s not about whether you want to go into business with Michael Cohen. It’s whether he has useful, reliable information to give you about what went down in this case, and the truth is that he was in the best position to know,” Steinglass said.

The prosecutor then accused the defense of wanting to make the case all about Cohen.

“It isn’t. That’s a deflection,” he said. “This case is not about Michael Cohen. It’s about Donald Trump.”

STEINGLASS SAYS ‘STORMY DANIELS IS THE MOTIVE’

The prosecution on Tuesday homed in on Stormy Daniels' sometimes “cringeworthy” testimony about a 2006 sexual encounter she says she had with Donald Trump, saying it was vital because it “only reinforces his incentive to buy her silence.”

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass added that Daniels’ account of meeting up with Trump in his Lake Tahoe hotel suite — replete with details of the décor and what she saw when she snooped in Trump’s toiletry kit — was full of touchstones “that kind of ring true.”

“Her story is messy. It makes people uncomfortable to hear. It probably makes some of you uncomfortable to hear. But that’s kind of the point,” Steinglass said.

He told jurors: “In the simplest terms, Stormy Daniels is the motive.”

“We don’t have to prove that sex actually took place, but the defendant knew what happened in that hotel room and the extent that you credit her testimony, that only reinforces his incentive to buy her silence,” Steinglass argued.

PROSECUTION TRIES TO COUNTER DEFENSE'S EFFORTS TO DISCREDIT COHEN

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass on Tuesday afternoon tried in his summation to counter the defense’s efforts to discredit Michael Cohen’s testimony.

He said that the jury should take Cohen’s past dishonesty into account.

“How could you not?” he asked.

But he says that Cohen’s anger is understandable given that, “To date, he’s the only one that’s paid the price for his role in this conspiracy.”

Cohen, Steinglass argued, did Trump’s bidding for years, was his right-hand man, and when things went bad, was cut loose and thrown under the bus.

“Anyone in Cohen’s shoes would want the defendant to be held accountable,” he argued.

ALLEGATIONS OF EXTORTION ARE ‘NOT A DEFENSE TO ELECTION FRAUD,’ PROSECUTOR SAYS

At the outset of its summation in Donald Trump's hush money trial, the prosecution sought to rebut the defense's claim that porn actor Stormy Daniels was trying to “extort” the then-presidential candidate.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass noted that Daniels' representatives initially sought to sell the story of a sexual encounter between the porn actor and Trump to media outlets — not to Trump. Steinglass also cited Daniels' testimony that she came to believe that going public was the best way to protect herself and her family from pressure to stay silent.

Regardless, allegations of extortion are “not a defense to election fraud,” the prosecutor said.

“You don’t get to commit election fraud or falsify business records because you believe you’ve been victimized,” he told jurors.

PROSECUTION BEGINS ITS CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass has begun delivering his closing arguments in Donald Trump's hush money trial. He speaks from the same podium that Blanche used, looking directly at jurors from a position between the prosecution and defense tables.

“This case, at its core, is about a conspiracy and a cover-up,” Steinglass said as he began.

Prosecutors have presented “powerful evidence of the defendant’s guilt,” he said.

As he continued, Trump sat at the defense table with his body angled toward Steinglass, listening as Steinglass spoke.

DEFENSE IMPL

ORES JURY TO RETURN A ‘NOT GUILTY’ VERDICT

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche finished his summation Tuesday by telling jurors the hush money case “isn’t a referendum on your views of President Trump.”

“This is not a referendum on the ballot box -- who you voted for in 2016 or 2020, who you plan on voting for in 2024. That is not what this is about,” the attorney told jurors. “The verdict you have to reach has to do with the evidence you heard in this courtroom,” and nothing else, he reminds them.

He implored the jury to return a quick “not guilty” verdict.

BLANCHE CALLS COHEN ‘AN MVP OF LIARS’

As he neared the end of his summation on Tuesday, defense lawyer Todd Blanche reminded jurors of Michael Cohen’s admitted fixation on Donald Trump — and his desire to see him behind bars.

Blanche played short clips of Cohen’s podcast in which he commended District Attorney Alvin Bragg and said that the idea of seeing the former president booked on criminal charges “fills me with delight.”

The case against Trump is built around testimony from “a witness that outright hates the defendant, wants him in jail, is actively making money off that hatred,” Blanche said.

While Cohen has testified that he lied to protect Trump, his family and others, Blanche asserted that the ex-lawyer “is lying simply to protect Michael Cohen and nobody else. Period.”

Blanche’s voice grew to a roar — the loudest he had been all morning — as he also declared that Cohen had lied about speaking to Trump by phone about the Stormy Daniels arrangement on Oct. 24, 2016.

“It was a lie,” Blanche said. “That was a lie and he got caught red-handed.”

Blanche then called Cohen “literally like an MVP of liars.”

“He lied to Congress. He lied to prosecutors. He lied to his family and business associates,” he said.

DEFENSE TRIES TO DOWNPLAY ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD’ TAPE

Lawyer Todd Blanche tried on Tuesday to downplay the fallout from the “Access Hollywood” tape that sent Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign into a tailspin, telling the jury: “It was not a doomsday event.”

Blanche conceded in his summation that Trump was bothered by the story. “Nobody wants their family to be subjected to that type of thing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re running for office, if you’re running ‘The Apprentice’ ... Nobody wants their family exposed to that type of story.”

Nonetheless, he argued characterizations of the tape as devastating were an exaggeration. He pointed to testimony from Trump’s former assistant Madeleine Westerhout, whom he said cast the fallout as “a couple of days of frustration and consternation.”

Westerhout, who was then working for the Republican National Committee in close coordination with the Trump campaign, had testified that the tape “rattled the RNC leadership” but that Trump wasn’t thrown by it.

Reince Priebus, then-chair of the Republican National Committee, had told Trump after the tape was released that he had two choices: drop out of the race or lose by the largest margin in history, Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has recounted.

BLANCHE ARGUES ‘PEOPLE ALREADY KNEW’ ABOUT DANIELS' CLAIMS

Turning to Stormy Daniels' story, defense lawyer Todd Blanche noted in his summation that her allegations of a 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump were aired on a gossip site in 2011 — four years before Trump announced his presidential candidacy. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels.

“So how could this issue have influenced the election?” Blanche argued. “People already knew about the allegations.”

At the behest of Daniels and Michael Cohen, the story was taken off the site.

Blanche asserted that the real impetus behind Daniels’ interest in making a deal in 2016 was that some people wanted to use the election as pressure to “extort” Trump.

Following a brief morning break, Blanche singled out that Daniels issued two statements in 2018 denying that she’d ever had a sexual encounter with Trump. She testified earlier in the hush money trial that she signed off on them at her lawyer’s urging.

DEFENSE DENIES RECORDED CONVERSATION WAS ABOUT PAYOFF OF FORMER MODEL

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche spotlighted a key piece of prosecution evidence during his summation: the secret recording Michael Cohen says he made of himself briefing Donald Trump on a plan to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer.

Blanche said the September 2016 recording, which cuts off before the conversation finishes, is unreliable and was actually about a plan to buy a collection of material on Trump that the National Enquirer had been hoarding — not McDougal. Cohen has said the audio cut off because the iPhone he was using to make the recording was receiving a phone call.

“There is no doubt that this recording discussed AMI and discussed Mr. Pecker,” Blanche said, referring to the National Enquirer’s parent company and then-publisher. “There is a lot of doubt that it discussed Karen McDougal.”

After playing parts of the recording, Blanche urged jurors to trust their ears when deciphering a specific part — whether Trump mentioned a dollar figure that he might have to spend, as Cohen and prosecutors contend, or whether he said something else.

“What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump said, according to Cohen and prosecutors, as in $150,000.

“Listen to the recording. See if you hear one-fifty,” Blanche told jurors.

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