Trump trial judge reprimands former president’s lawyer for ‘outrageous’ statements

The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial admonished the lead defense lawyer for making “outrageous” statements at the end of his closing arguments.

For over two hours on Tuesday, Todd Blanche tried to convince the Manhattan jury not to convict his client on 34 counts of falsifying classified documents.

Turning his lectern to face the 12 men and women who will decide the outcome of the first criminal trial of a US president, Mr Blanche repeatedly confronts Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former fixer and the prosecution’s star witness.

“You cannot send someone to prison, you cannot convict someone, based upon the words of Michael Cohen,” Mr. Blanche said.

A courtroom sketch of Todd Blanche giving his closing arguments, watched by Donald Trump and Judge Juan Merchan – Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

After the jury was dismissed, Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, complained about the “blatant and wholly inappropriate” attempt to provoke sympathy for Mr Trump when he will not necessarily be imprisoned if convicted.

Judge Juan Merchan agreed the “statement was outrageous” and said he would give the jury a curative instruction with regards to observations.

“You know that making a comment like that is highly inappropriate. It’s simply not allowed. Period,” he said.

The judge later told the jury to “disregard” Mr Blanche’s comments. He told them not to “speculate” on matters of sentencing, adding: “A prison sentence is not required in the charges of this case.”

The case against Mr Trump centers on a $130,000 hush payment to silence Stormy Daniels, a porn film actress, about an alleged attempt with Mr Trump in the weeks before the 2016 election.

Mr Cohen claims he made the payment to Ms Daniels at his former boss’s behest. The charges relate to Mr Trump’s alleged attempt to “cook the books” to repay Mr Cohen.

Judge Juan Merchan directed the jury to disregard remarks made by Donald Trump’s lawyer – Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Outside the courthouse Robert De Niro, the actor and long-standing critic of Mr Trump, held an impromptu press conference on behalf of Joe Biden’s campaign.

Speaking next to a group of Mr Trump’s supporters, DeNiro described Mr Trump as a “clown” and a “tyrant”, adding: “This is the time to stop him.”

It’s legal warfare, say Trump sons

Mr Trump’s oldest sons, Donald Jr and Eric, also addressed the crowds outside, describing the court proceedings as an “abomination”, and “legal warfare”.

In court, Mr Blanche told the jury: “President Trump is innocent. “He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period.”

The lawyer repeatedly locked eyes with swearers and shouted that Mr Cohen was a liar and a thief.

“He’s the human embodiment of reasonable doubt,” he said. “He lies constantly. I have lied to Congress. I have lied to prosecutors. “He has lied to his family and business associates.”

Later, he added that Mr Cohen was “the GLOAT… literally the greatest liar of all time”.

Mr Blanche became impassioned as he revisited his Perry Mason moment of the trial – when he attempted to unravel Mr Cohen’s claim that he had spoken to Mr Trump by phone about the arrangement with Ms Daniels on Oct 24.

Mr Cohen said he had contacted Mr Trump’s bodyguard as a way of getting a hold of Mr Trump, but Mr Blanche asserted that at the time Mr Cohen was actually dealing with a spate of harassing phone calls from a teenager.

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

Cohen was ‘ultimate insider’

During his closing arguments for the prosecution, Mr Steinglass defended Mr Cohen’s credibility, describing him as the “ultimate insider”.

“The question is not whether you like Michael Cohen or whether you want to go into business with Michael Cohen,” he said. “The truth is he was in the best position to know… because he was at the defendant’s right hand.”

He also responded to the defense’s attacks on Ms Daniels as an extortionist who wanted to cash in on the fallout from the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

Mr Steinglass said her sometimes “cringeworthy” testimony about the sexual encounter she claims took place was vital because it “only reinforces his incentive to buy her silence.”

“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,” Mr Steinglass said. “In the simplest terms, Stormy Daniels is the motive.”

On Wednesday, the jury is expected to begin its deliberations to decide whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee just months before the 2024 election.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and denies ever having a sexual encounter with Ms Daniels.