Trump lawyer criticizes ‘liar’ Cohen in New York hush money trial

Screenshot, A sketch of Trump listening to his defense team present their closing arguments.

  • Author, Madeline Halpert and Kayla Epstein
  • Role, BBC News, in the New York courts

Donald Trump’s historic secret trial neared its conclusion Tuesday as the prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments to the court.

In the defense’s final speech, Trump’s top lawyer attacked Michael Cohen, his former fixer and the prosecution’s star witness, as the “biggest liar of all time.”

Prosecutors then launched a lengthy rebuttal, portraying Cohen as a flawed “tour guide” to a “mountain” of evidence against Trump.

Twelve jurors will soon be asked to decide whether the former president, and presumptive Republican nominee for the November election, is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of falsifying business records.

Over the past six weeks, Trump, 77, has spent days testifying about a hush payment made before the 2016 election to Stormy Daniels, a former adult film star, in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter.

Prosecutors at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office claim Trump falsified business records on 34 counts when he reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 (£102,000) payment and recorded it as legal fees.

Furthermore, they claimed that he was motivated by the intention to illegally influence the 2016 race.

For several hours Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, argued passionately that Trump had no intention of falsifying business records or committing election interference.

He attacked the credibility of Cohen, whom he called the “human embodiment of reasonable doubt.”

Blanche reminded jurors that Cohen had been jailed for lying under oath, that he had admitted to stealing from his former employer, and that he now lived with “an ax to grind” against Trump.

“He’s literally like the MVP of liars,” he said.

Trump turned in his chair and watched as his lawyer criticized the case, occasionally closing his eyes, as he has often been seen doing.

But the burden of proof in this case falls on the prosecution, who must convince the jury of Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.

The prosecution’s lead attorney, Joshua Steinglass, took a nearly four-hour tour through his closing argument, finally concluding around 8:00 p.m. local time at the behest of Judge Juan Merchán.

At its core, the case against Trump is about “a conspiracy and a cover-up,” he said.

For five weeks, prosecutors have called a host of witnesses to corroborate dozens of documents and recordings surrounding the hush payment to Ms. Daniels and the repayment to Cohen.

Steinglass acknowledged problems with some witnesses, including Ms. Daniels’ “embarrassing” testimony, as well as the considerable “baggage” of her star witness.

“The defendant chose Michael Cohen. To be his mediator!” he pointed out. “We didn’t pick him up at the witness store.”

Steinglass said the jury must consider “not whether you like Cohen or want to do business” with him, but rather view him as a “tour guide” to show that his actions helped “one person and one person only.”

If jurors “ignore the sideshows,” he added, they will find Trump guilty.

Some legal experts say it will be no easy task to persuade jurors of the broader theory: that Trump falsified business records with the intent of covering up another crime, illegally influencing the 2016 election.

Others said the prosecution may have taken too long to make its final points.

“Lawyers love to talk, but less is more in a case like this,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told the BBC.

The panel of 12 New York jurors will weigh Trump’s legal fate and must unanimously agree to convict or acquit him. If they cannot agree on a verdict, the case will become a mistrial.