Trump defense lawyer gives confusing answer over why he didn’t call witnesses to back ex-president

Donald Trump’s defense lawyer Todd Blanche could only offer a confusing explanation when asked on CNN on Thursday about the former president’s complaint earlier this week that certain witnesses had not been called to appear at his New York hush money trial.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee became the first president in American history to be convicted of a crime on Thursday after the jury unanimously agreed that he had falsified business records to hide a $130,000 payout to the adult film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to ensure her silence over an alleged sexual encounter, which might have jeopardised his election prospects had it become public knowledge.

Speaking in the aftermath of that verdict, Blanche, who led the cross-examination of Michael Cohen on the witness stand and delivered his side’s closing argument on Tuesday, was grilled by anchor Kaitlan Collins about Trump’s gripe to reporters that “key witnesses” had not been summoned.

Collins named the defendant’s former bodyguard Keith Schiller and the ex-Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg as two examples and asked why Blanche did not call on them to make an appearance in Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom.

“Well, because we happen to live in America,” Blanche replied. “And we don’t have the burden of proof.

“And so, that’s not, that’s not the point. That’s a question that is a loaded question that should not be asked of a defense attorney or a defendant.”

He continued: “The question that we asked of the jury and that they ultimately, obviously, got past is why the prosecution didn’t call those witnesses, right?

“As a defense attorney you don’t go into a case saying, ‘I’m going to fill the holes of the prosecution’, right? And Keith Schiller and some of the other witnesses that were not ultimately called, in our view, should have been called by the prosecution and we asked the jury to take a hard look at that.

“I don’t know whether they did or not but they convicted.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Blanche took a respectful tone towards the jury but said that he could not explain how they had reached the conclusion they did about Trump, insisting that he believed “in my soul” that the former president was innocent of wrongdoing.

He did, however, dispute that his client had had a fair hearing, saying it was not possible to assemble an impartial jury in Manhattan and that it had not been “normal” to bring a case concerning events that occurred eight years ago.

Blanche suggested the forthcoming appeal from the former president might center on these accusations of bias, emphasising the location of the trial, its timing in a US presidential year and the salacious testimony of Stormy Daniels as potential grounds for complaint.

Asked why Trump did not ultimately take the witness stand himself, the lawyer said it was “a very personal question to him and to me” and that “of course he wanted to testify” and “get his story out”, before admitting that “ultimately it was his decision”, conceding that Trump had been advised on the point by counsel.

Blanche said it was too soon to admit to any regrets about the case on his or Trump’s part, despite the outcome, and spoke warmly about his experience of representing his client, saying that all decisions had been made “as a team” and that any suggestion that he might not see his legal bills paid were just “fun folklore”.