Trump Jury Has ‘Mountain of Evidence’ to Consider, DA Says

(Bloomberg) -- A prosecutor at the Donald Trump hush-money trial urged a New York jury to consider a “mountain” of evidence showing the former president tried to influence the 2016 election by paying an adult-film star to stay silent about an alleged sexual encounter and then tried to cover his tracks.

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Trump agreed to reimburse his former attorney, Michael Cohen, for paying $130,000 to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the election because he feared the impact on voters if she went public, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued Tuesday.

In arguments spanning six hours that kept jurors in the courtroom until 8 p.m., the prosecutor connected testimony, phone calls, emails, texts and other documents to argue that the real estate mogul falsified 34 business records at the Trump Organization. He said Trump misrepresented the true reason he repaid Cohen — to hide an unlawful contribution to the campaign.

“He did it to protect the campaign,” Steinglass said in summarizing the five-week trial to a Manhattan jury. “The evidence is literally overwhelming,” he said, adding that “there is no special standard for Donald Trump. Donald Trump can’t shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it!”

Jurors are set to get instructions by the judge Wednesday morning and begin deliberating later in the afternoon at the first criminal trial of a former president in US history. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee to face President Joe Biden in November, has denied wrongdoing. He also faces two criminal trials about efforts to overturn the 2020 election and a third relating to classified documents found at his Florida estate. None has been scheduled for trial.

‘Greatest Liar’

Steinglass spent hours refuting an argument earlier Tuesday by defense attorney Todd Blanche, who said prosecutors failed to prove the records were false or that the former president intended to influence the election.

Blanche saved his most pointed vitriol for Cohen, who prosecutors used to provide the connective tissue between the records and Trump’s criminal intent. Cohen, the defense lawyer said, was a serial liar who went from loving Trump to hating him, and then made millions of dollars on books and podcasts castigating his former boss. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for a variety of crimes.

“Michael Cohen is the human embodiment of reasonable doubt,” Blanche said. “Michael Cohen is the GLOAT - literally, the greatest liar of all time.”

Blanche said Cohen acted alone when he made the payment to Daniels, seeking to debunk Cohen’s testimony that Trump authorized the deal at every step. Blanche told the jury that wasn’t true, and suggested Cohen went rogue, then lied under oath on the witness stand.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned from this trial — Michael Cohen does not take that oath seriously,” Blanche said. “He’s lied repeatedly,” the defense lawyer said, citing lies Cohen told to Congress, prosecutors and jurors at the Trump trial. “He’s like the MVP of liars.”

Blanche said Trump was the victim of a shakedown by Daniels and those around her.

“This started out as an extortion, there’s no doubt about that, and it ended very well for Ms. Daniels,” Blanche said.

Top-10 List

Blanche offered jurors a “Top 10” list to summarize why they should reject the case, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Blanche argued, for instance, that Cohen submitted accurate invoices that said Trump paid him in 2017 for legal services under a retainer, not as a reimbursement. Prosecutors say those invoices were false.

The defense lawyer said prosecutors failed to prove that Trump had anything to do with vouchers authorizing the payments, and that he didn’t closely review checks he signed for Cohen because “he was running the country in 2017.”

Steinglass spent hours giving jurors a road map of the case. He detailed how Trump conspired with Cohen and David Pecker, who ran the company that published the National Enquirer and agreed to buy and bury damaging stories about the billionaire.

Pecker’s firm, American Media Inc., paid $150,000 to buy the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, the prosecutor said. But the Trump campaign faced a crisis with the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, triggering frantic talks to settle with Daniels, according to trial testimony.

“Four weeks before the election, the campaign was rocked to its core by the release of the Access Hollywood tape,” Steinglass said. “The candidate was literally bragging about grabbing women by the genitals.”

Repayment Records

Steinglass pointed to two exhibits laying out a repayment plan to Cohen, which included handwritten notes by Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization chief financial officer, and Jeffrey McConney, the former controller.

Those notes showed how Cohen would receive total repayment of $420,000, which covered the Daniels payment, $50,000 he claimed he paid to another vendor, a doubling of those payments for taxes, and a bonus.

“These two exhibits are the overt manifestation of the agreement to falsify business records,” Steinglass said. “I’m almost speechless that they’re still trying to make this argument that there are legal services rendered.”

In a torrent of arguments, Steinglass toggled between condemnation of Trump and his actions after the Cohen payments to detailed reviews of accounting records and written conversations between co-conspirators.

“The conspiracy to influence the election may be the why, but the business records are the what,” he said.

--With assistance from Erik Larson.

(Updates with Wednesday details in paragraph 5 and new quote in paragraph 4.)

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