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Closing arguments to begin in Trump's hush money trial

caption: Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media after the day's proceedings in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday in New York City.
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Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media after the day's proceedings in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday in New York City.
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Attorneys will deliver their closing arguments Tuesday in former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York.

The summations come after a series of witnesses and documents have supported the case made by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. But Trump's defense says too much depends on the testimony of Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, a convicted liar.

What to look out for today

The defense comes first. When the trial testimony began five weeks ago, the defense highlighted how long ago this was: “pre-COVID."

They said the sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels never happened. They said that Trump himself never issued the false documents, he just signed nine of the 11 checks when they were presented to him. But most of all, they said Cohen is a liar, and there’s no way to prove that Trump was fully cognizant of the crimes unless you accept Cohen’s testimony about conversations with Trump.

Did the defense make headway with that position at trial?

Cohen was an unflappably calm witness. When he was asked: Did you commit crimes, did you lie to Congress, did you lie to banks, he said that he had. But for the most part, these were old lies. There was just one place where the defense may have raised a new inconsistency: when they pointed out that text messages suggest one of the key conversations with Trump may not have happened, because Cohen at that time was being harassed by a 14-year old prankster.

But, the prosecution may have cleaned that up when they pointed up something that the defense didn’t deal with: There were many many conversations with Trump, including on the day the payments were wired to Daniels.

How will the prosecution deal with Cohen’s history of lying?

Cohen testified, and there was back up, that many of the lies, like the lie to Congress, were done to benefit Trump, in that case to hide dealings over a Trump Tower in Moscow. But mostly the prosecution worked hard to present all kinds of documentation they could use to back up Cohen’ claims. For example, Trump’s former comptroller described a meeting where he was told by Trump’s former CFO Allen Weisselberg that Cohen would be reimbursed through payments described as “a legal retainer.”

Hope Hicks, Trump’s former communications aide, testified that when Trump told her Cohen had made the payment out of the kindness of his heart, she didn’t believe it, because Cohen is the kind of person who always wants credit.

Meetings with Trump Cohen testified about

Years ago, Cohen testified to Congress that Trump told him in the Oval Office in 2017: “Don’t worry, Michael. Your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were FedEx’d from New York. And it takes a while for that to get through the White House system.”

And the DA presented evidence from four current and former Trump employees that showed that Cohen indeed met with Trump in the Oval Office, and that it did take a while to get through the system, and that the checks did soon arrive. So they are likely to lean into all the corroboration -- to say you don’t have to take Cohen’s word for it, this all happened beyond a reasonable doubt.

What’s next?

The jury will be instructed Tuesday, start deliberating, and a verdict could come any time, beginning the same day.

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