Prosecutor Points To “Smoking Guns” In Trump Hush Money Trial; Jury Deliberations To Start Wednesday — Update

UPDATE: Closing arguments in Donald Trump’s hush money trial ended tonight almost 11 hours after they began, with a prosecutor telling jurors that the former president’s “intent to defraud … could not be any clearer,” according to multiple news outlets.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, wrapping just ahead of an 8 p.m. deadline set by Judge Juan Merchan, also ran into one last objection from the defense when he invoked a statement that Trump famously made a year before his inauguration as president: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

More from Deadline

Merchan upheld the defense objection and Steinglass later moved on to thanking the jury for their time and attention. Six weeks after the first jury candidates walked into the lower Manhattan courtroom, they are expected to begin their deliberations on Wednesday after receiving Merchan’s instructions on the law.

Trump is facing 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a repayment to his then- lawyer, Michael Cohen, of money Cohen paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors say the scheme was an illegal election conspiracy built on an undeclared campaign contribution — $130,000 from Cohen to Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign — meant to keep voters in the dark about Daniels’ claim of a sexual liaison with Trump years earlier.

In the last leg of a presentation that began shortly after 2 p.m., Steinglass walked jurors in detail through testimony, documentary evidence and a timeline that challenged defense closing arguments delivered earlier in the day by Trump lawyer Todd Blanche.

Steinglass said one of the “smoking guns” of the trial was a Cohen bank statement with handwritten notes by the Trump Organization’s then-chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, that showed the math of a reimbursement arrangement. The plan, prosecutors have said,  was to disguise the repayment to Cohen as taxable monthly income totaling $420,000.

Steinglass said it was “worth it” to the notoriously frugal Trump to overpay his problem-solving “fixer,” as Cohen was departing the Trump Organization for a new, unpaid role as personal counsel to the new president.

The other smoking gun, Steinglass said, were the handwritten notes taken by the Trump company’s then-comptroller, Jeffrey McConney, recapping Weisselberg’s written instructions and comments during a meeting between the two. McConney testified that he started taking the notes after “Allen said we had to get some money for Michael.” The marked-up bank statement and McConney’s notes went into a locked drawer in Weisselberg’s office, McConney testified.

Steinglass said these documents left him “speechless,” in that the defense still claimed, to the very end, that the resulting payments in 2017 — through checks mostly signed by Trump in the White House — were a retainer for Cohen’s ongoing legal services.

“Cohen spent more time being cross-examined at this trial than he did doing legal work for Mr. Trump in 2017,” Steinglass said, according to multiple news outlets.

Steinglass argued that the prime beneficiary of the hush money scheme was the defendant, no matter how much the defense tried to argue Trump was out of the loop.

Trump left the courtroom with a raised fist but without his customary end-of-day remarks, according to pool reporters in the hallway.

Jurors are scheduled to return to court at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

PREVIOUSLY: The Access Hollywood tape that surfaced on October 8, 2016 — a month before the presidential election — was a “hurricane” for Donald Trump’s political campaign, Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said today in closing arguments of the former president’s hush money trial, according to multiple news outlets.

The tape, of Trump boasting to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that he could grab women by the genitals without their consent, eclipsed coverage of an actual category 4 hurricane threatening the United States, and reawakened the campaign’s fears about porn star Stormy Daniels’ claim of extramarital sex with Trump.

The tape set off a “flurry” of contacts within the campaign, as officials sought ways to limit the political damage at a moment when the candidate himself feared he would lose women voters and, with them gone, the election. Steinglass said.

The prosecutor reminded jurors of the testimony of Hope Hicks, the campaign confidant who became Trump’s White House director of communications, as she described senior campaign officials mobilizing to come up with a response. Steinglass later zeroed in on a “flurry” of texts and phone calls between Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen that tracked the development of a plan to pay off Daniels. Soon, Trump and Cohen were “negotiating to muzzle a porn star who was preparing to go public with allegations of a sexual encounter,” Steinglass said, according to multiple news outlets.

Steinglass also took aim at a key defense argument: that the 2016 payment to Daniels was to spare the Trump family embarrassment. Steinglass said it was “no coincidence” that that payment happened in an election year, 10 years after the alleged sexual encounter with Daniels, according to multiple news outlets.

During a break, Trump posted on Truth Social the words “FILIBUSTER!” and “BORING!,” apparent references to the length of Steinglass’ closing argument, which is expected to go into the evening.

PREVIOUSLY: Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, delivering the prosecution’s closing arguments today in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York, said a “mountain” of evidence pointed to an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 election by keeping porn star Stormy Daniels’ claim of an extramarital sexual liaison with Trump out of the news in the contest’s closing days.

Steinglass traced the operation to an August 2015 meeting between Trump, his lawyer Michael Cohen and the publisher David Pecker — a friend of Trump’s — to help the Celebrity Apprentice star’s presidential campaign using the contacts and resources of Pecker’s company, American Media, publisher of The National Enquirer newsstand tabloid. “This scheme cooked up by these men at this time could very well be what got President Trump elected,” Steinglass said, according to multiple news outlets.

From there, Steinglass described actions that paved the way for the criminal behavior alleged by prosecutors. First, American Media paid $30,000 to a Trump Tower doorman who was preparing to go public with a claim — eventually believed to be false — that Trump had fathered a child with a woman who worked in his residence.

Pecker then signed off another payment, $150,000, to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to “catch and kill” her story of a yearlong affair with the married real estate mogul and reality TV figure. In his testimony, Pecker said he knew the payment — ostensibly for McDougal to appear in American Media publications as a fitness and lifestyle expert — could violate campaign finance laws and so took pains to conceal the payment as a contract for editorial work that he valued at far less than $150,000.

American Media later admitted to making undeclared donations to the Trump campaign and paid fines to the Federal Election Commission.

Steinglass opened his summation with defenses of the credibility of two key prosecution witnesses, Cohen and Daniels. While conceding that Daniels’ testimony — including her story of sex with Trump in 2006 at a Lake Tahoe hotel — was sometimes “cringeworthy,” it was believably detailed and it explained the Trump campaign’s desire to buy Daniels’ silence.

“Stormy Daniels is the motive,” Steinglass said, according to multiple news outlets.

Steinglass also acknowledged that Cohen — convicted in federal court, jailed and disbarred for conduct including the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels at the heart of the New York case — was not an ideal witness. “We didn’t choose Michael Cohen to be our witness. We didn’t pick him up at the witness store,” Steinglass said, according to multiple news outlets. “The defendant chose Michael Cohen as his fixer because he was willing to lie and cheat on his behalf.”

But Steinglass described Cohen as a reliable “tour guide” to corroborating evidence found in texts, emails and phone call logs. Before an afternoon break about two hours into his presentation, Steinglass re-played for jurors a recording that Cohen secretly made of a conversation with Trump about the payment to McDougal.

PREVIOUSLY: The lead defense lawyer in Donald Trump’s hush money trial wrapped up his closing argument today with an appeal to jurors to follow the evidence to a not-guilty verdict and to be skeptical of the prosecution’s star witness: Trump lawyer-turned-antagonist Michael Cohen.

“He’s the human embodiment of reasonable doubt,” lawyer Todd Blanche said of Cohen, according to multiple news outlets, calling him a proven liar “motivated to tell you a story that is not true.”

Earlier in his three-hour summation, Blanche reeled off a list of people Cohen has admitted lying to, including members of Congress, a federal judge, his spouse and his banker. Blanche told jurors that Cohen lied to them, too, in order to back up the Manhattan District Attorney’s case against the former president.

Blanche wound down with a sports analogy invoking a future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback: “They say Tom Brady is the GOAT. Cohen is the GLOAT – Greatest Liar of All Time.”

Blanche also got scolded by Judge Juan Merchan after jurors had been excused for lunch. In his closing argument, Blanche had begun to say it would be wrong to send his client “to prison” when he was cut off by a prosecutor’s objection, which Merchan sustained.

Merchan told Blanche the prison remark was “outrageous,” “highly inappropriate” and “simply not allowed” according to news outlets. Judges, not juries, decide sentencing in criminal cases. The judge later instructed jurors that they are not to consider sentencing during their deliberations.

Blanche argued that Trump was too absorbed in running for, and then being, president to know the details of the $130,000 that Cohen paid to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, or the details of a repayment arrangement for Cohen that Trump understood to be for ongoing legal work.

Blanche said Trump never saw the monthly invoices that Cohen submitted as “retainer” fees. Cohen testified they were fake, and were approved by Trump and the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, as a way to keep Cohen’s reimbursement secret by disguising it as taxable income. Prosecutors say the reimbursement violated state business laws against falsifying records in service of a larger scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Blanche said the DA’s case rested on a string of dubious witnesses including Cohen, Daniels and an attorney for Daniels, Keith Davidson, who worked with “sex tape brokers” and was once investigated for extortion. Blanche said that even Cohen himself once labeled Daniels and Davidson as extortionists.

Jurors will hear the prosecution make their closing arguments next.

PREVIOUSLY: Todd Blanche, Donald Trump’s lead defense attorney, started opening arguments by telling jurors that Donald Trump “is innocent.”

“He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met the burden of proof, period,” Blanche told jurors, per Cat Giona, reporting for Rolling Stone.

“This case is about documents. It’s a paper case. This is not about an encounter with Stormy Daniels 18 years ago, an encounter President Trump has repeatedly and categorically denied ever occurred.”

He argued that allegations — that business records were falsified to cover up the reimbursement for hush money payments to Daniels — were in fact “accurate and there was absolutely no intent to defraud.”

Jurors are in for a long day. The defense says that it will need about 2.5 hours for its summations; the prosecution says it will need 4.5 hours. That will take up the day, and may mean that jurors will be asked to stay beyond the 4:30 p.m. ending time.

The courtroom also is full of notable figures, including Trump’s daughter Tiffany, sons Eric and Don Jr. and Eric’s wife Lara, the co-chair of the Republican National Committee, per Politico. Also present: District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the case.

The Biden campaign, meanwhile, is planning a press conference outside the courthouse, perhaps marking the first time that the president’s re-election effort has weighed in on the trial. Two of Trump’s spokespersons — Jason Miller and Steven Cheung — were present outside to listen to the remarks, and perhaps deliver a bit of a rebuttal for the cameras.

PREVIOUSLY: The Donald Trump hush money trial is nearing its end, as attorneys deliver closing arguments today before the case goes to the jury.

With enormous stakes for the former and possibly future president, jurors will decide if the machinations around a payment in 2016 by Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, to porn star Stormy Daniels add up to a criminal conspiracy in violation of campaign finance and tax laws.

The Manhattan District Attorney charges that Trump approved an illegal scheme in the last lap of the 2016 presidential campaign to bury Daniels’ claim of a long-ago extramarital sexual encounter with him. Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence that October, using a home equity loan that he routed to Daniels’ lawyer through a shell company created expressly for the transaction. Prosecutors say the crime was Trump authorizing a fake paper trail to disguise his repayment to Cohen as routine legal work.

The trial’s last chapter follows almost five weeks of witness testimony that ranged from mundane cataloging of financial documents to uncomfortable details of an alleged sexual encounter in 2006 between Trump and Daniels that set in motion the events leading to this case.

Jurors saw Daniels spar with a Trump defense lawyer, Susan Necheles, over the adult entertainer’s truthfulness, career choices and motives for claiming that Trump cheated with her on his wife, Melania Trump. They watched as defense lawyer Todd Blanche called Cohen a liar for testimony about contacting Trump to report that a deal with Daniels was imminent.

They also saw Trump’s former White House communications director, Hope Hicks, weep on the stand, and — before they were sent out of the courtroom by Judge Juan Merchan — saw a Trump ally, Robert Costello, grumble “ridiculous” when the judge sustained a prosecutor’s objection to part of his testimony.

They heard from almost two dozen witnesses in all, including two called as part of the defense team’s comparatively brief rebuttal case. They did not hear from Trump, who exercised his right as a criminal defendant to not take the stand.

In between, jurors saw reams of texts, emails, and phone logs marshaled by both sides. They’ll have to decide whether the documents and the testimony prove an illegal conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election using fraudulent accounting, or show nothing more than messy, behind-the-scenes maneuvering in a national political campaign.

Jurors got a week off to resume normal life while following Merchan’s instructions to steer clear of trial coverage and commentary. The judicial blackout for jurors against exposure to the unprecedented case includes social media, where Trump was busy during the break proclaiming his innocence and painting the judge and the prosecutors as his tormentors. Among Trump’s complaints on his Truth Social platform was Merchan giving the jurors a seven days off and not sequestering them. He also complained that it was the prosecution that was getting the last word in the case, even though that is standard procedure in a trial.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels. He and his lawyers both say Cohen was in fact paid for ongoing work, and the non-disclosure agreement that Daniels signed was a legal means of protecting his campaign and his family from the embarrassment. 

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.