Lawyers give closing statements in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial

NEW YORK — Prosecutors on Tuesday gave a breathtaking summary of how Donald Trump and his allies allegedly conspired to hide a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels and defraud the 2016 electorate, bringing to a close their effort to secure an unprecedented criminal conviction of a former U.S. president.

“Democracy gives the people the right to elect their leaders, but that rests on the premise that voters have access to accurate information about the candidates,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said in Manhattan Supreme Court.

He recapped evidence presented over the past month and zeroed in on an August 2015 Trump Tower meeting in which Michael Cohen, Trump and supermarket tabloid publisher David Pecker allegedly hatched a plan to boost Trump’s presidential candidacy by planting positive stories about him and repressing negative ones — which eventually included a payoff to Daniels to keep quiet about her allegations she’d slept with Trump in 2006, a tryst he continues to deny ever happened.

“The entire purpose of this meeting at Trump Tower was to deny that access,” Steinglass said. “To manipulate and defraud the voters. To pull the wool over their eyes in coordinated fashion.”

In closing statements, the fuming defendant’s attorney, Todd Blanche, sought to undermine the prosecution by depicting Cohen as a liar and calling the charges against Trump “absurd.”

Trump, 77, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsification of business records, which are each tied to his alleged reimbursement to Cohen for paying off Daniels. Prosecutors say the payments were falsely logged as legal fees.

Cohen’s payoff to Daniels 11 days out from the 2016 election “could very well be what got President Trump elected,” Steinglass said.

Over the course of some three hours, the defense threw everything it could at the wall to undercut the months-long case against Trump, taking shots at Cohen, Daniels and her former lawyer Keith Davidson and asking jurors to question why they didn’t hear from other critical players like former Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg, who Cohen said dictated the plan to pay him back.

In Blanche’s attempt to discredit Cohen, he painted him as a vengeful liar with an “ax to grind” and labeled him the “GLOAT:” Greatest Liar of All Time.

Blanche began by thanking the jury, then quickly pivoted to accusing Cohen of uttering many “lies, pure and simple” on the stand and repeatedly calling the case “absurd.”

“You cannot convict President Trump … of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt based on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said.

Diving into the weeds of the case, he said the prosecution’s use of experts from Trump’s books as evidence was a “red flag.”

“You can’t convict President Trump because sometimes, without anything specific at all to a particular charge in this case, President Trump looked at invoices, that somehow he had full knowledge of what was happening,” he said.

Blanche also sought to cast doubt on the “catch-and-kill” scheme that was allegedly hatched among Trump, Pecker and Cohen, saying the term never came up at the 2015 meeting and that the very idea of it didn’t make sense.

Prosecutors have argued that the late 2016 release of an “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about assaulting women added urgency to Trump’s purchase of Daniels’ story of their alleged 2006 Lake Tahoe tryst.

The damning tape made keeping Daniels quiet especially important, Steinglass argued.

“Daniels was a walking, talking reminder that the defendant was not only words — she would have totally undermined his strategy for spinning away the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape” as locker room talk, he said.

Blanche simply said the tape “was not a doomsday event.”

“President Trump, as you saw, addressed it in a video that was addressed to the — released to the American public. He addressed it in a debate a couple days later. He never thought that it was going to cost him to lose the campaign and, indeed, it didn’t,” he contended.

Blanche also highlighted an argument made earlier in the trial that a crucial phone call between Cohen and Trump discussing the payoff to Daniels was actually, he said, a discussion between Cohen and Trump’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller — about a series of harassing phone calls that Cohen received from a teen.

“That was his sworn testimony. It was a lie,” Blanche exclaimed, the most heated he was all day. “That was a lie, and he got caught red-handed.”

Later on, Steinglass said the defense’s aggressive attempts to make it seem like the “Access Holywood” tape — in which Trump “literally discussed grabbing women by the genitals” — didn’t matter were refuted by multiple witnesses sympathetic to Trump who described it as rocking the Trump campaign to its core.

He pointed to testimony from Trump’s former White House executive assistant Madeleine Westerwesterhout about the RNC talking about replacing him, preparations for a second debate being halted and prominent Republican leaders rushing to condemn Trump.

Trump walked into court at 9:25 a.m. — for the first time, joined by both of his older sons, his youngest daughter, Tiffany Trump, an army of lawyers and various allies and campaign staffers. District Attorney Alvin Bragg watched summations from the courtroom’s front row.

Jurors were kept until about 8 p.m., with Judge Juan Merchan remarking that they still looked alert late in the day: “I don’t think we’re losing anyone,” he said.

Throughout the trial, the defense has sought to depict Trump as a family man who was concerned about his reputation at home — and not the election — amid the Daniels payoffs.

Prosecutors again rejected that framing on Tuesday.

“It’s no coincidence that the sex happened in 2006 but the payoff didn’t take place until 11 days before the 2016 election,” said Steinglass.

“And that’s because the defendant’s primary concern was not his family, but the election.”

The charges against Trump carry up to four years in prison or a sentence of probation and mark the first brought against a U.S. president. He faces the prospect of becoming the first person to lead the nation to be convicted of a crime while positioned as the presumed Republican nominee for president in this year’s election.