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Trump trial live updates: ‘President Trump is innocent,’ defense lawyer says in closing

Written by on May 28, 2024

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(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York City, where he is facing felony charges related to a 2016 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It marks the first time in history that a former U.S. president has been tried on criminal charges.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Here’s how the news is developing:

May 28, 12:16 PM
Defense argues Trump was concerned about family

Defense attorney Todd Blanche says argued that Trump’s concern about the “Access Hollywood” tape was primarily related to his family, not his campaign.

“Nobody wants their family exposed to that type of story,” Blanche said. “He was concerned about his family, he was concerned about his wife.”

Prosecutors have alleged that the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape motivated Trump to buy Daniels’ story to help his political ambitions, but defense attorneys say Trump’s main concern in October 2016 — regarding both the “Access Hollywood” tape and Stormy Daniels allegations — was his family.

“It was not a doomsday event,” Blanche said of the “Access Hollywood” tape. “He never thought it was going to cause him to lose the campaign, and indeed it didn’t.”

But Blanche argued that Michael Cohen overreacted to the “Access Hollywood” story, and that Cohen created a problem for him to fix.

May 28, 12:11 PM
Defense says Daniels took advantage of ‘Access Hollywood’ tape

Advancing his argument that Trump was extorted by Stormy Daniels, defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors that Stormy Daniels and her agent Gina Rodrgiuez saw a “time to strike” after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.

“Ms. Daniels and Ms. Rodriguez seized an opportunity,” Blanche said. “They came back to Mr. Howard again and said … now it is the time to strike.”

Turning a prosecution argument on its head, Blanche argued that rather than being the catalyst for the Daniels hush payment and the eventual falsifying of business records, the “Access Hollywood” was Daniels and Rodriguez seizing an “opportunity.”

Shouting emphatically, Blanche ticked through the three alleged catch and kills in an attempt to shred prosecutors’ theory that they constituted a conspiracy to influence the election.

The doorman story was “not true,” he said. Susan McDougal didn’t want her story out. Daniels came forward after the “Access Hollywood tape” and David Pecker said, “Nah, I want nothing to do with it,’ Blanche said.

“That’s the conspiracy?!” Blanche yelled. “That’s the three catch and kills!?”

May 28, 12:01 PM
Defense seeks to discredit Stormy Daniels testimony

Resuming his closing argument following the break, defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors that Stormy Daniels lied on the witness stand about her motivation to go public with her story.

Daniels told jurors that she was worried about her safety, citing a 2011 encounter in Las Vegas where someone threatened her safety for going public about her allegations — but Blanche said she lied about the encounter to create an excuse for why she didn’t come forward earlier.

“This started off an extortion … and it ended very well for Ms. Daniels, financially speaking,” Blanche said.

Blanche also pointed out that Daniels has “repeatedly denied having sex with Trump.”

“The government wants you to believe those statements were coerced — that Ms. Daniels was either forced to sign them, or didn’t have a say … but she decided to go public after these statements supposedly because she was trying to protect herself from what she said was a threat someone made to her in a gym parking lot in 2011,” Blanche said. “But there are recordings where you know that’s just not true.”

May 28, 11:55 AM
Defense summation resumes after break

Judge Merchan returned to bench and Trump returned to the courtroom following the mid-morning break.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche told the judge he has about half an hour left before he finishes his summation.

The defense’s closing will be followed by prosecutors’ closing arguments.

Merchan said he spoke to the jurors and they are willing to work late tonight.

May 28, 11:45 AM
Robert De Niro criticizes Trump outside courthouse

The judge recessed court briefly for the mid-morning break.

Trump, exiting the courtroom, patted his daughter Tiffany as he passed her and she gave him a big smile.

Meanwhile, outside the courthouse this morning, actor Robert De Niro and two former Capitol police officers slammed Trump at a campaign news conference for President Joe Biden.

De Niro, a lower Manhattan resident, was accompanied by former Capitol police officers Michael Fanone and Harry Dunn, both of whom were working at the U.S. Capitol on Jan, 6, 2021.

May 28, 11:33 AM
Defense calls Stormy Daniels payment extortion

Defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors that while both Trump and Stormy Daniels denied the affair, the allegations came back in 2016 so Daniels and others could extort Trump.

“There were a group of people that wanted to take advantage of a situation and ultimately wanted to extort money from President Trump,” Blanche said.

Blanche argued that Daniels’ claim of a sexual tryst with Trump was known in 2011, so the hush payment could not have been meant to influence an election five years later.

“The idea that when Ms. Daniels surfaced in 2016 that it caused some sort of panic amongst everybody is not true. It’s just not true,” Blanche said.

Blanche hesitantly used the word extortion in his opening statement to describe the Daniels payment — calling it “almost an attempt … to extort” — but the defense appears to have leaned into the argument in their closing.

Blanche also suggested that Trump may not have known about the Daniels payment at the time, telling jurors they only have Michael Cohen to rely on for that evidence.

“There’s no way that you can find that President Trump knew about this payment at the time it was made without believing Michael Cohen. Period,” Blanche said. “And you cannot believe his words.”

May 28, 11:27 AM
Defense says Cohen lied about Trump wanting to repay in cash

Continuing with his attack on Michael Cohen’s recording of the 2016 meeting with Trump, defense attorney Todd Blanche cast doubt on Cohen’s contention that Trump was going to repay AMI for the Karen McDougal payment in cash — meaning bills.

“Cash just means no financing,” Blanche said. “It doesn’t mean you are going into the closing with a duffel bag full of green.”

According to Blanche, Cohen tried to mislead the jury by suggesting Trump wanted to pay in cash.

“That was Mr. Cohen lying to you, painting a picture that fits his narrative, not the truth,” Blanche said.

“There’s no scenario under which there has been any testimony at this trial that Mr. Trump was going to walk around with a duffel bag full of $150,000 in cash.”

Addressing why the recording cut off, Blanche said when Trump says “check” it was the beginning of a new sentence — not about writing a check — before it cuts off.

“It’s clearly talking about a beginning of a sentence that we will never know,” Blanche said.

May 28, 11:19 AM
Defense casts doubt on Cohen’s recording of Trump

“So you have a lawyer recording his client,” defense attorney Todd Blanche said of Michael Cohen’s 2016 recording of a meeting with Trump.

“There is a lot of dispute about that recording. A lot,” Blanche said. “The government has not shown you that that evidence is reliable.”

Blanche again played the recording for the jury.

Blanche said Trump never said the words “150” about McDougal in the call, disputing what the transcript prosecutors made says.

“Listen to the recording, see if you hear 150,” Blanche said. “There is a lot of doubt that it discussed Karen McDougal.”

“What did you just hear? ‘Transfer of all the stuff’,” Blanche said, saying that was actually about a box of stuff related to Trump that was at the National Enquirer offices.

Trump, at the defense table, appears fully engaged, with one arm propped on the back of his chair, looking directly at Blanche’s back.

May 28, 11:10 AM
Defense argues that McDougal payment wasn’t catch and kill

Moving on to the arrangement with Playboy model Karen McDougal, defense attorney Todd Blanche argued there was no catch and kill at all.

“What is clear from what you heard … this was not a catch and kill either,” Blanche said. “Karen McDougal did not want her story published,” Blanche said, saying she wanted to kickstart her career. “How is that a catch and kill? It’s not.”

“To be clear, it was not Mrs. McDougal’s intention to publish her story,” Blanche said, seeking to undercut prosecutors’ theory this was an ongoing conspiracy to influence the election.

“There was never any risk that her allegations would influence the election because she didn’t want her allegations published,” Blanche said.

May 28, 11:03 AM
‘Nothing usual about catching and killing,’ defense says

Defense attorney Todd Blanche says turned his attention to the three alleged catch-and-kill schemes cited by prosecutors, telling the jury that such arrangements were a normal industry practice and not illegal.

“There is nothing unusual … about catching and killing,” Blanche said.

He started with Dino Sajudin, the Trump Organization doorman who made unfounded claims about a love-child Trump supposedly fathered. Blanche called it “literally a made-up story.”

Blanche used National Enquirer publisher David Pecker’s initial desire to publish the story to undercut the idea of a conspiracy.

“The government wants you to believe that in Aaugust 2015 there was a super conspiratorial criminal meeting, where Mr. Pecker is going to criminally help Trump, and the first opportunity, he says, Oh no, I’m publishing this,” Blanche said.

“What kind of a conspiracy is that?!” Blanche asked.

May 28, 10:52 AM
Defense says National Enquirer followed ‘standard procedure’

Defense attorney Todd Blanche highlighted that American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, normally helped campaigns with suppressing negative information.

“This is the same thing AMI had been doing for decades,” Blanche said. “They had been doing it for President Trump since the 90s.”

“Nothing criminal about it — it’s done all the time,” Blanche said.

Blanche added that AMI worked with Rahm Emanuel and Arnold Schwarzenegger during their campaigns and that published David Pecker thought his arrangement with Trump was “good business.”

“There is zero criminal intent in that 2015 meeting,” Cohen said about the Trump Tower meeting where prosecutors argued that the conspiracy originated.

Blanche calls the idea that “sophisticated people” like Trump and Pecker “believed positive stories in the National Enquirer could influence the 2016 election is preposterous.”

Blanche highlighted the limited circulation of the National Enquirer — about 350,000 at the time of the alleged scheme — prevented the publication from having a meaningful impact on voters.

May 28, 10:44 AM
Defense says there was no ‘tight conspiracy’

Defense attorney Todd Blanche sought to undermine a key moment in the state’s story of the case — the White House meeting in February 2017, in which Cohen said he and Trump discussed the plan to repay him.

Blanche showed jurors an email in which Cohen asked a Trump Organization employee to remind him what the agreed-upon monthly sum would be, which was sent less than a week after the meeting.

Blanche said the email demonstrated that there was no discussion of an agreement — no “tight conspiracy.”

“Six days later Cohen doesn’t even know how much he’s supposed to be paid,’ Blanche said.

He also argued against the idea that the parties conspired to win the election.

“It doesn’t matter if there was a conspiracy to try and win an election,” Blanche said. “By the way, even that — even if you find that’s true — that’s still not enough. It doesn’t matter if there was a conspiracy to try to win an election. Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate.”

May 28, 10:40 AM
‘Where’s the intent to defraud?’ defense asks

Defense attorney Todd Blanche shifted his argument to the prosecution’s burden to prove criminal intent, “Like a conscious objective. A purpose to defraud. There is no evidence of that ladies and gentlemen,” Blanche said. “Where’s the intent to defraud on the part of President Trump?”

“President Trump is not guilty. But I expect you’re going to hear from Judge Merchan that there’s something else that has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt … the government has to prove to you that President Trump caused these entries … with an intent to defraud.”

“There is no evidence of that,” Blanche said. “Were’s the intent to defraud on the part of President Trump?”

Displaying Michael Cohen’s 1099 form, Blanche said, “If there was some deep-rooted intent to defraud, why do you think it was reported to the IRS as what it was? (Payments) to Michael Cohen, as Trump’s personal attorney?”

“The Trump Organization disclosed these payments to the IRS,” Blanche said.

May 28, 10:34 AM
State showed no evidence of tax crime, defense says

Defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors not to believe that Trump participated in a tax crime by “grossing up” Cohen’s reimbursement to account for taxes.

Prosecutors have suggested Trump acted to advance another crime — potentially the alleged tax crime — when he falsified business records.

“I expect the government is going to tell you there might have been some tax scheme,” Blanche said. “You saw no evidence of the tax treatment from anybody.”

Referring to the bank statement where then-Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and Michael Cohen took handwritten notes about the repayment arrangement, Cohen said the document was “full of lies.”

“So what proof do you have? What actual evidence do you have that this gross-up was anything to do with taxes? … There’s none,” he said.

May 28, 10:28 AM
Defense says Cohen never would have worked for free

Returning to the testimony of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, defense attorney Todd Blanche asked jurors, “How is the government going to ask you to convict President Trump based on the words of Michael Cohen?”

Blanche insisted to jurors that if the payments were all for repaying Cohen, that would mean Michael Cohen was working for free in 2017 — something he said he never would have done.

“You saw him on the stand for three days — do you believe that for a second?,” Blanche asked. “That after getting stiffed on his bonus in 2016 … do you think that Michael Cohen thought, ‘I’mgoing to work for free?'”

“Is that the man that testified, or was that a lie?” Blanche asked. “That is absurd!” he nearly shouted.

May 28, 10:21 AM
Defense says Trump was ‘too busy’ to be involved

Defense attorney Todd Blanche reminded the jury that Trump was president at the time Cohen’s invoices were being paid, suggesting that he was too busy to actually look at the checks he was signing.

“President Trump was very busy. He was running the country,” Blanche said.

Blanche noted the testimony of then-Trump aide Madeleine Westerhout who testified that Trump “sometimes” looked at what he was signing.

“You can’t convict President Trump because ‘sometimes,’ without being specific at all … President Trump looked at invoices … that is a stretch,” Blanch said. “And that is reasonable doubt.”

“The leap that the government wants you to take that he looks at the checks, looked at the invoices … is absurd,” Blanche said.

May 28, 10:15 AM
Defense challenges that repayment was for hush money

Defense attorney Todd Blanche tried to downplay prosecutors’ theory of the case and emphasized that Cohen was Trump’s attorney in 2017 and that the $35,000 paid each month over that year was Trump paying him for his services.

“Take a step back. Nobody disputes that Mr. Cohen was President Trump’s lawyer in 2017,” Blanche said. “So what makes more sense, that president was paying his personal attorney in 2017 the $35,000 per an agreement he made with his personal attorney?… Or the version that Mr Cohen said?”

Blanche then mimicked Cohen’s testimony, as Michael Cohen:

“No, I was not paid, I was going to work for free … I’ll just work for free and make a lot of money as a consultant,” Blanche said, mimicking Cohen.

“For the first time in President Trump’s life, he decided to pay me back triple,” Blanche continued, mimicking Cohen. “He doubled up the $130,000, he gave me $50,000 for some online poll — by the way, I stole from him a little bit on that — and I decided I wanted a bigger bonus. That’s what really happened, ladies and gentlemen.

“There’s a reason why in life usually the simplest answer is the right one — and that’s certainly the case here,” Blanche said.

May 28, 10:09 AM
Defense says Cohen lied about retainer agreement

Defense attorney Todd Blanche attacked Michael Cohen’s testimony that he did not work under a retainer agreement for Trump, as referenced in the invoices.

“There was a retainer agreement, and that’s how retainer agreements work,” Blanche said, referring to Cohen’s testimony. “Anything criminal about that?”

“That’s not evidence of some secret agreement that Mr. Cohen had with President Trump. He broadcasted this to the world,” Blanche continued. “This was not a secret. Michael Cohen was President Trump’s personal attorney — period.”

Pulling up a transcript in which Cohen testified there was never expected to be a retainer agreement, Blanche said, That was a lie,” stretching out each word.

“A lie is a lie, and this is a significant lie,” he said.

As Blanche argued about the practice of “verbal retainer agreements,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass objected twice. Judge Merchan overruled both.

May 28, 10:01 AM
Defense says invoices were for legal work

Defense attorney Todd Blanche tells jurors they will have to find two things to convict: “First, that the documents contained false entries, and second, that President Trump acted with an intent to defraud.”

Blanche argued that Michael Cohen did legal work for Trump in 2017, making his invoices for legal services — which he submitted for reimbursement of the Stormy Daniels payment — legitimate requests for payment.

“Cohen was rendering services to President Trump in 2017 as his personal attorney,” Blanche argued, highlighting parts of Cohen’s testimony about his role and work for Trump.

Cohen testified that he served as Trump’s personal attorney for free, but Blanche is attempting to suggest that the invoices at the center of the case were Cohen’s way of getting payment in 2017.

“Cohen lied to you. Cohen lied to you on direct examination,” Blanche said.

May 28, 9:55 AM
Defense attacks Michael Cohen’s credibility

“It’s a paper case,” defense attorney Todd Blanche says. “This case is not about an encounter with Stormy Daniels 18 years ago. An encounter that President Trump has unequivocally and repeatedly denied ever occurred. It’s not even about a settlement in 2016.” 

“The bookings were accurate. And there was absolutely no intent to defraud,” he said. “And beyond that, there was no conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.”

Starting a PowerPoint showing the evidence, Blanche quickly seeks to made the case a referendum on the credibility of Michael Cohen, telling jurors he lied on the witness stand.

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

“He told you a number of things on that witness stand that were lies, pure and simple,” Blanche continued.

“The words that Michael Cohen said to you on that stand — they matter. He took an oath, he swore to tell the truth, and he told you a number of things on that witness stand that were lies, pure and simple,” Blanche said.

May 28, 9:47 AM
‘President Trump is innocent,’ defense lawyer says

“I’m going to start with something I can say i think with confidence … which is just to thank you. To thank you for your jury service,” defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors to begin his closing argument.

“Each of you will decide … whether President Trump is guilty or not guilty,” he said.

All eyes in this courtroom are on Blanche. Every member of Trump’s family is looking at him. The jurors are staring at him, many with pens in their hands ready to take notes.

“President Trump is innocent,” Blanche said. “He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. Period.”

May 28, 9:40 AM
Defense closings to take around 2.5 hours

Defense counsel Todd Blanche says he has a 2.5-hour closing, “maybe a little longer.”

Prosecutors say they estimate they have a 4 or 4.5-hour closing.

“Defense counsel must come up first, and the prosecutor must follow,” Judge Merchan said.

Merchan says he will ask the jury if they will work later than 4:30 p.m. to do all the closings in one day.

May 28, 9:34 AM
Proceedings underway

Judge Juan Merchan has taken his seat at the bench.

“Good morning, counsel. Good morning, Mr. Trump,” Merchan said in his normal greeting to start the proceedings.

May 28, 9:29 AM
Trump enters courtroom with several family members

Donald Trump has entered the courtroom alongside his lawyers.

Don Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, Lara Trump, and Tiffany Trump followed behind the former president and took seats in the gallery immediately behind the defense counsel table.

Today is the first time Tiffany Trump attended the trial, and it’s the largest showing of Trump family members on a single day of the trial.

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, also in court today, is seated behind his prosecution team.

May 28, 9:20 AM
Prosecutors, Trump arrive

Prosecutors have entered the courtroom, with Joshua Steinglass, Matthew Colangelo and Susan Hoffinger positioned behind counsel table.

Former President Trump has arrived at the courthouse.

May 28, 9:01 AM
Courtroom filled to capacity

The courtroom is filled to capacity this morning with more than 60 reporters crammed in the gallery’s wooden benches.

Over 150 members of the press and public lined up outside the courthouse this morning vying for admittance. The line appeared to be the longest of the entire trial.

The courtroom itself is a balmy 76 degrees this morning, after weeks of chilly temperatures that prompted Trump to complain about sitting in the cold conditions.

May 28, 8:32 AM
Sons, daughter expected to join Trump in court

Former President Trump is expected to be joined by a number of his children for today’s critical day in court.

Trump is set to be accompanied by his sons Eric and Don Jr., his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, and — for the first time — his daughter Tiffany, according to the Trump campaign.

It would be the largest family showing for Trump since the criminal trial began six weeks ago.

May 28, 6:56 AM
Jury to hear closing arguments

After five weeks of testimony, jurors in former President Trump’s hush money case are scheduled to hear closing arguments today.

Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and attorneys for Trump are both set to deliver closing statements.

Judge Juan Merchan is then expected to delivery jury instructions on Wednesday, after which jurors will begin deliberations.

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