Justice: Prosecution: hush money possible reason for Trump's election victory

Is Trump guilty of concealing hush money for a porn star? The closing arguments are the last opportunity to influence the jury. The election in the fall is also at stake.

In the finale of the historic trial against Donald Trump in connection with hush money for a porn star, the defense and prosecution have addressed their closing arguments to the twelve jurors. The value of concealed payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels and other people who wanted to go public with alleged Trump sex scandals before the 2016 election cannot be overestimated, said prosecutor Joshua Steinglass in his closing argument in New York.

“This plot that these men hatched back then may well have led to President Trump being elected,” Steinglass said, according to consistent media reports. He was referring to an alleged plan by Trump, his then-lawyer Michael Cohen and David Pecker, the editor of a tabloid magazine, to suppress unwelcome stories right before the 2016 presidential election in order to preserve Trump's chances against Hillary Clinton.

Before the prosecution was presented, Trump's defense attorney had protested his innocence. Trump had not committed a crime and the prosecution had not been able to substantiate its allegations, said Todd Blanche. If convicted, the renewed presidential candidate faces several years in prison, which could also be suspended, or a fine. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Blanche again attacked the credibility of the key witness: “You cannot convict President Trump of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt based on the testimony of Michael Cohen.” Trump's former personal lawyer lied in his testimony, as he had done so many times before, Blanche insisted. This is the first criminal trial against a former US president in American history. The court in downtown Manhattan is dealing with 34 cases of alleged document forgery.

Three Trump children support father in courtroom

More than 20 witnesses have been heard since mid-April. Prosecutors accuse Trump of wanting to improve his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election by paying porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000. Although the payment itself – which neither party disputes – was not illegal, the now 77-year-old is said to have manipulated documents when reimbursing the amount to his then personal lawyer Michael Cohen in order to conceal the true reason for the transaction. This made the payments illegal campaign financing.

The closing arguments of the defense and prosecution are the last opportunity in the trial, which has attracted worldwide attention, to influence the opinion of the twelve jurors. The jury will then retire to reach a verdict. This is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday. These deliberations usually last between a few hours and several days. Judge Juan Merchan instructed the jury: “You and you alone are the judges of the facts in this case.” At the end of his presentation, the judge reprimanded lawyer Blanche for asking the jury not to send Trump to prison. The jury will not determine the sentence.

Trump appeared on Tuesday, as he does every day of the trial, in a dark blue suit. He wore a red tie and had notes in front of him, some of which were handwritten, saying that the trial had to be stopped. In addition to more than a dozen people in Trump's entourage, three of his children were also present: Donald Trump Junior, Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump. His wife Melania stayed away from the trial, which covered many details of Trump's alleged infidelity.

Sexual details like in a reality show

In fact, porn star Daniels' testimony was a highlight of the trial, not least because she gave an embarrassing account of how she had sex with Trump. This did not make the former president look particularly good. It prompted one trial reporter to compare the proceedings to a reality show.

Prosecutor Steinglass and defense attorney Blanche tried to reach the jury on Tuesday using different tactics. Blanche tried to sow doubts about many of the prosecution's accounts, but rarely presented the jury with an alternative explanation for the events surrounding the hush money. Steinglass, on the other hand, placed the events close to a conspiracy to illegally influence the outcome of the US presidential election.

Cohen in particular had incriminated Trump in his testimony: Trump had illegally booked the reimbursement of the hush money paid to Cohen shortly before his victory in the 2016 presidential election as legal fees. During a tough cross-examination by Trump's lawyer Blanche, it became clear how often the key witness had lied publicly in the past, but despite the sometimes provocative questions, the 57-year-old kept his composure. The prosecution did not deny that Cohen has a long history of untruths, but also emphasized on Tuesday that a number of other witnesses and documents support his account, which is central to the case.

Unanimous decision required

The verdict is also likely to have an impact on the current election campaign in the United States – the only question is: how much and to whose advantage. Trump is trying to turn the accusations into a personal advantage and mobilize his supporters by portraying himself as a victim of a politically motivated justice system.

Incumbent Joe Biden does not appear to have benefited from the trial against his challenger. On Tuesday, the president's campaign team held its first rally on the sidelines of the proceedings. The Biden team had acting legend Robert De Niro, among others, speak in court, accusing Trump of criminal behavior.

If the jury convicts, Judge Merchan will determine the sentence at a separate hearing. If the jury cannot reach an agreement even after lengthy deliberations, the trial will be over. In this case, the prosecution would have the option of reopening the case with a new jury.

Trump: Sometimes interested, always grim

The trial is taking place in downtown Manhattan amid unprecedented media interest and the strictest security precautions. Trump was always present at the proceedings and varied the color of his tie from day to day. He regularly put on a grim face for the short photo opportunity at the beginning of the proceedings. Trump seemed to follow some witness interviews with interest, on other days US media were sure that he kept his eyes closed for a long time because he had dozed off.

Trump used the trial and the media hype to campaign, and frequently monologueed in courtroom 1530 about how the proceedings were politically motivated. As the trial progressed, however, he became increasingly successful in adhering to Judge Merchan's order not to comment on those involved in the trial.