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Summations are underway in Trump’s New York trial


Closing arguments have just wrapped up in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York. The defense called Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the greatest liar of all time, or GLOAT. But prosecutors have laid out what they call a mountain of corroborating evidence for a scheme of interfering with an election and then lying to cover it up. NPR's Andrea Bernstein is at the courthouse in lower Manhattan and joins us now. Hi there.


SUMMERS: So Andrea, how did both sides tie together the evidence?

BERNSTEIN: This was the moment for each side to link everything up for the jury - all the bits and pieces they've heard over the last five weeks. The defense started first by arguing Trump did not have sex with Stormy Daniels, that he did have a relationship with Cohen - so none of his business records were falsified - and that he was too busy as president to pay attention to every check he signed. Defense attorney Todd Blanche called the lawyer for Stormy Daniels an extortionist, and he said Michael Cohen is the embodiment of reasonable doubt. He lied to you repeatedly. He lied many times before you even met him. He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true.

SUMMERS: So how, Andrea, then did the prosecution deal with all of that?

BERNSTEIN: So they said first of all about Cohen, we didn't choose Michael Cohen to be our witness. We didn't pick him up at the witness store. Mr. Trump chose Michael Cohen for the same qualities that his attorneys now urge you to reject him for. But they spent most of their six hours - yes, six hours of closing arguments - walking the jury through all of their evidence, of first the sexual encounter with Daniels in 2006, saying that Trump knew what happened in that hotel room, quote, "and that goes to motive." Prosecutor Josh Steinglass told the jury about Stormy Daniels' testimony. This is the display the defendant didn't want the public to see.

SUMMERS: All right. So then fast-forward, Andrea, to 2016. And remind us what happened then.

BERNSTEIN: So Steinglass said the whole point of the hush money deal was to make an illegal contribution to, quote, "pull the wool over the voters' eyes." And he added, I suggest to you the value cannot be overstated - turns out to be one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the Trump campaign, could very well be what got President Trump elected. And Steinglass went through so much testimony from witnesses who still consider themselves Trump allies and many, many phone records that show Cohen talking to the participants in the deal right around the time he was also having conversations with Trump. At one point, Steinglass said to the jury, are you still with me? A few of them smiled.

SUMMERS: OK. But, I mean, this case - it's about business records. So where did those come in here?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So there were these two documents that came into evidence. They show handwritten notes from Trump's former chief financial officer and his controller that clearly lay out this is a reimbursement scheme - 130,000 for the hush money payment times two to cover taxes plus another expense plus a bonus for a total of $420,000. Steinglass said they are the smoking guns. They completely blow out of the water the defense claim that these were for legal work, and he added, I'm almost speechless that they're trying to make this argument that this was for a legal retainer.

SUMMERS: But still, as we've said multiple times in these conversations, Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer, is a convicted liar. Can't the jury just outright reject his testimony?

BERNSTEIN: They can. But the DA pointed out that so many of those lies were at the direction of or for the benefit of Donald Trump and that, quote, "Mr. Cohen is understandably angry that, to date, he's the only one has paid a price for his role in this conspiracy and that when it went bad, Mr. Trump cut him loose." They said anyone in Cohen's shoes would want the defendant to be held accountable. One of the defense arguments was that Trump wouldn't pay $420,000 to cover $130,000 payment. But the prosecution said, is there anything you learned about Donald Trump in this trial that makes you think Trump would pay someone twice what he owed? But it was worth it. It was worth it to hide the truth. It was almost as if the prosecution were suggesting that the payment to Trump was a second payment to Cohen - was a second NDA to keep him quiet, and it almost worked - until it didn't. The jury will get the case tomorrow, and there could be a verdict right after that.

SUMMERS: We'll keep watching. That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein reporting from court. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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