Trump hush-money trial: Prosecution rests, closing arguments likely next week

Updated - May 21, 2024 05:08 am IST

Published - May 21, 2024 04:33 am IST - New York

Former President Donald Trump, left, speaks to the media with his lawyer Todd Blanche after attending the day’s proceedings in his hush money trial, in New York, Monday, May 20, 2024.

Former President Donald Trump, left, speaks to the media with his lawyer Todd Blanche after attending the day’s proceedings in his hush money trial, in New York, Monday, May 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

After approximately five weeks, 19 witnesses, reams of documents and a dash of salacious testimony, the prosecution against Donald Trump rested its case on May 20, handing over to the defence, before closing arguments expected next week.

Mr. Trump's team immediately sought to undermine key testimony against the former president, who is accused of covering up hush money paid to a porn star over an alleged encounter that could have derailed his successful 2016 White House bid.

His attorneys called lawyer Robert Costello — who once advised star prosecution witness Michael Cohen before falling out with him — in an apparent attempt to puncture Cohen's credibility.

But Mr. Costello's start on the stand was shaky at best, as his dismissive tone provoked an angry response from Judge Juan Merchan.

The judge ordered the jury out of the courtroom to admonish Costello, and, still unsatisfied, also ordered the press and others to briefly leave.

Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters afterwards, called the episode "an incredible display," branding the proceedings "a show trial" and the judge "a tyrant."

Extended quibbling among the two legal teams, along with the upcoming holiday weekend, means closing arguments that the judge had hoped could start on Tuesday are now anticipated for next week.

It's unlikely and risky, but the door remains open for Mr. Trump to take the stand in the criminal trial, the first ever of a former US president.

Experts doubt he will, as it would expose him to unnecessary legal jeopardy and forensic cross-examination by prosecutors -- but his lawyer Todd Blanche has raised the prospect.

Marathon questioning

On May 20, Mr. Blanche finished his third day of questioning Cohen after hours of at times digressive, at other times bruising, exchanges.

Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, recounted last week how he kept Trump informed about $130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about an alleged affair ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Trump's lawyers set out to paint Cohen as a convicted criminal and habitual liar, recalling his time in prison for tax fraud and lying to Congress.

Mr. Blanche also probed Cohen's loyalty to Mr. Trump and then to the prosecution, looking to show jurors that Cohen is self-serving and willing to go to great lengths to accomplish his aims.

Mr. Blanche vied to goad Cohen, who has a reputation for a short temper that could have hurt him on the stand, but the witness largely maintained his composure.

Cohen's story generally lined up with Ms. Daniels and David Pecker, the tabloid boss who said he worked with Mr. Trump and Cohen to suppress negative coverage during the Republican's White House run.

After Mr. Blanche finished with him, the prosecution returned for redirect, with prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asking Cohen what the whole experience has meant for him. "My entire life has been turned upside down," he said. "I lost my law license, my financial security... my family's happiness... just to name a few."

Impact on Trump’s 2024 campaign

Mr. Trump meanwhile has complained his 2024 election campaign for another White House term is being stymied by the weeks-long court proceedings, which he has to attend every day.

He did so again May 20, complaining to journalists he's "not allowed to have anything to do with politics because I'm sitting in a very freezing cold, dark room for the last four weeks. It's very unfair."

Calling the case politicized, a coterie of leading Republicans have stood in the wings behind him as he gives remarks to reporters outside the courtroom.

The growing list includes several lawmakers eyeing Mr. Trump's vice presidential pick, including Ohio Senator J.D. Vance and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

Yet despite the palace intrigue and courtroom drama, the charges ultimately hinge on financial records, and whether falsifying them was done with intent to sway the 2016 presidential vote.

When the jury begins deliberating, the often juicy testimony will likely linger, but they will also have stacks of documents to consider.

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