What we’ve learned so far in the Trump hush money trial and what to watch for as it wraps up

NEW YORK — Testimony in the hush money trial of Donald Trump will conclude in the coming days, putting the landmark case on track for jury deliberations that will determine whether it ends in a mistrial, an acquittal β€” or the first-ever felony conviction of a former U.S. president.

Jurors heard testimony over the course of a month about sex and accounting, tabloid journalism and presidential politics. Their job will be to decide whether the prosecutors who charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying corporate records have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here’s a look at what the two sides argued, who’s missing from the case, what to watch for in recent days and what prosecutors will have to prove to get a conviction.

Through witnesses including a porn actor, a veteran tabloid publisher and longtime associates of Trump, the prosecution sought to link the presumptive Republican nominee for White House this year to a hush-money scheme during the 2016 presidential campaign that resulted in the filing of false corporate records . to mask the alleged conspiracy.

Jurors heard testimony that two women and a doorman were paid tens of thousands of dollars to keep quiet during that campaign about stories that, if they had come out, could have embarrassed Trump. Jurors heard claims about sex, saw copies of text messages, emails and checks and listened to a secret recording in which Trump and his then-lawyer are heard discussing a plan to buy the silence of a Playboy model.

One witness, David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer and a longtime friend of Trump, testified that he had agreed to be the “eyes and ears” of the Trump campaign by alerting it to any negative stories about him.

Actor Stormy Daniels told jurors, in sometimes explicit terms, about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006; he denies the whole thing. She described that Trump’s then-lawyer and personal fixer, Michael Cohen, had been offered $130,000 to keep quiet after she said she was looking for ways to sell and get the story out.

Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, spent days on the stand detailing what he said was Trump’s role in authorizing the hush money payments. Cohen described Trump as concerned that stories about extramarital sex could damage his campaign’s reputation among female voters and said the then-candidate had told him to suppress the stories, quoting him with exhortations such as: “Just do it” and ” We have to stop’. this by getting out.

Trump’s legal team has not yet called any witnesses, and it remains unclear exactly what his lawyers will do when it is their turn to present evidence.

But through their questioning of the prosecution’s witnesses, they have identified specific areas where they believe they can sow doubt for the jury, challenging the fundamental premise of the case along the way.

They have disputed Daniels’ account of a sexual encounter in a hotel suite, with the actor facing aggressive cross-examination by a lawyer who at one point said, “You made this all up, right?” Daniels said no.

And they have suggested that Trump’s celebrity status made him an easy extortion target. They negotiated with the Los Angeles attorney who negotiated Daniels’ deal over other celebrities from whom he had previously “taken” money in exchange for a client’s silence.

But by far the most consequential cross-examination has been Cohen’s. The defense has tried to portray him as a fame-seeking fabulist desperate to help convict Trump.

The cross-examination started in rousing fashion, with Trump lawyer Todd Blanche asking the former fixer if he remembered referring to the lawyer with an expletive on TikTok last month. Prosecutors objected, the judge called the parties to hearing and the question was dropped. But the point was clear.

Over the course of the hours, Blanche jogged Cohen’s memory on a litany of colorful but often profane epithets he had attributed to Trump β€” “Cheeto-sprinkled cartoon villain” was one β€” as a way to portray Cohen as blatantly biased , blinded by hatred and therefore not credible.

There was also an avalanche of questions about Cohen’s past crimes and lies. Blanche forced Cohen to admit that he lied under oath during his own plea in 2018 about not feeling pressure to plead guilty. In a dramatic moment, Blanche suggested that Cohen had not been telling the truth when he said he had spoken to Trump about the Daniels payment before transferring $130,000 to her lawyer.

Blanche confronted Cohen with text messages showing that, at least initially, he had received harassing phone calls from an apparent 14-year-old prankster during the phone call.

The strategy was predictable given Cohen’s significance to the case, but it’s too early to say how it ended up in front of the jury.

Several characters crucial to the saga were name-dropped in court, but were notably absent from the witness box.

One is Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who has said she had an affair with Trump and received $150,000 from the National Enquirer in a hush-money deal that Cohen helped broker. Keith Schiller, Trump’s bodyguard, was described in court as the person who asked Daniels for her phone number on Trump’s behalf and was a key conduit for Cohen when he needed to reach Trump.

And then there’s Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization who is now serving a five-month prison sentence for lying under oath in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud case against Trump.

Weisselberg did not testify in the hush money trial, but he matters because, according to Cohen, he was present at a Trump Tower discussion that is arguably the most directly linked between Trump and the refunds at the center of the case, which prosecutors say were fraudulent are.

Cohen says the 2017 Trump Tower meeting took place on the eve of Inauguration Day and where he, Trump and Weisselberg worked out the mechanisms to repay him for Daniel’s hush money payment. There, Cohen said, they agreed that the attorney would receive a total of $420,000 in monthly installments for what would be billed β€” deceptively, prosecutors say β€” as legal services.

β€œHe approved it,” Cohen testified. “And he also said, ‘This is going to be a great ride in DC.'”

Whether jurors would have wanted to hear from Weisselberg is uncertain, but in a case that’s more about paperwork than sex, the record of that meeting will likely be held up by prosecutors as a key piece of evidence and it will be important to see how they look at it return as they conclude their case with closing statements.

To convict Trump of falsifying company records, prosecutors must convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he not only falsified company records or caused company records to be falsely entered, but that he did so with the intent to commit another crime or to hide. Any judgment must be unanimous.

Prosecutors allege Trump recorded Cohen’s reimbursement as legal fees to conceal multiple other crimes, including violations of campaign finance law and a violation of a state election law alleging a conspiracy to promote or tamper with an election. prevent.

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo told jurors that the case “is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up β€” an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of a presidential election, and then the steps Donald Trump took to conspiracy to conceal. election fraud.”

Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the payments to McDougal, Daniels and the doorman violated federal restrictions on corporate and individual campaign contributions and were intended to conceal damaging information from the voting public.

Among other evidence, jurors heard testimony about Cohen’s 2018 culpability in a campaign finance crime and the National Enquirer’s non-prosecution agreement and the $187,500 fine for the McDougal payment, which the Federal Election Commission deemed an illegal corporate contribution to Trump’s campaign .

New York has also filed a charge of falsifying business records, which only requires proving that a defendant made or caused the false entry, but this is not part of Trump’s case and will not be considered by jurors .


Tucker reported from Washington.