Defence argues prosecutors have failed to prove Donald Trump is guilty as hush-money trial nears end

Staff Writers
Reuters
3 Min Read
Donald Trump's defence team argues he is not guilty in his hush money trial. (AP PHOTO)
Donald Trump's defence team argues he is not guilty in his hush money trial. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

Donald Trump’s lawyer has told jurors that prosecutors had failed to prove the former president was guilty of falsifying documents as the defence team began its closing argument in Trump’s criminal hush-money trial.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof. Period,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said as the trial resumed after a week-long break.

After six weeks of trial, Blanche was making his final bid to influence the 12 jurors who decide whether Trump will become the first US president to be convicted of a crime.

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In his closing argument, Blanche will try to convince jurors that Trump, the businessman-turned-politician, did not cover up evidence of a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to advance his 2016 presidential campaign.

Once Blanche finishes, prosecutors will sum up the witnesses and evidence they have presented as they argue Trump, 77, illegally falsified business documents to cover up the payment that ensured Daniels would not go public with her story of a 2006 sexual encounter.

Trump denies wrongdoing and says he never had sex with Daniels.

Justice Juan Merchan, overseeing the trial, said he would ask jurors to stay late so both sides could complete their arguments on Tuesday. That would allow jurors to begin deliberations as soon as Wednesday.

“You and you alone are the judges of the facts in this case,” he told jurors.

Prosecutors have the burden of proving Trump is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the level of certainty required by US law. They will make their presentation after the defence, as is standard in New York criminal trials.

“Why can’t the defence go last? Big advantage, very unfair,” Trump said on social media early on Tuesday.

Over the course of the trial, Trump’s lawyers have tried to raise doubts about the credibility of prosecution witnesses, most notably Michael Cohen, who testified that as Trump’s fixer he handled the payment to Daniels and that Trump approved the cover-up.

During cross-examination, Trump’s lawyers got Cohen to discuss his felony convictions and imprisonment, his history of lying and his lingering animosity for his former boss. Cohen also admitted to stealing from Trump’s company.

If found guilty, Trump faces up to four years in prison, although imprisonment is unlikely for a first-time felon convicted of such a crime.

A conviction will not prevent Trump from trying to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden as the Republican candidate in the Nov. 5 election, and it would not prevent him from taking office if he won. Opinion polls show the two candidates locked in a tight race.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, normally a misdemeanour under New York law.

Prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office elevated those charges to felonies, saying Trump falsified those records to disguise what amounted to an illegal campaign contribution: the payment that bought Daniels’ silence about the alleged 2006 sexual encounter at a time when Trump was already facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing. His lawyers have implied that the $US130,000 ($A195,330) payment for Daniels’ silence was intended to spare Trump’s family from embarrassment, not to protect his White House bid. Prosecutors will cite testimony to argue otherwise.

Trump faces three other criminal prosecutions as well, but none is likely to go to trial before the election.

Separate cases in Washington and Georgia accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat, while another case in Florida charges him with mishandling classified information after he left office in 2021.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of the cases and says they are an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hobble his presidential bid.

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