Trump's Hush Money Case: Election Corruption Allegations Unfold

The New York prosecutor argued that former President Donald Trump aimed to corrupt the 2016 election by paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, covering up an alleged affair. Lawyers presented closing arguments, asking jurors to evaluate if Trump falsified business records for electoral gain. Deliberations start Wednesday.

Reuters | Updated: 29-05-2024 02:28 IST | Created: 29-05-2024 02:28 IST
Trump's Hush Money Case: Election Corruption Allegations Unfold
Donald Trump

A New York prosecutor told jurors that the hush money payment at the heart of former President Donald Trump's criminal trial was part of an effort to corrupt the 2016 election, as lawyers made their closing arguments on Tuesday. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said the jurors would need to assess whether Trump, 77, falsified business documents to cover up a $130,000 payment that ensured porn star Stormy Daniels would not tell voters her story of an alleged sexual encounter with him.

Steinglass said that payment was part of a broader endeavor by Trump and allies like tabloid publisher David Pecker that undermined the election by controlling what information would reach voters. "This scheme, cooked up by these men at this time, could very well be what got President Trump elected," Steinglass said.

Jurors could begin deliberations as soon as Wednesday. Steinglass spoke after a lawyer for Trump urged jurors to set aside their personal views of Trump - the 2024 Republican presidential candidate - and instead determine whether prosecutors had proven their case.

"If you focus just on that evidence you heard in this courtroom, this is a very, very quick and easy not guilty verdict," Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche said. Blanche said Daniels sought to extort Trump by threatening to go public with her story as he battled a string of unflattering stories of sexual misconduct in the final weeks of the 2016 election.

Trump denies wrongdoing and says he never had sex with Daniels. The defense has argued he approved the hush money payment to spare his family the embarrassment. Steinglass said it was no coincidence the payoff took place two weeks before the election. "That's because the defendant's primary concern was not his family, but the election," he said.

Steinglass said it was irrelevant if Daniels was seeking a payday, because Trump broke the law by covering up evidence that his fixer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet. "You don't get to commit election fraud or falsify business records because you think you've been victimized," Steinglass said.

Prosecutors say the Daniels payment amounted to an improper campaign contribution because it kept voters from learning about an alleged affair that could have swayed their decisionmaking. Had she gone public, she could have undercut Trump's argument that he treated women with respect despite his crude sexual comments captured on audio from the "Access Hollywood" TV show that were broadcast in the final days of the 2016 campaign, Steinglass said.

"She would have totally undermined his strategy for spinning away the Access Hollywood tape," he said. Steinglass said Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher, alerted Trump that Daniels was shopping her story. During the trial, Pecker described an agreement with Trump to keep an eye out for stories that might have hurt his candidacy.

Blanche drew a reprimand from the judge overseeing the trial for telling jurors the evidence was insufficient to send Trump to prison. Jurors are tasked with assessing guilt or innocence while judges determine punishment of those found guilty. Justice Juan Merchan told jurors after they returned from lunch to ignore that statement. "That comment was improper and you must disregard it," he said before prosecutors began their closing argument.

Prosecutors must prove Trump is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," the level of certainty required by U.S. law. A conviction will not prevent Trump from trying to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election. Nor will it prevent him from taking office if he wins. Opinion polls show the two men locked in a tight race.

IS COHEN CREDIBLE? Blanche told jurors they could not trust Cohen, who testified that as Trump's fixer he paid Daniels out of his own pocket and worked out a plan with Trump to be reimbursed through payments disguised as legal fees.

Blanche reminded them that Cohen had previously admitted to lying under oath, and said Cohen had lied again during the trial when he testified that he had spoken with Trump about paying off Daniels before the election. "He is literally the greatest liar of all time," Blanche said.

He said there was no evidence that Trump knew anything about how those payments were characterized in his company's ledger. Prosecutors must prove that Trump knowingly broke the law. Steinglass countered that Cohen's dishonesty was a reflection of Trump's malign influence.

"Mr. Trump not only corrupted those around him. He also got them to lie to cover it up," Steinglass said. The charges brought against Trump are misdemeanors on their own but prosecutors elevated them to felonies on the grounds that Trump was trying to cover up another crime - that of promoting a candidacy for political office by unlawful means.

Those "unlawful means," prosecutors would argue, include excessive campaign contributions, tax violations, and other business records-related crimes. 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.

Blanche said prosecutors had not proven that there had been any underlying crime to cover up. 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.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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