Trump trial closing arguments set for next week

Due to the upcoming holiday weekend as well as legal squabbles over jury instructions, Judge Juan Merchan told the court "we are not going to be able to...

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Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump returns to the courtroom after a short break during his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 20, 2024. – Donald Trump’s trial on charges of covering up hush money payments to a porn star enters its closing stages Monday with the door still open to the former president taking the stand. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago / POOL / AFP)

New York, United States

Donald Trump’s trial on charges of covering up hush money payments to a porn star approached its final stages Monday, with the defense finishing cross-examination of star witness Michael Cohen and closing arguments expected next week.

Due to the upcoming holiday weekend as well as legal squabbles over jury instructions, Judge Juan Merchan told the court “we are not going to be able to sum up tomorrow” as he had hoped.

It is unclear if the defense will present a case — they are not required to — and whether Trump himself would testify.

Experts say it is highly unlikely he will take the stand in his criminal trial, the first ever of a former US president, as it would expose him to unnecessary legal jeopardy and forensic cross-examination by prosecutors.

But Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche has raised the prospect his client could step up as a witness, telling the judge last week “that’s another decision we need to consider.”

– Marathon questioning –

On Monday, 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 turned tormentor, 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.

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.

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

Cohen said repeatedly he takes “responsibility” for his actions and has faced the consequences. Prior to the trial, including in his books, he had done little to hide his contempt for his former boss.

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, dulling the questioning at moments by voicing confusion or nonchalance.

After Blanche finished, the prosecution returned for redirect questioning of Cohen, which is set to end Monday.

Cohen’s story has generally lined up with Daniels and David Pecker, the tabloid boss who said he worked with Trump and Cohen to suppress negative coverage during the Republican’s 2016 White House run.

– ‘Very unfair’ –

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 Monday, complaining to journalists that 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.”

Branding the case as politicized, he has been supported by a coterie of leading Republicans who stand behind him as he gives remarks to reporters outside the courtroom.

The growing list includes several lawmakers in the running to be Trump’s vice presidential pick, such as Ohio Senator JD Vance and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

There were no proceedings Friday as Trump was given the day off to attend his son Barron’s high school graduation in Florida.

After the prosecution rests, the defense can present a case, with an election campaign finance expert the only defense witness for now.

But calling of that witness is under dispute. The prosecution has voiced opposition, saying only the judge should explain how the law applies.

When the jury begins deliberating, the often salacious testimony will likely linger front-of-mind — but they will also have reams of documents to consider.

The charges hinge on financial records, and whether falsifying them was done with intent to sway the 2016 presidential vote.

bur-mdo/bgs

© Agence France-Presse

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