Defence urges jurors to focus on paperwork as Trump hush money trial nears end

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - NEW YORK, May 28 — Donald Trump’s lawyer urged jurors today to look past the salacious details in his criminal hush money trial and focus on the paperwork at the heart of the case as he urged them to find the former president not guilty of criminal behavior.

“This case is about documents. It’s a paper case,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said as he began his closing argument after six weeks of trial.

Blanche said prosecutors had failed to prove that Trump, the 2024 Republican candidate for president, illegally falsified documents to cover up a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to advance his 2016 presidential campaign.

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

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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. Jurors could begin deliberations as soon as tomorrow.

Once Blanche finishes, prosecutors will sum up the witnesses and evidence they have presented as they argue Trump, 77, illegally falsified records 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.

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Justice Juan Merchan, overseeing the trial, said he would ask jurors to stay late so both sides could complete their arguments today.

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

Prosecutors must prove Trump is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the level of certainty required by US law. Trump said on social media they had an unfair advantage making their presentation after the defence, as is standard in New York.

A conviction will not prevent Trump from trying to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 election. Nor will it prevent him from taking office if he wins. Opinion polls show the two men locked in a tight race.

Blanche told jurors they could not rely on the testimony of Daniels or of lawyer Michael Cohen, who testified that as Trump’s fixer he handled the payment to Daniels and that Trump approved the cover-up.

Cohen testified that he paid Daniels US$130,000 (RM610,194) out of his own pocket and Trump paid him back after the election, disguising those payments as monthly legal fees.

Blanche said those payments were indeed monthly legal fees, as Cohen served as Trump’s personal lawyer during that time.

He said there was no evidence that Trump knew anything about how those payments were characterized in his company’s ledger and emphasised that the payments were publicly reported. Prosecutors must prove that Trump knowingly broke the law.

“If there was some deep-rooted intent to defraud, why do you think it was reported to the IRS as exactly what it was?” Blanche said, referring to the US tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service.

During the trial, jurors heard about Cohen’s 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.

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 the Daniels payment, which they say amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.

Blanche said prosecutors had not proven that there had been any underlying crime to cover up. He said Trump had done nothing improper by working with tabloid publisher David Pecker to suppress stories that might have hurt his campaign.

“It doesn’t matter if there was a conspiracy to try to win an election,” he said. “You have to find that this effort was done by unlawful means.”

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. — Reuters

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