Prosecution rests in whirlwind Trump hush money trial

Prosecution rests in whirlwind Trump hush money trial

Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office have rested their case against former President Trump, bringing the first criminal trial of a U.S. president in the country’s history nearer to a close.

Over four weeks of sometimes salacious, oftentimes feisty testimony, Trump’s jury of 12 New Yorkers heard from a smattering of witnesses ranging from 2016 campaign allies and Trump Organization employees to ex-tabloid publishers, a porn star and an ex-fixer.

Prosecutors told the story of how a $130,000 hush money payment was made to keep allegations of an affair quiet ahead of Trump’s 2016 election, arguing it was unlawfully repaid and that false records helped cover it up. They also theorized that the scheme was conducted in order to improperly influence the election, which Trump ended up winning.

It was a victory that at the time stunned the political world and still reverberates today.

The two witnesses that gave perhaps the most gripping testimony were Stormy Daniels, the woman paid the hush money, and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney who coordinated it all.

Cohen admitted that the 11 invoices he submitted to Trump in 2017 to cover the payment he made out of his own pocket were false records, and he cast doubt on the defense’s assertions that the $35,000 checks he received each month after were a legal retainer — speaking directly to 22 of the 34 charges of falsifying business records Trump faces.

Cohen also tied Trump to the broader conspiracy that prosecutors aim to prove occurred when allies quashed unflattering stories about the then-presidential candidate to clear his path to the White House in 2016. He said he paid Daniels and helped coordinate a payment to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal so they would keep their stories of alleged affairs with Trump secret.

“At whose direction and on whose behalf did you do that?” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked.

“At the direction of Donald J. Trump,” Cohen said, with Trump sitting at the defense table just feet away.

In total, the jury heard from 20 witnesses called by prosecutors, a phase expected to make up the bulk of the trial.

Now, attorneys for Trump have the chance to put on their defense of the former president — the stakes higher than any legal matter the former president has faced to date with a felony conviction and possible jail time on the table.

Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to present their own defense, but the government carries the burden of proving them guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It remains unclear whom the defense will call to the stand, if anyone, meaning the next phase of the trial could finish quickly, but that remains a mystery.

Earlier this week, Trump attorney Todd Blanche suggested they may call an expert witness to testify about campaign finance laws. But the biggest question is whether the former president himself will take the stand in his defense.

Trump has claimed he will do so, but in recent days, he has declined to answer shouted questions about whether he still plans to testify. Blanche told the judge at a sidebar conference that he has no indication yet of whether Trump will follow through.

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