Trump sought to 'hoodwink' voters with porn star payment, prosecutor tells jury

By Jack Queen, Luc Cohen and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York prosecutor told jurors that the hush money payment at the heart of former President Donald Trump's criminal trial was an attempt to "hoodwink the American voter" during the 2016 election, as lawyers made their closing arguments on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said the $130,000 payment that ensured porn star Stormy Daniels would not discuss an alleged sexual encounter was part of a broad effort to bury stories that might have damaged his first White House bid.

"We'll never know if this effort to hoodwink the American voter impacted the election, but that's something we don't need to prove," Steinglass said.

Jurors could begin deliberating as soon as Wednesday in the first criminal trial of a U.S. president. The trial was due to resume at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) with the judge issuing instructions to the jury.

Trump, 77, faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business documents to cover up the payment to Daniels. He has pleaded not guilty, denies ever having sex with Daniels and appeared to be unimpressed with Steinglass's closing argument.

"BORING!" Trump wrote on social media during a break.

Earlier in the day Trump's lawyer told jurors they should not trust star witness Michael 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.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said Cohen, a convicted felon with a long track record of lying, had misled jurors when he said he discussed the payment and the reimbursement plan with Trump.

"He is literally the greatest liar of all time," Blanche said.

Steinglass countered that Cohen's dishonesty was a reflection of Trump's malign influence.

Blanche urged jurors to set aside their personal views of Trump, the 2024 Republican presidential candidate, and determine whether prosecutors had proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard required by U.S. law.

“If you focus just on that evidence you heard in this courtroom, this is a very, very quick-and-easy not guilty verdict," Blanche said.

Steinglass likewise urged jurors to ignore the politics surrounding the case. "The law is the law. And it applies to everyone equally. There is no special standard for this defendant," he said as he wrapped up his remarks.

Merchan then dismissed jurors for the night and said he would instruct them on Wednesday about how to conduct their deliberations.

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 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.


Blanche said Daniels sought to blackmail 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.

The defense has argued he approved the hush money payment to spare his family the embarrassment.

Steinglass said Trump was concerned that her story might hurt his campaign, not his family and said it was irrelevant if Daniels was seeking a payday, because Trump broke the law by covering up the hush money payment.

“You cannot lie in your business records, and that’s what this case is really about at its core: cheating,” he said.

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.

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 his unlawful efforts to promote his candidacy.

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. He has pleaded not guilty in all of the cases and called them an effort by Biden's Democratic allies to hobble his presidential bid.

(Reporting by Jack Queen and Luc Cohen in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)