Trump's hush-money verdict hinges on a single piece of paper. See the most important evidence in the case.

  • People's Exhibit 35 is key evidence in the Donald Trump hush-money trial.

  • It documents the hush-money payment and an alleged conspiracy to falsify its reimbursement.

  • But whether Exhibit 35 will clinch or crash the district attorney's case depends on Michael Cohen.

Welcome to People's Exhibit 35, the single most important piece of evidence in the Donald Trump hush-money trial.

You'll see this one-page document in its succinct entirety just a few paragraphs down. Then, I'll walk you through it, section by section.

People's 35 is the fulcrum for the entire case. As they make their closing arguments this week, prosecutors are sure to say it proves Trump is guilty, while the defense will say it proves he's innocent.

And which side wins will depend in large part on whether jurors believe the key prosecution witness, Michael Cohen, who testified last week that Trump personally saw — and approved — the document's contents.

People's 35 looks a little complicated, but I promise this won't hurt a bit. Go ahead, scroll through it, just to see what it looks like, and I'll meet you on the other side, where we'll take it apart.

A bank account statement with Michael Cohen's name on it and various sections highlighted in different colors.
People's Exhibit 35.Manhattan District Attorney's Office/BI

As shown above, People's 35 is a one-page bank statement from October 2016 for something called "Essential Consultants," an LLC controlled by Cohen.

The section highlighting, but not the handwriting, is mine.

It may not look like a lot, but I bet you when prosecutors found this hard-copy sheet of paper among hundreds of thousands of pages of subpoenaed Trump Organization documents, somebody shouted, "Holy @#$%!!!!"

People's 35 encapsulates almost the entirety of the alleged hush-money-conspiracy. It has almost everything, and all on one page.

The third block I've highlighted from the top shows Cohen wired $130,000 of his own money to a lawyer for the porn star Stormy Daniels on October 27, 2016, just 12 days before the election.

That, for anyone who's sleeping through the trial, is the hush money.

The shaded block at the bottom right? That's where Cohen scribbled that Trump owed him $180,000, which is the hush money plus a $50,000 outlay Cohen previously made. (That "tech services" outlay is a funny story of its own, which we'll get to.)

And the bottom-left block shows where Trump's former top money man, his chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, scratched out how much Cohen was owed. Weisselberg then worked out how that total would be (allegedly illegally) doubled to account for income taxes and how that grand total would then be (allegedly illegally) reimbursed.

No fingerprints, though

Yes, People's 35 has almost everything — the $130,000 hush-money payment itself and the actual chicken-scratched math behind what prosecutors call a conspiracy to falsify the business records for Cohen's reimbursement.

What People's 35 doesn't have is Trump's fingerprints, a point that the defense is sure to press during closing arguments.

To connect Trump to the alleged scheme, jurors will need to believe Cohen — who told them last week that when all the calculating and scribbling was done, he and Weisselberg marched this very page into Trump's office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan.

It was mid-January 2017, and Trump was days away from his inauguration.

Prosecutors say Trump's schedule was packed at the time with teleprompter training sessions and meetings with his future chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

But Trump carved out a moment nonetheless to sit with Weisselberg, his loyal CFO, and with Cohen, his attorney, who prosecutors say had just fronted $130,000 of his own cash to pay off a porn actor and was eager for repayment.

The defense counters that this meeting never happened and that Cohen and Weisselberg are solely responsible for any falsified documents.

They are expected to argue that Trump was too busy running the country in 2017 to have had a hand in the year's worth of bogus monthly "retainer" checks that reimbursed Cohen — including nine checks he signed personally.

Copies of checks Donald Trump signed to pay Michael Cohen
Prosecutors allege that Donald Trump's payments to Michael Cohen were falsified to conceal hush money paid to the adult film star Stormy Daniels.Jon Elswick/AP

'He approved it'

"Did he show this document to Mr. Trump?" the prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen during direct testimony on Monday, the "he" being Weisselberg.

"Yes," Cohen answered as Trump watched from the defense table.

"And what, if anything, did Mr. Trump say at the time?" the prosecutor asked.

"He approved it," Cohen answered, referring to Trump. "And he also said, 'This is going to be one heck of a ride in DC.'"

Ready? Here's a closer look, starting with the highlighted section at the top.

A section of People's Exhibit 35.
Manhattan District Attorney's Office/BI

Prosecutors allege that less than two weeks before the 2016 election, Cohen tapped his own home-equity line of credit in order to purchase Daniels' silence.

But Cohen obscured his role as a hush-money bag man. Instead of sending the money directly, he first wired the $130,000 into the bank account for a newly created shell company called Essential Consultants LLC.

The LLC's sole purpose was to handle the hush-money payment, Cohen testified.

"Can we put up People's Exhibit 35, please, in evidence?" Hoffinger, the prosecutor, asked just after Monday's lunch break.

The document was displayed on personal screens for each of the jurors, and on four large overhead screens for the audience.

"Do you recognize this document?" Hoffinger asked.

"I do," Cohen answered. "This is the bank statement for Essential Consultants for the period of October 26th of 2016 through the 31st of October of 2016," Cohen explained.

Next, let's turn to the highlighted section below.

A section of People's Exhibit 35 showing the actual hush-money payment.
Manhattan District Attorney's Office/BI

Here, we see the $130,000 hush-money payment moving into, and then out of, the Essential Consultants bank account.

Cohen testified last week that he took the money from his HELOC so he could hide the big outlay from his wife.

Her name was on the HELOC, but the billing was paperless, Cohen explained.

"You decided to do it this way, it was quick, you could move the money quickly, because you wanted to conceal it from your wife, correct?" the defense lawyer Todd Blanche asked Cohen during cross-examination on Thursday.

"Correct," Cohen answered.

Let's move to the third section from the top, highlighting where the money went.

A section of People's Exhibit 35
Manhattan District Attorney's Office/BI

So long, hush money.

People's Exhibit 35 shows that on October 27 — only 12 days before the election — Cohen wired the $130,000 from Essential Consultants to Keith Davidson, who was Daniels' lawyer at the time.

Davidson also repped Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Bunny who'd been paid $150,000 just weeks prior to keep her silent about a nearly yearlong affair she said she had with Trump.

Both the porn star and the pinup model say they slept with Trump at the same Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament in 2006. Trump's son with Melania Trump was then four months old.

Trump has consistently denied having sex with the two women.

Davidson's testimony in early May was noteworthy for its name-dropping. The attorney told jurors he peddled salacious celebrity stories to the National Enquirer, including stories targeting Charlie Sheen, Hulk Hogan, Lindsay Lohan, and Tila Tequila.

The defense used its cross-examination of Davidson to imply that Trump was no mastermind and was instead a helpless victim of something akin to celebrity extortion.

Next: Cohen's handwriting, highlighted in the bottom-right corner.

A section of People's Exhibit 35.
Manhattan District Attorney's Office/BI

Here is where Cohen testified that he made a jotted note of another personal outlay Trump owed him for, on top of the $130,000 and the wiring fee of $35.

This was a reimbursement for $50,000 paid to the Virginia tech company RedFinch Solutions LLC.

RedFinch did polling for the Trump campaign and set up the Twitter account @WomenForCohen, touting him as a so-called "pit bull" and "sex symbol."

"He told me to add up the 130 with the 50,000 for RedFinch — total it to 180,000," Cohen testified Monday, referring to a talk he said he had with Weisselberg before the two men marched People's 35 into Trump's office.

Cohen never reimbursed RedFinch for the whole $50,000, he testified.

Finally, let's look at the bottom-left section.

A section of People's Exhibit 35.
Manhattan District Attorney's Office/BI

"And whose handwriting is at the bottom left and middle?" Hoffinger, the prosecutor, asked Cohen as People's 35 was displayed.

"That's Allen Weisselberg's," Cohen answered.

Weisselberg has been unavailable to testify. He's serving a five-month perjury sentence for lying on Trump's behalf at last year's civil fraud trial.

"And how were you able to recognize Allen Weisselberg's handwriting?" the prosecutor asked.

"Well, I recognize the handwriting, but I was also there in the room when he was writing it," Cohen answered.

Weisselberg, in his handwritten note, started with the $180,000 Cohen said Trump owed him.

The CFO underlined the amount. Below that, he wrote, "Grossed up to $360,000."

"He told me what he was going to do was to — it's called 'gross it up,'" Cohen explained to the jury.

Weisselberg's idea — approved by Trump — was to falsely process Cohen's $180,000 reimbursement as legal fees, paid in monthly installments throughout 2017, Trump's first year in office, prosecutors say.

But because Cohen faced a 50% tax penalty on that income, Weisselberg doubled — or "grossed up" — the $180,000, Cohen testified.

Michael Cohen surrounded by reporters and people with cameras.
Michael Cohen, center, being surrounded by reporters as he arrived for grand-jury testimony last year.AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

"So in order to get back the 180, what he did was, he then wrote down 360,000," Cohen testified. Cohen could then take his 50% tax hit, paying the IRS $180,000 and still pocketing the $180,000 he was due.

Weisselberg tacked on an extra $60,000 year-end bonus, arriving at a grand total of $420,000, Cohen testified, continuing to translate the CFO's handwriting to jurors.

Cohen said he was told the $420,000 should be divided into monthly "retainer" checks of $35,000.

That was bad news for Cohen, who'd walked into the meeting with Weisselberg and Trump assuming he'd be reimbursed in one lump sum.

But Trump and Weisselberg had figured it all out in advance, Cohen said he soon realized.

"Did Mr. Weisselberg say in front of Mr. Trump that those monthly payments would be, you know, like a retainer for legal services?" Hoffinger asked Cohen.

"Yes," Cohen answered.

"Did you say something to the effect of that you had the sense that they had spoken about this previously?" Hoffinger asked.

"Yes," Cohen answered.

"Why do you say that?" the prosecutor asked.

"Because they always played that sort of game — a 'frick and frack' type game," Cohen said.

People's 35 was still displayed on the courtroom's screens, both large and small, as Hoffinger asked what happened when Weisselberg "showed Mr. Trump this document."

"Did Mr. Trump try to renegotiate?" Hoffinger asked.

"No," Cohen answered.

"So he approved it at that point?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes," Cohen answered.

Closing arguments could come as soon as Tuesday, with jury deliberations starting as early as Thursday. Trump faces anywhere from no jail to four years in prison if convicted of felony falsification of business records.

Correction: May 20, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment to Keith Davidson. It was 12 days before the 2016 presidential election, not 11 days.

Read the original article on Business Insider