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First floor. It's Tuesday. It's 6:09 AM walking out of my apartment to return to the courthouse. Today, we get closing arguments. To some extent, we know what the prosecution is going to say. We know their case. The prosecution has a coherent story, but we haven't heard an alternative theory. So this morning, Todd Blanch, Trump's lawyer, is going to try and give that alternate theory. You see doubt with a good story. What's that story going to be? We'll find out pretty soon.


From the New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is the Daily. On Tuesday, lawyers for the prosecution and the defense delivered their final arguments to the jury in the criminal case of the people of the state of New York versus Donald J. Trump. As always, my colleague, Jona Bromwich, was there. It's Wednesday, May 29th.


Hello. How's it going? Oh, look at that.


Yes, we have a modest dinner prepared for you.


It's beautiful. I know. Well, you've been added since 6:00 AM. Court rental 8.


What's a guy to do for dinner?


Thank you.


Are you ready? I'm ready. Shall we start?


Let's start.


Jonathon, this was a very big day in a very big trial.


Yeah, This trial has been happening for about a month and a half at this point, and it feels like every time I come in here in any way communicate with the readers and listeners and viewers of the New York Times, we talk about what a remarkable day it was. But of course, this is Closings. I mean, this is a huge It's the last time the lawyers get to address the jury. For the defense lawyers in particular, it's a day that comes with really serious stakes because this case has been really prosecution-driven. They've charged Donald Trump with falsifying business records 34 times, and they've charged Trump with a conspiracy to suppress negative news about himself to aid his path to victory in the 2016 election. The falsified documents were meant to cover up, prosecutors say, that to suppress that negative news. We've heard about all that. Twenty witnesses from the prosecution, only two from the defense. The prosecution, I think it's safe to say, has put together this really tight, understandable script. They have a story that the jurors know well at this point. The defense, of course, has questioned the prosecution's witnesses, and they've talked about some of the prosecution's evidence, but they really are working off a script that they didn't themselves write.


On Tuesday, the defense finally got a chance to take that script and rewrite it as they seek, during their closing argument, to convince the jurors that they should not convict Donald Trump.


Take us into the courtroom for this closing argument from the defense and how it was that they tried, finally, to rewrite this script.


Let me just make one point before I do that. The defense has a different burden in the prosecution. The prosecution has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense only has to pick off, really, realistically, one juror, convince that juror that he or she should not convict. So one of the reasons we haven't seen a coherent story from the defense is because they don't have that burden. Still, closing arguments are this really important point where the defense can mount exactly that, a story that will be remembered by the jurors. In the courtroom today, Todd Blanch, the lead lawyer for Donald Trump, goes up the lectern, and he begins in the same place where he began his opening statement weeks and weeks ago. He says, President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period. From there, he begins to expand and to introduce, it seems like at that point, what's going to be a pretty structured defense closing. It has these three distinct pillars. Which are? The first is that for all the flash and sizzle of the prosecution case, which is about a porn star and a presidential election, Blanch reminds us this is a documents case.


This is about falsifying business records. So he seems to be saying, Ignore that flash. That's not what this is about. Second, he says, Trump had nothing to do with those documents. The documents were first produced by Michael Cohen, who sent invoices to the Trump organization.


In order to be, as a reminder, reimbursed for the hush money payment he made to Stormy Daniels in order to keep the relationship she says she had with Trump secret from the voting public. Yes.


And so the defense says that Trump was DC this whole time while these documents were being generated because, of course, Donald Trump was the President of the United States. He was doing that job. How could he have found the time, the defense argues, to produce what prosecutors say are false documents and have any significant interaction with them? Then finally, the third pillar of the defense closing argument, and the one that we've seen throughout the trial, is attack Michael Cohen because we can't trust Michael Cohen when he testifies He testified, for instance, that Trump directed him to make the Hush Money payment, and you can't trust Michael Cohen when he testified that in January 2017, Trump signed off on the scheme to disguise the reimbursements as reimbursements for legal service rather than what they really are, which is a reimbursement for a hush money payment to a porn star. Then you can't trust the defense's arguing, the prosecution's case, and the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards.


Okay. Those sound like three highly logical pillars of defense closing argument. How does the defense try to lay those three pillars out, and how do they actually end up laying them out in this closing argument?


On that first pillar that Blanche identified, where he's saying that it's a paper case, he refers Most of the documents that prosecutors say are false. What Blanche says is, no, Michael Cohen was being paid for legal services. This wasn't a reimbursement. This wasn't anything shady. This was a personal lawyer to Donald J. Trump, who in 2017 paid for being a personal lawyer to Donald J. Trump. Interesting. That's the first pillar. Then he moves to the second pillar. Blanche just distances Trump from these documents. He says that Trump was busy running the country, being the leader of the free world, and that most of these documents really didn't have anything to do with him. They were being generated by Michael Cohen, or they were being generated by the Trump organization. There's even this issue of the nine checks that Trump signed himself. Blanche dismisses those because Trump was present President as well. He says, Well, Trump may have signed those, but he was doing lots of stuff, meeting with heads of state. He may not have paid close attention to those checks that he signed. This is meant to go toward Trump's intent and the fact that jurors can't really know what Trump was thinking.


But this is where this closing argument, I think, starts to go a little bit off the rails because the prosecutors have introduced a lot of evidence, including evidence from books that Trump himself wrote, that Trump pays very close attention to the inflow and outflow of money, both from the Trump organization and from his personal accounts. He even wrote in his books that he likes signing his own checks because he likes to pay close attention to them. Madalaine Westerhout, who as an executive assistant to Trump at the White House, has also testified that Trump dealt with his personal finances, even from the oval office. So even as Blanche is working on that second pillar, the jurors may be thinking to themselves, Hmm, this doesn't quite match what I've heard in this trial so far.




Then he moves on to the third and final pillar, and this is his comfort zone. Attacking Michael Cohen is where Todd Blanche likes to live. The jurors have heard him do that throughout the trial, and they're going to hear him do it again. He tells them they can't trust Michael Cohen, that he's lied in the past. Then there's this one phone call that they say Cohen has lied about that they really harp on. Cohen says that he called Trump on October 24th through the phone of Trump's bodyguard Keith Schiller. On that call, Cohen has testified, he told Trump that he had dealt with some arrangement related to the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. But the defense has already tried to convince the jury during testimony that Cohen was talking to Schiller, not Trump, and that he was talking to Schiller not about the hush money payment, but about being bullied by a teenager. There was some 14-year-old harassing and prank-calling Cohen, and he called Schiller to complain about it. Weird. Cohen has claimed, No, I talked to them both. Blanche has said, No, the call was too short. You're lying. And he says that again in closing arguments.


He reminds the jurors of this sequence, and he says, Michael Cohen lied to you about talking to Trump that evening through Keith Schiller's phone and committed perjury at this very trial. Then he veers into this sports metaphor world. First, he calls Cohen the MVP of liars. That's the most valuable player of liars. Apparently, liking that line, he then introduces another one. A newer sports term than MVP is GOAT.


Greatest of all time, right.


Greatest of all time. Blanche introduces that concept. He says Tom braided, for instance, is the GOAT, and he says Michael Cohen is the gloat. He's the greatest liar of all time.


Blanche here coins the phrase gloat and seems to be gloating about it.


But it's really important that Todd Blanch do this. There's a reason that he's attacking Cohen all these different ways. He's trying to use humor, he's trying to use argument. The reason this is so important is something that Blanche just says straight out in the middle of his closing argument. He tells the jurors that they cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is the only witness who provided direct testimony that Trump had signed off on disguising reimbursements to him as legal payments.




So without that evidence, the prosecution is in a bit of a tougher spot, and it behooves the defense to drive home as hard as they can and to really bear down on Michael Cohen's importance to the case.


Right. I mean, they're literally saying, If he's the gloat, if he's the greatest liar of all time, then the prosecution has no case.






So, Jonathon, how is this all landing with the jury? Pillars one, two, and three.


Well, we had initially thought that those were going to be the tent poles of this argument. But Pillar one and Pillar two, those seem to slide away. And what we're left with is these attacks over and over again on Michael Cohen. And so by the end of the defense's closing argument, the jurors are really left with not the cohesive narrative from the defense that we might have expected that they would provide in their closing argument. But with this single idea, you can't trust Michael Cohen.


It's not a fulsome, rich alternative story, which, as you said earlier, was the opportunity the defense really had here. Why do you think the defense didn't avail itself of the opportunity to tell such a story?


That's a really good question, and I think it's a hard question to answer. When I think about Todd Blanch and the job he has to do in this trial, I think about these four points that he has to focus on every time he's in the courtroom. There's the judge in front of him, there's the jury to his right, there's the prosecution, his opponents a little closer to his right, and then sitting right to his left is former President Donald Trump. As Todd Blanch tries to pivot between convincing the jurors, contesting the prosecution, appeasing the judge, and making sure that his client, notoriously difficult client, Donald Trump is happy, I think it's possible that he might just be hamstringing himself because one argument works for Trump, but it doesn't work for the jury, or one argument can test the prosecution really well, but the judge wants nothing to do with it. It's really hard to navigate these four points. It's not even triangulate, it's quadrangulate or something like that. That's maybe to me, why Blanche doesn't really have this coherent narrative. Instead, he settles on something that, for him, seems to solve all four problems. The judge will let him attack Cohen.


Trump loves when he attacks Cohen. The prosecution is angry when he attacks Cohen because he is a key witness for them. And hopefully, Blanche thinks, the jury will be convinced by these attacks on Cohen. But Michael Cohen is just one witness. And the problem with focusing on him, with having this one-line argument, Michael Cohen is a liar and you can't trust him, is that when the prosecutors are about to tell this long story that they're going to back up with tons of documentary evidence and tons of testimony that didn't come from Michael Cohen, will that single attack on Michael Cohen, will that stick in jurors heads and produce a reasonable doubt that the defense needs to do everything it can to get?


We'll be right back.


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Joni, you just said that the thinness of the defense's argument, relying so on Michael Cohen's veracity, left it vulnerable to a strong closing argument from the prosecution. What was that closing?


The prosecution, namely Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, is going to deliver this closing. He steps to the lectern. What he essentially tells the jury is, you don't have to rely on Michael Cohen. We have 19 other witnesses. These are not random people we summoned off the street. These are people who are in Trump's orbit. Many of them are still loyal to Donald Trump. And yet, bit by bit, piece by piece, they also offer testimony that is really damning to Donald Trump. So one witness that he really sticks with for a long time is David Pecker, who in 2015 is the publisher of the National Enquire, and you'll remember, is one member of what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to suppress negative stories about Trump during the election that involved Trump, Cohen, and David Pecker. So David Pecker, he says, clearly implicates Trump. In In fact, David Becker says that he had multiple conversations with Trump, and there was at least one of those conversations in which Trump just acknowledges having known about this scheme to pay hush money to people who had damaging stories. So David Pecker is a great witness for prosecutors to identify and say, Ignore Cohen, look at this guy.


Another witness that prosecutors gesture at, Don't look at Michael Cohen, look at this other witness over here, is Hope Hicks. Hope Hicks was Trump's campaign spokeswoman, and later a spokesman for him when he was in the White House. There's a couple of pieces of Hicks testimony that they draw on. Now, Hicks is still loyal to Trump. She teared up on the stand. And yet, prosecutors say she still gave damning evidence against her former boss. So one thing that she testifies about is Trump having told her at one point that it's a good thing that the news of the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels did not come out during the 2016 election. Now, this is gold for the prosecution because the defense has tried to argue, Oh, Trump may have wanted to hide the Stormy Daniels story. But if he did, it was just to protect his family. But Joshua Steinglass, the prosecutor, says that by saying to Hope Hicks that he's happy that it at least did not come out during the election, Trump is making his motivation plain and reinforcing what prosecutors say was his reason for entering that conspiracy with David Pecker and Michael Cohen in the first place.


This would seem to do a lot of work to state of a jury, you don't have to rely on Michael Cohen. But as we've established throughout the of this trial with you, Jona, Cohen is very important to the prosecution. So how does the prosecution rebut the idea that the defense has said in its closing that you simply cannot trust anything Cohen has said?


Well, I think the best illustration of It actually has to do with that phone call that Michael Cohen placed to Keith Schiller to talk to Donald Trump about arranging some detail of the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.


Right, which was too short, the defense said, to have actually happened. Right.


Cohen says that he talked to Schiller about the kid bullying him, and then he also talked to Trump. The defense says, Yeah, there's no way that happened. But the prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, he doesn't just argue against that. What he does is he takes a cell phone and he hits the Timer on that cell phone so that the stopwatch is running. Then he pretends to be Michael Cohen, and he pretends to call Keith Schiller. Then, with plenty of silences, with plenty of pauses, asks Keith Schiller to hand the phone to Trump, and Joshua Steinglass, playing Michael Cohen, tells Trump that he has dealt with this hush money arrangement that Cohen says that he had dealt with. Then, finally, Steinglass is done. He hangs up the phone and he stops the stopwatch, and it's somewhere around like 45 seconds. The records for the phone call that Cohen had with Schiller are almost twice as long as what Stinglass has just done.


What Stinglass has clearly just shown the jury is there was plenty of time for Michael Cohen to have called Trump's bodyguard, had a weird conversation about a pranking 14-year-old, and then also gotten Trump on the line to talk about paying off Stormy Daniels. In fact, it seems like there was still time to spare. So this is a very clever and theatrical way of contravening what the defense has said about this call.


Yeah, he doesn't just argue it. He shows it, and he shows it in this memorable, funny way that I think could really to dismantle what the defense has clearly seen as one of its best arguments.


Everything you're describing so far sounds like the prosecution being pretty responsive to the defense closing argument. How, if at all, is the prosecution selling its own story and its own testimony that it gathered during this trial?


What they do is they just put together this very structured, very organized timeline that Joshua Steinglass is talking about as he's making this closing argument. He proceeds from August 2015, when prosecutors say the conspiracy was formed, into October 2016, when the hush money payment to Daniels was made. In that October section in particular, he slows way down. We just see reams of documentary evidence, phone calls between all the main players, Trump, Pecker, Michael Cohen, Keith Davidson, who was Stormy Daniels' lawyer at the time, Dylan Howard, who was an editor at the National Enquiry. Not only are we seeing these people talking to each other, but we're seeing events play out in real-time. So something happens in the campaign, for instance, the Access Hollywood tape gets released. This is a problem for the Trump campaign. And suddenly, Stormy Daniels' story, another potential sex scandal in waiting, is a lot more urgent for them to deal with. And so, as Joshua Steinglass is telling us about this, all of which took place in October 2016, we're seeing all the related phone calls between those key players as Cohen realizes he has to deal with the story, and he starts contacting Keith Davidson, and he starts contacting Donald Trump.


Everything that Joshua Steinglass is arguing here is not just relying on Cohen's testimony. Cohen's testimony is this one strand of a really intricate, colorful, detail-packed sequence that the prosecutors lay out. Sometimes it could feel almost overwhelming. I just want make sure that I'm highlighting the contrast here because it was really stark in the courtroom. Todd Blanch tried to structure his argument in a somewhat similar way with those three pillars, but his argument soon melted into this, that, and the other thing. The prosecution's argument is really structured. They're scaffolding throughout it. When you try and remember a certain piece of evidence, it makes it easier to remember where each detail is kept. You know where the storm me Daniel's payment is because it's at the end of that long sequence in October. You know when the election was, November eighth, 2016. All those things are anchored in time in the prosecution's argument. When the jury begins to deliver they'll be able to refer back to that timeline as they seek to bring up and discuss these all-important points of the case. But when they refer back to the defense closing, other than Michael Cohen is a liar, it's not really clear what they remember.


What you're clearly saying here is, prosecution was telling a better, more coherent, more compelling story than the defense. But I'm curious, as you're in the courtroom listening to the prosecution, which gets the last word, With its closing, how they're signaling to the jury that this is a case worth convicting a former president and current Republican nominee for president of having committed? Because that seems like an It's a somewhat different kettle of fish than simply referring to a bunch of evidence.


Well, this is the reason we're talking about this case, right? It's significant not because it's a random defendant in New York charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, but because it's Donald Trump. And prosecutors aren't just arguing that he falsified records. They're arguing that he did so to cover up an election conspiracy in which he defrauded the American people by keeping the truth about his candidacy from them. And Joshua Steinglass draws Clause on that here. He says that after the Access Hollywood tape was released, the campaign between Trump and Hillary Clinton was extremely close. He even plays video of Trump talking about how he needs every last percentage point he can get because the race is so close. What Stine glass says is we can't ever know whether the publication of Stormy Daniels' story would have swung the election. But regardless, Americans in 2016 deserve to know. They deserve to know this that Donald Trump, prosecutors say, intentionally hid from them, intentionally suppressed this. In doing so, he really robbed Americans of our right to evaluate candidates as fully as we can. The prosecutors are arguing here.


Given everything that you've just laid out, I want to now and finally turn to the jury's deliberations, which are about to get underway. You are, of course, a reporter. You're not a juror, but you sat in this room for the entirety of the trial. You didn't miss a moment of it. I'm curious how you're thinking about what those deliberations are likely to look like.


The jurors have a lot to discuss Gus, I really keep thinking over and over about what it's going to be like for them because the jury is barred from discussing the case until this exact moment, until they're actually given the chance to deliberate it. So these people have been hanging out with each other for weeks, seeing the same stuff, making small talk.


But never comparing notes about what they actually make of the testimony.


Yeah, exactly. So now they get to talk for the first time. They will deliberate. It can take Hours. It can take days, it can take weeks. Now, there are 34 charges here, and there are three options, really, for each charge. The jurors can find Trump guilty, they can find him not guilty, and they could just not to an agreement at all and hang on the charge. If we hear a verdict, it could be guilty on all 34 counts, it could be not guilty on all 34 counts, it could be some combination, what's called a mixed verdict, where Trump is found guilty on some of the counts but not others. It also could be that even though we've said that the prosecution's case has come in really strong, there's one juror who really doesn't trust Michael Cohen and really agrees and believes that the case hinges on Cohen. And that juror, if they decide, I can't find this guy guilty on any one of these charges because I have to rely on Cohen to do so, then there's no chance of getting any convictions on any one of the charges Because all the jurors, and this is the key point, all the jurors have to agree.


They have to be unanimous. And so what you have at the end of this trial that is about defrauding the American people, according to prosecutors, is this chance for 12 people in a room to come together, talk, and try to decide whether the first former American President ever to go on trial is guilty or not.


Well, Jonah, as always, thank you very much.


Thanks so much for having me.


The trial is expected to resume at 10:00 AM this morning when the judge will issue instructions to the jury. After that, jury deliberations will officially begin. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. On Tuesday, the White House said that the Israeli strike that killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in Raafa did not violate President Biden's recent threat to cut off arm shipments to Israel. Had carried out a major military operation in the city.


How does this not violate the red line that President laid out?


As I said, we don't want to see a major ground operation. We haven't seen that at this point. During a news conference, reporters pushed a White House spokesman, John Kirby, to explain the President's thinking.


How many more charred corpses does he have to see before the President considers a change of policy?


We don't want to see a single more innocent life taken. I take a little offense at the question, no civilian casualties is the right number of civilian casualties. And Democratic Party leaders say they will nominate President Biden for a second term in office via a virtual roll call of delegates in order to avoid an Ohio law that has threatened to keep Biden off the state's ballot in November. Ohio law requires that all candidates be legally certified by August seventh, but Biden is not scheduled to be officially nominated until weeks later during the Democratic National Convention. The virtual roll call solves that problem because it will be completed before the Ohio deadline. Today's episode was produced by Eric Krupke and Claire Tennisgetter. It was edited by Rachel Quester. Contains original music by Marion Lozano. And was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of WNDYRLE. Special thanks to nick Pitman. For The Daily. I'm Michael Mabora. See you tomorrow..