May 23, 2024

Trump’s Trial

Donald Trump’s legal team rested its case Tuesday in his hush money trial… Trump has been charged with falsifying records at his company in order to disguise the true nature of payments made in 2017 to one of his lawyers, Michael Cohen. Prosecutors say the money was for Cohen’s work suppressing negative stories about his boss during the 2016 presidential campaign, including one about an alleged sexual encounter with a porn actor, Stormy Daniels…

“Cohen testified that Trump knew all about the scheme to pay off Daniels. But under cross-examination, he also admitted stealing thousands of dollars from Trump’s company and lying during congressional testimony. Cohen also claimed he was innocent of crimes, including tax evasion and bank fraud, despite having pleaded guilty to those crimes in 2018. Cohen said his guilty pleas were, themselves, lies.” AP News

Testifying on Thursday, “[Cohen] described talking to the former president directly about a hush-money payment to an adult-film star. But attorney Todd Blanche all but shouted Cohen's testimony was ‘a lie.’ Records, he said, show Cohen called Mr Trump's bodyguard about a prank caller… [The] call lasted a minute and 36 seconds. Mr Blanche expressed scepticism that Cohen could have discussed both the prank caller and the six-figure payout in such a brief period.” BBC

See past issues

From the Left

The left has concerns about Cohen’s testimony but generally agrees that the prosecution has proven its case.

Some note, “For me, Thursday was the first point in the trial that Trump’s defense had effectively created any amount of possible reasonable doubt as to Trump’s guilt… Blanche hammered a clearly beaten down Cohen over his many, many angry rants, as well as his many, many shifting stories and outright lies surrounding his own criminal culpability…

“If Cohen was lying about [a] phone call [that he claims was when Trump signed off on the Daniels deal], the defense will note in closing arguments, what other phone calls with Trump that were supposedly about the hush money payments might he be lying about?”

Jeremy Stahl, Slate

Others argue, “Cohen’s openness about his past and his motivations—in part forced by the public and criminal nature of his previous offenses—may actually make him seem more credible to a jury. His argument in court boiled down to: I committed crimes at Trump’s behest—and suffered consequences—because I would have done anything for him

“In most cases, being a convicted felon would make a witness far less credible. But the fact that Cohen has already served time in prison for admitting to crimes related to hush-money payments actually adds to his credibility as a witness here, Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell Law School and an expert on juries, told me in an email; jurors won’t have to wonder if Cohen is testifying as part of a plea deal to avoid prison time for those charges.”

Lora Kelley, The Atlantic

The key question the jurors will soon be considering is a straightforward one: Did the former president ‘cause’ the creation of false business records?… Was the information on the documents false? Absolutely. Several witnesses support the government’s claim that Mr. Trump’s payments to the lawyer were not legal fees. Mr. Trump himself tweeted in 2018 that Mr. Cohen received a ‘reimbursement’ and said as much in a White House financial disclosure form… Even if the jury writes off Mr. Cohen or discounts his testimony, the government can still prove its case.”

Jeffrey Toobin, New York Times

“Trump’s lawyers certainly bruised Cohen, an unpredictable and unreliable grifter who stole money from the Trump Organization while helping orchestrate the hush-money payments. But he proved to be an excellent witness who kept his cool on the stand. And by the time Trump’s attorneys got to him, prosecutors had already introduced copious amounts of evidence and testimony from David Pecker, Stormy Daniels, Hope Hicks and Keith Davidson that corroborated Cohen’s account.”

Timothy L. O'Brien, Bloomberg

The law that jurors must follow in arriving at their verdict is unfavorable for Trump… One of the things the DA is seeking to prove is that Trump engaged in a conspiracy to promote his election ‘by unlawful means.’ The defense wanted an instruction that the jury must unanimously agree on what the unlawful means were. But, as prosecutors pointed out, New York law requires no such thing. As long as each juror finds some law was broken they do not have to agree on what it is.”

Norman Eisen, CNN

From the Right

The right criticizes the prosecution’s case, arguing that it is legally dubious.

The right criticizes the prosecution’s case, arguing that it is legally dubious.

“In the final day of cross-examination, Cohen admitted to committing larceny in stealing tens of thousands of dollars from his client. Even more notably, he admitted to the larceny on the stand… It was not the first time that prosecutors looked the other way as Cohen admitted to major criminal conduct: In a prior hearing, Cohen admitted under oath that he lied in a previous case where he pleaded guilty to lying…

“Cohen is the ultimate shining object for prosecutors to use as a distraction from the glaring omissions in their case… Even CNN hosts and experts have admitted that this case would never have been brought against another defendant or in another district…

“Indeed, after reviewing the Trump payments, not only did the Justice Department decline any charges but the Federal Election Commission did not even seek a civil fine.”

Jonathan Turley, New York Post

“In order to prove their case, the state must prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) That Donald Trump, with an intent to defraud, made or caused to be made a false entry in a business record; and (2) that he did so with an intent to commit or conceal another crime… The case centers around whether it was false to call the payments to Cohen ‘legal expenses.’…

Lawyers often front legal costs for their clients and are repaid after the fact. Lawyers are also paid retainers in advance for legal services. Both types of payments are, in fact, ‘legal expenses.’ The lack of a written retainer agreement between Cohen and Trump is also no fault of the client — lawyers are obligated to execute such agreements or risk not being paid for their services. If anything, Trump probably could have stiffed him on the payback, and Cohen would have no grounds to complain.”

Andrew Cherkasky and Katie Cherkasky, New York Post

Moreover, “this alleged cover-up is itself only a misdemeanor that would not normally yield a felony prosecution. It’s been boosted to a felony charge only because the prosecution, using a specific provision of New York law, argues that it’s linked to the ‘intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof.’…

“The prosecution has multiple candidates for its ‘another crime’ that Trump allegedly intended to commit, forcing legal analysts to create flow charts to explain how the misdemeanor charge could be linked to other possible offenses…

“Maybe to a federal campaign-finance violation. Maybe to a form of tax fraud (a curious kind that somehow ended with an overpayment to the federal government). Or maybe to a conspiracy ‘to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.’…

“According to the best legal analysis, the prosecution doesn’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any of these related crimes were actually committed. I defer to those analysts on what New York state legal precedent suggests. But I would defy anyone to summarize the underlying situation, in which a presidential candidate could be sent to prison for a misdemeanor offense elevated by a second crime for which he isn’t even being charged, without the description coming across as somewhat Kafkaesque.”

Ross Douthat, New York Times

A libertarian's take

“[New York Times columnist David French] worries about the consequences of a conviction that is overturned on appeal. ‘Imagine a scenario in which Trump is convicted at the trial, Biden condemns him as a felon and the Biden campaign runs ads mocking him as a convict,’ he writes. ‘If Biden wins a narrow victory but then an appeals court tosses out the conviction, this case could well undermine faith in our democracy and the rule of law.’…

“The problem, of course, goes beyond public perceptions. If Bragg is prosecuting Trump in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to prevent him from reoccupying the White House—and that is certainly how it looks—he is abusing his powers and perverting the law. The case seems to exemplify the very sort of misconduct that Trump's opponents fear he will commit if he wins the election.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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