Closing Arguments For Trump’s Hush Money Trial Begin Tuesday. Here’s What To Know

Donald Trump appears in court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 21, 2024 in New York City. Closing arguments for Donald Trump’s hush money case will begin on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Dave Sanders/Pool/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

By Devan Cole, CNN

(CNN) — When prosecutors make their final pitch Tuesday to New York jurors for why they should convict former President Donald Trump of a slew of business crimes, they’ll face the burdensome task of weaving together weeks of testimony and evidence they say proves Trump committed felonies to help his 2016 presidential campaign.

The closing arguments in Trump’s historic hush money criminal case will give prosecutors from District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office an opportunity to explain to the 12 jurors how each witness they called and piece of evidence they presented bolsters their case for a guilty verdict on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

That was already going to be a complicated task for a trial that’s been underway since mid-April and frequently featured witnesses going over the dry details of business recordkeeping and other mundane testimony. But prosecutors will have an extra degree of difficulty with a long break ahead of closing arguments, as jurors will have been away from the case since Tuesday.

“There’s plenty of moments during trial where you’re getting a piece of testimony or you’re introducing a document or other exhibit, and the jury is thinking, ‘Well, how does this fit in?’ That’s unavoidable. It’s your job at closing to weave it all together, and to make it make sense. And so that will be especially the case here because this is a long trial,” said CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor.

“This, more than even your typical case, is going to be a closing case,” he added.

Former New York prosecutor Bernarda Villalona said prosecutors will use their closing arguments “to tell the story from the very beginning.” She said that unlike their opening statement, which lasted about 40 minutes, prosecutors’ final remarks in the case could go on for several hours and feature a visual aid like a PowerPoint presentation to help walk the jury back through some of the key evidence.

“The boring is over. The boring part was having them sit down to hear it,” added Villalona, referring to the 12 jurors. “Interestingly enough, the boring part is actually the most important part of the case because the boring part is what gives you the documents. The star witness in this case are the documents, and the documents speak for themselves.”

Trump’s attorneys will present their closing arguments first on Tuesday, followed by the arguments from prosecutors. Trump’s legal team is expected to focus on the credibility of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, the only prosecution witness to directly tie the former president to the coverup payments, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche will argue that there was no crime and that business documents were not falsified since Cohen was Trump’s attorney and continued to work for him into 2017, the people said.

The former president’s legal team will also dispute this was part of a conspiracy to influence the election. They will steer clear of any arguments about political motivations for bringing this case, but might mention the case is old and let jurors draw their own conclusions.

While the lawyers have no time limit, Trump’s legal team thinks three hours is the maximum time a jury wants to listen to a closing argument, a person familiar with the matter told CNN. Their timing posture is also part of a strategy to discourage prosecutor Joshua Steinglass from continuing his closing argument into Wednesday morning.

Essentially, Trump’s lawyers do not want the lead prosecutor to have another crack at the jury before they retire to deliberate.

Essentially, Trump’s lawyers do not want the lead prosecutor to have another crack at the jury before they retire to deliberate.

Once both sides finish their arguments, Judge Juan Merchan will instruct the jury as to the charges it must consider against the former president; then, the jurors will begin their deliberations. The judge has said he expects this to happen on Wednesday.

The closing arguments will begin exactly a week after the defense rested its case on Tuesday and more than five weeks after opening statements were delivered and the first witness, former tabloid executive David Pecker, took the stand.

The prosecution called 20 witnesses over 19 days in court, with their testimony totaling over 50 hours. Many of their witnesses were not household names, though some, including Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels — whose alleged affair with Trump is at the center of the case — were high-profile figures whose testimony is no doubt seared into jurors’ minds. (Trump has denied the alleged affair.)

For its part, Trump’s team called just two witnesses: a paralegal who entered phone records into evidence and Robert Costello, an attorney who was in talks with Cohen to represent him in 2018.

Trump is facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree to cover up the reimbursement of hush money payments made before the 2016 election to Daniels. If convicted, Merchan could sentence Trump to probation or a sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years on each count in state prison, with a maximum of 20 years.

Blanche is expected to highlight that prosecutors didn’t call former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who is the only other person in the Trump Tower meeting in 2017 where Cohen said Trump approved the reimbursement plan and monthly check payments; Dylan Howard, a former top editor of the National Enquirer who was involved in all three of the “catch and kill” deals; nor Keith Schiller, a former bodyguard to Trump, the people said.

What prosecutors might argue

Prosecutors will likely contend during their closing arguments that each of their witnesses plays a key role in the case, despite their professional rank or proximity to the alleged crimes. They will probably also have to push back against claims by the defense that Cohen, prosecutors’ star witness, undermines their case because of his history of dishonesty, Honig said.

“The prosecution’s argument will be that all the evidence interlocks and is corroborated and that you don’t have to rely on any one witness’s word on its own. They will say this is a documents case,” he explained, going on to describe the various accounting documents presented during the trial.

“And they’ll say, ‘Michael Cohen’s here to guide you through it, but you don’t need to believe him — everything he says is backed up’” by evidence and other testimony, Honig said.

Joshua Steinglass, who is doing closings for the prosecution, is expected to address the jury for several hours following the defense’s presentation. He is expected to tie together text messages, phone logs, other witnesses’ testimony and the 34 allegedly falsified documents to corroborate Cohen’s testimony.

During the trial, prosecutors walked jurors repeatedly through the 11 invoices, 12 vouchers and 11 checks — the 34 documents that make up the falsified business records charges — that were used to pay Cohen $420,000 in 2017, money that included the reimbursement for the $130,000 hush money payment “grossed up” to account for taxes.

Prosecutors showed jurors how Cohen sent the Trump Organization monthly invoices for $35,000, which were processed by the Trump company’s controller so checks could be cut. Trump signed nine of the 11 checks. (The other two checks were paid from Trump’s revocable trust and signed by former Trump Org. Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and one of Trump’s sons.)

Karen Friedman Agnifilo, who served for a time as a top prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, said she expects the prosecution to present several themes in their closing arguments, including that most of the people who testified for their case were “Trump witnesses … who you would expect to be friendly to him.”

The other theme, she said, could be: “Look at the kind of people Trump values,” with prosecutors arguing the former president chose to surround himself with people such as Cohen and Pecker, who were doing Trump’s bidding ahead of the 2016 election.

“These are his people, he chose them. And he shouldn’t now get the benefit of, ‘Because they’re flawed you can’t rely on them,’” prosecutors might argue, Agnifilo said.

“And even if you do not rely on them,” she said, echoing Honig, “the third theme is going to be, ‘You don’t have to, because everything is corroborated either by other witnesses or documents or records or Trump’s own words.’”

The length of the trial may not ultimately prove to be much of a challenge for jurors during their deliberations, Villalona said, since they were allowed to jot down notes during the proceedings and will be able to request some parts of the trial be read back to them.

“The good thing about New York is that they could request to have the whole trial read back to them and the judge will do that,” she said. “So if they forgot something David Pecker said on Day 1 or 2 of the trial, they can have that read back.” She added that any of the exhibits put into evidence could also be sent to the jurors for them to take a closer look as they mull a verdict.

Still, the closing arguments from each side will be carefully crafted to win not only a verdict in their favor, but also to mark each attorneys’ place in the historic trial, Villalona mused.

“The prosecution and the defense is going to give the closing argument of their career,” she said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Kara Scannell and Lauren del Valle contributed to this report.

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