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Updated May 28, 2024, 3:46pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

As Trump’s hush-money trial winds down, the defense works to sow doubt

Insights from Just Security, The New York Times, and Politico

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Former US President Donald Trump walks to the courtroom upon arriving at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on May 28, 2024.
Julia Nikhinson/REUTERS
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The News

Closing arguments began Tuesday in Donald Trump’s New York hush-money trial, signaling the final phase of the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president that could have huge implications for the upcoming presidential election.

The presumptive Republican nominee is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse his personal lawyer for a $130,000 payment made to keep adult film star Stormy Daniels quiet about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump — as part of an alleged conspiracy to protect him ahead of the 2016 election. Trump’s lawyers have sought to discredit the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Cohen, and sow doubt in the jurors’ minds about the complicated legal charges as they move toward deliberation.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

The defense’s best shot may be simply sowing doubt

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Sources:  
MSNBC, Just Security, The New York Times

The Trump defense’s best shot at convincing the jury is to raise doubt about the case’s complicated legal charges, MSNBC legal analyst Jordan Rubin argued. Trump’s lawyers “don’t have to offer a compelling counternarrative of what happened… because they can simply argue that the prosecution failed to prove its case” beyond a reasonable doubt, Rubin wrote. One way is to sow a “morsel of doubt” among the jury that Trump’s motivation behind the hush money payments was not to benefit his 2016 presidential campaign, two legal analysts wrote in Just Security. In closing arguments Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer called the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Cohen, “the human embodiment of reasonable doubt, literally.”

The prosecution’s case hinges on proving intent

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Source:  
The New York Times

The case hinges on whether jurors believe the prosecution’s argument around Trump’s intent: That he falsified records with the intent to commit or conceal the commission of another crime.
Legal experts have said that it is often challenging to prove intent given Trump’s erratic outbursts and contradictory remarks. But juries don’t process intent in the same “complicated” way that lawyers do, one former federal prosecutor told The New York Times, and the prosecution has laid out “plenty of evidence of motive” for the jury to rely on, another legal expert said, making it a “very winnable case” for them.

The Biden campaign is slowly breaking its silence on Trump’s legal woes

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Sources:  
Politico, Semafor, The Hill

President Joe Biden has been largely silent on Trump’s criminal trials, but that seems to be changing. Actor Robert De Niro and two police officers who were on duty during the Capitol riots of Jan. 6 held a press conference Tuesday on behalf of the Biden campaign outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump is being tried. But, as Semafor’s Shelby Talcott wrote, the campaign’s reluctance to invoke Trump’s legal woes resulted in an odd presser that “seemed like an effort to talk about the trial without talking about the trial.” Biden apparently intends to directly address the trial’s verdict from the White House, Politico reported, and whatever the outcome, he will make the point that “America’s legal system worked and that the process should be respected.”

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