Everything You Need To Know As Trump Trial Heads To Verdict

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, May 28, 2024 - 12:25 PM

As lawyers in the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump prepare to deliver their summations today, and the jury makes ready to begin deliberating as soon as the middle of the week, speculation runs high as to whether proceedings will end in an acquittal, a guilty verdict, or a hung jury.

If President Trump is convicted, evidentiary concerns and Justice Juan Merchan’s conduct are likely to raise substantive issues for the defense to pursue at the appellate level, according to one legal expert.

But other judicial experts disagree, saying it is premature to try to assess the trial’s fairness.

The Epoch Times' Catherine Yang, lays out everything you need to know to catch up with the case.

What Are the Charges?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged President Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, a class E felony.

The former president was charged under the statute New York Business Law 175.10, which states that “A person is guilty of falsifying business records in the first degree when he commits the crime of falsifying business records in the second degree, and when his intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.”

The second crime in this case was the alleged violation of New York Election Law 17-152: “Conspiracy to promote or prevent election. Any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means and which conspiracy is acted upon by one or more of the parties thereto, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The 34 records in this case consist of 11 checks cut to Michael Cohen, a former personal attorney to President Trump, and the corresponding vouchers and invoices. Prosecutors allege these payments, categorized as legal expenses, were reimbursement for money Mr. Cohen paid to Stephanie Clifford, better known as adult actress Stormy Daniels, as part of a scheme to influence the 2016 elections.

In order to prove their case, prosecutors need to show that President Trump had the intent to defraud—more specifically, the intent to conceal the alleged conspiracy—when causing the creation of the business records.

Who Testified?

David Pecker, former head of American Media, Inc. (AMI) and publisher of the National Enquirer, was the first to take the witness stand.

Over several days, he outlined an agreement with Mr. Trump and collaboration with Mr. Cohen as AMI purchased two stories that Mr. Pecker believed would harm the 2016 Trump campaign. Neither of the two deals Mr. Pecker was involved in are related to the current charges, but prosecutors argued they provide important context and evidence toward a conspiracy.

Next, longtime Trump assistant Rhona Graff testified, affirming that she had entered contact information for key people in the case into her contact management system, offering evidence that Mr. Trump was in touch with alleged co-conspirators.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks at a press conference in New York City on Sept. 8, 2022. (Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images)

Then Gary Farro, a banker formerly with First Republic Bank, took the witness stand to affirm the creation of accounts for Mr. Cohen’s LLCs, and confirm the $131,000 wire transfer.

Robert Browning, executive director of C-SPAN’s archives, took the witness stand to allow into evidence several video clips of President Trump campaigning. Philip Thompson, a regional director at Esquire Deposition Solutions, testified to the authenticity of a deposition transcript from another Trump case.

Lawyer Keith Davidson next testified, detailing his representation of Karen McDougal and later Ms. Clifford, and his dealings with Mr. Cohen to complete a settlement contract for Ms. Clifford. Several revealing texts were entered into evidence throughout his testimony, showing exchanges between Mr. Davidson and others.

Then, two members of the district attorney’s office were called to the witness stand. Forensic analyst Doug Daus had reviewed Mr. Cohen’s cell phones, and through his testimony phone records were admitted into evidence. Paralegal Georgia Longstreet had reviewed President Trump’s social media posts and several were entered into the record, including ones depicting a change in attitude toward Mr. Cohen.

Next, Hope Hicks, former Trump campaign communications director testified and affirmed then-candidate Trump’s schedule on key dates, allowing into evidence emails exchanged within the Trump campaign.

Jeffrey McConney, former Trump Organization comptroller, testified about his oversight of the process of accepting and processing Mr. Cohen’s invoices, which Mr. McConney categorized as legal expenses, allowing into evidence email exchanges about the payments. Deb Tarasoff, a bookkeeper for The Trump Organization who worked under Mr. McConney, testified she processed these invoices, cutting the checks Mr. Trump ultimately signed.

Sally Franklin with Random House was then called to the witness stand to read into the record several excerpts from Trump books on life and business advice. Later during the trial, Tracey Menzies with Harper Collins read into the records from other Trump books.

When Ms. Clifford took the witness stand, it was to a crowded courthouse. Ms. Clifford, whom the judge described as a “difficult to control” witness, gave salacious details in her testimony that led to the defense calling for a mistrial, which the judge denied on the basis that the issues could be resolved during cross-examination.

Next, Trump Organization employee Rebecca Manochio testified that she shipped checks from Trump Tower to Washington for President Trump to sign in 2017. Former Oval Office Director of Operations Madeleine Westerhout testified that she saw President Trump signing checks, which had been sent through FedEx to bodyguard Keith Schiller and later herself.

Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, (C) also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to the media next to her lawyer Michael Avenatti, after a court hearing in New York City on April 16, 2018. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

Daniel Dixon with AT&T and Jennie Tomalin with Verizon testified to the authenticity of phone records that were then entered into evidence. Paralegal Jaden Jarmell-Schneider, with the district attorney’s office, created summary charts of records from Mr. Cohen’s phone the prosecutors believed relevant to the case.

Finally, Mr. Cohen testified as the final witness for the prosecutors, with testimony lasting a week.

The defense called few witnesses: Paralegal Danny Sitko, with defense attorney Todd Blanche’s office, had created summary charts of phone records between Mr. Cohen and attorney Robert Costello. Mr. Costello’s testimony refuted claims Mr. Cohen made that Mr. Costello was meant to keep tabs on him for Rudy Giuliani, who later became an attorney to President Trump.

Who Didn’t Testify?

Two people frequently mentioned in testimony were unavailable to the court. The first, Dylan Howard, chief content officer for AMI, initially brought the Clifford deal to the attention of Mr. Pecker and Mr. Cohen. Mr. Howard facilitated the purchase of the three stories mentioned at trial, and received and sent many texts shown in court exchanged between him and Mr. Davidson and Mr. Cohen. Mr. Howard now lives in Australia and is unable to travel due to a serious health condition.

Also unavailable was Allen Weisselberg, who is currently serving a five-month prison sentence for committing perjury in a separate civil fraud case that went to trial last fall. Mr. Weisselberg, the former CFO of The Trump Organization, came up with the idea to pay Mr. Cohen $420,000. Mr. Cohen could not testify as to why his reimbursement request for $130,000 was grossed up to $420,000, saying “I just wanted to get my money back.”


Will the Case Reach the Jury?

Defense attorneys made two requests for the judge to make a significant decision before turning things over to the jury: to dismiss the case or to find Mr. Cohen’s testimony not credible.

Justice Merchan is likely to issue a quick ruling on the motion, as he already instructed jurors to be present for closing arguments after the long weekend.

What Happens Next?

Justice Merchan asked jurors to prepare for a long day today.

Summations from both sides are expected to last the whole day, and the judge said his instructions to the jury would take an hour.

Prosecutors will sum up their case by reminding jurors of what they believe is the most compelling evidence. But for the defense, especially having called only two witnesses, this will be a key moment to present their own narrative.

Defense attorneys are expected to argue that nothing criminal occurred, as the nondisclosure agreements are legal, as is the payment of an attorney for legal services, and that the promotion of a person in an election through lawful means is not a crime.

On May 21, the judge held a charge conference with attorneys, who debated over what language would be used to instruct jurors on the applicable laws and their interpretation.

In some cases in which Justice Merchan rejected the attorneys’ proposed language, he said they could argue those points at summations on May 28.

The charge conference allowed both parties to present to the judge arguments about why certain language would prejudice their side, allowing the judge to put together an instruction script that avoids such prejudice.

How the judge delivers this interpretation of the law will inevitably influence the jury’s decision.

Should jurors be instructed that President Trump needed to have “willfully” concealed intent to defraud?

Should the instructions include an example explaining that a legal expense might not classify as a campaign expenditure?

Should jurors be told up front all the things prosecutors are not required to show?

Should jurors be given an example of what it means “to cause a false entry to be made"?

The jurors will work on May 29, when previously they have taken Wednesdays off, to begin deliberations while closing arguments are still fresh in their minds.

The jury’s job is to determine the facts of this case and decide whether those actions violated the law.

If the 12 jurors don’t come to a unanimous decision, the case will end in a mistrial.

There is no set time in which the jurors are required to return their verdict; a decision could be returned the same day or even take weeks.

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