Skip to Content Facebook Feature Image

What we've learned so far in the Trump hush money trial and what to watch for as it wraps up

News

What we've learned so far in the Trump hush money trial and what to watch for as it wraps up
News

News

What we've learned so far in the Trump hush money trial and what to watch for as it wraps up

2024-05-19 19:34 Last Updated At:19:40

NEW YORK (AP) — Testimony in the hush money trial of Donald Trump is set to conclude in the coming days, putting the landmark case on track for jury deliberations that will determine whether it ends in a mistrial, an acquittal — or the first-ever felony conviction of a former American president.

Jurors over the course of a month have heard testimony about sex and bookkeeping, tabloid journalism and presidential politics. Their task ahead will be to decide whether prosecutors who have charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records have proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here's a look at what the two sides have argued, who has been missing from the case, what to listen for in the final days and what prosecutors will have to prove to secure a conviction.

Through witnesses including a porn actor, a veteran tabloid publisher and longtime Trump aides, the prosecution aimed to link the presumptive Republican nominee for the White House this year to a hush money scheme during the 2016 presidential campaign that resulted in the filing of phony business records to mask the alleged conspiracy.

Jurors heard testimony that two women and a doorman were paid tens of thousands of dollars to keep quiet during that campaign about stories that, had they emerged, could have embarrassed Trump. Jurors heard claims of sex, saw copies of texts, emails and checks and listened to a secret recording in which Trump and his then-lawyer can be heard discussing a plan to buy the silence of a Playboy model.

One witness, David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer and a longtime Trump friend, testified that he had agreed to be the “eyes and ears" of the Trump campaign by alerting it to any negative stories about him.

Actor Stormy Daniels told jurors, in occasionally graphic terms, about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006; he denies the whole thing. She described being offered $130,000 by Trump's then-lawyer and personal fixer, Michael Cohen, to remain silent after she said she was looking for ways to sell the story and get it out there.

Cohen, the prosecution's star witness, spent days on the stand recounting what he said was Trump's role in authorizing the hush money payments. Cohen described Trump as anxious that stories alleging extramarital sex could harm his campaign standing with female voters and said the then-candidate had directed him to suppress the stories, quoting him as saying exhortations including, “Just do it” and “We need to stop this from getting out.”

Trump's legal team has not yet called witnesses, and it remains unclear what exactly his lawyers will do when it is their turn to present evidence.

But they have signaled through their questioning of the prosecution's witnesses specific areas where they think they can sow doubt for the jury, contesting along the way the foundational premises of the case.

They have disputed Daniels' account of a hotel suite sexual encounter, with the actor facing an aggressive cross-examination from a defense lawyer who said at one point, “You have made all of this up, right?” Daniels said no.

And they have suggested that Trump's celebrity status made him an easy extortion target. They grilled the Los Angeles lawyer who negotiated Daniels' deal about other celebrities from whom he had previously “extracted” money in exchange for a client's silence.

But the most consequential cross-examination, by far, has been that of Cohen. The defense has tried to depict him as a fame-seeking fabulist desperate to contribute to a Trump conviction.

The cross-examination began in splashy fashion, with Trump attorney Todd Blanche asking the former fixer if he recalled referring to the lawyer by an expletive on TikTok last month. Prosecutors objected, the judge summoned the parties to the bench and the question was stricken. But the point was clear.

Over the course of hours, Blanche refreshed Cohen's recollection about a litany of colorful but often profane monikers he had assigned Trump — “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain” was one — as a way to paint Cohen as egregiously biased, blinded by hatred and therefore not credible.

There was also an avalanche of questions about Cohen's past crimes and lies. Blanche forced Cohen to acknowledge that he fibbed under oath during his own 2018 plea hearing about not feeling pressure to plead guilty. In a dramatic moment, Blanche suggested that Cohen had not told the truth when he said he spoke to Trump about the Daniels payment before wiring her lawyer $130,000.

Blanche confronted Cohen with texts indicating that what was on his mind, at least initially, during the phone call were harassing calls he was getting from an apparent 14-year-old prankster.

The strategy was predictable given Cohen's significance to the case but it is too soon to tell how it landed with the jury.

Multiple characters pivotal to the saga have been name-dropped in court but have been notably absent from the witness stand.

One is Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who has said she had an affair with Trump and received $150,000 from the National Enquirer in a hush money deal that Cohen helped broker. Keith Schiller, Trump's bodyguard, was described in court as the person who asked Daniels for her phone number on Trump's behalf and was an important conduit for Cohen when he needed to reach Trump.

And then there's Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization chief financial officer now serving a five-month jail sentence for lying under oath in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud case against Trump.

Weisselberg did not testify in the hush money trial but he matters because, according to Cohen, he was present for a Trump Tower discussion that arguably most directly links Trump and the reimbursements at the center of the case that prosecutors say are fraudulent.

Cohen says the 2017 Trump Tower meeting occurred on the cusp of Inauguration Day and was where he, Trump and Weisselberg hammered out the mechanics of reimbursing him for the Daniels hush money payment. There, Cohen said, they agreed that the lawyer would receive a total of $420,000 in monthly installments for what would be billed — deceptively, prosecutors say — as legal services.

“He approved it,” Cohen testified. "And he also said: ‘This is going to be one heck of a ride in D.C.”’

Whether jurors will have wanted to have heard from Weisselberg is uncertain, but in a case that centers more on paperwork than sex, the account of that meeting is likely to be held up by prosecutors as a vital piece of evidence and it will be important to see how they return to it as they wrap up their case with closing statements.

To convict Trump of felony falsifying business records, prosecutors must convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he not only falsified or caused business records to be entered falsely, but that he did so with intent to commit or conceal another crime. Any verdict must be unanimous.

Prosecutors allege that Trump logged Cohen’s repayment as legal expenses to conceal multiple other crimes, including breaches of campaign finance law and a violation of a state election law alleging a conspiracy to promote or prevent an election.

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo told jurors the case “is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up — an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of a presidential election, and then the steps that Donald Trump took to conceal that illegal election fraud.”

Specifically, prosecutors contend, the payments to McDougal, Daniels and the doorman violated federal restrictions on corporate and individual campaign contributions and were meant to conceal damaging information from the voting public.

Among other evidence, jurors heard testimony about Cohen’s 2018 guilty to a campaign finance crime and the National Enquirer’s nonprosecution agreement and $187,500 fine for the McDougal payment, which the Federal Election Commission considered an illegal corporate contribution to Trump’s campaign.

New York also has a misdemeanor falsifying business records charge, which requires proving only that a defendant made or caused the false entries, but it is not part of Trump’s case and will not be considered by jurors.

Tucker reported from Washington.

Michael Cohen testifies on the witness stand during cross examination at Donald Trump's hush money trial in Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Michael Cohen testifies on the witness stand during cross examination at Donald Trump's hush money trial in Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media, while his lawyer Todd Blanche listens, after the day's court session for his trial at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Mike Segar/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media, while his lawyer Todd Blanche listens, after the day's court session for his trial at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Mike Segar/Pool Photo via AP)

Stormy Daniels testifies on the witness stand as a promotional image for one of her shows featuring an image of Trump is displayed on monitors in Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Stormy Daniels testifies on the witness stand as a promotional image for one of her shows featuring an image of Trump is displayed on monitors in Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York, May 16, 2024. Testimony in the hush money trial of Donald Trump is set to conclude in the coming days, putting the landmark case on track for jury deliberations that will determine whether it ends in a mistrial, an acquittal, or the first-ever felony conviction of a former American president. (Steven Hirsch/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York, May 16, 2024. Testimony in the hush money trial of Donald Trump is set to conclude in the coming days, putting the landmark case on track for jury deliberations that will determine whether it ends in a mistrial, an acquittal, or the first-ever felony conviction of a former American president. (Steven Hirsch/Pool Photo via AP, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A man who once described himself as “king” of a notoriously violent gang in Haiti and is linked to the kidnapping of 16 U.S. citizens was sentenced to 35 years in prison Monday in a federal court in Washington, D.C.

Germine Joly, best known as “Yonyon,” had pleaded guilty in late January to weapons smuggling and the laundering of ransoms related to the U.S. citizens kidnapped in October 2021, bringing his trial to a halt.

The case against Joly is part of an ongoing push by U.S. authorities to stem the smuggling of weapons from the U.S. to Haiti, where gangs control 80% of the capital and have left more than 580,000 people homeless as they continue to pillage neighborhoods in a quest to seize more territory. U.S. officials also are trying to crack down on the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Haiti, whose ransoms finance the purchase of illegal arms and ammunition.

“The leaders of violent gangs in Haiti that terrorize Americans citizens in order to fuel their criminal activity will be met with the full force of the Justice Department," U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.

Joly, 31, had asked the judge for leniency and forgiveness, with his attorneys requesting that he receive no more than 17.5 years in prison. The attorneys did not immediately return messages for comment.

Joly was co-leader of the 400 Mawozo, which translates roughly to “400 Simpletons,” one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs. It controls part of Croix-des-Bouquets, a neighborhood in the eastern region of the Port-au-Prince capital and surrounding areas. It also operates along a route that connects the capital with the border city of Jimaní in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

The gang is known for its high record of kidnappings as well as trafficking of drugs and weapons, killings, rapes and armed robberies, among other things, according to a U.N. report.

“The 400 Mawazo gang not only wreaks havoc in its own communities but targets innocent Americans living and traveling in Haiti," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Three shipments containing smuggled weapons and ammunition arrived in Haiti in 2021, shortly before the gang kidnapped 17 missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens, the U.N. report noted. The weapons alone were estimated to cost roughly $28,000, it added.

“This single case indicates that 400 Mawozo is able to mobilize significant amounts of money to acquire firearms and ammunition,” the report stated.

The gang is still led by Joseph Wilson, best known as “Lanmò San Jou,” which means “Death has no date,” and it is an ally of G-Pep, a powerful gang federation.

Haitian authorities announced a warrant for Wilson in late 2020, but he has yet to be detained.

Meanwhile, Haitian police arrested Joly in 2014, and in 2018, a local judge sentenced him to life in prison, from where authorities said he still directed gang operations, including the October 2021 kidnapping of 12 adults and five minors after they visited an orphanage in the Croix-des-Bouquets area. The group included 16 Americans and one Canadian who worked with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.

The organization said 12 of the captive missionaries escaped, with five others previously freed, although it’s unclear if any ransom was paid.

In 2022, the U.S. government extradited Joly.

Joly’s former girlfriend, Eliande Tunis of Pompano Beach, Florida, had been sentenced earlier this month to 12.5 years in prison. Tunis, 46, had pleaded guilty in late January to the same charges Joly faced.

U.S. federal prosecutors had accused Joly, Tunis and two other suspects of buying and supplying weapons to the 400 Mawozo gang from at least March through November 2021. The weapons included those designed for “military and close-quarters combat” such as AK-47s, AR-15s and a .50 caliber rifle, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The agency said that Joly, who was in prison in Haiti at the time, directed operations using unmonitored cell phones. He still faces separate charges in another case related to the kidnappings of the U.S. citizens.

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

Recommended Articles