'MVP of Liars': Trump Closing Argument Hammers Cohen, Prosecution

AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson

The jury in Donald Trump's hush-money trial will likely get the case tomorrow morning -- along with an argument from lead defense attorney Todd Blanche that will ring in their ears during deliberation. Referring to how crucial the testimony of Michael Cohen is to the prosecution's case, Blanche called him "the MVP of liars," pointing out Cohen's track record of perjury and argued that Cohen lied repeatedly in this trial as well. 

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"You cannot send someone to prison based on the words of Michael Cohen," Blanche declared, drawing a rebuke from Judge Juan Merchan:

Justice Juan Merchan told jurors to ignore an earlier comment from Donald Trump lawyer Todd Blanche that suggested the former president could be sent to prison if convicted.

Blanche's statement "was improper and you must disregard it," the judge said, noting jurors are not allowed to take punishment into consideration when deliberating.

Blanche remained undeterred from his all-out assault on Cohen's credibility:

Inside the courthouse, defense lawyer Todd Blanche told the jury of seven men and five women that Trump’s longtime lawyer-turned-star-prosecution-witness Michael Cohen was “the GLOAT. He’s the greatest liar of all time.”

“He’s literally like an MVP of liars,” Blanche said in his closing statement. “He’s the human embodiment of reasonable doubt, literally.” ...

During Blanche’s sprawling three-and-a-half hours of closing arguments he repeatedly attempted to drive home that Cohen was too untrustworthy and had lied too many times — including directly to the jurors — for them to convict Trump on his word.

“He lied to you repeatedly. He lied many, many times before you even met him. His financial and personal well-being depends on this case. He is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true,” he told the seven men and five women on the panel of Cohen.

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Given that Cohen is the only witness that attested to any cover-up intent on Trump's behalf that related to the campaign, Blanche is entirely correct. Prosecutors have no other evidence of that intent other than Cohen's testimony. That only works if Cohen's credibility remained strong enough to dispel reasonable doubt, but that's clearly not what happened in the trial. Not only did Blanche catch Cohen in significant lies and misrepresentations during cross-examination, he also forced Cohen to confess embezzlement from Trump -- giving a pretty good motive for why Cohen would lie on the stand in this case.

Plus, jurors have to ask themselves why prosecutors essentially immunized Cohen for that felony to push a much-less serious case against Trump. 

Cohen was not Blanche's sole target. He also raked the prosecution over the coals for dragging in irrelevant issues such as the Access Hollywood tape and Stormy Daniels herself, who didn't have anything to do with the ledger entries or the technical crimes of which Trump was accused. "They did it to try to embarrass President Trump," Blanche argued. Judge Merchan probably wouldn't allow Blanche to explicitly argue that the case was cooked up for political reasons, but Blanche made it clear with the subtext of that argument.

Blanche took direct aim at another point I have argued since last week -- that Cohen's testimony actually disproves the case against Trump. The indictment accuses Trump of falsifying the ledger entries of payments to Cohen as retainer payments rather than reimbursements for the payment to Daniels. However, Blanche reminded jurors that Cohen himself testified to doing a significant amount of legal work for the Trumps while receiving those $35,000 a month retainer payments -- doing more such legal work than Cohen provided for other clients paying him higher retainer fees at the time:

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Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, told jurors that Trump ordered him to make the payment to silence Daniels, who alleged she had a sexual encounter with the former president. The records in question stem from Trump’s alleged role in reimbursing Cohen for that payment. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Blanche told jurors on Tuesday that Cohen, who was Trump’s personal attorney at the time, was paid in 2017 for legal work, governed by an oral retainer agreement. That work was booked as a legal expense because Cohen was a lawyer. The payments to Cohen were also fully disclosed as the law required, Blanche said.  

“How can it be there is any intent to defraud by President Trump when he discloses it to the IRS, he tweets about it, and he submits it on his ethics forms?” Blanche said of the payments.

How can there be any fraud at all if Cohen did legal work for Trump while only getting the monthly retainer fee as compensation? Again, go back to that point in the testimony, where Cohen admits that he did a substantial amount of legal work for Trump and his family while consistently promoting his status as "personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump." That makes it clear that the purpose of the payments was to compensate Cohen for his legal work. 

In fact, as Cohen also admitted under cross-examination, he relished his status as Trump's personal attorney. He didn't turn on Trump until after Trump chose Rudy Giuliani as his personal attorney in the Mueller probe, at which point Cohen grew angry at being left out. 

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The New York Times didn't miss an opportunity to miss the point, by the way, proclaiming this part of the argument "perplexing":

Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, repeatedly accused Mr. Cohen of telling “lies” on the stand during his closing argument, saying there was “not a shred of evidence” that Mr. Trump had plotted to falsify records. He also argued that there was nothing false about the documents because Mr. Cohen had in fact performed legal work — and suggested that Mr. Trump had little reason to pay attention to them in any case, because he was the “leader of the free world” at the time.

But Mr. Blanche’s argument was at times perplexing. He sometimes called extra attention to elements of the prosecution’s case and repeatedly emphasized Mr. Cohen’s position as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer even as he was impugning his character. 

Well, how much more clear can this be? If Cohen performed legal work for Trump without any other compensation than the $35,000 per month he received, then those payments were entered properly in the ledger as legal fees. And if that's the case, then there is no crime at all. 

Isn't that what defense attorneys are expected to do -- show that the government doesn't have a case, especially in one this cooked up by Alvin Bragg? One has to be deliberately obtuse to miss the import of Cohen's cross-examination on those points.

In fact, we can expect a lot of narrative-building over the next few days based on deliberate obtuseness such as this. The Protection Racket Media will have expend lots of effort into being "perplexed" about the defense arguments, and even more so if the jury finds enough reasonable doubt to acquit. 

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Judge Merchan says that he will issue the jury instructions tomorrow morning. Get ready for the onslaught after that. 

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John Stossel 1:00 PM | June 15, 2024
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