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Trump trial: Former president 'innocent,' says defense as DA charges him with 'criminal conspiracy'

Defense attorneys on Monday argued that former President Trump “is innocent,” maintaining that he “had nothing to do” with the alleged hush money payments that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg argues he orchestrated.  

Opening statements were delivered in the historic and unprecedented criminal trial of the former president on Monday. 

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has been charged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. The charges are related to alleged hush money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all counts. He has blasted the trial as pure politics, a “political persecution” and maintains his innocence. The former president, and the first ever to be a defendant in a criminal trial, vowed to “tell the truth” if he takes the stand. 

Defense attorney Todd Blanche on Monday said there was nothing illegal done, and argued that Trump was protecting himself against false allegations. 

“Trump fought back to protect his family, reputation, brand,” Blanche said. “And that is not a crime.” 

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo delivered opening statements on Bragg’s behalf Monday, saying the case against Trump “is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up.” 

Colangelo argued that months after Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, he invited former CEO of American Media Inc. (AMI) David Pecker to Trump Tower for a meeting. His then-attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen was also in the meeting. AMI owned the National Inquirer. 

“Those three men formed a conspiracy to influence the election,” Colangelo argued.

Colangelo claimed Cohen paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to “silence” her and make sure the public did not learn of an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Colangelo claimed that after the election, Trump reimbursed Cohen through a series of monthly checks from his businesses but claimed that he disguised those payments as payments for legal services. 

Colangelo alleged that Pecker, Cohen and Trump “conspired to influence the 2016 presidential election,” and said Pecker would gather harmful information and prevent it from going public. Colangelo alleged he only published flattering stories about Trump and negative stories about opponents. 

Alvin Bragg wearing glasses

Colangelo claimed that the men used a practice called “catch & kill,” saying they bought damaging information, had the seller of that information sign a non-disclosure agreement, and then blocked the information from being published. 

Colangelo said the practice was used three times — once to block a story a former Trump Tower doorman was trying to sell about an alleged out-of-wedlock child. Colangelo said the payment was $30,000. The doorman’s story was eventually proven to be untrue. 

The next payment was to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed a romantic and sexual relationship with Trump. Colangelo alleged that Cohen asked AMI to buy the story. Colangelo said AMI paid McDougal $150,000 in exchange for “unlimited life rights” to her story. 

Colangelo also alleged there was a payment made of $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. 

Michael Cohen

Colangelo said that when it came time to pay Cohen back, Trump “didn’t negotiate the price down — he doubled it.” Colangelo alleged that his “willingness to do this shows the importance of hiding the payments” and alleged “overall election conspiracy.” 

Colangelo said the payments were made in a series of $35,000 per month in 2017. Colangelo alleged Cohen sent a “bogus” invoice for his legal work. 

Colangelo also pointed to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, which was revealed weeks before the 2016 election.

“This case is about an illegal conspiracy to undermine a presidential election and the steps Trump took to conceal election fraud,” Colangelo told jurors. “As you consider the evidence, use common sense, focus on facts, focus on evidence, listen to testimony.” 

He added: “After all evidence is in, we’ll speak to you again and explain that evidence leads to only one conclusion — Donald Trump is guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.” 

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all counts. 

Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche then took the floor to deliver the former president’s opening statement.

“President Trump is innocent,” Blanche said, arguing that the former president built a large, successful company prior to his presidency. After being elected in 2016, he “put up a wall between him and his company.” 

Blanche argued that some of Trump’s employees continued to help record personal expenses, and pointed to Cohen, who sent an invoice for $35,000 for legal work. 

Blanche said that invoice was processed and the checks were signed, and said Trump was the only signatory on his personal account. 

Blanche argued that the 34 counts “are really just 34 pieces of paper,” pointing to the invoices Cohen sent to Trump Tower, the checks and the ledger entries. 

“None of this was a crime,” Blanche said. “People say that Trump is trying to cover up payments — think…President Trump did not pay Cohen back $130,000. He paid Cohen $420,000.” 

Stormy and Piers

He added: “Would a frugal businessman repay a $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?” 

Blanche said that the $35,000 “was not a payback.” 

“Cohen was Trump’s personal attorney,” Blanche said, noting that Cohen’s signature block was labeled at the time “personal attorney to President Trump.” 

“There’s nothing fancy about a ledger account,” Blanche said, adding that Trump “had nothing to do with the invoice, with the check being generated, or with the entry on the ledger.” 

“Trump had nothing to do with the 34 pieces of paper — except that he signed the checks,” Blanche argued. “The reality is Trump is not on the hook.” 

He added: “I have a spoiler alert — there is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy. They put something sinister on it.” 

Blanche argued that Cohen paying Daniels “was not illegal” and said that entering into a non-disclosure agreement was also not illegal, saying companies “do that all the time.” 

“There is nothing illegal about it,” Blanche said, arguing that Daniels was attempting to try to embarrass Trump with “all sorts of allegations” that could be “damaging to him and damaging to his family.” 

“Trump fought back to protect his family, reputation, brand,” Blanche said. “And that is not a crime.” 

As for Cohen’s allegations, Blanche said Cohen worked as a personal attorney to Trump, and once Trump was elected, wanted a job in the Trump administration.

Michael Cohen and Trump side by side cropped image

“He didn’t get one,” Blanche said. “He was loyal for many, many years and defended Trump. But he was also a criminal. He cheated on his taxes, lied to banks, lied about side businesses and, in 2018, he got caught.” 

Cohen, in 2018, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, making false statements to Congress, making false statements to Congress and tax evasion. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

“After getting caught, he made a decision to blame President Trump for all of his problems,” Blanche said, noting that Cohen was disbarred and is a “convicted felon” and a “convicted perjurer.” 

“Cohen was obsessed with Trump,” Blanche said. “He’s obsessed with President Trump, even to this day.” 

Blanche added that Cohen goes on social media to rant about Trump and talks about his desire to see the former president go to prison. 

“Last night, Cohen said he had a mental excitement about this trial,” Blanche said. “He cannot be trusted.” 

Blanche, again, pointed to Cohen’s guilty plea to lying under oath. 

Karen mcDougal

“You cannot make a serious decision about President Trump relying on Michael Cohen,” Blanche said. 

As for Stormy Daniels, Blanche reminded that she “denied having an improper relationship” with Trump “in writing.” 

“Weeks leading up to 2016, she saw her chance to make a lot of money, and it worked,” Blanche said, adding that since her name became associated with Trump, she has made “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

Blanche told the jury that courts have sided with Trump in legal disputes with Daniels. 

Blanche said Daniels “doesn’t know anything” about the charges, what Cohen wrote on the invoice, or about the checks. 

“Her testimony, while salacious, does not matter,” Blanche said. 

“President Trump is not charged with any conspiracy,” Blanche continued. “There is nothing illegal about what happened. This sort of thing happens regularly.” 

Blanche went on to argue that it “is not a scheme unless a scheme means something that doesn’t matter.” 

Listen to the motivation to sell magazines, if it lines up with ‘catch & kill.’ Listen to the evidence, the testimony of Cohen, whether it rings true,” Blanche said. “Listen to the folks who still work at Trump Tower, whether that has anything to do with AMI, catch & kill.”

He added: “You’ll reach the conclusion it does not.” 

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