May 30, 2024

Trump defence team sets out its strategy on eve of opening statements in hush money trial

A member of Donald Trump’s legal team divulged the defence’s plan to “focus on the facts” to show that the former president did nothing wrong, one day before the opening arguments are set to begin in the landmark hush money trial.

Mr Trump is now standing criminal trial — the first president or ex-president ever to do so — over 34 counts of falsifying business records related to payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election in exchange for her silence over an alleged affair. He has denied any wrongdoing.

A full panel of jurors was seated on Friday in Manhattan criminal court, meaning opening arguments could begin as soon as Monday, kicking off the second week of the trial.

“We believe the facts are absolutely on our side, that they are absolutely exonerative” of the former president, Trump attorney Will Scharf said on Fox and Friends Weekend on Sunday.

“As long as the jury focuses on the facts, as long as the jury can see through all the media coverage and all the sensationalism and focus on the actual facts at issue… we believe we have a winning case,” Mr Scharf added.

He also weighed in on how the defence team will cross-examine Michael Cohen, the former president’s lawyer who is considered a star witness for the prosecution in the case. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations related to the hush money payments. At the same time, he also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about events unrelated to the current criminal case.

“With respect to Michael Cohen, as we’ve said in court pleadings, this is a man who’s been found liable for perjury,” Mr Scharf said.

“I think this is going to be a key theme here … that the prosecution’s witnesses are simply not credible people, whereas the actual facts here fully support President Trump because he did nothing wrong,” the Trump attorney added.

Mr Trump and his team have tried to question Cohen’s credibility, presenting it as a liability for the prosecution. In March, a federal judge suggested that Michael Cohen had committed perjury under oath, adding fuel to Mr Trump’s fire.

On the first day of the criminal proceedings, Mr Trump took to Truth Social to paint Cohen and Ms Daniels as “two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!” Judge Juan Merchan issued a gag order against Mr Trump, blocking him from publicly attacking trial participants and family members of court staff. Judge Merchan will hold a hearing on Tuesday over whether the 2024 candidate’s post against two of the prosecution’s potential witnesses violated the gag order.

The former president has called the gag order “illegal, un-American, unConstitutional.” Mr Scharf echoed this on Sunday, calling it a “wildly unconstitutional unilateral gag order.”

The Trump lawyer also commented on other aspects of the blockbuster case.

He described the jury selection process as “highly abnormal,” since so many people said they couldn’t be impartial in this case. He added that it’s a “little unusual” to have two lawyers seated on the jury, but said that’s “one of the least unusual” aspects of the case, turning to the timing and nature of the hush money trial.

“This case should obviously never have been brought. It certainly shouldn’t have been tried in New York, the media capital of the world, during election season.”

He also accused prosecutors across America of being “hellbent on interfering with the 2024 election…because he’s running for president.” It should offend “all Americans of all political stripes.”

He called the case “outrageous,” adding that “any fair and impartial jury will see through all the sensationalism and all the media coverage” and they will feel “honour bound to vote to acquit here.”

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