Hush Money Trial: Closing Arguments Are Over, Now Jurors Deliberate | Crooked Media
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May 28, 2024
What A Day
Hush Money Trial: Closing Arguments Are Over, Now Jurors Deliberate

In This Episode

  • The defense and prosecution delivered their closing arguments Tuesday in former President Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial. New York Justice Juan Merchan said jury instructions will begin early today, after which the jurors will begin deliberating Trump’s fate. He faces 34 charges of falsifying business documents in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president. Harry Litman, senior legal affairs columnist for The Los Angeles Times and a former deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, takes us inside the courtroom.
  • And in headlines: The Democratic National Committee announced plans to nominate President Joe Biden through a “virtual roll call” to ensure he qualifies for Ohio’s general election ballot, at least two dozen people died, and more than a million were without power after severe storms battered the eastern half of the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend, and the Pentagon said it will take more than a week to rebuild and repair portions of a temporary pier built off the coast of Gaza for humanitarian aid deliveries.
Show Notes:




Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, May 29th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What a Day, the show where we are loving Robert De Niro’s latest role, heckling Trump supporters in public. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The Biden campaign called in De Niro as a surrogate. He was joined by two former Capitol Police officers right outside the Manhattan courtroom of Trump’s hush money trial, where he got into a profane shouting match with one of the MAGA heads there. 


Josie Duffy Rice: There was a big internet question Al Pacino or Robert De Niro recently. This is putting me in the Robert De Niro camp. [music break] On today’s show, the DNC finds a way to get President Biden on the Ohio ballot. Plus, is it hot where you are? We look at the extreme weather events across North America. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, we are in the final stretch of the first criminal trial against a former U.S. president, Donald Trump. Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business documents as part of his attempts to cover up the hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. This follows more than four weeks of witness testimony and tense courtroom proceedings. On Tuesday, Trump’s defense attorney, Todd Blanche, delivered closing arguments in front of a Manhattan jury. He spent a lot of time hammering the prosecution’s key witness, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. The closing arguments on the prosecution side, which were led by assistant DA Joshua Steinglass, extended well into the evening, lasting nearly five hours long. He characterized the payments to Daniels as an attempt to, quote, “hoodwink the American voter.” The court was finally dismissed around 8 p.m. eastern. Today, jurors will return to the courtroom for jury instructions from Justice Juan Merchan and will begin their deliberations. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yesterday was a very long day in court. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: In a very long trial. But do we have a sense of like what happened in the courtroom on Tuesday? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So to hear a little bit more about what went down yesterday and how Trump’s defense addressed the jury, I called up Harry Litman. He is a senior legal affairs columnist for the LA Times and a former deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice. He has been in the courtroom consistently over the past several weeks, watching this trial unfold every single step of the way. I started by asking him about the focus of Trump’s defense team’s closing arguments. Take a listen. 


Harry Litman: They obviously had to say that Michael Cohen’s a liar, and they had to say that if you think he told one lie, you can’t trust anything he said and that he is a thief. The main thing they had to say that I found stunning. They actually said the payments here were for bona fide legal services, that he never had any sex with Stormy Daniels. They ended with a ten part recitation. Here are all the things that, if you just believe one of them, there’s reasonable doubt. But they kind of all mushed together. And that actually makes an important point about Todd Blanche’s presentation as well. It two kind of mushed together, that is, it didn’t have a lot of dynamics. The only time he sort of really like went into high dudgeon was to call Michael Cohen a liar. But at any given point, he was pretty flat and it wasn’t exactly clear where he was going. It just wasn’t very engaged. It didn’t have pop, it didn’t have clear organization. So I thought it was a pretty ineffective closing argument. 


Priyanka Aribindi: There was also a point, you know, where Trump’s defense attorney seemed to go a little too far. He told the jurors, you cannot send someone to prison, based on the words of Michael Cohen, after which Justice Merchan stepped in. What happened there? 


Harry Litman: Oh, was that ugly? You’re not allowed to talk to the jury about sentencing. That’s for the judge, not for the jury. And Merchan was livid. And he said to him, you, as long as you’ve been a prosecutor, Mr. Blanche, I can’t believe you would have done that accidentally. He basically accused him of doing something really improper on purpose, presumably to try to promote a mistrial or maybe even to shake them up. But Merchan was livid, and they he just basically gave the pen to the DA. Write any curative instruction you want. And when they came back, he gave the instruction. Basically, he said, to Blanche, you have any objections? And Blanche was just, you know, totally sheepish, couldn’t say anything. But he gave a pretty strong curative instruction. Normally you would just say to a jury, don’t think about sentencing. He actually added, this crime doesn’t necessarily involve prison time, something a jury wouldn’t know. But to really disabuse them of any notion that they, as opposed to the judge, might be sending Trump to jail, it must have been just, you know, an all time humiliating moment for Blanche. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. You know, another big thing about today, it ended up being a really long day. So why did you think this ended up taking so long? Do you think it worked in the favor of the legal teams? And how is the jury seeming to respond to that? 


Harry Litman: They seemed okay. They seemed ready to work through some of them had made, like, child care arrangements, Merchan himself said I’m watching them. They still look pretty clear eyed, and they did so they seemed attentive all the way through. Why so long? When they first asked Steinglass, he said it’s going to be 4.5 hours. I thought maybe as long as he was going, he was hoping to sort of push it over to the next day. There’s an advantage to that. They sleep on what he said. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Harry Litman: And then just before charging, he really you know rams home the last points. But I think that’s just how long it was. And in any event the jury said no let’s just stay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You know speaking of the jury, you actually tweeted earlier that you were concerned about one juror. 


Harry Litman: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I know you can’t identify that person, but you know what is giving you pause there? 


Harry Litman: I don’t think there is a chance in hell of an acquittal here. So his best scenario is somebody holds out. There is a juror who it’s very kind of subtle body language, but seems a little bit apart from the other 11. Also, she or he, uh seems a little, like, glassy eyed to me. Less focused on a little bit more tuned out. I will say this. Anybody who’s in the courtroom, if you ask them, is there anyone here that you’re worried about? They would all identify this one person. Something interesting in New York, in the federal system, other systems, you’re not supposed to do what’s called jury nullification. That is, acquit someone who you think the evidence is there for. But nobody can stop it. In New York, though, still nobody can stop it. But he’s actually going to instruct them. If you believe that the evidence is there beyond a reasonable doubt, you must you must vote to convict. So if there are 12 people in there and one is saying, I don’t know, I just don’t see it, the other 11 can say, look, you made a promise. And that promise is if you don’t have a reasonable doubt, you must vote to convict. That’s a fair bit more pressure you can bring to bear on a recalcitrant juror. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I know there’s no way of knowing for sure, but do we have any sense when we could expect a verdict to come down? 


Harry Litman: You know, I think there is a way of knowing just by based on the complexity of the case, how many documents are involved and the level of attentiveness of this jury. Thursday comes to be in the realm of possibility for my, you know, if I was in a pool and I could pick my time before anybody, I’d go with 5:00 Friday. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. 


Harry Litman: They’ll have had time to work through 34 counts. And it’s the weekend, time to go home if they can just finish up, etc. so I think, uh it’s better than 50/50 that by the end of the day Friday, if they don’t do it by then and we’re into the next week, I don’t think it’s for sure that the case is in trouble in a hung jury. But two days, three days, then that’s real nail biting time. So I’m going for Friday. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Harry Litman. We will continue to update you on this trial and the outcome, but that is the latest for now. We’ll get to some headlines in just a moment, but if you are enjoying our show, please make sure to subscribe and share it with your friends. We’ll be right back after some ads. [music break]




Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: On Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee announced their plans to nominate President Biden through a quote, “virtual roll call” to make sure he qualifies for Ohio’s general election ballot. They’re expected to vote on a remote roll call resolution on June 4th, which is what the committee did in 2020 because of the pandemic. As we mentioned on yesterday’s show, the Democratic National Convention is two weeks after Ohio’s August 7th deadline for certifying candidates, and Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine called a special session for the state assembly to pass legislation to add Biden to the ballot. But Ohio Democrats have accused DeWine and state Republicans of adding a poison pill to the legislation. DNC Chair Jamie Harrison said in a statement, quote, “through a virtual roll call, we will ensure that Republicans can’t chip away at our democracy through incompetence or partisan tricks, and that Ohioans can exercise their right to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice.” 


Priyanka Aribindi: At least two dozen people are dead, and more than a million were without power on Tuesday after severe storms battered the eastern half of the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend. Texas was hit again by severe weather on Tuesday, resulting in hundreds of flight cancellations and delays at Dallas’s two major airports. Over the weekend, roughly 70 tornadoes were reported across more than a dozen states, stretching all the way from Texas to Virginia. It’s been the worst year for tornadoes in more than a decade, which is a trend that we can only expect to continue as climate change makes severe weather worse and worse. The storms in Texas were fueled by a massive heat dome that has been setting record breaking temperatures in Mexico since early May. The heat has been creeping north into the southern US, pushing parts of southern Texas past 110 degrees in recent weeks. Meteorologists expect the heat dome to build farther north and west in the coming weeks. That is–


Josie Duffy Rice: No. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Not good news. No no, no. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The Pentagon said Tuesday that it will take more than a week to rebuild and repair a temporary pier built off the coast of Gaza for humanitarian aid deliveries. Over the weekend, a portion of the US built pier broke apart in heavy seas, forcing the U.S. military to suspend aid deliveries there. Defense Department deputy spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters the floating pier will now have to be removed from the Gaza coast and repaired in southern Israel. 


[clip of Sabrina Singh] We believe that given the time of year, we will be able to re anchor this pier and it will be able to be operational and hopefully weather conditions won’t hinder it anymore. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Singh said more than a thousand metric tons of aid have been delivered via the pier in the two weeks it’s been operational. Its temporary closure comes at a really bad time though, aid deliveries through two major land routes in southern Gaza have been severely constrained in recent weeks as Israeli troops have moved deeper into Rafah. Two weeks this thing lasted. 


Priyanka Aribindi: This war has been ongoing for, what, seven–


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –plus months at this point? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Two weeks of aid. That’s frankly embarrassing, that that is all. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s embarrassing. The idea that we’ll just re anchor it and hopefully there will be no more bad weather. It just feels ridiculous. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. And finally, speaking of embarrassing, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is at it again. Just days after an Israeli airstrike killed at least 45 refugees in Rafah. Haley spent her Memorial Day weekend in Israel, where she signed military weapons. In a photo posted to X, the former South Carolina governor is shown writing on an artillery shell quote, “Finish them. America. Heart. Israel. Always. Nikki Haley.” It’s like a yearbook signature. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s crazy. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Insane. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s sick. Honestly. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s just a horrible, horrible thing to write. 


Priyanka Aribindi: As a reminder, this is an ongoing war. Gaza health authorities reported that 20 people were killed in an incident at a tent camp on Tuesday along the coast that Israeli officials had designated a humanitarian corridor. The Israeli military has denied involvement. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s truly unbelievable that people sign rockets that that’s like a–


Priyanka Aribindi: A thing. 


Josie Duffy Rice: –politician thing to do. It just really underscores the lack of care of lives that has permeated this entire conflict. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s disgusting. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show. Make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Heckle Robert De Niro’s hecklers and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just obscure DNC rules and definitions like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter, so check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And come on our podcast Robert De Niro. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Priyanka recently learned of you from your classic film, The Intern. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Now okay, I’ve known about The Intern– 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m just–


Priyanka Aribindi: –for a long time. I just was saying that is one of the primary reasons I’m familiar with him. But–


Josie Duffy Rice: Did you know about Robert DeNiro before The Intern?


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, like conceptually, yes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Conceptionally. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Actually maybe not. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, yeah, yeah, conceptionally is good enough. [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.