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Analysis: experts criticize Trump's defense tactics at trial

It would be no surprise if the jury in Donald Trump's first criminal trial now saw his former go-between, michael cohen as a profane social media troll and a vengeful liar who dreams of seeing behind bars the boss he once adored.

But jurors don't have to like Cohen. They just need to believe in him.

Trump's self-described former “henchman” was the target of a sustained attack from defense attorney Todd Blanche on Tuesday in an interrogation intended to destroy his credibility as the main witness to the former president's allegedly criminal behavior. Still, he did not lose his composure in the statement. So far, the former advisor has avoided pitfalls that would fatally harm the case.

Cohen had time to take stock on Wednesday, the normal day off from the trial, which also gave Trump's team the opportunity to improve its approach.

Cohen has already directly implicated Trump in paying adult film star Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged affair and apparently corroborated the prosecution's evidence that the scheme was intended to influence the 2016 elections. Trump denied having an affair with her and declared himself innocent.

The defense's task on cross-examination was, therefore, to undermine Cohen's credibility in such a way as to sow reasonable doubt in the minds of at least one juror about the case as a whole.

Blanche walked Cohen through a long list of insults he has hurled at Trump since walking away from his former mentor, highlighting his propensity for serial lies. He drew jurors' attention to a social media post in which Cohen wore a T-shirt that showed Trump in prison, while spinning a biased and obsessive narrative.

Blanche also got the witness to say that she had built a profitable business, especially in books focused on criticizing the former president. He asked if Cohen had called Trump a “gross cartoon misogynist.” Cohen responded, “Sounds like something I would say.” Then Trump’s lawyer asked if he had mocked the former president as a “cartoon villain covered in Cheetos.”

Blanche also sought to draw out Cohen's grudge against Trump, which he may later highlight to the jury in closing arguments, by asking him about a TikTok post in April in which he said Trump should be in a “cage, like an animal ” and asked him to confirm that he had also called the Republican candidate an “idiot dictator.”

Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said the defense has made some progress in attacking Cohen's credibility. “I really realize that the jury is probably seeing and thinking right now that Cohen is a crook and a ditherer,” said Moore, a legal analyst at CNN . “He’s clearly making money off of this, he’s clearly someone who’s working the cash register to sell his books.”

Big trial questions coming into focus

But notably, Blanche focused primarily on her effort to tarnish Cohen's character, motives and credibility, rather than on the central question of the case – whether Trump falsified business records as part of a cover-up expressly designed to mislead voters. in 2016, in one of the first cases of electoral interference.

As always, when a Trump subordinate acts before the boss, there was a sense that Blanche's histrionics were as much for the benefit of her client as for the case. And in a curious cross-examination first, Blanche received a warning from Judge Juan Merchan for making this about him, when she noted that Cohen called him a “crying s***” on TikTok.

The questions hanging over the case after court was released on Wednesday begin with how much Blanche managed to undermine Cohen's testimony and the prosecution's case with her frontal attack.

Given that the prosecution has already signaled that it plans no more witnesses after Cohen's testimony, attention is turning to what approach the defense will take. Will Trump's lawyers bring multiple witnesses? Or could they adopt a bold strategy, simply arguing that the prosecution fell woefully short of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt and ending drastically?

Then there is Trump's initial indication that he would like to testify in his own defense. The former president loves the stage and considers himself its best advocate – even though history often suggests otherwise. But many lawyers believe that, given his volatile temper and difficulty telling the truth, putting him in the dock would represent a potential disaster for the defense.

A key legal conundrum is whether prosecutors have so far managed to validate the legal theory behind the case. “I believe the misdemeanor of falsifying business records has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Shira Scheindlin, a retired U.S. District Court judge, told CNN on Tuesday (14).

“The crime is a little more difficult because it has to be said that Trump knowingly and deliberately intended to violate election law in the state of New York by illegal means and the illegal means is to violate federal campaign finance law.” Scheindlin added: “Cohen has gone a long way to make this case.”

As the prosecution case draws to a close, the feeling is also growing that the fateful moment is approaching when Trump will have to hear from a jury whether he will become the first president in US history convicted of a crime.

That foreboding was exacerbated by a new group of Trump supporters in court Tuesday, including House Speaker Mike Johnson. The Louisiana Republican used the full symbolic weight of his office in an apparent attempt to delegitimize the trial, to reinforce Trump's claim that he is a victim of armed justice and to protect himself against potential conviction with an initial round of twists and turns. policy.

“These are politically motivated trials and they are a disgrace,” Johnson said outside the courtroom. “It’s electoral interference.”

Defense tactics surprise

It's impossible to know how a jury interprets testimony until a verdict is given — and even then, jurors often choose not to explain their verdicts in detail in press interviews in high-profile cases like this one.

Some legal experts questioned the tone and tactics adopted by Blanche in court. Although Cohen's reluctance to offer yes and no answers seemed at times flippant and confrontational, he did not appear to say or do anything to implode the prosecution's argument.

He did not explode at Blanche, despite the lawyer's incessant insistence and attempt to divert him from the game, jumping erratically from one topic to another. “There are no massive disasters yet,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN .

But Moore, the legal analyst at CNN , defended Blanche's approach of confusing the evidence timeline to try to undermine Cohen's pretrial preparation. “You want them to tell the story on their terms and not follow the script,” Moore said.

The prosecution knew Blanche's attack was coming and worked throughout Tuesday morning to craft a narrative about the payment to Daniels and its purpose. Manhattan District Attorney Susan Hoffinger sought to undermine a defense claim that Trump's reimbursements to Cohen were part of compensation for legal services and not to reimburse him for paying bribe money to Daniels.

In a key moment of the trial, which resonated outside the courtroom given the obligations that Trump imposes on many of his aides and subordinates, Cohen described the moment he broke with his former boss.

“My family, my wife, my daughter, my son, they all said to me, 'Why are you keeping this loyalty, what are you doing?'” Cohen said, adding that it reached a point where it was time to listen. them. “I would no longer lie for President Trump.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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