How Trump failed to convince a jury of his peers

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As Manhattan prosecutor Joshua Steinglass entered the fifth hour of his briefing on Tuesday, he thanked a panel of weary New Yorkers for “sticking with him” as he laid out Donald Trump’s incriminating accounting records, bill by bill, check by check.

A pair of jurors, already through more than five weeks of often monotonous testimony, managed wry smiles in response. Reactions in the gallery, packed with media representatives from around the world, were less charitable. “If I were them, I would acquit Trump simply out of spite,” one reporter hissed.

One of the most watched trials in history, which was going to convict the former and perhaps future commander in chief of the United States, was giving very few good headlines at that time.

Previously, Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, had been more bombastic, in a style that many Americans associate with his client. Prosecution witness Michael Cohen, a former Trump adviser turned archenemy, had committed “per-juh-ry,” Blanche shouted, frowning as he emphasized each syllable. He followed a character assassination with tabloid-friendly bits: Blanche called Cohen a “thief” who he “literally stole on his way out the door” and that he was driven by “absolute hatred” for his former boss.

The outbursts had more in common with the performances of defense lawyers in the television legal dramas that Trump is said to like than with the arguments usually made by trial lawyers in Lower Manhattan courtrooms. There is rarely much to be gained by attacking the prosecution; it is much more convincing to calmly pick apart the inconsistencies.

Blanche, who consulted with Trump on trial strategy, could be forgiven for thinking this baroque approach was worth trying. A few feet away from him, at the defense table, was a man who had conquered this city, and then the White House, provoking outrage and attacking his rivals, and who still thought it was politically expedient to reprimand the judge, his daughter and the members of the jury.

However, it was Steinglass who ultimately best understood the kind of argument that would convince 12 of Trump’s peers, when presented with a historic and perhaps election-defining choice.

Michael Cohen’s account of arrangements to pay Stormy Daniels, pictured, was torn apart during cross-examination. © Reuters

Yes, the odds were always in prosecutors’ favor: The county jury is overwhelmingly Democratic. When questioned before the trial, some of the chosen twelve revealed that they received their news from left-wing media; one even said she didn’t like Trump’s “personality” before insisting that he could remain impartial anyway.

But there was nothing inevitable about the conviction that Steinglass and his colleagues obtained. The precise contours of the underlying crimes Trump was accused of remain a mystery even to keen observers of the case, and must have been somewhat disconcerting to the jury, who asked Judge Juan Merchán to repeat a significant portion of his instructions. of 55 pages on Thursday morning, before reaching a unanimous verdict.

Then there was the matter of less-than-ideal witnesses for the prosecution: Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who delighted in describing Donald Trump’s penis on cable television, and Michael Cohen, convicted of lying to Congress and a scurrilous critic of Trump. Cohen’s account of the arrangements to pay Daniels was torn apart by Blanche on cross-examination, after she failed to bring up the focus of a crucial call to Trump’s bodyguard about the alleged “catch-and-kill” plot.

The only intervention in court by Trump, who refused to testify in his own defense, was to mutter “nonsense” and shake his head when Daniels recounted that he had hit her on the butt with a rolled-up magazine. But there was no mistaking his delight in Blanche’s theatrics, especially as the lawyer rose to register frequent objections to the court’s treatment of the man he always pointedly called “President” Trump.

If these interventions stuck in the jury’s mind, they did so to Trump’s disadvantage. The seven men and five women charged with deciding the Republican front-runner’s fate (some of whom took copious notes during the trial) seemed as intent on Steinglass’s accounting seminar as they had been on Daniels’ accusation that Trump didn’t use a condom. during their “brief date.”

Perhaps, at least on the densely populated island of Manhattan that knows him so well, Donald Trump’s shtick had become boring. As one potential juror examined in April said when asked his opinion of the former president: “He’s a New Yorker, I’m a New Yorker. . . “We didn’t really get stuck or worry about any of that.”

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