Judge scolds Trump lawyer for ‘outrageous’ comments in closing about Trump’s prison threat

NEW YORK — Justice Juan Merchan scolded Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche for improperly invoking the threat of prison time facing the former president toward the end of the defense’s summation at the historic hush money trial.

“It’s simply not allowed. Period,” the judge boomed, saying Blanche should have known better as a former prosecutor and longtime defense attorney.

“It’s hard for me to imagine how that was accidental in any way.”

Blanche brought up the possibility Trump could go to prison toward the end of his summation.

Calling Blanche’s comment “outrageous,” the judge granted a request from prosecutors to instruct jurors to disregard it.

Defense tries to refute a key piece of evidence

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche addressed one of the prosecution’s most pivotal pieces of evidence: A First Republic Bank statement reflecting Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, which prosecutors say was meant to buy the porn star’s silence about an alleged sexual tryst with Trump.

The statement includes handwritten notes from Trump Org CFO Allen Weisselberg calculating how much Cohen was owed for the transaction and other expenses.

Blanche zeroed in on Cohen’s notes on the right side of the page, which said he was owed $50,000 for paying a tech company. Cohen admitted during his testimony that he’d actually paid $20,000 for the expense.

“The point of this document is it contains lies,” Blanche said.

Blanche’s closing statement

Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, threw everything he could at the wall to undercut the prosecution’s monthlong case against Trump, taking shots at Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, her former lawyer Keith Davidson, and asking jurors to question why they didn’t hear from other critical players like Allen Weisselberg.

Launching into the 34 criminal counts — encompassing the checks, ledger entries, and invoices recording Trump’s 2017 payments to Cohen — Blanche said Trump wasn’t connected to any of them.

He said Trump was busy leading the nation when he signed the checks presented to him, that the invoices were Cohen’s handiwork, and that his company dealt with the rest.

Blanche accused Cohen of lying about Trump knowing he paid off Daniels, claiming Trump’s anxious fixer went rogue, hoping it would earn him brownie points with Trump down the line. He also accused Cohen of lying about no verbal agreement with Trump to be his personal lawyer after winning the White House.

Blanche said the jury shouldn’t convict Trump just because the prosecution showed that Trump was fastidious about his finances: “You can’t convict President Trump because sometimes … [he] looked at invoices, that somehow he had full knowledge of what was happening.”

Diving into the alleged conspiracy to defraud the electorate with a “catch and kill” scheme, Blanche said none existed and that Trump was too “sophisticated” to genuinely believe stories in the National Enquirer would influence the election.

“Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to elect a candidate,” Blanche said, arguing that Trump’s actions were routine.

Trump sat sideways, arm slung over the back of his chair, appearing to pay close attention as Blanche spoke.

“You should want and expect more than the testimony of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said as he began his summation, rattling off other witnesses who took the stand against his client, including adult film star Stormy Daniels and her former attorney Keith Davidson, who he then accused of extortion.

“You cannot convict President Trump — you cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt based on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the DA has not met their burden of proof. Period.”

What to know

After a weeklong hiatus, both sides will spend the day in Manhattan Supreme Court court making their final pleas to the panel of New Yorkers, who will soon return to the jury room to decide the outcome of the historic case.

By New York law, Trump’s side is presenting their summation first, which the GOP frontrunner blasted as a conspiracy in a string of Memorial Day Truth Social posts.

After jurors hear final arguments from both sides, Justice Juan Merchan will instruct them on the law and how to deliberate the case.

Trump walked into court at 9:25 a.m. — for the first time, joined by both of his older sons, Eric and Don Jr., his youngest daughter, Tiffany Trump, an army of lawyers, and various allies and campaign staffers. District Attorney Alvin Bragg was also present in the courtroom.

“We have a judge who’s conflicted,” Trump said outside the courtroom, possibly inching close to a potential violation of his gag order. “You know what the conflict is, so do I, but I can’t say it because I’m under a gag order which is another unconstitutional thing.”

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records, each tied to his alleged reimbursement to Michael Cohen for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election — logged in the books as payment for legal fees, not repayment for hush money.

Prosecutors allege the payments capped a scheme first devised by Trump, Cohen, and former tabloid publisher David Pecker in August 2015 at Trump Tower to hide information from the electorate that could influence Trump’s chances.

Pecker was the first of 20 witnesses who testified for the prosecution during its monthlong case, testifying that he agreed to be the Trump campaign’s “eyes and ears” by identifying negative stories that could hurt his electoral prospects to be bought and buried, running positive stories about Trump, and hit jobs targeting his competitors.

The defense called two witnesses, a paralegal and veteran New York City defense attorney Bob Costello, who accused Cohen of lying about Trump knowing he paid off Daniels. Prosecutors, on cross-examination, sought to establish the lawyer and longtime associate of Rudy Giuliani was part of a pressure campaign to stop Cohen from flipping on Trump.

The charges against Trump carry up to four years in prison or a sentence of probation and mark the first brought against a U.S. president. He faces the prospect of becoming the first person to lead the nation to be convicted of a crime while positioned as the presumed Republican nominee for president in this year’s election.