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  5. 10 smoking guns in the Trump hush-money trial — and why jurors don't have to believe Cohen or Stormy to convict

10 smoking guns in the Trump hush-money trial — and why jurors don't have to believe Cohen or Stormy to convict

Laura Italiano   

10 smoking guns in the Trump hush-money trial  — and why jurors don't have to believe Cohen or Stormy to convict
  • In closing arguments, the Trump defense will attack the credibility of key witnesses.
  • But jurors may not need to believe Michael Cohen, David Pecker, or Stormy Daniels to convict Trump.

During Tuesday's closing arguments in the Donald Trump hush-money trial, jurors are sure to hear a lot about the motives and credibility of key prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen, David Pecker, and Stormy Daniels.

But jurors may not need to believe these witnesses to convict Trump.

Here are 10 stand-alone pieces of evidence that practically speak for themselves.

1. "So, what do we got to pay for this?"

"So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?" Trump asks his attorney and "fixer," Cohen, just two months before the 2016 election. "Pay with cash," Trump then instructs.

This phone conversation, secretly recorded by Cohen, catches Trump calling the shots as the two men discuss financing for a $150,000 hush-money payment. The hush money was meant to keep voters in the dark about former Playboy model Karen McDougal's claim — denied by Trump — of a nearly yearlong affair with the then-Apprentice star in 2006.

Why is this taped Trump-Cohen phone call, labeled People's Exhibit 246, important? Because it makes it impossible for Trump to say he had no role in hush-money financing.

Prosecutors can be expected to argue that this recording directly connects Trump to an illegal campaign conspiracy.

As they alleged in opening statements, this conspiracy influenced the election by purchasing the silence of McDougal and — for $130,000 more — of porn star Daniels. Trump's indictment alleges he falsified 34 business records throughout 2017, his first year in office, to cover up Daniels' hush money.

The Trump-Cohen phone call shows Trump in the pilot's seat of the conspiracy, prosecutors will argue. Or, at the very least, he's in the cabin with Cohen. Also in the conspiracy cabin: Trump's then-CFO, Allen Weisselberg, and Pecker, the then-National Enquirer publisher, both of whom are name-dropped in the tape.

People's 248 is a transcript of this important call, available here. The actual audio can be heard here.

2. *** THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS AND NO CENTS***********

Nine times throughout his first year in office, Trump signed checks that are now key exhibits in the hush-money trial. Each was drawn on his personal bank account. Each paid Cohen $35,000 as a "retainer."

And each check, prosecutors say, is a felony-level falsified business record. These nine checks are our second smoking gun.

According to his indictment, the checks reimbursed Cohen in monthly installments for the $130,000 wired to Daniels just 11 days before the 2016 election, along with some other money Cohen was due.

Why are these hand-signed checks so important?

Trump can argue that he never saw or handled most of the 34 business records that prosecutors say he "caused" to be falsified to hide the Daniels hush money, records that include a year's worth of bogus Cohen "retainer" invoices and entries in the Trump Org business ledgers.

But Trump cannot claim he never saw or handled these nine checks.

And that $35,000 amount on each check?

That amount matches exactly the $35,000 figure that Trump's then-chief financial officer, Weisselberg, landed on when calculating Cohen's monthly reimbursements — as shown in People's Exhibit 35, described below.

3. "PAY … ASAP … OK"

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche will likely argue on Tuesday that Trump was too busy running the country to have bothered with the nitty-gritty of falsifying documents. Trump was especially distracted — even "multi-tasking" — when he signed each of those nine checks, the defense has already suggested.

But People's 71 — a January 2017 invoice from the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York — strongly suggests otherwise. See People's 71 in its entirety here.

Why is this evidence — our third smoking gun — so important?

The invoice shows Trump personally signing off on the golf club's $6,974.01 annual dues and "food minimum."

It's proof that Trump continued to pay close attention to his personal spending in 2017.

Trump's former White House executive assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, showed jurors this exhibit when she took the stand earlier this month, delivering a big blow to the "multi-tasking" defense.

Westerhout also showed jurors emails revealing that, in June 2017, she got Trump's advance approval for the purchase, with his money, of a $650 Tiffany picture frame. Trump wanted to display a photo of his mother, Westerhout said, on the credenza behind his desk in the Oval Office.

The frame was 15% off, Trump was told before he approved its purchase.

So even in the White House, we have Trump signing off on golf fees and picture frames.

This proven micromanaging makes it easier for prosecutors to argue that Trump was paying attention when he signed $35,000 of his own cash over to Cohen — who testified that his actual legal work as personal attorney to the president amounted to less than 20 hours in all of 2017.

4. The single most important piece of evidence in the case

We now turn to the most important evidence in the case — People's 35, our fourth smoking gun.

This is an October 2016 First Republic bank statement. Both Cohen and Weisselberg scribbled calculations on it.

Why is this bank statement important?

Because on just one page, it records Cohen wiring the $130,000 in hush money to Daniels' attorney just 11 days before the 2016 election.

But there's more: it also shows the Weisselbergian math behind Cohen's $35,000 hush-money reimbursement checks.

And the two sets of handwriting — Cohen's and Weisselberg's — scrawled across the bottom show the alleged conspiring of Trump's closest lieutenants at the time: his fixer and his top numbers man.

People's 35 does not have Trump's fingerprints on it. Jurors have only Cohen's word that Trump saw it. But prosecutors can argue Tuesday that it clinches the case for conspiracy and records-falsification — subject to connection to Trump himself.

It will be up to jurors to decide if Trump would have blindly affixed his signature to nine $35,000 checks if he really believed they were "retainers" as labeled — and if he really believed he was paying a lawyer who hardly worked for him anymore.

It will also be up to jurors to decide if Cohen and Weisselberg would have cooked Trump's books — hiding the true nature of what Cohen was being paid for — without the knowledge and approval of Trump, the micromanaging boss footing the bill.

Read Business Insider's deep dive on People's 35 here.

5. "Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places."

Fast forward to 2018. Trump has been in office for a year and, thanks to The Wall Street Journal, the world now knows about his porn-star hush-money scandal.

In early April, the FBI raided Cohen's office and apartment, seizing evidence it would later use to successfully prosecute him for his illegal $130,000 contribution to his boss's campaign.

Throughout April, Trump worried Cohen would "flip" against him, prosecutors argue. So Trump, they say, authorized a communications back channel, whereby Cohen could talk to attorney Robert Costello, who could relay messages to his buddy Rudy Giuliani, then Trump's lawyer.

This alleged Trump-to-Giuliani-to-Costello-to-Cohen back channel is evident in this prosecution exhibit, People's 205. This is the infamous "Friends in high places" email that would be featured in the "obstruction" section of the Mueller Report.

Why is this April 21, 2018 email — People's Exhibit 205 — important?

It suggests the nearly invisible hand of Trump, covertly pulling strings to keep Cohen from cooperating with the justice department and spilling any election conspiracy beans.

6. "He will make sure to tell the President"

In another email from that same day, People's Exhibit 204, Cohen is assured of Giuliani's gratitude for "this back channel of communication" to Trump.

This email, our gun number 6, again shows the covert, thrice-removed hand of Trump, pulling strings.

"I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani and told him I was on your team," Costello tells Cohen in the email.

"Rudy was thrilled and said this could not be a better situation for the President or you. He asked me if it was OK to call the President and (then-Trump lawyer) Jay Sekelow and I said fine," the email continues.

Giuliani "asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on your family and he will make sue [CQ] to tell the President," the email says.

7. "From which he entered into, through reimbursement…"

A week later, on May 3, 2018, the hush-money scandal was still in the news, and Trump posted what he may have believed would be a self-exonerating tweet.

Why is this panicked-sounding, somewhat garbled tweet important?

It's Trump acknowledging what prosecutors allege in those 34 felony falsification counts: That he knew Cohen's monthly retainer checks were not for legal fees at all.

Instead, they were "reimbursement" (Trump's word) for "a non-disclosure agreement" (Trump's word again) — also known as hush money.

Trump tweets this admission just five months after signing his last $35,000 "retainer" check to Cohen.

8. "Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017"

Twelve days later, on May 15, 2018, Trump affixed his black-Sharpie signature to a routine government disclosure form called an "Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report."

Prosecutors call this document People's Exhibit 81. It's the then-president's mandatory disclosure of his assets and liabilities.

Under "Liablities" — which is the section where Trump must list the money he's borrowed — Trump certifies that in 2017, he "fully reimbursed" Cohen an interest-free sum of between $100,000 and $250,000.

Why is this footnote on page 45 important? Prosecutors say it reflects Trump's admission that he repaid Cohen's $130,000 hush-money outlay.

In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors may well put People's 81 back on the courtroom display screens.

They'll scroll past Trump's signature to page 45 and say the footnote proves the then-president knew he was reimbursing Cohen for hush money throughout 2017 — not paying legal fees as his falsified business records claimed.

9. The AMI non-prosecution agreement

On September 21, 2018, lawyers for Pecker — then the National Enquirer's publisher — signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

This is the Department of Justice agreeing not to prosecute the Enquirer's parent company, AMI, for illegal 2016 contributions "to the campaign of a candidate for President of the United States."

In return, Pecker and AMI's other officers and employees agreed to cooperate in the feds' investigation.

Why is this non-prosecution agreement — People's Exhibit 182 — our ninth smoking gun?

It shows Pecker admitting to same kind of federal campaign-contribution offense — in his case, for the $150,000 in hush money that silenced McDougal on Trump's behalf — that's at the center of the falsification case.

The jury also knows that Cohen, too, pleaded guilty to this same offense: making an illegally high campaign contribution on Trump's behalf, in his case the $130,000 paid to Daniels.

Jurors will be instructed by the judge on Tuesday that they cannot view the AMI agreement and Cohen's guilty plea as proof that Trump, too, violated federal campaign finance law — but these are tough bells to unring.

Read Business Insider's deep-dive story on how the Federal Election Campaign Act is a central element of Trump's charges.

10. Finally, a smoking micro-gun

Finally, here's a smoking micro-gun with some assembly required.

Once assembled, it bolsters Cohen's testimony that shortly after 12 noon on October 26, 2017, Trump gave his final approval to the hush-money payment.

People's 373 is a bank document showing that on that day, First Republic Bank employee Melissa Duran processed Cohen's request for a $131,000 advance on his home-equity loan.

People's 374 is an email showing Duran passing this request to her loan servicing department at 12:22 p.m.

People's 349 is a call log showing that on that day, Cohen called Trump at 12:26 p.m. and Trump called Cohen at 12:34 p.m. Their two phones were connected for a total of 4 minutes and 29 seconds.

Cohen testified that immediately after these calls with Trump, he took the elevator down from his Trump Organization offices at Trump Tower.

Then, he told jurors, he walked across Fifth Avenue to his bank, to finalize the $131,000 transfer out of his home-equity loan, money he'd then wire to Daniels' lawyer the next day.

"Do you have any doubt in your mind that Mr. Trump gave you the final sign-off to go ahead and make the payment before you went to the bank to complete that?" prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen during redirect examination.

"No doubt," Cohen answered.

"Would you have paid Stormy Daniels the $130,000 had Mr. Trump not signed off?"

"No, ma'am," Cohen answered.

"Why not?" the prosecutor asked.

"Because I wanted to ensure that I was going to get my funds back," Cohen answered.


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