Too Much Reasonable Doubt: Jury Should Not Convict Trump

By Grace Vuoto

This week, both the defense and prosecution presented their closing arguments in the “hush-money” trial held in Manhattan, in which former president Donald Trump is accused of falsifying business records in order to influence the 2016 presidential election. After five weeks of testimony, it is clear there is too much reasonable doubt for an honest jury to convict the current presumptive Republican nominee of a felony.

Three key moments, each involving Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, blew the case wide open. There are now even more unanswered questions than we had at the start of this ordeal.

The prosecution tried to convince the jury that Cohen may have lied previously under oath, but was repentant and could be trusted to tell the truth. During this trial, he would uphold his sacred oath. Yet, he was caught lying to the jury—once again. His lies hit the courtroom like grenades going off. Even fictional courtroom television dramas do not have such explosive moments.

Cohen stated that Trump authorized a $130,000.00 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep silent about an alleged one-night sexual encounter. He said on October 24, during a brief call to Trump’s former bodyguard, Keith Schiller, Trump was present and approved the hush-money plan. However, during cross-examination, it was revealed that Cohen had asked to talk to Schiller about a totally different subject: harassing calls he was receiving from a teen.

In that eye-popping moment on the stand, Cohen gave the defense a gift: Did Trump really approve of the payment during that brief call? The seed of doubt was firmly planted.

The second key moment occurred when Cohen confirmed that he defrauded Trump of  $30,000.00 at the same time that he was finalizing to be repaid for funds he had given Daniels, taken from his home equity line. He admitted outright that he stole from Trump, duping both him and Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s former chief financial officer.

Cohen thus planted another seed of doubt: If he stole $30,000.00 right under their noses, what else was he doing that Trump and Weisselberg were unaware of? He gave the defense a second great gift: Cohen proved that Trump was truly lax and negligent in his budget and payment habits.

The prosecution tried to recover by attempting to convince the jury that indeed Cohen is a shady, corrupt, “fixer,” but could nonetheless be trusted to provide an honest version of events because he is corroborated by documents they presented.

This led to the third bombshell moment: the key document, the exhibit of the wire payment to Daniels, contained Cohen’s handwritten fraud on it. He claimed Trump owed him $50,000 to repay a polling company but he only paid that company $20,000, shamelessly stealing $30,000.00 from the former president.

Hence the key “corroborating” document on which the entire case rests became tainted with doubt: If Cohen hoodwinked Trump and Weisselberg at the very moment of the alleged repayment scheme, could the rest of the document be filled with fraud? The so-called corroboration was fatally poisoned.

Thus, the key witness and key document blew up right in front of the jury in an ash heap of reasonable doubt.

To make matters worse for the prosecution’s case, Cohen clearly wrote the invoices that resulted in the subsequent payments and ledger entries. He is the only one who was proven to have falsified documents. He therefore might have tricked everyone else.

Cohen succeeded magnificently in convicting himself. It is a shame he already went to jail; apparently the time served has been insufficient to engender real character reform.

Indeed the whole case is on shaky ground: misdemeanor charges outside the statue of limitations were pumped up as felonies, based on election law that was not properly explained to the jury. And by the way, the Federal Election Commission had already reviewed and passed on the opportunity to prosecute on such flimsy grounds.

Over the last few years, we have seen a spectacle of liars. Daniels has stated she both did and did not sleep with Trump. Cohen has stated that he both enacted the scheme alone and that Trump directed him to do it. David Pecker, former CEO of American Media, admitted on the stand, to publishing false stories about Trump’s political opponents, thus spreading lies to help him win.

Congratulations New York prosecutors: you built a case with three self-professed liars. Brilliant.

This group of unsavory characters, banding together, entangled in sex, lies and money, trying to win an election—however deplorable–does not prove a crime was committed. The Clintons and the Bidens have similar dark stories. If Trump is convicted, they should be too, as their misdeeds are far graver.

But leaving politics aside, and based solely on the evidence presented during this trial, a righteous jury should conclude: Trump is guilty of shady associates and slippery, deceptive conduct but not of any specific crime. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s charges are built on a deck of cards shaking in the slightest breeze and crashing down by the weight of overwhelming reasonable doubt.

A fair jury should allow Trump to walk out of New York City a free man.

 -Grace Vuoto, Ph.D. is a political commentator and columnist. She can be heard Wednesday mornings at 9:00 am on The Kuhner Report WRKO-AM 680. She is also Co-host of “The Conversation with Stephen and Grace,” Saturday mornings, 11:00-1:00 pm, on iHeart’s WXTK 95.1 FM.

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