Have Trump prosecutors made their case at hush-money trial?

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Jane Rosenberg Courtroom sketch of prosecutor Susan Hoffinger questioning Michael Cohen in Donald Trump's hush-money trial
Jane Rosenberg
Michael Cohen is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger on 13 May in Manhattan while Donald trump looks on.

For nearly four weeks, Donald Trump has sat quietly in a New York courtroom while state prosecutors laid out the first-ever criminal case against a former US president.

Lawyers from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office have called on a cast of blockbuster witnesses and produced dozens of surreptitiously recorded conversations and documents to help corroborate their case.

They allege Mr Trump directed a hush-money payment to an adult-film star in 2016 to avoid a sex scandal he feared would derail his presidential campaign – and then authorised an illegal reimbursement scheme to cover it up.

Mr Trump denies 34 counts of falsifying business records.

The prosecution’s final witness, Michael Cohen, will face further cross-examination on Monday before Trump’s lawyers get an opportunity to present his defence.

Legal experts say the prosecution has done an efficient job. But even with solid evidence and testimony, they acknowledge that a conviction in the complex felony case is far from guaranteed.

“The pieces are all there. But is it there beyond a reasonable doubt?” said former Brooklyn prosecutor Julie Rendelman. “I don’t know.”

“It only takes one juror,” she added.

Laying out the story

Though Mr Trump’s case centres on a reimbursement he made to Cohen, his former fixer, prosecutors spent the first weeks of the trial walking the court through what led up to the $130,000 (£102,000) hush-money payment Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels.

They started with David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer.

He described a series of meetings in Trump Tower where he, Cohen and Mr Trump hatched a plan to suppress negative stories about Mr Trump – including alleged sexual encounters – as he ran for president.

His testimony proved influential, said former Manhattan prosecutor Lance Fletcher.

“He doesn’t have a reputation that’s been blown apart by this. And he came into it really seeming to be Trump’s friend,” Mr Fletcher said. “So I think he comes off as almost an impartial witness.”

From there, prosecutors called a host of others, including former Trump aide Hope Hicks and Daniels’ former attorney Keith Davidson, to corroborate the story.

Watch: The BBC’s Nada Tawfik assesses Hope Hicks’ testimony

“They sort of connected a fascinating novel … about how all of these characters interacted,” said Columbia Law School professor John Coffee. “And that was wise.”

They also interspersed evidence such as meeting logs, recordings and receipts of hush-money payments made to a Trump Tower doorman and Playboy model Karen McDougal to bolster witnesses’ stories.

Star witnesses air secrets

Prosecutors used weeks of storytelling and evidence to build up to the most highly anticipated witnesses, including Ms Daniels.

Jane Rosenberg Courtroom sketch of Stormy Daniels taking the stand in Donald Trump's hush-money trial
Jane Rosenberg
Stormy Daniels takes the stand in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial

Mr Trump’s attorneys worked hard to limit Ms Daniels’ testimony.

While prosecutors pledged to tread lightly when quizzing her about the alleged sexual encounter at a hotel suite in Nevada in 2006, she still proved at times an uncontrollable witness, Judge Juan Merchan told the court. Mr Trump has denied having sex with her.

Her explicit testimony led to several unsuccessful mistrial motions from Mr Trump’s legal team and may have opened the door for an appeal, some legal experts said.

But others said that context helped prosecutors show why Mr Trump would be desperate to pay for her silence in order to protect his campaign.

“She got into some salacious details, which I thought went too far,” said Ms Rendelman. “But at the same time, the argument for the prosecution is the more salacious it is, the more Trump would want it to be shut down.”

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