Has the prosecution made its case in the Trump hush money trial? Legal observers weigh in

Has the prosecution made its case in the Trump hush money trial? Legal observers weigh in

Legal observers say prosecutors made a strong case for the jury.

ByNadine El-Bawab

Video byJessie DiMartino

May 28, 2024, 3:44 PM

    With prosecutors and defense gearing up for the end of trial in former President Donald Trump's Manhattan hush money case, legal observers said, in their opinion, prosecutors appear to have made a strong case, but a lot is riding on closing arguments and jury instructions.

    Both sides have rested their cases with the defense only calling two witnesses to the stand including Robert Costello -- an attorney and longtime Trump ally -- who sought to discredit one of the prosecution's key witnesses -- former Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

    Both sides are delivering their closing arguments to the jury on Tuesday, and Judge Juan Merchan will instruct the jury on the law ahead of deliberations expected to begin on Wednesday.

    Legal observers told ABC News they felt the prosecution did a good job of laying out a motive for why the charge of falsifying business records was allegedly committed as well as the underlying campaign finance or election interference crimes, which potentially bumps up the charges to felonies.

    The prosecution laid out the investigation and connected Trump to Cohen's actions, but it is possible a jury may not be convinced, according to Brian Buckmire, trial counsel at Hamilton Clarke and ABC News legal contributor.

    MORE: What are the potential outcomes of Trump's hush money trial?

    Two "reasonable people" could look at the facts and evidence presented and have two opposite opinions. One person could see that Trump falsified business records and allegedly committed some of the crimes he has been charged with and that "it is reasonable that he intended to defraud the American people and the government by falsifying these documents," Buckmire said.

    PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears at court in New York

    Robert Costello is cross examined by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger before Justice Juan Merchan, as former President Donald Trump watches during Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 21, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

    While another could see that "this case is built upon an individual that I don't believe that being Michael Cohen. And so I can't believe each and every element of this crime, because of the person that's giving me the information," he said.

    "So, did they prove their case?" Buckmire said. "But it just specifically depends on the 12 that they selected."

    "It really comes down to the closing arguments, whoever gives them, on either side, really has to button up this case in a way that says, 'my side is correct.' And the prosecutor having the last word of closing arguments -- that to me is a big advantage," Buckmire said.

    A third expert said that he thought an acquittal is “out of reach” for Trump.

    “This was a winnable case. It still is not a slam dunk, in my view, having been there every day for the prosecution,” CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen said in an interview with Jim Acosta on Monday. “I think the odds of conviction are somewhere upwards of 80%.”

    “In part because of this scattershot approach, the defense is not really gunning for an acquittal. That’s out of reach here,” he opined. “What they are hoping for is one angry juror.”

    Another legal observer who said the prosecution has made a strong case, said it is possible the judge may declare a mistrial if it takes the jury too long to deliberate.

    "I'm curious to see how long the jury's out. That's always an interesting thing to see. Particularly, if they're having trouble reaching a decision, when does the judge then decide that there's been enough time for the jury to have been out that they declare a mistrial and a hung jury?" said Chris Timmons, a former prosecutor and ABC News legal contributor.

    "I'd be concerned about the hung jury in this case," Timmons previously told ABC News.

    "One of the jurors who made it onto the jury said that he got his news from two different sources, one of which being Trump's Truth Social. So I think he's going to be more likely to want to believe anything that the president says,” Timmons said, referring to what the juror had consumed prior to the trial beginning.

    Jurors have been instructed to not read about or listen to discussions of the case in the media.

    Did the prosecution prove their case?

    Another expert told ABC News the prosecution has done a good job of arguing the facts in this case.

    "Even though Trump keeps arguing that the facts, that people are lying and so forth, I don't buy any of that and I don't think the jury is going to buy any of that," Gregory Germain, an attorney and Syracuse professor of law, told ABC News.

    "The judge needs to do a good job on those jury instructions, or there's a likelihood, I think, that the case will get reversed on appeal if they get a conviction," Germain said.

    PHOTO: Lawyers meet with Justice Juan Merchan during former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 16, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.

    Lawyers meet with Justice Juan Merchan during former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 16, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.Jane Rosenberg via Reuters

    MORE: Timeline: Manhattan DA's Stormy Daniels hush money case against Donald Trump

    Buckmire said Merchan said he will stick closely to the model instructions set out by state criminal jury instructions, unless there is something the protection or defense want him to deviate from.

    Similar Stories

    has the prosecution made its case in the trump hush money trial? legal observers weigh in

    Experts detail possible outcomes of Trump trial

    May 20, 5:24 AM

    has the prosecution made its case in the trump hush money trial? legal observers weigh in

    Why Trump trial jury instructions will be crucial

    May 28, 6:01 AM

    has the prosecution made its case in the trump hush money trial? legal observers weigh in

    Closing arguments, jury instructions and maybe a verdict? Major week looms in Trump hush money trial

    May 27, 9:08 AM

    Other legal observers are unsure whether the prosecution has made its case to the jury.

    "The pieces are all there. But is it there beyond a reasonable doubt?" former Brooklyn prosecutor Julie Rendelman told the BBC. "I don't know."

    "It only takes one juror," she added.

    Cohen’s testimony could also pose issues for the jury.

    "You are relying on a witness who in many respects … comes with a larger load of baggage than others," Rendelman said. "It makes it a bit more difficult to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt."

    For a conviction, the prosecution needs to prove to the jury that Trump knew he allegedly falsified the records and that it was being done for political reasons -- to keep the public from knowing that he made a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels – Timmons said.

    "It's a little bit of a technical charge and so the jury may struggle with that," Timmons said.

    Did the defense hurt their case by putting Costello on the stand?

    PHOTO: Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo makes opening arguments as former President Trump watches with his attorney Todd Blanche before Justice Juan Merchan during Trump's criminal trial in New York City, April 22, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.

    Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo makes opening arguments as former President Trump watches with his attorney Todd Blanche before Justice Juan Merchan during Trump's criminal trial in New York City, April 22, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.Jane Rosenberg via Reuters

    The defense has made two contradicting theories of defense in their case -- which could be a problem for them, Buckmire said.

    "In the defense's own case, they argued that this is just democracy, this is just the way that things are done, that Donald Trump may have known about the ins and outs of this deal, but it's not a crime," Buckmire said.

    Buckmire added that Bob Costello’s testimony could have harmed the defense case.

    MORE: 'Are you staring me down?': Fiery moment between judge, defense witness in Trump hush money trial

    "But, Bob Costello came on and said that Michael Cohen told him that Donald Trump knew nothing about this, didn't know the ins and outs of this. And so for the defense, what are they going to argue in summation? Because both things can't be true," Buckmire said. "That can backfire on them."

    Cohen testified that he lied to Costello.

    Costello’s testimony was a “disaster” for the defense, a legal observer told Courthouse News.

    “If anything, I think it made the people’s case on this whole pressure campaign issue even stronger than it was,” retired New York judge George Grasso told Courthouse News.

    Grasso said it is likely that Costello’s behavior on the stand, which Merchan to excuse the jury and press from the court room, was like that of a “mob lawyer” and likely didn’t help the defense.

    “I think the jury saw enough of this. I think the jury probably, legitimately, has a lot of respect for the judge,” Grasso said, adding that Costello’s behavior “probably turns off the jury.”

    Buckmire said he thinks the trial is likely to result in a hung jury or the jury could find Trump guilty.

    "I don't think the defense gave anyone who believes their side enough ammunition to convince the other side," Buckmire said.

    Related Topics

    OTHER NEWS

    27 minutes ago

    People claim a mysterious force is killing us – but is geopathic stress actually real?

    27 minutes ago

    GNU is the code word for a ‘bloodless coup’ by the DA

    27 minutes ago

    Denise Nolan gets married! Nolans singer finally ties the knot with fiancé Tom Anderson after 30 years following his Parkinson's diagnosis in emotional ceremony with her sisters by her side

    29 minutes ago

    Huge pre-Covid increase in foreign doctors joining Australia’s healthcare system

    35 minutes ago

    'Everybody Hates Chris' animated revival to star Terry Crews, Chris Rock and more

    35 minutes ago

    Go local: Introduce your kids to books by Singapore authors and illustrators

    35 minutes ago

    Could be wurst: Vienna sausage stands push for UN recognition

    35 minutes ago

    Chloe Chang is Illustrator of the Year at first Singapore Children’s Book Festival

    35 minutes ago

    Soccer-Martinez happy with Portugal's progress, ready for Euro 2024 knock-outs

    35 minutes ago

    'Inside Out 2' Heads for Animation Record $96 Million 2nd Weekend at Box Office

    35 minutes ago

    How to master festival dressing in midlife

    35 minutes ago

    Afghanistan trigger a cricket earthquake, put Australia’s cup campaign on the ropes

    35 minutes ago

    Ryan Reynolds' sports teams hand Hollywood star simultaneous double boost

    37 minutes ago

    At least 11 injured as bus crashes into Seattle building, fire department says

    40 minutes ago

    A U.S. Army veteran, deported almost 20 years ago, finds home

    40 minutes ago

    Idina Menzel talks returning to the Tonys and the Broadway stage in new musical

    43 minutes ago

    Snezana Wood: The Bachelor star reveals there is more than meets the eye in memoir Untold

    48 minutes ago

    Tom Brady easing into retirement - sort of.

    48 minutes ago

    How does the IDF dismantle Hamas strongholds in Rafah?

    48 minutes ago

    Conservatives avoid staking out clear position on supervised consumption sites

    48 minutes ago

    Irish crime writer Andrea Mara on learning to pat herself on the back after major TV deal with Sarah Snook

    50 minutes ago

    Scotland v Hungary LIVE: Euro 2024 team news, line-ups and more ahead of crucial Group A decider

    54 minutes ago

    Peter Dutton claims his nuclear energy plan will be cheaper than renewables

    54 minutes ago

    Trump will inherit a ‘very bad situation’ from Biden: Former Trump senior advisor

    54 minutes ago

    China’s global grip on rare earths an ‘uncomfortable reality’

    54 minutes ago

    Amy Yang, at 0-for-75, looks to end her majors drought in Women's PGA

    1 hour ago

    Fikile Mbalula’s brother, Jabu, lands top job as MEC in Free State

    1 hour ago

    Sundowns: Rulani Mokwena, Manqoba Mngqithi’s salaries were poles apart

    1 hour ago

    ‘There is no Hairy Bikers without Dave’: Si King on TV, cooking and life without his best friend

    1 hour ago

    Liz Truss wanted to ‘abolish the Foreign Office’, Rory Stewart claims

    1 hour ago

    Chasing first major title, Amy Yang takes 2-shot lead into final round of KPMG Women’s PGA

    1 hour ago

    Cozy lighthouse lists...but location is not for the faint of heart

    1 hour ago

    GNU | Ten parties sign pact to form inclusive government

    1 hour ago

    KIB concludes its participation in the Bonds, Loans & Sukuk Middle East 2024 Conference

    1 hour ago

    Ex-Premier League star sent off for KICKING opponent in face 20 minutes into Copa America opener - before his country goes on to lose first game

    1 hour ago

    Masked Kylian Mbappe scores twice for France in a behind-closed-doors friendly ahead of his Euro 2024 return after suffering horror nose break during victory against Austria

    1 hour ago

    Harry Kane vows to 'keep trying to push himself' in his bid to finally end his trophy drought - but 'Bayern Munich insiders fear England ace is carrying burden of lack of silverware'

    1 hour ago

    The toxic truth about mouthwash

    1 hour ago

    ‘What is a victory for Ukraine?’ - director Kirill Serebrennikov on war

    1 hour ago

    Australia ‘not a perfect country’ but there is ‘a lot of positive’