People v. Donald Trump heads to closing arguments in New York

Welcome back, Deadline: Legal Newsletter readers. Both the prosecution and the defense rested this week in People v. Donald Trump. Closing arguments are set for Tuesday in the first criminal trial against a former U.S. president. It’s anyone’s guess how this historic case ends, so both sides (and the jury) likely feel the weight of the moment heading into Memorial Day weekend.

The week started with Michael Cohen on the stand, finishing his cross-examination. Overall, Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche landed some punches on his client’s former fixer, but nothing seemed to shake the foundation of the state’s case. Manhattan prosecutors rested after Cohen’s testimony, raising the question of whether the defense would call any witnesses, including Trump himself.

Trump didn’t testify, which was a smart move, given the defendant’s tenuous relationship with the truth. But the defense called a different bad witness: Robert Costello. The Trump-aligned lawyer seemingly took the stand to trash Cohen’s credibility. Yet, his boorish behavior almost landed him in contempt with Judge Juan Merchan, and the substance of his testimony didn’t fare much better. It might have even helped the prosecution.

The defense rested, and Merchan set closing arguments for Tuesday. In the meantime, the parties argued over important jury instructions that will factor into how they present their summations. Once the jury starts deliberating, we could get a verdict anytime — perhaps by next Friday’s newsletter.

In Trump’s other prosecutions, Judge Aileen Cannon held a hearing in the classified documents case. More than anything, the Florida court outing highlighted how Cannon is slow-walking the case, which is increasingly unlikely to be tried before the election. To understand why that’s so, see this recent New York Times op-ed from an ex-CIA lawyer who breaks down how badly Cannon has mangled this serious prosecution.

The Georgia 2020 election interference case is also unlikely to see a pre-election trial. That one’s tied up on pretrial appeal for the foreseeable future. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her former special prosecutor (and former romantic partner) Nathan Wade made prime-time appearances on MSNBC this week, with Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid. Both Willis and the judge who effectively disqualified Wade in the ruling that’s on appeal, Scott McAfee, easily won their elections Tuesday.

The fourth case, over alleged federal election interference, remains on ice. The Supreme Court issued rulings again this week — but not the immunity decision holding up the Jan. 6-related case against the presumptive GOP nominee. We did get relevant news, of sorts, when The Times reported on yet another flag that flew outside an Alito home that was also carried by Capitol rioters on Jan. 6. Naturally, this increased the calls for at least Alito’s recusal from Jan. 6-related cases.

At the very least, if he doesn’t recuse, Alito should explain his decision like he did in another case from this term.

Alito did write two opinions that were published this week. One was the Roberts Court’s latest legal assault on voting. The 6-3 ruling, with the court’s Republican appointees in the majority, sided with South Carolina Republicans in a decision that makes racial gerrymandering even harder to prove. Writing for the three Democratic appointees in dissent, Justice Elena Kagan exposed what she called the “upside-down” nature of the ruling written by the justice whose home, we recently learned, hosted an upside-down American flag after Jan. 6.

The high court with low ethics standards is set to issue opinions again Thursday. Theoretically, we could see a Trump verdict in New York on the same day as his immunity ruling in Washington, but the latter is more likely to come in June.

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