Trump’s obsessions may have sunk his defense

This article describes the dramatic moments during the last moments of the trial of serial sex abuser and convicted felon Donald Trump (SSACFT).

I had thought that getting a unanimous guilty verdict would be difficult, that there might be at least one juror who might hold out, causing a mistrial, which the MAGA crowd would see as a vindication of their hero.

Despite his bluster about the process itself, former President — and now convicted felon —Donald Trump secretly confided to advisors that one juror in his Manhattan criminal trial would come to his rescue.

After he was found guilty on all 34 felony counts, Rolling Stone reported Thursday that Trump’s hopes of a man on the jury he reportedly referred to as “my juror” were evidently dashed. Reporters Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng wrote that Trump had his eye on one male juror in particular whose body language he interpreted as friendlier than the rest.

It wasn’t immediately clear which juror the Trump team was paying attention to. It could have been juror #2, an investment banker who said during the voir dire process that his primary source of news was Truth Social — the ex-president’s far-right social media platform. It could have also been juror #8, who is a retired wealth manager from the Upper East Side, and is originally from Long Island (traditionally more conservative than the rest of the New York City metro area).

An acquittal on all 34 counts would have been unlikely, given that Trump has never prevailed in any civil — and now criminal — court proceeding in New York. But the defense was hopeful that they could at least have one or more jurors refuse to sign onto a guilty verdict, thus hanging the jury and effectively ensuring the former president wouldn’t get a new trial until after the election, if ever.

In legal cases and political campaigns, there are often a lot of after-the-fact opinions that praise the winning side’s strategy and castigate that of the losing side, when it was not at all clear during the process which was the better one. But in this case, there were some things that the legal team for (SSACFT) did, presumably under his instructions, that did not seem well thought out.

There was an interesting article in which Kyle Cheney and Ankush Khardori, legal reporters for Politico, explain how SSACFT blew the defense. It ties in with my own impression that SSACFT’s obsessions must have driven the defense lawyers’ poor strategy.

It looks like [the prosecution] managed to win this case by persuading jurors that Michael Cohen was credible enough on the key elements of his testimony, including descriptions of some key conversations that he had with Trump, for which there were no other witnesses. And also by shoring up his testimony by sort of beating home this theme that he was being corroborated by documents and other witnesses, text messages, financial records and things like that. It wasn’t entirely true that his testimony could be fully corroborated by other evidence in the case, but a lot of it could and that strategy looks like it paid off.

In addition, I think in the closing argument, they did a good job of yes, shoring up Cohen’s credibility, but also talking about how it was kind of, in a weird way, beside the point — that there was so much corroborative evidence and documents that they should focus on. And then, as Ankush pointed out, the inferences they could draw, even just from the stuff that was independent of Cohen, that they could reach a conviction without needing too much of Cohen. And I thought — whether you buy that or not, because I actually think there were some aspects of the case that only Cohen could speak to — it was persuasive in the closing argument, and I think may have been effective with the jury.

Then as we got to the trial, you know, I did a whole column on this. It was just completely idiotic. For Todd Blanche, Trump’s lead counsel, to deny that Trump had had a sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels, they were just asking to get beaten over the head with her testimony. That’s exactly what happened

Throughout, there were also these cross-examinations of every single witness. Again, this is a very Trumpian strategy. You just have to attack everything, deny everything. And the early witnesses — take someone like Keith Davidson, who was Stormy Daniels’ lawyer. He had no contact with Trump. His dealings were all through Michael Cohen. So, the cross of him could have been: “How many times did you talk to Donald Trump? OK, zero? Thanks.” Or some variation on that.

Instead, it was like this whole thing about how he’s a sleaze merchant and potentially extorted Trump and all that. That may be good for political theater, but it is not the way to defend a white collar case, which usually requires a very strategic judgment about what to contest and what not to contest. And then we get to the cross of Michael Cohen, which I think was always sort of the main event in this case. I’ve never seen a government witness in any serious criminal prosecution with this much material for a defense lawyer to work with as Michael Cohen.

The cross itself, on paper, I thought Blanche actually did a good job of extracting some key points. And particularly, there’s no denying whatever the result was, the cross on the call to Keith Schiller and the revelation that it may have been about a 14-year-old kid harassing Michael Cohen, rather than Michael Cohen apprising Donald Trump about Stormy Daniels — that is an excellent cross-examination moment, despite the fact that they lost the case.

He pulled out that material. But I heard from people who were in the courtroom that it was not landing because Blanche was all over the place. He didn’t moderate his tone very well. You can see this on paper, too, but it jumped around in time and even thematically. And you have to pick one if you want jurors to follow what you’re doing. A cross examination either needs to move thematically or temporally or some combination thereof.

So then we get to the closing arguments. And the column I did prior to the closing, what I truly believe, was that this case could actually come down to the closing arguments. Because had the defense really rearranged all the material from Cohen’s cross and jettisoned some of their silly mistakes, like denying the encounter with Stormy Daniels, they could have put together a very, very good closing.

And then the closing. You know, I hate to beat down on the losing party here, but the closing was bad. It was really bad. And the scuttlebutt going around among the legal analysts and commentators for the last week or two: The closing sort of solidified that Todd Blanche did not do his best work on this case, and that another set of lawyers plausibly could have gotten Trump off.

They also discussed what will happen in the lead up to the sentencing. It appears that SSACFT will have to meet with a probation official who will contribute to the potential recommended sentence. And then there are the questions that the judge will have to weigh. And on that particular issue, SSACFT’s hostile and antagonistic attitude throughout the trial to not just the judge but the entire legal system will not help him.

I mean, he used every single day to rail against the judge and the case. And that’s all well and good fine, rail away. But it was extremely dishonest claiming that the case was orchestrated by the Biden White House, that it was political enemies coming after him. That undermines the New York criminal justice system. And it undermines the integrity of the proceedings. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are happy for that to have happened. But I guarantee you the judge was not happy for that to have happened. And one of the things he’s supposed to do is to guard the integrity of the legal system, the court proceedings and to promote respect for the law.

I don’t know what he’ll do, obviously, in terms of actually rendering a sentence. But if I were him, that part of it would give me a very serious pause, because I would be thinking, “It’s all well and good that he was convicted on this. We don’t usually give people prison time, that’s very, very significant and important. But how can we let someone just treat the justice system this way?”

I literally cannot think of a precursor for the way in which Trump behaved. We’d have to go to mobsters, I guess. But even them, they don’t get every day to speak to the national media and have their words broadcast around the country. That’s what Trump did.

Trump has an unenviable record of losing cases. His seeming insistence of using the same strategy that he uses in business and everyday life, of denying everything, conceding nothing, and trying to bully and intimidate everyone, does not work well within the confines of a courtroom.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    there are often a lot of after-the-fact opinions that praise the winning side’s strategy and castigate that of the losing side, when it was not at all clear during the process which was the better one

    So, just like most sports commentary!

  2. Holms says

    there are often a lot of after-the-fact opinions that praise the winning side’s strategy and castigate that of the losing side, when it was not at all clear during the process which was the better one.

    Equally annoying to me is the pundit habit of claiming some arcane circumstance to be important or entirely predictive of the outcome of whatever, simply because a pattern has held true so far. “No candidate has ever won this specific council area and then lost the election” sort of thing. There’s always a first time.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Trump has never prevailed in any civil — and now criminal — court proceeding in New York.

    Really?!? Reports during the 2016 campaign had it that Trump™ had participated, as defendant or plaintiff, in about 3,500 lawsuits (over a 35-year business career, that’s about two per week). Probably a majority, almost certainly a plurality, had to have occurred in the New York metro area, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that he did not win (“prevail” in this context seems a pretty vague word) any of them.

  4. lanir says

    It doesn’t work very well when you try to bully people or groups that are stronger than you, that know they’re stronger than you, and are willing to prove it as needed. I have a very distant perspective on the man but it kind of looks like he’s made this part of his persona, so it’s not so much a strategy as his whole modus operandi. Thus far he hasn’t proven smart enough to fight this inclination even when acting it out could cause him serious harm.

    This is why he’s so terrible at politics. He’s actually kind of amazing at building a cult following but when dealing with other people on his level (other politicians or national leaders) he stumbles and blusters until they outmaneuver him almost effortlessly.

  5. says

    @Pierce R. Butler
    Not a lawyer, nor up on the facts of specific cases, but I will point out that many law suits are settled before they actually reach the courts and thus, “court proceeding” and “law suit” aren’t comparable.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    LykeX @ # 5: … many law suits are settled before they actually reach the courts…

    Trump has explicitly declared that he “never” settles -- but he clearly lies/self-deludes about that, too.

    IANAL either, but feel pretty sure “lawsuit” is a subset of “court proceeding” -- even if called off pre-hearing.

    A quick search found, on the first page, three cases where Trump “prevailed” (11/12/21, aborting Michael Cohen’s suit against the Trump Org; 4/5/23, quashing Stormy D’s defamation suit; and 5/30/24, against his niece Mary Trump) -- but the last was just a procedural ruling, not a final decision; the second came in a federal court appeals court; and only the first was unambiguously a win in a “New York court”.

    Still, I think the statement was too sweeping and poorly based in fact -- quite unsurprising, for a venue owned and managed by

  7. sonofrojblake says

    “does not work well within the confines of a courtroom”

    I’ll concede that’s true on the second day trump spends in jail for this. Anything else is a win for him. Arguably he’ll turn even that to advantage, but still

  8. Hans Tholsrtup says

    Now let’s jail some more of the scum. Trump should only be the beginning.

  9. Michael Suttkus says

    There’s an “SSACFT” in that last quotation that isn’t clearly marked as not native to the quote.

    [Thanks! I corrected it. -- Mano]

  10. says

    SSACFT may not be the most evil person in human history but he may be the strangest, most categorically unique lunatic -- ever.

    I can think of no one else with his toxic combination of mental problems. Some kind of bizarre mix of genes and environment has produced this malignant thing-a-ma-jig who is absolutely one of a kind.

    That he has millions of cult followers adds to the strangeness. I have no idea what his ultimate problem is but he is ruining America. Hitler, at the end, felt that the German people deserved their fate. Do we deserve ours?

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