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At Trump Trial’s Closings, Lawyers Weave Facts Into Clashing Accounts

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For nearly three hours on Tuesday, Donald J. Trump’s lawyer did his level best to persuade the jury to acquit his client, wielding a scalpel to attack nearly every strand of the criminal case against the former president.

Then it was a prosecutor’s turn. Rather than using a fine blade, he swung a sledgehammer.

Throughout a marathon closing argument that nearly outlasted daylight, the prosecutor delivered a sweeping rebuke of the former president, seeking to persuade the jury of 12 New Yorkers that Mr. Trump had falsified records to cover up a sex scandal involving a porn star. The prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, wove together witness testimony and documents to drive home the key points of the weekslong case, the first criminal trial of an American president.

Facing the judge’s 8 p.m. deadline, Mr. Steinglass raced to the wire, stopping only to take a gulp of water as the sky darkened outside the towering courtroom windows.

“Everything Mr. Trump and his cohorts did in this case was cloaked in lies,” Mr. Steinglass said as the jurors, who had been glued to most of his presentation, began to fidget in their seats.

By the time the prosecutor finished, the courthouse had closed to other business and the traffic on Lower Manhattan streets had slowed. More than 10 hours after Mr. Trump’s lawyer began the day by calling the case “absurd” and “preposterous,” Mr. Steinglass finally had the final word.

The disparate strategies — Mr. Steinglass’s closing was more than twice as long as the defense’s — reflected their separate tasks. The defense needed only to establish reasonable doubt, while the prosecution needed to persuade the jury to accept a narrative that, Mr. Steinglass argued, could lead to only one ending: guilty on all counts.

The closing arguments were each side’s last chance to pitch their case to the jury — and frame the facts to their advantage — as they drew from a deep well of evidence: testimony from 22 witnesses, reams of emails and a surreptitious recording of Mr. Trump coordinating a secret payoff.

Starting Wednesday, the power will shift from the lawyers at the lectern to the jurors in the deliberation room. The jury could take anywhere from a few hours to weeks to reach a verdict while Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, campaigns to reclaim the White House.

Tuesday began with Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, commanding the spotlight.

He aimed attacks at the prosecution’s bedrock contention that the records were false, and that Mr. Trump was responsible for creating them. But Mr. Blanche saved his harshest criticism for the prosecution’s star witness, Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer. It was he who paid off the porn star, Stormy Daniels, in a hush-money deal in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Portraying Mr. Cohen as a greedy liar bent on revenge, Mr. Blanche assailed his credibility and claimed that the defense had caught him testifying falsely about Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deal.

“It was a lie,” yelled Mr. Blanche, adding that it was “per-jur-y,” emphasizing each syllable. He accused the prosecution of being “perfectly happy” to have their star witness lie to jurors.

After the prosecution successfully objected, Mr. Blanche pivoted to a medley of sports-themed insults, calling Mr. Cohen “literally like the M.V.P. of liars” and “the G.L.O.A.T.,” or the “greatest liar of all time.”

In a blistering rebuttal, Mr. Steinglass accused Mr. Trump of “chutzpah,” noting that Mr. Cohen had told many of his lies to protect the former president. He also said that many other witnesses for the prosecution — the defense called only two — remained loyal to Mr. Trump, including his longtime friend, David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer. Mr. Pecker, Mr. Steinglass argued, had “absolutely no reason to lie here,” and yet, “his testimony is utterly devastating.”

The prosecutor also defended Mr. Cohen, who years ago pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the hush-money arrangement, observing that he “is understandably angry that, to date, he’s the only one who’s paid the price for his role in this conspiracy.” But, he told jurors, “I’m not asking you to feel bad for Michael Cohen — he made his bed.”

Before Mr. Steinglass stepped to the lectern, Mr. Blanche’s argument had emphasized Mr. Cohen’s importance to Mr. Trump even as he impugned Mr. Cohen’s character. And when Mr. Blanche pleaded with the jury not to send Mr. Trump to prison based on Mr. Cohen’s word — even though a prison sentence would not be mandatory — the judge rebuked him stingingly.

“Making a comment like that is highly inappropriate,” the judge, Juan M. Merchan, scolded. “It is simply not allowed,” he added, noting that Mr. Blanche was a former prosecutor, and should know better. “It’s hard for me to imagine how that was accidental.”

To persuade jurors, the prosecution and defense outlined dueling versions of the same underlying story: Mr. Trump’s fixer, Mr. Cohen, struck a hush-money deal with a porn star in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. He did so to silence her story of a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.

Nearly everything else is in dispute.

Mr. Steinglass argued that Mr. Trump had directed the hush-money deal, reimbursed Mr. Cohen and then falsified records to cover up the whole thing. Mr. Blanche countered that Mr. Cohen was a rogue actor who struck the deal on his own and was repaid for unrelated legitimate legal expenses. He argued that the records in question were accurate, and that Mr. Trump did not have sex with Ms. Daniels, whom he cast as an extortionist.

Mr. Steinglass scoffed at that, while noting, “extortion is not a defense for falsifying business records.”

Mr. Trump, who faces probation or as long as four years in prison, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, one for each purportedly bogus document: 11 invoices from Mr. Cohen, 11 checks to him and 12 entries in Mr. Trump’s ledger.

The records portrayed the payments to Mr. Cohen — $420,000 spread throughout 2017 — as ordinary legal expenses that arose from a retainer agreement.

But Mr. Steinglass argued that there was no such retainer or legal expense. And the $420,000, he said, included repayment for the hush money, an overdue bonus and another debt Mr. Trump owed Mr. Cohen. To top it off, Mr. Trump covered Mr. Cohen’s tax bill on the influx of cash.

It was a lot of money, Mr. Steinglass acknowledged, but to the president-elect, “It was worth it to hide the truth about what this money was really for.”

Mr. Blanche tried to undercut that argument, articulating a novel interpretation of the evidence: that the documents weren’t false. Telling the jury that Mr. Cohen was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and in fact performed legal work for Mr. Trump in 2017 while being paid, he said that “there were still outstanding matters they were dealing with.”

Mr. Blanche also claimed that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen actually had a retainer — just not a written one.

“The records were not false, and there was no intent to defraud,” Mr. Blanche contended.

Mr. Steinglass cast that argument as absurd. Not only was there no written retainer agreement, he noted, but the payouts to Mr. Cohen clearly included reimbursement for the hush money. Citing one of the most damning pieces of evidence, Mr. Steinglass said that Mr. Trump’s chief financial officer had jotted notes about the arrangement on a copy of Mr. Cohen’s bank statement — the very one showing that Mr. Cohen had paid off Ms. Daniels.

Mr. Steinglass referred to these handwritten notes as “the smoking guns” of the prosecution’s case, saying they “completely blow out of the water the claim the money paid to Cohen” was for legal services.

Even Mr. Trump has admitted he repaid Mr. Cohen for the hush money, Mr. Steinglass noted, citing previous disclosures that appeared to contradict the former president’s own legal defense.

Perhaps anticipating this argument, Mr. Blanche offered the jury an alternative: Blame Mr. Trump’s employees.

“The invoices were all submitted by Michael Cohen,” he noted, while other Trump Organization employees handled the ledger entries.

The entries, he said, were logical and rote, explaining that the company’s software provided a drop-down menu where one of the few options is “legal expense.” And because Mr. Cohen was a lawyer, he said, this was the obvious choice.

But Mr. Blanche strained to explain the checks, which are particularly problematic for Mr. Trump. While president, he personally signed nine of them, each referring to the retainer.

Mr. Blanche argued that Mr. Trump had signed the checks without paying them much mind — “he was running the country,” Mr. Blanche reminded the jury — and claimed that there was “not a shred of evidence” proving that Mr. Trump was involved in the minutiae of paying Mr. Cohen and drafting the records.

Yet throughout the trial, the prosecution has portrayed Mr. Trump as a penny-pinching micromanager, an image he has burnished in his own books. In fact, Mr. Trump titled one chapter “How to Pinch Pennies.” In another, he wrote, “always question invoices.”

Mr. Steinglass called it “crazy” to think that Mr. Trump would afford his employees broad authority over his money and his records.

He also referred to a crucial meeting in which, Mr. Cohen said, Mr. Trump had blessed the plan to falsify the records.

Mr. Cohen testified that it had occurred in Trump Tower in January 2017, just days before Mr. Trump was sworn in as president. Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen told the jury, approved of the arrangement and knew that the records were false.

Ultimately, Mr. Steinglass argued, the case comes down to “a conspiracy and a coverup,” a plot that began in summer 2015, when Mr. Trump had summoned Mr. Cohen and Mr. Pecker, the tabloid publisher, to Trump Tower. They met, Mr. Steinglass said, to hatch a scheme to suppress negative stories about Mr. Trump.

The stories focused on Mr. Trump’s sex life, not with his wife, but with a former Playboy model and with the porn star, Ms. Daniels.

Calling The National Enquirer “a covert arm” of the 2016 Trump campaign, Mr. Steinglass noted that the supermarket tabloid had bought and buried the model’s story of an affair with Mr. Trump. When it was time to settle up with Mr. Pecker, Mr. Cohen spoke to Mr. Trump about the repayment and made a secret recording of their discussion. Mr. Steinglass played the tape for the jury, which once again heard Mr. Trump instructing his fixer to “pay in cash.”

Attacking the defense’s claims that the recording was somehow doctored, Mr. Steinglass argued that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were “desperate” to undercut the recording, because it was “nothing short of jaw-dropping.”

And although Mr. Pecker later refused to pay Ms. Daniels to keep quiet, he notified Mr. Cohen that she was shopping her story in the final stretch of the campaign.

“This scheme, cooked up by these men, at this time, could very well be what got President Trump elected,” Mr. Steinglass said.

Reporting was contributed by Kate Christobek, Jesse McKinley, Michael Gold, Wesley Parnell and Susanne Craig.