Jurors Finish First Day Of Deliberations In Trump Hush Money Trial — Update

UPDATE: Jurors in Donald Trump’s New York hush money trial went home early today after they asked Judge Juan Merchan to re-read them some or possibly all of the 53 pages of instructions that he delivered to them this morning ahead of deliberations. It was the second jury note in the space of an hour from the anonymous 12-person panel.

Jurors are deciding the former president’s guilt or innocence on charges of falsifying business records to keep a hush money payment to a porn star secret and keep a potential sexual scandal from derailing his first presidential campaign.

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The second jury note, at 3:51 p.m., arrived with Merchan, the lawyers and court personnel working to identify and assemble of the trial testimony the jury requested in its first note at 2:56 p.m. Merchan called the jury in at around 4 p.m. and told them they’d do all the read-backs of testimony and instructions on Thursday, a decision guaranteeing that deliberations in the unprecedented case will continue for at least a second day.

As he did with the first note, Merchan read aloud the second note to put it into the record: “The jury requests to rehear the judge’s instructions.” During his morning presentation, the judge said he would be “happy” to re-read portions of his instructions if jurors requested it. But it was unclear how big of an ask this is — the morning instructions took 70 minutes — and the judge said jurors can send him another note with more specific information if they choose.

Excusing the jury until 9:30 a.m. Thursday left the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers to come to agreement on which testimony, exactly, the jury wants to review from two key witnesses. Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass estimated that there would be 30 pages in all, a roughly a half hour of read-back in the judge’s estimation.

Jurors requested the testimony of Michael Cohen and David Pecker about their meeting with Trump in August 2015 at Trump Tower. It was a fateful meeting, in the prosecution’s telling, where the three men — the candidate, his personal lawyer, and his tabloid publisher friend — agreed to help the Celebrity Apprentice star’s nascent presidential campaign: They would use the resources and contacts of Pecker’s company, American Media, publisher of The National Enquirer newsstand tabloid, to generate good coverage of Trump and suppress negative stories, prosecutors said.

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

Jurors also want Pecker’s testimony about a call he received from Trump in June of 2016, while Pecker was at an investor conference in New Jersey. The subject was Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model shopping a story of an affair with Trump. Pecker testified that Trump was asking about a rumor relayed by Cohen that McDougal had a potential suitor in Mexico willing to pay $8 million for her story.

Pecker testified on cross examination by a Trump defense lawyer, Emil Bove, that Trump said, “I don’t buy stories because it always gets out.”

“And I said I think we should still buy the story,” Pecker said.

Jurors are also interested in Pecker’s testimony about a decision to rethink his agreement with McDougal after paying her $150,000 in what prosecutors called a “catch and kill” operation to acquire the rights of her story with no intention of ever publishing it.

Read the Trump case jury instructions.

PREVIOUSLY: The jury in Donald Trump’s hush money trial sent a note to the judge this afternoon requesting a read back of testimony from two key prosecution witnesses, David Pecker and Michael Cohen.

The note was sent after about 3 1/2 hours of deliberations. Judge Juan Merchan read the note to the prosecution team and to Trump and his legal team.

Pecker is the former CEO of American Media, the parent company of the National Enquirer. He testified that he led a “catch and kill” scheme to buy up embarrassing stories about Trump for the purpose of suppressing them.

Cohen is Trump’s former lawyer, who implicated Trump in the plan to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money and cover up those payments by falsifying business records.

The note requested Pecker’s testimony about a phone conversation with Trump; Pecker’s testimony about a decision concerning a “catch and kill” agreement with Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had an affair with the Celebrity Apprentice host; and testimony from Pecker and Cohen on a 2015 meeting with Trump at Trump Tower.

PREVIOUSLY: Jurors in the hush-money trial of Donald Trump were about 90 minutes into their deliberations when they broke for lunch at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

They were armed only with a verdict sheet containing the 34 charges they can mark guilty or innocent, with their phones and electronic devices in the custody of a uniformed court officer.

In the morning, the 12 jurors spent about 70 minutes getting instructions from Judge Juan Merchan. The instructions themselves had been the subject of sometimes fierce jockeying among prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Much of what Merchan told them about the law generally — concerning reasonable doubt, intent to defraud, and other legal standards and definitions — is repeated in most criminal trials. But the recital took on extra weight in the context of the first-ever criminal prosecution of a former U.S. president. Trump routinely rails at the judge for his gag order and limits on evidence, and calls the case a political witch hunt.

“In fact, nothing I have said in the course of this trial was meant to suggest that I have an opinion about this case,” Merchan said. “If you have formed an impression that I do have an opinion, you must put it out of your mind and disregard it.”

“It is not my responsibility to judge the evidence here, It is yours,” Merchan told the jurors and six alternates. The latter group is left out of deliberations but under instructions to stay put in case they’re needed.

Merchan urged the panel to watch out for, and set aside, any biases and stereotypes, and to “decide this case fairly on the evidence and the law.”

General instructions about how to weigh a witnesses’s credibility — “You may consider whether a witness had or did not have a motive to lie,” Merchan said — couldn’t help but bring former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to mind, considering how heavily how aggressively the defense portrayed him as a vengeful liar, and how heavily prosecutors relied on him to make their case.

Cohen was the source of the hush money for porn star Stormy Daniels, and, according to prosecutors, the recipient of an illegal reimbursement scheme authorized by Trump, then carried out with falsified checks, pay stubs and Trump Organization ledger entries misrepresenting the repayment — $420,000 in all — as routine legal work.

Merchan also talked about Cohen by name. “Under our law, Michael Cohen is an accomplice,” he explained, meaning that Cohen’s testimony cannot be the basis for a guilty verdict “unless it is supported by corroborative evidence.”

Cohen testified that he acted on orders from Trump to “take care of” keeping Daniels quiet about her claim of a sexual encounter with Trump.

When Merchan turned to the laws underlying the 34 charges, he began by saying that New York law says two or more individuals “can be held criminally liable for the actions of the other” if the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that one of them knowingly solicited the other to engage in illegal conduct.

Merchan also read out passages of the two relevant statutes — falsifying business records and conspiracy to promote or prevent election  — twice to the jurors.

He said that prosecutors “have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with the state of mind required for the commission of the crime … either personally, or by acting in concert with another person … “

“Your verdict, on each count you consider, whether guilty or not guilty, must be unanimous,” Merchan said. “In order to find the defendant guilty, however, you need not be unanimous on whether the defendant committed the crime personally, or by acting in concert with another, or both.”

In setting out rules for jury conduct of deliberations, Merchan said the foreperson — Juror No. 1 — can send out a signed note with any questions. Moments later he clarified, “Do not sign with your actual name.” It was another reminder of the security surrounding a case with an anonymous jury, since any artifact of the trial including juror notes winds up in the case files.

Merchan also thanked the six alternates who will have to stick around without taking part in deliberations. “I can honestly say every single one of you was very engaged,” he said.

While the jurors were required to take their lunch inside the courthouse, the mood outside on a sunny afternoon was easier than it had been since the start of the trial. More than two dozen people, most of them Trump supporters, some carrying flags, gathered in a corner of the public park facing the courthouse.

Another section of the park allotted — loosely by now — to Trump critics had reclaimed some of its pretrial routine, with downtown courthouse workers lounging and eating lunch on benches. In a passage between the park and another courthouse, people slipped past metal barricades to claim bench seats that had been previously off-limits.

The jury is scheduled to continue deliberations until 4:30 p.m. today.

PREVIOUSLY: Jurors in the hush-money trial of Donald Trump have begun deliberating whether the former president is guilty or innocent of falsifying business records to help cover up a potential sexual scandal in the 2016 campaign and illegally aid in his first pursuit of the White House.

The twelve Manhattanites — whose identities are being kept from the general public as a security measure — exited the courtroom at around 11:30 a.m. after Judge Juan Merchan spent about 70 minutes instructing them on the law, both in general and as it applies to the counts in the charges against Trump, and telling them how to carry out their obligations as jurors.

Before deliberations began, two jurors who volunteered to learn how to operate a laptop containing all of the case’s exhibits in evidence returned to court for a quick tutorial and then exited again to join their peers in the jury room.

Jurors in the hush-money trial of Donald Trump have begun deliberating whether the former president is guilty or innocent of falsifying business records to help cover up a potential sexual scandal in the 2016 campaign and illegally aid in his pursuit of the White House.

Outside the courtroom, Trump again bashed the judge and called the case against him “rigged.” “Mother Theresa could not beat these charges,. But we’ll see,” he said, per pool reports.

PREVIOUSLY: After a marathon day of closing arguments in Donald Trump’s New York hush-money trial, jurors are poised to begin deliberating the former president’s fate today on 34 criminal counts of falsifying business records — the last phase of an unprecedented case pitting Trump against the city and state where he made his name.

The jury will have to decide if the maneuvering around a $130,000 payoff in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels by Trump’s roving legal fixer, Michael Cohen, was “a conspiracy and a cover-up” designed to “hoodwink voters,” as Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass put it on Tuesday, citing a “mountain” of documentary evidence he said corroborated the testimony of Cohen, Daniels and numerous other witnesses.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche gave jurors another option: to regard the whole transaction as a messy backstage campaign drama unworthy of felony prosecution, and unprovable in any case with convicted, disbarred lawyer Cohen — the “GLOAT,” or “greatest liar of all time,” in Blanche’s words — as the prosecution’s star witness.

Trump says Daniels’ claim of a sexual encounter with him in 2006 is made up. His lawyers have argued that the 34 checks, pay stubs and ledger entries in 2017 logging payments totaling $420,000 to Cohen were for legal work, not falsified documents in a scheme alleged by prosecutors to disguise Cohen’s reimbursement and keep voters in the dark.

Whatever the verdict, and however long it takes, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president is possibly the only one of the four prosecutions that Trump is facing to be heard by a jury before the November election. On that basis alone, the verdict could land as an electoral event with implications for Trump’s third White House run.

In one sign of the trial’s elevated stakes, the twelve jurors and six alternates were given anonymity from the day they arrived as prospects, with their names kept out of the public record as a security measure. The People v. Donald Trump opened with jury selection on April 15 inside a hulking art deco courthouse in lower Manhattan, the same repair-prone municipal building where movie producer Harvey Weinstein was tried and convicted of sexual assault, and where he returned in May after his 2020 conviction was overturned.

Once a panel was picked, the Trump trial stretched across six weeks of evidence, testimony and arguments. The actual time those jurors spent with the case inside Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom was a less imposing-sounding 17 days, from opening arguments to Tuesday’s closing summations. But the trial has consumed an untold amount of bandwidth by other measures: disruption to jurors’ daily lives; a security bulwark of uniformed court officers, Secret Service details and NYPD fleet vehicles visible behind rows of barricade fencing; and a full-time media encampment populated by local, national and international journalists and pundits covering the latest “trial of the century.”

Trump himself, an old hand at making himself the center of attention, has bridled at being a criminal defendant in Trump-like fashion. He’s delivered twice-daily rants to hallway pool reporters — with Blanche at his side and a gallery of supporters looking on — about a “rigged” case and a “conflicted” judge with Democratic family ties. He continued to do that this morning in a series of Truth Social posts, railing at the judge and calling the proceedings a “KANGAROO COURT.”

He’s tested the limits of Merchan’s gag order against public statements about trial witnesses, jurors and others, and he complained about the “icebox” of a courtroom on the 15th floor he’s forced to sit in while he wants to be somewhere else campaigning for president.

This morning, however, Trump walked into the courtroom shortly before 10 a.m. without pausing to talk to reporters. It was the second time in a row, including his quick exit on Tuesday night, that he skipped a routine that had become one of the trial’s running subplots.

— Ted Johnson contributed to this report.

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