Jury deliberations continue in historic Trump hush money trial

After 20 days of testimony, the jury has begun deliberating the fate of Donald Trump, in the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president as Washington Correspondent Robert Moore reports

The jury in Donald Trump 's criminal hush money trial has reached a verdict.

After listening to 20 days of testimony and a long day of closing arguments, the jury began deliberating the fate of Donald Trump on Wednesday in the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.

The jury of seven men and five women who live in Manhattan received the case late on Wednesday morning after listening for 75 minutes to instructions by New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan.

“The people have a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Merchan told the jury. “The defendant is not required to prove he is not guilty. The defendant is not required to prove anything.”

The jury went home on Wednesday after several hours of deliberating and requesting read backs of four sections of trial testimony, as well as some of the judge's instructions; those read backs will occur on Thursday morning.

During most of the judge’s instructions, Trump sat at the defence table with his eyes shut, as he did during many stretches of prosecution witness testimony. At other moments on Wednesday, Trump could be seen taking notes.

Former President Donald Trump speaking to members of the media as jurors begin deliberations in his hush money trial. Credit: AP

Trump is accused of 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to adult movie star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to buy her silence about a 2006 sexual tryst Daniels says occurred with Trump after meeting him at a golf resort at Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Prosecutors say the business records – 11 invoices, 11 checks, and 12 ledger entries – disguised the reimbursement in 2017 to former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 (£102,300) in personal funds he paid to Daniels to secure her non-disclosure agreement.

Cohen testified Trump was aware of and approved the Daniels deal – that they discussed it more than 20 times in October 2016 in person or over the phone – but Trump’s defence team contends Cohen cannot be trusted.

“He’s literally like an MVP of liars,” defence lawyer Todd Blanche told the jury in closing arguments on Tuesday. “Michael Cohen is the GLOAT, the Greatest Liar of All Time.”

Michael Cohen. Credit: AP

The defence contends the monthly $35,000 (£27,500) payments to Cohen in 2017, totalling $420,000 (£330,000), resulted from a lawful retainer agreement for Cohen working as Trump’s personal lawyer outside the White House.

The prosecution – relying on Cohen’s testimony and handwritten notes from two top Trump financial officers – told the jury the $420,000 (£330,000) was entirely a reimbursement representing a doubling of the $130,000 (£102,300) to Daniels plus another $50,000 (£39,000) in expenses incurred by Cohen, plus a belated $60,000 (£47,000) bonus for 2016.

Cohen spent more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to several federal crimes, including lying to Congress to protect Trump and campaign finance violations associated with the Daniels hush money scheme and a similar deal Cohen brokered for a second woman, Karen McDougal, whose story was purchased and buried by American Media Inc., owner of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid and other publications.

Former AMI CEO and longtime Trump friend David Pecker testified how the company paid McDougal $150,000 (£118,000) for her story. She did not testify at the trial, but Daniels did and withstood an aggressive cross-examination.

Both Daniels and Cohen told the jury they wish to see Trump convicted.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told the jury Cohen “is understandably angry” at Trump, because “he’s the one who’s paid the price for his role in this conspiracy."

“Anyone in Cohen’s shoes would want the defendant to be held accountable,” Steinglass said in his closing argument. But he added: “This case is not about Michael. This case is about Donald Trump.”

The falsification of business records charges are normally misdemeanours but can be bumped up to felonies if the jury finds the bogus records were created in furtherance of a second crime, such as conspiracy to commit election interference – the thrust of the prosecution’s narrative since opening statements on April 22 – or campaign finance or tax violations.

Merchan told the jurors in order to find Trump guilty of the business fraud in this case, they must find Trump, personally or acting with others, made or caused false records to be created – and that Trump intended to commit, aid, or conceal another crime simultaneously, even if the second crime was not carried out.

Trump Campaign Surrogate, Mehek Cooke spoke with ITV News on Wednesday about how former President Trump's legal team is remaining optimistic during jury deliberations.

The prosecution has focused on New York election law against a conspiracy to prevent or promote an election to public office by unlawful means.

Merchan explained to the jury those unlawful means might include violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which limited individual contributions to candidates for federal office, including the presidency, in 2015 and 2016 to $2,700 (£21,200) and prohibited any corporate contributions.

Unlawful means might also encompass violations of tax laws or the falsification of other business records beyond the 34 records covered in the indictment, Merchan told the jury, such as Cohen’s bank accounts or business wires used to execute the hush money payment, or Cohen’s 1099 tax forms issued by Trump Organisation.

In his closing argument, Steinglass pointed to testimony by former Trump White House Communications Director Hope Hicks that revealed a motive for the hush money deal, which became known publicly when the Wall Street Journal published a story about it in January 2018.

Hicks told the jury on May 3: "I think Mr Trump's opinion was it was better to be dealing with it now, and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election."

The jury, chosen over four days in mid-April, is mostly white and includes one black woman and an Asian-American man. Almost all are college-educated, several have master’s degrees, and two are lawyers.

There is an investment banker, a school teacher, a physical therapist, a speech therapist, a security engineer, a product development manager, a salesman, and an e-commerce employee. Half of the jurors are married. The jury foreman, as a result of being the first one seated, is a naturalised US citizen from Ireland.

Jurors will not be sequestered but must surrender their cell phones while deliberations are in progress. All of the trial evidence is stored on two laptops that two jurors volunteered to handle and bring to the jury room.

Merchan did not excuse the six alternate jurors but asked them to stick around just in case they were needed.

The prosecution rested after calling 20 witnesses over four weeks, including a number of current and former Trump Organization employees who authenticated the financial documents at the heart of the case.

The defence case lasted barely a day with only two witnesses.

ITV News doorstepped President Trump's Defence Lawyer, Todd Blanche outside court after the jury went home on Wednesday.

Trump has constantly complained about every aspect of the trial, including its timing, sidelining him from campaigning for president as this year’s presumptive Republican nominee to the jury pool, drawn from residents of Manhattan, who voted 85% for Joe Biden in 2020.

"These charges are rigged. The whole thing is rigged,” Trump told reporters in the courthouse hallway after jury deliberations began. “Mother Teresa could not beat these charges.”

In his closing argument, Blanche appealed for political impartiality.

“This isn’t a referendum on your views of President Trump,” Blanche told the jury. “The verdict that you’re going to reach has to do with the evidence you heard here in this courtroom and nothing else - nothing else that you knew or thought about President Trump.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...