Jury in Trump’s hush money case conclude first day of deliberations

The first day of jury deliberations in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial concluded after the panel sent their first two notes to the judge on Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours after beginning deliberations.

They requested to rehear the jury instructions, as well as rehear evidence from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

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Donald Trump and his team were instructed to wait in the courthouse while the jury deliberated (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP)

The jury also asked to hear Michael Cohen’s testimony about the same Trump Tower meeting.

Judge Juan M Merchan said it would take some time to gather the requested evidence and about a half hour to re-read it to the jury. Deliberations will resume on Thursday morning.

The historic deliberations followed Tuesday’s whirlwind of closing arguments, which stretched into the evening as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass accused Trump of intentionally deceiving voters by allegedly participating in a “catch-and-kill” scheme to bury stories that might obliterate his 2016 presidential bid.

The defence approached its summation much in the same way it approached cross-examination, by targeting the credibility of star witness Michael Cohen.

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Former President Donald Trump (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Judge Juan M Merchan told jurors: “It is not my responsibility to judge the evidence here. It is yours.”

Trump struck a pessimistic tone after leaving the courtroom following an hour-long reading of jury instructions, repeating his assertions of a “very unfair trial” and saying: “Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. These charges are rigged.”

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records at his company in connection with an alleged scheme to hide potentially embarrassing stories about him during his 2016 Republican presidential election campaign.

The charge, a felony, arises from reimbursements paid to then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen after he made a 130,000-dollar (£103,000) hush money payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels to silence her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Trump is accused of misrepresenting Cohen’s reimbursements as legal expenses to hide that they were tied to a hush money payment.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and contends the Cohen payments were for legitimate legal services. He has also denied the alleged extramarital sexual encounter with Daniels.

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Courtroom sketch of assistant district attorney Joshua Steingless delivering the prosecution’s closing arguments (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

The crime prosecutors say Trump committed or hid is a violation of a New York election law making it illegal for two or more conspirators “to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means”.

While the jury must unanimously agree that something unlawful was done to promote Trump’s election campaign, they do not have to be unanimous on what that unlawful thing was.

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Prior to the hearing, Donald Trump shared an all-caps rant on social media (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Many took notes and watched intently as witnesses answered questions from Manhattan prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers.

Jurors started deliberating after a marathon day of closing arguments in which a prosecutor spoke for more than five hours, underscoring the burden the district attorney’s office faces in needing to establish Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A defence lawyer spoke for about half that time; the Trump team need not establish his innocence to avoid a conviction but must instead bank on at least one juror finding that prosecutors have not sufficiently proved their case.

Mr Merchan offered some guidance on factors the panel can use to assess witness testimony, including its plausibility, its consistency with other testimony, the witness’ manner on the stand and whether the person has a motive to lie.

But, the judge said, “there is no particular formula for evaluating the truthfulness and accuracy of another person’s statement”.

The principles he outlined are standard but perhaps all the more relevant after Trump’s defence leaned heavily on questioning the credibility of key prosecution witnesses, including Cohen.

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Stormy Daniels gave evidence in the trial (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

That is a key component of the prosecution’s theory of the case because, while Trump signed some of the checks at issue, people working for his company processed Cohen’s invoices and entered the transactions into its accounting system.

In order to hold Trump liable for those actions, Mr Merchan said jurors must find beyond a reasonable doubt that he solicited, requested or commanded those people to engage in that conduct and that he acted intentionally.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass touched on accessorial liability in his closing argument on Tuesday, telling jurors: “No one is saying the defendant actually got behind a computer and typed in the false vouchers or stamped the false invoices or printed the false checks.”

“But he set in motion a chain of events that led to the creation of the false business records,” Mr Steinglass said.

During deliberations, six alternate jurors who also sat through every minute of the trial will be kept at the courthouse in a separate room in case they are needed to replace a juror who falls ill or is otherwise unavailable.

If that happens, deliberations will start anew once the replacement juror is in place.

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