Jury closes first day of deliberations in Trump Hush-Money trial

Everything now depends on the jury.

After seven weeks of legal wrangling and sordid testimony, the first criminal trial of an American president took place Wednesday morning before a jury of Donald J. Trump’s peers, the final stage of this historic trial.

Mr. Trump’s fate is in the hands of these 12 New Yorkers, who will decide whether to label him a criminal. It could take them hours, days or even weeks to reach a verdict, a decision that could reshape the country’s legal and political landscape. And while the country anxiously awaits their judgment, Mr. Trump will continue his campaign for the presidency.

The moment deliberations began marked a shift in power from the experts in the courtroom – the lawyers defending the case and the judge presiding over it – to ordinary New Yorkers who lost weeks of their lives to assess a mountain of evidence about sex and scandal. .

The jurors, who spent more than four hours deliberating on Wednesday without reaching a verdict, gather around a long table in an ordinary room with merciless lighting and walls painted in a color that could be described as municipal. Located off a short corridor behind the courtroom, it is a short walk from the jury box and has a door at each end, outside of which a bailiff stands guard.

The judge, Juan M. Merchan, had invited jurors to send him a note if they were confused about the law or wanted to review trial testimony. And they accepted the offer, calling the court clerk to deliver a message requesting four excerpts of the testimony.

On Thursday, a court reporter will read that testimony to the jury, most of which comes from David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer who prosecutors say was part of a plot to suppress unflattering articles about Mr. Trump’s name in the 2016 election. Another part of the testimony concerns Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who was the prosecution’s star witness.

Before jurors began deliberating Wednesday, Judge Merchan gave a series of legal instructions to guide their decision-making. He admired the gravity of their task, but also said the accused — even a former president — was their peer.

“As a juror, you are asked to make a very important decision regarding another member of the community,” Judge Merchan said, referring to the defendant.

The case exposed what prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office described as a fraud on the American people. It is one of four criminal cases against Mr. Trump, but likely the only one to go to trial before Election Day.

The Manhattan charges stem from a secret deal Mr. Trump’s fixer, Michael D. Cohen, struck up with a porn star in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Prosecutors charged Mr. Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records, claiming he concealed his reimbursement from Mr. Cohen as ordinary legal fees.

The jurors, seven men and five women, hail from different neighborhoods in the nation’s largest city and hold a wide variety of jobs, representing a cross-section of Manhattan. Many have advanced degrees, and the jury may be aided by two members who are lawyers, although neither of them appears to have any experience in criminal matters, and one of them said when selecting the jury that he knew “virtually nothing about criminal law.”

On Wednesday morning, Judge Merchan outlined legal instructions to guide their discussions. He described to them the legal meaning of the word “intent” and the notion of presumption of innocence. He also reminded jurors that they had pledged to put aside any bias against the former president before taking the oath of office, and that Mr. Trump’s decision not to testify cannot be held against him.

Next, Judge Merchan explained each of the 34 business document falsification charges Mr. Trump faces, one for each document the prosecution claims Mr. Trump falsified. This is the most important guidance offered by the judge during the trial. And it was not a simple task.

In New York, falsifying records is a misdemeanor, unless the documents were falsified to conceal another crime. The other crime, prosecutors say, was Mr. Trump’s violation of state election law that made it illegal to conspire to help a political campaign using “unlawful means” — a crime they say he committed during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Those means, prosecutors say, could include any of a list of other crimes. And so, each false individual case accusing Mr. Trump faces contains multiple possible crimes that jurors must struggle to understand.

Judge Merchan explained which document each count related to, referring to each of the 34 files — 11 invoices from Mr. Cohen, 12 entries in the Trump Organization ledger and 11 checks, including nine signed by Mr. Trump.

Marc F. Scholl, who worked nearly 40 years in the prosecutor’s office, noted that jury instructions are often difficult to follow, especially since in New York jurors are prohibited from keeping a copy of instructions during their deliberation. And he said defendants are often charged with several different crimes, requiring even more elaborate instructions.

Still, Mr. Scholl said one point of complexity stood out in the Trump case: “Usually there isn’t this overlap of these other crimes. »

Judge Merchan encouraged jurors, if they feel confused by the legal arcana, to send him a note asking for clarification, and in addition to their request for testimony, they asked the judge to repeat his instructions. “He recognizes that it’s a lot to take into account,” Mr. School said.

If convicted, Mr. Trump would face a sentence ranging from probation to four years in prison — although he would be certain to appeal, a process that could take years.

Compared to the instructions, the trial testimony was relatively straightforward. Prosecutors called 20 witnesses to try to convince jurors that Mr. Trump hatched the election plot with his former personal lawyer and fixer, Mr. Cohen, and the publisher of a supermarket tabloid, The National Enquirer, David Pecker .

The first witness, Mr. Pecker, testified that during a 2015 meeting at Trump Tower, he agreed to remove unflattering stories on behalf of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. He did it twice, he said. He paid a former Trump Organization doorman and a former Playboy model to stay silent after learning they both had damaging stories to sell about the candidate.

But Mr. Pecker didn’t pay for the third — and potentially most damaging — story that caught his attention. That story belonged to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who said she had a sexual relationship with Mr. Trump 10 years earlier, a story she repeated on the witness stand and which Mr. Trump always denied.

The final prosecution witness, Mr. Cohen, verified that Mr. Trump ordered him to pay Ms. Daniels to remain silent. Mr. Cohen complied and sent $130,000 to Ms. Daniels in the days before the election.

After winning, Mr. Cohen said, Mr. Trump approved the plan to falsify reimbursement records.

Defense lawyers have repeatedly sought to portray Mr. Cohen as a habitual liar seeking revenge on the boss who rejected him.

On Wednesday, Judge Merchan told the jury that the law considers Mr. Cohen to be an accomplice “because there is evidence that he participated in a crime, based on the conduct involved in the allegations against the defendant “.

But he also told jurors that “even if you find Michael Cohen’s testimony credible, you cannot convict the defendant based solely on that testimony, unless you also find that it was corroborated by other evidence.

Judge Merchan then went through each of the 34 charges, count by count, to explain what prosecutors had to prove. These complex legal instructions are the result of intense discussions between the prosecution and defense, culminating in a hearing last week in which each side sought to persuade the judge to make minor changes that they hoped- they would have a major impact.

The result was a compromise, with both sides achieving some victories.

In a significant ruling, the judge rejected a defense request that jurors be unanimous on the “unlawful means” Mr. Trump used to help him win the election. This request would have made a much more difficult verdict.

Prosecutors argued there would be special treatment and that the former president should be treated like any other defendant. Mr. Trump’s lawyers argued that even if the law did not require such unanimity, Judge Merchan could nevertheless request it.

“What you’re asking me to do is change the law, and I’m not going to do that,” Judge Merchan told Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

Leave a Comment