Jurors in Trump ‘hush money’ trial end first day of deliberations without reaching verdict

Former US president accused of falsifying business records to cover up payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels

Jurors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial finished their first day of closed-door deliberations on Wednesday without reaching a verdict that would decide the fate of the only US president to be charged with a crime.

The 12 jurors and six alternates were due to return to the New York courthouse at 1.30pm Irish time on Thursday to weigh evidence and witness testimony they have seen and heard over the five weeks of trial. It was unclear when they might reach a verdict.

Mr Trump (77) is charged with falsifying business documents to cover up a $130,000 payment just before the 2016 presidential election to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged they had a sexual encounter.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies a liaison with her. He left the courtroom pumping the air with his fist and ignoring reporters’ questions.

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Late in the day, jurors asked Justice Juan Merchan for transcripts of testimony by two witnesses: former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who testified that Trump was aware of the payoff and worked to cover it up, and former National Enquirer tabloid publisher David Pecker, who testified about his efforts to bury stories that might have hurt Trump’s candidacy.

They also told Justice Merchan they wanted him to repeat the detailed instructions he had given them earlier in the day to guide their deliberations.

It was unclear whether jurors wanted to hear all of those instructions again or just a portion.

Any verdict requires unanimous agreement by all 12 jurors. The judge will declare a mistrial if they are unable to resolve their differences.

Mr Trump, a Republican, has cast the trial as an attempt to undercut his bid to take back the White House from president Joe Biden in the November 5th election.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges,” he earlier told reporters outside the courtroom, referring to the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate. “The whole thing is rigged.”

Shortly before deliberations began, Justice Merchan told jurors they cannot rely solely on the testimony of star witness Michael Cohen, who played a central role in the payment at the heart of the case.

Justice Merchan told jurors to apply extra scrutiny to Mr Cohen, Mr Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, because he testified he was directly involved in Mr Trump’s alleged effort to cover up the payment to Ms Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

“Even if you find the testimony of Michael Cohen to be believable, you may not convict the defendant solely on that testimony unless you find it was corroborated by other evidence,” Justice Merchan said.

Justice Merchan’s comments were part of his detailed instructions to the jurors and alternates who have sat silently in a New York courtroom for weeks while prosecutors laid out their case and Mr Trump’s lawyers tried to knock it down.

“You must set aside any personal opinions or bias you might have in favour of or against the defendant,” Justice Merchan said.

A guilty verdict could have an impact on the 2024 US presidential race, in which Mr Trump is seeking to take back the White House from pPpresident Joe Mr Biden in the November 5th election.

Justice Merchan’s instructions underlined the pivotal role played by Mr Cohen, who was Mr Trump’s lawyer for roughly a decade before they had a falling out.

Mr Cohen testified that he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to prevent Ms Daniels from telling voters about the alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump that she says took place 10 years before the 2016 election.

Mr Cohen testified that Mr Trump approved the pay-off and agreed after the election to a plan to reimburse Mr Cohen through monthly instalments disguised as legal fees.

Mr Trump’s lawyers have argued that jurors cannot rely on Mr Cohen, a convicted felon with a long track record of lying, to tell the truth. “He is literally the greatest liar of all time,” Mr Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche toll jurors on Tuesday.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass walked jurors through voice messages, emails and other documents that he said backed up Mr Cohen’s testimony.

Prosecutors from Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s office say the Daniels payment could have contributed to Mr Trump’s 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton by keeping an unflattering story out of the public eye. “We’ll never know if this effort to hoodwink the American voter impacted the election,” Mr Steinglass told jurors on Tuesday.

Opinion polls show Mr Trump and Mr Biden locked in a tight race. But Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Mr Trump support among independent and some Republican voters.

A verdict of not guilty would remove a major legal barrier, freeing Mr Trump from the obligation to juggle court appearances and campaign stops. If convicted, he would be expected to appeal. Mr Trump faces three other criminal prosecutions, but they are not expected to go to trial before the November 5th election.

Biden campaign officials say any verdict will not substantially change the dynamics of the election.

On social media, Mr Trump repeated his complaints that the trial was a politically motivated “witch hunt”. – Reuters

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