Jury in Trump hush money trial reaches verdict; announcement shortly

NEW YORK — The jury in the Donald Trump hush money trial has notified Judge Juan Merchan that it has reached a verdict but needs time to complete filling out the forms.

The verdict will be read shortly.

Earlier Thursday, the jury in the former president’s historic hush money trial returned to a Manhattan courthouse, hearing a readback of testimony about the 2015 meeting at Trump Tower and the infamous “catch and kill” scheme that lies at the heart of the state’s case.

The testimony, from the first and last witnesses to testify against Trump, included the August 2015 meeting where Trump, David Pecker and Michael Cohen allegedly agreed to carry out the “catch and kill” scheme to suppress negative stories about Trump in the lead up to the 2016 election.

“I was going to be the eyes and ears of the campaign,” Pecker testified last month.

They also heard testimony regarding what Pecker said was a phone call from Trump in June 2016 about former Playboy model Karen McDougal and media interest in her allegations of their months-long affair.

Two court stereographers read back important sections of testimony at the request of jurors, who had asked for the refresher on Wednesday

Jurors took copious notes during the readback of Pecker’s direct examination concerning the Trump call. One man reacted with an amused smile when the stenographers said they were moving onto Pecker’s cross-examination, which the panel took fewer notes on.

After the readback wrapped, jurors went back to resume deliberations.

Smaller entourage

Trump walked into court Thursday at 9:25 a.m. with a smaller entourage than he’s had over the last weeks, including his son, Eric Trump, and various lawyers and associates. Trump stood by the courtroom well chatting with a Secret Service agent and his legal spokeswoman Alina Habba before taking his seat at the defense table.

He slammed the case to reporters in the hallway, saying “this is a very sad day for America.”

To start the day, Merchan read aloud to the jury instructions on the law and how to deliberate, which the jury asked for on Wednesday. Jurors looked deeply engaged and took notes as the judge read his charge.

Among the sections they asked Merchan to repeat was an analogy they heard Wednesday on how they can draw inferences from facts — with the judge describing how someone can infer that it rained when they wake up in the morning and see wet umbrellas and raincoats, even if they didn’t witness raindrops fall.

The first note of the day from the jury on Thursday was a request for headphones to listen to audio and video exhibits on the computer they were issued to look through evidence they heard during the trial. The judge asked them if they wanted a speaker, too.

The background

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment alleging he falsified New York business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels as part of a plot to hide damaging information about his past from the voting public.

Prosecutors say Trump’s 2017 reimbursement to Michael Cohen for paying off the porn star two weeks before the 2016 election to keep secret her allegations of a seedy sexual liaison were masked as payment for “legal services” to disguise a conspiracy to unlawfully influence his election.

To find Trump guilty of the felony-level charges, jurors must determine he’s responsible for the fraudulent filing of 11 checks to Michael Cohen, 11 corresponding invoices, and 12 entries in the Trump Organization’s general ledger — or for others causing those filings.

In his instruction to the jury before they got the case early Wednesday, the judge said they must be unanimous in their determination of Trump’s role in regard to the business records, but they can have varying opinions on the unlawful means employed to boost his candidacy.

The presumptive GOP nominee vehemently denies being a philanderer, plotting to win the White House by breaking the law, or paying Cohen for hush money and not genuine work carried out as his personal attorney.