Jury weighing hush money case against Donald Trump ends first day of deliberations without a verdict

NEW YORK — The Manhattan jury weighing the hush money case against Donald Trump completed its first day of deliberations Wednesday without rendering a verdict after submitting requests for testimony from former tabloid publisher David Pecker and Michael Cohen.

State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan sent the panelists home at 4 p.m., around four and a half hours after receiving the case, reminding them to avoid reading or watching anything related to the high-stakes trial.

The 12 New Yorkers who will decide whether Trump is guilty of covering up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels and a conspiracy to defraud the 2016 electorate officially got the case at 11:27 a.m. They sent out two notes after a couple of hours in the jury room.

The historic verdict could make Trump a felon and the first American president to face a criminal conviction.

Less than three hours into their deliberations, the jury sent its first note at 2:56 p.m. The requests centered on testimony from both Trump fixer-turned-foe Cohen and Pecker, the former chairman of American Media Inc. and longtime Trump ally, who testified under immunity as the prosecution’s first witness.

Specifically, the jury asked to see:

—Pecker’s testimony regarding a phone conversation he had with Trump in late June 2016. Pecker said Trump called him to inquire about Playboy model Karen McDougal and her affair allegations, calling her a “nice girl.”

—Pecker’s testimony about finalizing and funding the assignment of Karen McDougal’s life rights.

—Pecker’s testimony about the August 2015 Trump Tower meeting during which said he agreed to be the Trump campaign’s “eyes and ears” as part of a conspiracy to hide unflattering information about the candidate from voters.

—Cohen’s testimony about the Trump Tower meeting.

After the jury got the case, Trump decried it and invoked Mother Theresa, the late Albanian-Indian Catholic nun declared a saint in 2018.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. The charges are rigged. The whole thing is rigged,” Trump said to reporters stationed outside the courtroom.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges, but we’ll see.”

The former president, unsure about the verdict, predicted he would be victorious in the November presidential election.

“We’re going to take back our country when these fascists and these thugs that are destroying us with inflation, and with everything they do.”

The deliberations began after Merchan instructed jurors on the law for about an hour.

“You are the judges of the facts, and you are responsible for deciding whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty,” Merchan said, later saying potential punishment should not factor in their deliberations.

“If there is a verdict of guilty, it will be my responsibility to impose an appropriate sentence.”

As Merchan addressed the jury, the former president turned his head to examine the panel of seven men and five women.

Trump, accompanied to court by his son Donald Trump Jr. and several allies and attorneys, was locked in the courtroom along with spectators for the jury charge. He appeared to be asleep when the judge directed alternate jurors out of the courtroom after the jury charge, with his attorney, Todd Blanche, nudging his shoulder twice when he was the only person still sitting.

“Under our law, a person is guilty of falsifying business records in the first degree when, with intent to defraud that includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof, that person: makes or causes a false entry in the business records of an enterprise,” Merchan said during his charge.

“As I previously explained, a person acts with intent to defraud when his or her conscious objective or purpose is to do so. In order to prove an intent to defraud, the People need not prove that the defendant acted with the intent to defraud any particular person or entity. A general intent to defraud any person or entity suffices.”

To find Trump guilty of first-degree, felony-level falsification of business records, jurors must find he did so to conceal or commit another crime. Prosecutors allege that the other crime was a New York election law that makes it a crime to promote or prevent someone’s election through unlawful means.

“Knowledge of a conspiracy does not by itself make the defendant a co-conspirator. The defendant must intend that conduct be performed that would promote or prevent the election of a person to public office by unlawful means,” Merchan said.

The judge said the jury did not need to be unanimous about those unlawful means. Among the potential means they may consider are violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, or FECA, falsification of other business records — outside of the 11 checks, 11 invoices and 12 ledger entries making up the charges — or violations of tax laws.

Cohen’s transaction to Daniels’ attorney, Keith Davidson, wired from a shell company with money fraudulently obtained via a home equity line of credit, can count as other business records falsified as part of the conspiracy, Merchan said. Cohen went to federal prison for the payoff after pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws in 2018.

The presumptive Republican nominee in this year’s election has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of New York business records tied to his alleged reimbursement to Cohen in 2017 for paying Daniels into silence about her claims of an extramarital tryst in 2006, less than two weeks out from the 2016 election.

In lengthy summations that ran into Monday night, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said the timing of the payment was “no coincidence,” and asked jurors to hold the former president to the same legal standard as every citizen for working to “hoodwink” the 2016 electorate by disguising information about his past.

“There is no special standard for this defendant. Donald Trump can’t shoot someone during rush hour on Fifth Avenue and get away with it,” the prosecutor said.

“You, the jury, have the ability to hold the defendant accountable. And, like in any other case, he can be judged by a jury of his peers, based on the evidence and nothing else.”

Blanche, in his closing, decried the prosecution’s case as “absurd” and asked jurors not to convict his client on the word of Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and “the greatest liar of all time.”