NYC jury gets hush money case against Donald Trump, deliberations underway

NEW YORK — The Manhattan jury that will decide whether Donald 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 Wednesday, heading back to the jury room for their deliberations at 11:27 a.m.

The historic verdict could make Trump a felon and the first American president to face a criminal conviction. The deliberations began after Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan 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 told the jury that they alone are responsible for deciding whether Trump will be found guilty or not guilty, the former president turned his head to look over the panel of seven men and five women. He did not address reporters outside the courtroom as he headed inside, having addressed the media most other mornings during the trial that began on April 15.

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, which was expected to take about an hour.

The judge said the jury must unanimously conclude Trump conspired to prevent or promote his candidacy by unlawful means to find him guilty of the charges alleging he falsified records to hide such a conspiracy, but they do not need to be unanimous on what those unlawful means were.

Among the potential means they may consider are violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, 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 accusation

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 Michael 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.”

Trump lawyer Todd 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,” according to Blanche.