Jury ends first day of deliberations in Trump trial without a verdict

Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York, New York, Wednesday, May, 29, 2024. Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate, former US President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York City, New York [Doug Mills/Reuters]

Jurors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial have finished their first day of closed-door deliberations 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 court at 9:30am (13:30 GMT) on Thursday to weigh evidence and witness testimony they have seen and heard over the five weeks of trial.

Trump, 77, has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in relation to a $130,000 hush-money payment that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 election.

Late in the day on Wednesday, jurors asked Justice Juan Merchan for transcripts of testimony by two witnesses: 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 Merchan they wanted him to repeat the detailed instructions he had given them earlier in the day to guide their deliberations.

Any verdict requires unanimous agreement by all 12 jurors.

Trump, a Republican, has cast the trial as an attempt to undercut his bid to win the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 election.

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

Merchan told jurors to apply extra scrutiny to the testimony of Cohen because he was an accomplice to the payments at the heart of the case. Cohen was Trump’s fixer and private lawyer for about a decade until they had a falling out.

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

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

Trump’s lawyers have argued that jurors cannot rely on Cohen, a convicted felon with a long track record of lying, to tell the truth.

“He is literally the greatest liar of all time,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told jurors on Tuesday.

Prosecutors say voice messages, emails and other evidence back up Cohen’s testimony.

Prosecutors say the payment to Daniels could have contributed to Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton by keeping an unflattering story out of the public eye.

A conviction will not prevent Trump from trying to win the White House from Biden. Nor will it prevent him from taking office if he wins.

Opinion polls show the two men locked in a tight race. However, Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump support among independent and some Republican voters.

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

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

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies