Trump trial jury set to start deliberations in New York

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump awaits the start of proceedings in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 29, 2024.

Charly Triballeau | Afp | Getty Images

Jurors in the criminal hush money trial of Donald Trump are set Wednesday to begin deliberating whether or not the former president is guilty of nearly three dozen felony counts of falsifying business records.

The 12-member jury began receiving instructions from Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan shortly after 10 a.m.

The judge reminded them that they “must set aside any personal opinions or bias” against Trump during their deliberations. He also instructed them not to hold the fact that Trump did not testify at his trial against the former president.

“To the contrary, the people have the burden and they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed that crime,” said Merchan. “And if they fail to satisfy their burden of proof, you must find him not guilty.”

Merchan also instructed them about the prosecution’s star witness, former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. The judge said Cohen is “an accomplice” in the alleged crimes for which Trump is on trial.

Turning specifically to the 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, with which Trump is charged, Merchan told the jury that under New York law, the crime “must include an intent to commit another crime, or to aid or conceal the commission” of another crime. He added that prosecutors, “need not prove the crime was in fact committed.”

The crime that prosecutors claim Trump was trying to conceal in this case is a violation of NY Election Law 17-152, which prohibits, “a conspiracy to promote or prevent the election of a person to public office by unlawful means.” The election was the 2016 presidential election.

A chart introduced into evidence by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in the trial of former President Donald Trump, May 29, 2024.

Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

The case marks the first time a former U.S. president has faced criminal charges.

But Trump also faces three other criminal cases, none of which is currently expected to start trial before November, when the Republican is on track to face President Joe Biden in a rematch of their 2020 contest.

Trump did not speak to reporters on his way into court Wednesday morning, breaking from his usual tactic of railing against the case and Merchan before each trial day begins. Trump also avoided talking to the press after leaving the courthouse Tuesday night.

Closing arguments

Trump’s lawyer and a prosecutor gave closing arguments all day Tuesday and into the early evening.

Trump is accused in this case of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to reimbursements he and his company, the Trump Organization, gave Cohen for paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen testified at trial that he paid Daniels at Trump’s direction to buy her silence about an alleged one-time sexual tryst with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied that he had sex with Daniels.

Prosecutors claim that Trump, by falsely recording the reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses, had criminally covered up their true nature, which was to protect his then-reeling campaign from losing the 2016 election to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

At the time of the payment to Daniels, Trump’s candidacy had been rocked by disclosure of the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape, which captured him boasting to a TV host about groping and kissing women without their consent and getting away with it because he was a “star.”

Merchan is expected to spend about an hour instructing the 12-member jury on the law before sending the panel to deliberate in private on Wednesday.

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Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, in his summation Tuesday, tied the payment to Daniels to hush money paid before the election to a former alleged mistress of Trump, Karen McDougal, and to the doorman of a Trump property who had shopped around a story about Trump impregnating a housekeeper.

The doorman’s story later proved to be false, and Trump has denied that he had an extramarital affair with McDougal.

“Everything Mr. Trump and his cohorts did in this case was cloaked in lies,” Steinglass said. “The name of the game was concealment, and all roads lead to the man who benefited the most, Donald Trump.”

Trump’s lawyers argue that Trump did nothing wrong and that Cohen is a habitual liar who is motivated by anger toward his former client.

“The story Mr. Cohen told you on that witness stand is not true,” defense lawyer Todd Blanche said in his own summation.

“There is no proof that President Trump knew about the payment before it was made” to Daniels, Blanche said.

“As I said to you in the opening statement, it doesn’t matter if there was a conspiracy to win the election,” Blanche argued.

“Every campaign is a conspiracy to promote a candidate.”

This is developing story. Check back for updates.