Trump Hush Money Trial Jurors Set To Return To Deliberations

UPDATE: Jurors deliberating in Donald Trump‘s criminal hush money trial have reached a verdict.

Judge Juan Merchan announced that the jurors had sent a note informing them of their decision.

The verdict is expected to be read in about 30 minutes.

The verdict follows nine hours and 44 minutes of deliberations, per CNN.

PREVIOUSLY: Jurors deliberating in Donald Trump’s New York criminal hush-money trial are slated to return to court this morning to have a batch of trial transcripts read back to them, and to re-hear the jury instructions the judge spent more than an hour delivering on Wednesday. 

The requests arrived in a pair of notes the jury sent to the presiding judge, state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, a few hours into their first day weighing 34 felony charges against the former president.

If everything in the unprecedented trial is working as it should, jurors will have little or no idea of the small-scale conflict they set off with one of their requests, for a piece of trial transcript from the testimony of former tabloid publisher David Pecker. 

That ask prompted Merchan to send the jury home a half-hour early Wednesday, at about 4 p.m., and got the lawyers on both sides jockeying out of view over which excerpts, exactly, to give to jurors from Pecker’s testimony about an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower in New York. 

“We may need your help,” Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said to Merchan shortly after 5 p.m., when the lawyers returned to open court. 

At issue was how expansively to interpret the jury request: Pecker talking just about the meeting that took place between himself, Trump and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen? Or also about actions arising from that meeting? Steinglass and Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche went page by page and line by line through disputed sections of transcript, with Merchan following along. 

Overall, Steinglass wanted fewer lines read back than Blanche. “What we’re saying is none of it should come in,” the prosecutor said of a particular passage that Blanche wants jurors to hear today. 

At moments the debate sounded existential, with Blanche speaking of things both said and unsaid at the Trump Tower meeting and their relevance to fulfilling the jury’s request.

Pecker ran American Media, the Florida-based publisher of the The National Enquirer newsstand tabloid and a group of lifestyle and gossip magazines. He was also longtime friends with his frequent Palm Beach neighbor Trump. 

In August of 2015, Pecker, Trump and Trump’s bulldog lawyer, Cohen, met at Trump Tower. As Pecker and Cohen both testified, they agreed to work together for Trump’s long-shot presidential campaign using Pecker’s media network to raise the candidate’s political profile and bury unflattering stories. Pecker volunteered to serve as Trump’s “eyes and ears.” 

Prosecutors trace the criminal conspiracy laid out in their case against Trump to that meeting, and Pecker’s testimony in April was a key piece of the narrative they constructed for jurors over five weeks in court. So it’s not out of the ordinary that jurors would want a readback of Pecker’s testimony, along with Cohen’s about the same meeting.

The juror note also asked for two other areas of Pecker’s testimony: a June 2016 phone call with Trump; and the disposition of a $150,000 deal with Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who was selling a story about a yearlong affair with the married real estate mogul and reality television star.

Steinglass said he and Blanche were in agreement on what to provide jurors with from those three rounds of testimony. 

“This is the tough one,” Steinglass said of the Pecker-Trump Tower meeting testimony. 

At the end, around 5:30 p.m., Merchan said he’d take the lawyers’ arguments under advisement and take the excerpts with him to read over and make a ruling. 

Jurors will spend at least a half hour hearing a court reporter read back more than 30 pages of  transcript in open court this morning, based on an estimate from Steinglass. Merchan re-reading most or all of his 53 pages of instructions on the law,  and how to apply it to the charges against Trump, could take at least an hour.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a reimbursement to Cohen, after Cohen paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign to remain silent about her claim of a one-night stand years earlier with Trump. 

Prosecutors say the Daniels payment was part of an illegal election conspiracy, and a reprise of the “catch and kill” strategy that Trump, Cohen and Pecker deployed earlier that year to keep two other inconvenient stories, including McDougal’s, from surfacing — just not with Pecker’s money the third time around.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels, and his lawyers say the $420,000 paid to Cohen during Trump’s first year in office was taxable monthly income for ongoing legal work.

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