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Jury asks for rereading of key testimony in Trump hush money criminal case


Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, May 29, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, May 29, 2024.

Jurors in Donald Trump’s New York hush money criminal trial on Wednesday asked that key testimony be read back to them as they began deliberating whether the former U.S. president illegally sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

The 12-member jury had met for nearly four hours when it sent a note to the judge presiding over the case, asking to hear a transcript of testimony from David Pecker, the former publisher of the tabloid National Enquirer, and onetime Trump political fixer Michael Cohen about their August 2015 meeting with Trump at his Trump Tower office in New York.

Prosecutors have called the meeting the “Trump Tower conspiracy,” because Pecker testified it was there that he told his longtime friend Trump he would be his "eyes and ears" to watch out for negative stories about him as he ran for the presidency.

Pecker promised to buy the rights to embarrassing stories about Trump but with no intention of publishing any of the information — called “catch and kill” in the vernacular of the tabloid world — while publishing unflattering and false stories about his political opponents.

Subsequently, Pecker paid $30,000 to a doorman at a Trump building in New York to bury his false claim that Trump had fathered an illegitimate child, and $150,000 to Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal to also bury her claim that she had a monthslong affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007.

Trump has denied the affair, although Pecker said Trump later acknowledged knowing McDougal and inquired about her well-being as they walked the White House grounds in 2017 after Trump became president.

Along with Pecker’s testimony, the jurors also asked to rehear Cohen’s testimony about the pivotal Trump Tower meeting, an apparent attempt to understand Trump’s role in the discussions since he did not testify in his defense at the trial, which now is in its seventh week.

In addition, the jurors — seven men and five women — asked that New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan’s legal instructions about the case be read to them again, although it was unclear whether they wanted to hear all of them, or only some of them.

Merchan took more than an hour to read the lengthy list on Wednesday before the jurors started their deliberations. The judge sent the jury home for the day before any of the material was reread to it.

The jurors, all New Yorkers chosen randomly from voter registration lists, heard five weeks of testimony from 22 witnesses in the first-ever criminal trial of an American president. On Monday, it listened to hours of starkly contrasting views of the case offered by Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche and prosecutor Joshua Steinglass.

In a three-hour closing argument, Blanche assailed Cohen, the prosecution’s key witness, who testified that he wanted Trump convicted.

Cohen said during the trial that Trump told him to "just do it" — pay $130,000 in hush money days ahead of the 2016 election to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to silence her claim she had a one-night sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied any liaison with Daniels.

A hush money deal is not illegal. But Trump is accused in a 34-count indictment of falsifying his company’s business records to hide the 2017 reimbursement of the hush money payment to Cohen, which Trump claimed was for money owed to Cohen for legal work on Trump’s behalf. Defense attorneys claimed Cohen, on his own volition and without Trump’s knowledge, wired the money to Daniels’ lawyer.

The former president has denied the entirety of the indictment against him.

Under the U.S. legal system, the jurors must unanimously decide whether to acquit Trump, 77, or find him guilty. If they cannot agree, resulting in a hung jury, prosecutors then would decide whether to retry the case.

For Trump, the outcome is consequential, not only for his personal freedom but his political fate. He is the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate, set to run again in the November election against President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020.

National polls show Biden and Trump locked in a tight contest, but some opinion polls indicate Trump supporters could switch their votes to Biden or not vote at all if the former president is convicted.

If convicted, Trump could be placed on probation or be sentenced to up to four years in prison, although he is certain to appeal and could continue to run for the presidency.

Trump is facing three other indictments, including two accusing him of illegally trying to upend his 2020 election loss. But all three cases are tied up in legal wrangling between his lawyers and prosecutors. As a result, the New York case nearing completion may be the only one decided before the November election.