Trump awaits jury decision in historic hush money trial

In the historic hush money trial against Donald Trump, the former US president is still waiting for the jury's verdict. The twelve jurors began their deliberations on Wednesday, but ended them after almost five hours without deciding whether Trump is guilty or innocent. The jury is scheduled to meet again on Thursday. It is not clear how long their deliberations will last. There is no time limit.

Before Judge Juan Merchan sent the jury home on Wednesday, the seven men and five women asked to be able to review the statements of two witnesses and to listen again to the instructions given to them by the judge. The jury, which meets behind closed doors, must reach its decision unanimously. If they cannot agree, the case fails.

If found guilty, the judge would later determine the sentence. A prison sentence is possible, but experts expect Trump to be sentenced to probation or a fine if convicted.

In the first criminal trial in history against a former US president, Trump is accused of having covered up a hush money payment to former porn actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election by falsifying business documents. The payment had persuaded Stormy Daniels to conceal an alleged sex affair that she claims to have had with Trump and which Trump denies.

The trial began six and a half weeks ago and 22 witnesses were heard. On Wednesday, Judge Merchan instructed the jury to set aside “any personal opinions or biases” in favor of or against the defendant. According to the judge's instructions, the jury must examine, among other things, whether Trump wanted to violate a New York law against “conspiracy” to influence the election and a federal law on campaign finance.

The judge's reference to the electoral laws is significant in that the prosecution tried to prove that this was not just about document forgery, but about covert and illegal election manipulation. The prosecution made this connection in order to classify the forgeries as a more serious crime.

Forging business documents is usually a minor offense in New York, but can be punished as a felony if the forgeries were made to cover up another crime. Prosecutors have argued that the hush money for Stormy Daniels and the subsequent alleged forgeries were part of a “conspiracy” to cover up stories that were inconvenient for Trump before the 2016 election.

The $130,000 hush money for Stormy Daniels (about 120,000 euros in today's value) was transferred by Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen. As a key witness for the prosecution in the trial, Cohen testified that he had paid the hush money with Trump's consent. According to the prosecution, the money was later reimbursed to Cohen by the Trump corporation, disguised as legal fees.

However, the defense tried to discredit Cohen as a notorious “liar.” They are demanding an acquittal due to lack of evidence. Trump declined to testify in the trial. Outside the courtroom, however, the former president repeatedly and sharply attacked the judge and the entire proceedings.

On Wednesday, Trump also called the charges “rigged.” Even “Mother Teresa could not disprove these allegations,” said the 77-year-old. Trump was ordered by the judge to remain in court during the entire jury deliberations, which is a major test of his patience.

Trump denounces the trial as a maneuver to obstruct his election campaign. In the presidential election in November, the Republican wants to run again against President Joe Biden, who he lost to in 2020.

The outcome of the hush money trial could have an impact on the election campaign. A conviction would by no means end Trump's campaign – not even a prison sentence. The US Constitution does not prohibit running for president from prison or holding office while incarcerated.

However, according to polls, Trump's conviction could deter some voters from voting for him. On the other hand, the right-wing populist would certainly celebrate an acquittal or even a failed trial as a huge triumph.

Trump is facing criminal charges in three other cases. Two of them involve his attempts to retroactively overturn his 2020 election defeat to Biden, and the third involves his taking secret government documents to his private residence in Florida. However, it is completely unclear when the trials in these cases could begin.