5 min read

Waiting on the jury

Donald Trump’s fate sits in the hands of twelve anonymous New Yorkers.
Waiting on the jury
The Manhattan courthouse where a jury is currently deliberating over Donald Trump’s fate. (Zach Corb)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, May 30, 2024. Election Day is 159 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Twelve ordinary New Yorkers — seven men and five women — will return to a locked room at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse today and decide the fate of the former president of the United States.

After five weeks of hearing testimony, the jury in The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump began their deliberations Wednesday, sifting through the 34 criminal charges that accuse Trump of falsifying business records relating to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The jurors spent almost five hours deliberating on their first day; they have yet to arrive at a verdict, which means they will resume their discussions at 9:30 a.m. ET this morning. All twelve jurors must agree in order for Trump to be convicted or acquitted.

Before the jurors were released for deliberations Wednesday, Judge Juan Merchan — who has been overseeing the case — offered them detailed instructions, recapping the case before them and the legal matters at hand. The instructions offer a helpful glimpse at life inside the jury room:

While you are here in the courthouse, deliberating on the case, you will be kept together in the jury room. You may not leave the jury room during deliberations. Lunch will of course be provided. If you have a cell phone or other electronic device, please give it to a court officer to hold for you while you are engaged in deliberations.

During your deliberations, you must discuss the case only among yourselves; you must not discuss the case with anyone else, including a court officer, or permit anyone other than a fellow juror to discuss the case in your presence...

...We will work every day until about 4:30. However, we can work later if the jury wishes to do so and all the jurors are in agreement. Simply send me a note as early in the day as possible and let me know that you wish to stay beyond 4:30 and if so, what time you would like to work until. Depending on the time you select, we may order dinner for you.

Day in and day out, these 12 people will sit in a room and do nothing but discuss Trump’s guilt or innocence, for as long as it takes to reach a verdict — likely knowing that the country’s political figure could hinge on their decision.

They have surrendered their phones; in the room with them, the jurors only have a court laptop loaded with evidence from the trial and a verdict sheet listing all 34 charges that they will return once deliberations are over. Some jurors may also have notes they took from throughout the trial, although Merchan instructed them that any notes should “not take precedence over [their] independent recollection” from the trial.

The jurors do not have access to transcripts of witness testimony, or even to the 55 pages of instructions given to them by Merchan. However, they can request that the testimony or instructions be read back to them — and the jury made several such requests yesterday, which will be the first order of business today. (Unlike the jury, you can access all 55 pages of the jury instructions. If you have some time today, they make for a fascinating read on the mechanics of the Trump charges and how the jury is being told to consider them.)

Specifically, the jury requested to hear testimony from two key witnesses — former Trump fixer Michael Cohen and former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker — about an August 2015 meeting with Trump at Trump Tower. According to Pecker’s testimony, during the meeting, he pledged to be the “eyes and ears” of the Trump campaign and to help suppress damaging stories about the candidate. The meeting played a key role in prosecutors’ narrative of the case; they described it as the origins of the “catch-and-kill” operation in which National Enquirer purchased harmful stories about Trump in order to prevent their publication.

The jury also requested to be read Pecker’s testimony about a June 2016 phone call with Trump; according to Pecker, it was during that call that Trump asked him to buy former Playbook model Karen McDougal’s story about an alleged affair with Trump and “take it off the market.” The jury also asked for Pecker’s testimony about his eventual decision not to sell the rights to McDougal’s story to Trump.

None of the charges against Trump hinge on the McDougal hush money payment, but prosecutors used the payment throughout the trial to build a case that the hush money payments to Daniels — which are the focus of the indictment — were part of a pattern of Trump buying off stories from women with allegations against him during the 2016 election, in order to prove that Trump’s intent with the Daniels payments was to benefit his campaign.

Finally, the jury asked to be hear Merchan’s instructions to them again. It is unclear if they would like all 55 pages read back to them or just a portion of the instructions.

More news to know.

(Josh Ellie)

In a letter to lawmakers, Justice Samuel Alito said Wednesday that he will not recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election or the January 6th riot after reports that two politically charged flags were flown at his properties.

Alito insisted that he had “nothing whatsoever to do” with either the American flag flying upside down at his Virginia home after January 6th or the “Appeal to Heaven” flag flying at his New Jersey home last summer; both flags emerged as symbols embraced by the January 6th rioters, although they have other histories as well. “My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not,” Alito wrote, telling lawmakers that she was solely responsible for both flags — and that she rebuffed his requests that she stop flying the inverted U.S. flag.

The day ahead.

President Biden will go from his Wilmington, Delaware house to his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware house. He has nothing else on his public schedule.

Vice President Harris will deliver remarks at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She will also receive a tour of U.S. Space Command’s nearby Joint Operations Center and meet with Space Command and Space Force leaders and personnel.

The House and Senate are on recess.

— Jury deliberations will continue in Donald Trump’s criminal trial.

Before I go...

While we wait for a Trump trial verdict, here are two lighter, adjacent stories to read:

  • A Washington Post piece on a wedding that took place at a civil building right next to Trump’s trial yesterday. “This is absolutely chaos,” the groom said. “Everything is shut down. It’s absolutely chaos.”
  • A very thoughtful Business Insider piece on Judge Juan Merchan’s other job, overseeing the Manhattan Mental Health Court. Merchan presides over the mental health court on Wednesdays, when Trump’s trial takes a day off; although the courtroom is packed when Trump is there, Business Insider was the only outlet to stay on Wednesdays to survey Merchan in a very different sitting.

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