Jurors to begin deliberations in Trump hush money trial

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By Luc Cohen, Jack Queen and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed on Wednesday with jurors expected to begin closed-door deliberations that will determine whether he will become the first U.S. president convicted of a crime.

It was far from certain how long they might take to reach a verdict in the case with Trump, 77, who is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to a porn star in the final weeks of the 2016 election.

Deliberations were due to begin after Justice Juan Merchan, overseeing the case, finished issuing instructions, and that could take several hours.

“I direct you to decide this case on the evidence and the law,” Merchan began. “You must set aside any personal opinions or bias you might have in favor of or against the defendant.”

The 12 jurors have sat silently in a New York courtroom for more than six weeks as prosecutors laid out their case and Trump’s lawyers tried to knock it down.

Their verdict could upend the 2024 presidential race, in which Trump is seeking again to win the White House.

A conviction will not prevent Trump, the Republican candidate, from trying to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election. Nor will it prevent him from taking office if he wins.

Opinion polls show the two men locked in a tight race. But Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump support among independent and some Republican voters.

A verdict of not guilty would remove a major legal barrier, freeing Trump from the obligation to juggle court appearances and campaign stops. If convicted, he would be expected to appeal. Trump faces three other criminal prosecutions, but they are not expected to go to trial before the Nov. 5 election.

Biden campaign officials say any verdict will not substantially change the dynamics of the election.

Trump did not speak as he entered the courtroom. On social media, he repeated his complaints that the trial was a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

During the trial, jurors heard testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels, who described in lurid detail a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, and from Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who paid $130,000 to buy her silence during Trump’s 2016 White House run.

Prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office say that payment could have contributed to Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton by keeping an unflattering story out of the public eye.

“We’ll never know if this effort to hoodwink the American voter impacted the election,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told jurors during his closing argument on Tuesday.

They say Trump paid Cohen back in monthly installments disguised as legal fees. They have charged him with 34 felony counts of falsifying business documents, and face the burden of proving Trump’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard under U.S. law.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies ever having sex with Daniels. His lawyers say Cohen, a convicted felon, lied under oath when he said Trump knew about the Daniels payment before the election and helped craft the reimbursement scheme after his victory.

“He is literally the greatest liar of all time,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told jurors on Tuesday.

Merchan imposed a gag order to prevent him from intimidating witnesses and jurors, and fined him $10,000 for violating it.

(Reporting by Jack Queen and Luc Cohen in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)

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