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Trump trial jurors finish first day of deliberations without a verdict

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By Luc Cohen, Jack Queen and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Jurors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial finished their first day of closed-door deliberations on Wednesday without reaching a verdict that would decide the fate of the only U.S. president to be charged with a crime.

The 12 jurors and six alternates were due to return to the New York courthouse at 9:30 ET (1330 GMT) on Thursday to weigh evidence and witness testimony they have seen and heard over the five weeks of trial.

It was unclear when they might reach a verdict.

Trump, 77, is charged with falsifying business documents to cover up a $130,000 payment just before the 2016 presidential election to silence porn star Stormy Daniels, who alleged they had a sexual encounter.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies a liaison with her. He left the courtroom pumping the air with his fist and ignoring reporters’ questions.

Late in the day, jurors asked Justice Juan Merchan for transcripts of testimony by two witnesses: former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who testified that Trump was aware of the payoff and worked to cover it up, and former National Enquirer tabloid publisher David Pecker, who testified about his efforts to bury stories that might have hurt Trump’s candidacy.

They also told Merchan they wanted him to repeat the detailed instructions he had given them earlier in the day to guide their deliberations.

It was unclear whether jurors wanted to hear all of those instructions again or just a portion.

Any verdict requires unanimous agreement by all 12 jurors. The judge will declare a mistrial if they are unable to resolve their differences.

Trump, a Republican, has cast the trial as an attempt to undercut his bid to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges,” he told reporters outside the courtroom, referring to the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate. “The whole thing is rigged.”

Merchan told jurors to apply extra scrutiny to the testimony of Cohen because he was an accomplice to the payments at the heart of the case. Cohen was Trump’s fixer and private lawyer for about a decade until they had a falling out.

Cohen testified that he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket to prevent Daniels from telling voters about the alleged sexual encounter with Trump that she says took place 10 years before the 2016 election.

Cohen testified that Trump approved the payoff and agreed after the election to a plan to reimburse Cohen through monthly installments disguised as legal fees.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that jurors cannot rely on Cohen, a convicted felon with a long track record of lying, to tell the truth.

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

Prosecutors say voice messages, emails and other evidence back up Cohen’s testimony.

Prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office face the burden of proving Trump’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard under U.S. law.

They say the Daniels payment could have contributed to Trump’s 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton by keeping an unflattering story out of the public eye.

A conviction will not prevent Trump, from trying to take back the White House. Nor will it prevent him from taking office if he wins.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden 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.

Trump faces up to four years in prison if found guilty, but those found guilty of the crime he is charged with are more often fined or given probation.

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 November election.

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

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

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