Trump likens himself to Mother Teresa as jury weighs fate in hush-money case

<span>Donald Trump attends a hearing with his defense lawyers before Justice Juan Merchan, in New York on 21 May 2024 in this courtroom sketch.</span><span>Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters</span>
Donald Trump attends a hearing with his defense lawyers before Justice Juan Merchan, in New York on 21 May 2024 in this courtroom sketch.Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money case in New York inched towards its conclusion on Wednesday with jury deliberations starting just before 11.30am local time.

Right after jurors began weighing the former president’s fate, Trump railed against the proceedings and compared himself to a saint, saying in the hallway: “Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. The charges are rigged. The whole thing is rigged.”

Before the start of deliberations, Judge Juan Merchan instructed jurors . Merchan’s directives on the law were intended to guide jurors about how they are supposed to weigh the case.

Early on in his instructions, Merchan said that jurors should not look to his comments during the trial as suggesting that Trump was innocent or guilty.

“It is not my responsibility to judge the evidence here,” Merchan said. “You are the judgers of the facts.”

He also told jurors that they should not consider Trump possibly winding up in jail when rendering their verdict.

“You may not speculate with matters related to sentencing or punishment,” Merchan said. The judge remarked that it was “my responsibility” to determine a possible sentence – not jurors’.

The former president is charged with falsifying business records in relation to paying off the adult film actor Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Trump is the first US president, former or present, to face a criminal trial.

Manhattan prosecutors allege that Trump’s then attorney, Michael Cohen, shuttled $130,000 to Daniels days before the election, so that her claim of an extramarital sexual liaison would not go public and tank his chances at the polls.

Merchan explained how a person could be found guilty of breaking the law in this case, even if they didn’t break the law directly. This relates to Trump, as his intermediaries are accused of performing the actions that constitute crimes, but prosecutors contend that he has criminal liability by directing them to do so.

When “one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense, another is criminally liable for such conduct when, acting for the state of mind required for that offense, he or she solicits, requests, commands, importunes or intentionally aids [...] in that conduct,” Merchan explained.

To find a defendant guilty of committing a crime via others, Merchan said, “you must find beyond a reasonable doubt, first, that he solicited, requested, commanded, importuned or intentionally aided the person to engage in that crime, and second, that he did so with the state of mind required for that offense ...

Related: Ten reasons to acquit: Trump trial key takeaways, closing arguments

This next step of Trump’s case marks a pivotal moment. If jurors reach a verdict, they will determine whether he is guilty or not guilty.

If Trump is found guilty, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate faces the possibility of jail – albeit unlikely – when he is sentenced. Trump denies the charges against him.

Trump also faces three other criminal cases: one for trying to influence the 2020 election in Georgia, another for his conduct around the January 6 Capitol attack, and a third one involving his treatment of sensitive documents after he left the White House. These other three cases have been pushed back and it is unlikely that any would conclude before the November election.

Trump’s legal woes do not appear to have affected him in the polls. He still boasts a narrow edge over Joe Biden in some polls and is proving strong in some states that are key to winning the race.

On Tuesday, the defense and prosecution presented their summations. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass insisted that the case was about far more than paying off Daniels.

Rather, Steinglass said, Trump’s plot with Cohen and tabloid honcho David Pecker in summer 2015 – where the scandal sheet publisher said he would keep an eye out for damaging information about the then candidate – deprived Americans of true choice at the ballot box.

“Three rich and powerful men, high up in Trump Tower, tried to become even more powerful by controlling the information that reached voters,” Steinglass said.

“The value of this corrupt bargain. It turned out to be one of the most valuable contributions to the Trump campaign. This scheme cooked up by these men, at this time, could very well be what got Donald Trump elected.

“In simplest terms, Stormy Daniels is the motive,” Steinglass said at one point.

Trump’s defense lawyer Todd Blanche insisted that Cohen was a liar and that even if there were a conspiracy, it was not a big deal.

“It doesn’t matter if there was a conspiracy to try and win an election,” Blanche said of the alleged scheme involving Trump. “Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate.”

Blanche phrased this as a hypothetical – he did not admit there was a conspiracy and in fact, denied one. But, even if there were, Blanche insisted it was business as usual.

“Many politicians work with the media to try and promote their image,” Blanche said, telling jurors at one point that in order for it to be a legal problem, “you have to find that this effort was done by unlawful means”.