Jury deliberates in Donald Trump hush money trial

(NEXSTAR) – After weeks of testimony, the outcome of the historic hush money trial involving former President Donald Trump is in the hands of the jury Wednesday.

The trial is unprecedented in U.S. presidential history, and the jurors face a momentous task as they weigh the innocence of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee months before the November election.

The case, and the 34 felony counts of falsifying business records that Trump faces, stem from a $130,000 payment that Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, testified in court about an alleged sexual encounter she had with Trump in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite, something which the former president has denied.

Prosecutors argued that the payoff, which happened in the last weeks of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was part of a larger bid to bury potentially damaging stories about him.

When Trump reimbursed Cohen, the payments were logged as being for legal services, which prosecutors say criminally concealed the true purpose of the transaction with Daniels. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorneys have argued that the payments were indeed for legal service performed by Cohen.

Looming political implications

Trump’s hush money case is the first criminal trial of a former president, and the upcoming election has made it impossible to ignore the political weight of the outcome.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden’s campaign, along with Robert De Niro and two former police officers who worked at the Capitol, showed up outside of the New York City courtroom where the trial was held to speak about Jan. 6 and warn voters of a second term for Trump.

It was a new tactic for the Biden campaign, which has largely ignored the day-to-day proceedings of the hush money trial. While Biden’s campaign said they set up outside of the courthouse because that’s where the media was assembled, Trump advisers argued that it was proof that the ex-president’s trial was being driven by politics.

“Stupid mistake by the Biden campaign,” Republican strategist Karl Rove said during an appearance on Fox News. “They wanted to get, while all the cameras were there, they wanted to get their moment in the sun. And it was a big mistake.”

What happens if Trump is convicted?

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, which each carry a sentence of up to four years in prison.

Considering the number of counts that jurors have to weigh, the jury may not reach a conclusion for several days.

It’s unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if Judge Juan M. Merchan would impose that punishment if asked.

Before prosecutors began closing arguments Tuesday, Merchan urged jurors to disregard what he said was an “improper” comment by defense attorney Todd Blanche that the panel should not send Trump to prison. Merchan said that decision was his alone.

While the 34 counts each carry a maximum four-year sentence, the most Trump might potentially face is 20 years, the limit for that type of crime in New York, according to NewsNation.

Should Trump be sentenced to any time behind bars, he will continue to have protection from the Secret Service inside the prison.

Trump, who is a first-time offender, might not receive any prison time as part of sentencing if Judge Merchan opts instead for a fine, probation, community service or some combination of the three.

Trump, who faces charges in three other pending trials, has already said he will appeal a guilty verdict.

The Associated Press and The Hill contributed to this report.

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