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What to know before the final week of Trump's hush money trial


It has been over a month since a 12-person jury of New Yorkers filed into a Manhattan courtroom for former President Donald Trump's hush money trial. Now the first criminal trial of a former or sitting U.S. president is nearing its end with closing statements and jury deliberation expected this week - and with that, a verdict possibly before the week's end, meaning Trump could be found guilty of 34 felony counts of falsified business records. NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo has the story.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Last spring, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg made a historic move.

ALVIN BRAGG: Earlier this afternoon, Donald Trump was arraigned on a New York Supreme Court indictment returned by a Manhattan grand jury on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

BUSTILLO: The indictment followed several years of investigations by the Manhattan DA that predated Bragg. Trump has pleaded not guilty, and now a 12-person jury must decide if they believe that to be true. The jurors have to decide not what the underlying crime is but whether Trump tried to commit or conceal another crime.

LAUREN-BROOKE EISEN: It's sort of analogous to burglary. So if someone broke into your house and they were caught with a requisite amount of marijuana, that would be illegal.

BUSTILLO: That's Lauren-Brooke Eisen, a senior director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

EISEN: One person could say, OK, they had the intent to smoke pot. Someone else could say, oh, I think they had the intent to steal their stereo, right? You don't need to all agree on what that underlying crime was.

BUSTILLO: The prosecution argues that in the month leading up to the 2016 election, Trump knew about and was involved in a scheme to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair. They argue he did this because potential news of an affair could damage his presidential prospects. This payment was made by then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Prosecutors also say that Trump repaid Cohen and the 34 counts are the checks, ledgers, and invoices they argue were falsified to cover up the true reason for the payment. A jury must unanimously convict or acquit Trump. If they cannot reach a unanimous decision, they could either be sent back by the judge until they do, or the judge could declare a mistrial. Eisen says that there are some key items the jurors may keep in mind.

EISEN: So I think they'll talk about the credibility of some of the witnesses, specifically Cohen. I think they'll talk about whether the former president had the intent to falsify these records with the intent to commit another crime, such as violating election law.

BUSTILLO: These jurors have heard from 20 prosecution witnesses, including Daniels and Cohen, and they will hear closing arguments after the holiday weekend and begin deliberations. But even if they decide to convict, it's unlikely New York Judge Juan Merchan will sentence Trump to prison.

EISEN: It's very unlikely for someone who has never been convicted of a crime to go to prison on a non - you know, for their first offense, which is nonviolent.

BUSTILLO: Trump has long argued that he has done nothing wrong. Without evidence, he calls the proceedings political persecution, and he has used the trial as fodder in his campaign events.


DONALD TRUMP: And as you know, I've come here from New York, where I'm being forced to endure a Biden show trial.

BUSTILLO: And he has brought some friends. Dozens of GOP politicians have come to New York from Florida, Texas and Washington, D.C., to hold press conferences protesting the trial, including House Speaker Mike Johnson.


MIKE JOHNSON: And they show how desperate the opposition that President Trump has and how desperate they truly are. The American people are not going to let this stand. Election Day cannot get here soon enough.

BUSTILLO: This could be the only criminal trial against Trump with a verdict before the election. Other criminal trials in Washington, D.C., Georgia and Florida are all in various stages of delays. Still, polls show that while Republicans broadly support Trump, a conviction could shift away support, particularly among independents come November. Ximena Bustillo, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.